My iPhone's Focus mode brought me back to the real world - and I’m much happier

A woman lying in the dark, her face illuminated by the light from her phone screen.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A while ago I decided to pry myself away from the myriad of screens that dominate our modern lives in big and small ways, starting with my journey into analog photography. Over the last month, I’ve been planning out the different steps I’m going to take throughout the year to unplug a little more and take control of my digital life.

One really crucial and helpful way I’ve been doing this is by making the most of Apple’s Focus Mode feature. I’ve set up different modes for work, personal downtime, and commutes, and it’s really helped kill off that overwhelming feeling that comes with your phone pinging constantly. It's let me set boundaries with my tech, preserving both my time and my peace of mind.

Most Apple devices come with Focus Mode capabilities - iPhones, iPads, iMacs, Mac minis, and MacBooks- so whatever you’re thinking of using it on you’re definitely covered. The Focus Mode feature is related to the Do Not Disturb Mode, which is one of the preset modes that come with every device.

Basically, this setting stops your iPhone from pinging you with notifications and calls flat out, essentially turning your phone into an expensive paperweight (you can set it up so that only calls from your emergency contacts will get through, mind you). This is perfect if you want to be completely unbothered, but I decided to take things a step further and add a little spice to the preset Personal, Sleep, and Do Not Disturb modes. 

What I found to be the most useful feature is the way you can visually personalize each mode and create an entirely different vibe for your phone depending on your mood. For example, my Work Mode turns off all notifications on my phone - except my mum, naturally - which includes emails and social media pings. This means I'm not getting work email popups on both my MacBook Pro and my phone, or constantly being distracted by the endless stream of notifications from the dozen or so social media apps I have on my phone. Off too a good start.

This works wonders for me because I'm rather easily distracted, and hate seeing notifications on my screen. Once I pick my phone up, it stays in my hand for a good five to ten minutes - not ideal when I’m supposed to be typing away and my editors are lurking in the background. The latest iOS update also means I can set my lock screen to a different background for each mode. So when 9:00 AM hits, my phone swaps over to one of the preset wallpapers and doesn’t change back until the end of the day. 

Thanks to the smooth Apple Ecosystem, I don’t have to manually set this up on my iPad when I bring it into the office, or my other devices if I’m working from home. They’re all in sync which means wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, once the work day starts my distractions are muted. I noticed an immediate difference right off the bat when I started at the beginning of the month, both in the number of times I pick my phone up during the day and with how much more work I get done. Amazing!

Once the work day is over, my phone swaps over from the cool planets seen above to one of my favourite emojis forming a very cute pattern, and that’s the beginning of my Personal Mode. Everyone's Personal Mode is different and can be set up to do different things. Mine is designed to allow me to decompress from a long day and take some time to myself before I start giving my time to the things and people on my phone.

My personal mode makes my phone screen a lot more colourful and warm than my work one to split my day apart accordingly, and in Personal Mode I have it set to accept messages from a handful of friends, but rather than ping they flash onto the screen and disappear into the grouped notifications, waiting for when I'm ready to read them.

I set this up because I found myself coming home from work feeling exhausted and drained and rather than taking a minute to wash my face, get into my pyjamas, or make dinner, I’d get stuck in one place and scroll through Tiktok or Twitter mindlessly for at least two hours. I know, sad.

To me it felt like I was ‘unwinding’, but really all I was doing was consuming mind-numbing content I wouldn’t even remember just for a quick dopamine fix. Not to say there’s anything deeply wrong with a little doom-scrolling here and there, but I was losing so much time to such a bad habit I'd end up rushing through my evening routine and feeling really exhausted. 

But with my new Personal Mode, I don’t fall into the phone-screen abyss, and it’s genuinely helped me in so many ways. I’ve developed routines with friends far away that I always meet because I’m not rotting my brain on Twitter in bed; now, I make the space for the friends I really want to speak to and keep other looming notifications at bay. The most important part to me is that I have control over when I want to deal with messages and notifications. I no longer feel incredibly overwhelmed when I check my phone, and I've almost started training myself to not jump at the sound of an incoming text or call.

A young woman under the duvet in bed, staring at her phone.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s a little sad, but I think as a 'zoomer' I have a responsibility to tear myself away from my phone like this. For much of my developmental years, a phone has been stuck in the palm of my hand. We’re the most online generation (at least, until the next one), and I can say from experience it’s not that great.

Constantly having beams of information of any kind shot straight through the skull and into our mushy, malleable little brains takes its toll. A lot of people have experienced shorter attention spans due to the continuous tech use of the modern era. Every day for years we’ve had access to every awful news piece and accompanying videos, countless millions of advertisements, and a constant stream of harmful beauty trends that alter our perception of self. 

With cigarettes and gambling declining in popularity, there’s no denying that the biggest addiction gen Z will face is dopamine addiction. Companies know that the best way to have repeat customers is simply to load their brains with small dopamine hits that keep them coming back.  Social media has created the perfect dopamine addicts and I really felt a change when I started taking time away from my phone. I felt a little lost; suddenly I had so much time on my hands that I wasn't used to having. 

And so far, I’ve done a lot with that time. My sleep is better, I'm getting back into my non-tech hobbies, and I generally feel a lot better; not just about myself, but about how I spend each day. It’s really hard to think that such a small change on your iPhone or MacBook could have such a drastic effect, but I encourage you to try it out. You could start with the simple Do Not Disturb, and when you feel you're ready you can set up a few more modes to find out what works best for you. Set boundaries, take your time back - and get back to the real world!

Muskaan Saxena
Computing Staff Writer

Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison. Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place. Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).