How to enable and customize Focus filters on macOS Monterey

Focus Mode
Source: Apple

Apple announced macOS Monterey at its WWDC 2021 Keynote and one of its most highlighted features is Focus mode—a new way to filter notifications based on what you’re doing at that time of the day.

Focus mode originates from iOS 15 and is extended to other Apple operating system such as iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey. Nevertheless, the feature works similarly on all the aforementioned operating systems.



What is Focus?

Focus mode is a new notifications-based feature that lets you filter them depending on what you’re doing at the time. You can set a unique filter for every activity and have your notifications behave differently across all filters.

Let me simplify it for you using examples.

You can use separate Focus mode filters for work and for personal space.

While the work filter is enabled, you can choose to only get notifications from work-related apps and people and while the personal filter is enabled, you can stave off work notifications by only choosing personal notifications such as those from family members and entertainment apps.

Focus mode is also highly customizable.

Focus Mode

iOS and macOS offer certain Focus mode filters by default. However, you can always create your own Focus mode filters and customize them to your mind’s content.

Customization options include choosing which people and apps can get through alongside time, location, and app-based automations. There are also certain options that let you allow some people to get through despite what a Focus mode filter dictates.

For instance, you can let a close family member or your significant other call you twice (in the span of three minutes) to break through the Focus mode barrier and reach out to you.

You can also enable Auto Reply, which lets your Mac and iPhone automatically send a reply to contacts trying to contact you via Messages.

How to enable Focus mode on macOS Monterey

  1. Head over to the Control Center.
  2. Click the Focus palate.
Focus palate in macOS Monterey's Control Center.
  1. Finally, choose one among different Focus mode filter options.
Focus mode filter options in Control Center.

How to create a new Focus filter

The process of creating new, custom Focus filters is quite simple and also somewhat fun. It involves choosing an icon and a color for it, which makes the process interesting.

  1. Head over to System Preferences on your Mac by clicking on the Apple logo in the Menu Bar.
macOS 12 System Preferences
  1. Click on Notifications.
macOS 12 Notifications Preferences
  1. Switch over to the Focus tab.
Focus Tab macOS Monterey Preferences
  1. Tap the plus (“+”) icon in the bottom right corner of the window.
Adding a new Focus filter in macOS Monterey.
  1. Customize your filter by giving it a name, color, and icon.
Customizing a new Focus filter.
  1. Finally, click Add.

How to edit an already existing Focus filter

  1. From the list of Focus mode filters, click on a filter until it is highlighted.
Highlighting Focus Filters.
  1. Click on the Edit button at the end of the sidebar.
Editing a Focus Filter in macOS Monterey.

How to allow notifications from certain people and apps even when Focus mode is enabled

You can set to allow notifications from certain people and apps related to the theme of the Focus filter. Here’s how to do that.

  1. Within the Focus tab in macOS System Preferences, click on a Focus filter until it is highlighted.
Highligting a Focus Filter in macOS Monterey
  1. Under the section labeled “Allowed Notifications From,” click on the People tab and click the plus button (“+”) to add people to the list.
  2. Similarly, click on the Apps tab and click the plus button (“+”) to add apps to the list.
Allow people and contacts in Focus filters

You can also remove a contact or app from the list by selecting it and clicking the minus (“-“) button.

How to automatically enable Focus mode based on time, location, and app using Focus Automations

Focus automations allow you to enable notification filters automatically based on a specific time, when you reach a location (eg. Work), and when an app is open.

Here’s how:

  1. Within the Focus tab in macOS System Preferences, click on a Focus filter until it is highlighted.
Highligting a Focus Filter in macOS Monterey
  1. Under the Automation tab, click on the plus icon (“+”) and choose from the list whether you want to set a time, location, or an app-based automation.
Focus mode Automations in macOS 15
  1. A popup will appear. You can switch to either automation sources using the dropdown button above.
  2. Furthermore, in the location and the app automation sections, you can search for your location or an app and select it from the results below.
Adding Focus Automations.
  1. Finally, once you’ve selected your automation, click the blue Add button to set it to your filter.

How to allow time-sensitive notifications to break through when Focus mode is enabled.

Time-sensitive notifications are those that cannot be ignored, for instance, a specific reminder you had set or an urgent message from your relative.

You can enable time-sensitive notifications both system-wide as well as within Focus mode.

  1. Within the Focus tab in macOS System Preferences, click on a Focus filter until it is highlighted.
Highligting a Focus Filter in macOS Monterey
  1. Click on the Options button beside the “Allow Notifications From” label.
  1. Tick the “Allow time sensitive notifications” option.
Allow Time Sensitive Notifications

How to delete a Focus filter

Focus mode is, admittedly, a bit complex to set up. Not from a user-interface perspective. But from a conceptual perspective; in that you may take some time and experimentation to figure out the filter that suits you the best.

So, you may find yourself wanting to create new Focus new filter and delete old ones. Here’s how to delete a Focus filter.

  1. Within the Focus tab in macOS System Preferences, click on a Focus filter until it is highlighted.
Highligting a Focus Filter in macOS Monterey
  1. Click the minus (“-“) button in the bottom right corner of the window with the filter still selected.
Deleting Focus filter.

How to manage which apps can show your Focus mode status

Focus mode is accompanied by a handy feature that displays a status to your contacts suggesting that you won’t be able too receive a message. While your contacts can still send you a message in case of emergencies, it works quite well for when you want to eliminate distractions while also notifying your contacts why you aren’t available.

Apple has also introduced a Status API that developers can use in their communication apps. This means that there’s a chance a status for Focus mode could automatically be displayed in your preferred chat apps outside Message.

That said, there isn’t a single switch that you can flick to enable or disable Status. Instead, you’ll need to toggle it individually across apps.

Here’s how to do that.

  1. While you’re in the Focus tab, click on Options located beneath the list of Focus filters.
Focus Options Tab in macOS Monterey Preferences.
  1. Now, under the section labeled “Status,” tick the apps you’d like to show your Focus mode Status in. (Currently, since macOS Monterey is in the beta testing stage, only the Messages app supports the Status feature).
Status settings for Focus mode.
  1. Similarly, untick apps that you don’t want your Status to display in.

How to allow people to break through Focus with repeated calls

People trying to call you won’t be able to reach you when Focus mode is activated aside from those you’ve explicitly allowed. However, you can enable them to reach you when they repeat their call within three minutes if it’s important.

Here’s how to allow people to break through Focus mode with repeated calls.

  1. While you’re in the Focus tab, click on Options located beside the “Allow Notifications From” label. Make sure a Focus filter is seleected first.
Focus Options
  1. Tick “Allow Repeated Calls” and you’re good to go.

How to have Focus not enable automatically for all of your devices when you enable it on your Mac

When you enable Focus mode for the first time on your Mac, it will automatically be enabled on your iPhone and iPad as well. If you don’t want that to happen, you can disable iCloud syncing for Focus. Here’s how to do that.

  1. While you’re in the Focus tab, untick the “Turn on iCloud syncing” toggle.
Disable iCloud Syncing

Final Thoughts

Focus mode is a necessity. This notion is especially true today, thanks to smartphones eating away at our concentration and distracting us to oblivion.

It’s particularly cool that Apple puts the ultimate power in the hands of the user when it comes to filtering notifications using Focus mode. You have the ability to choose who can contact you, which apps can send notifications, automations, and other customization options.

Other macOS Monterey Guides you should check out: