Start Page: Use Focus modes to focus on what’s most important

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Start Page: Seth WilsonI was in a Zoom deposition recently. My Mac laptop was running the Zoom meeting and camera duties, and I was using an iPad to access client files. As the deposition progressed, I realized I had not closed Microsoft Outlook on the laptop, which was happily notifying everyone within earshot of each new email I received.

No problem, I thought. I’ll turn on my previously-created-for-just-this-occasion “Deposition Focus Mode,” which will silence all notifications on my Mac devices. From my iPhone, I switched on that Focus mode, glanced at my iPad, which confirmed it was activated, and breathed a sigh of relief … until I heard another email notification.

What gives? I’m the tech guy. I should have this figured out, right? Contorting myself outside the view of the webcam, I reached across the table and closed Outlook the old-fashioned way, and the deposition continued uninterrupted.

If that sounds familiar, here’s how to help avoid that scenario and set up Focus modes that can help avoid that situation.

1. Create (and use) checklists

I realized I could have avoided the whole scenario in the first place if I followed my normal deposition checklist. But I’ve done a few depositions in my time and thought I would remember. So, a reminder: To avoid these issues, create and follow a written checklist before starting the deposition. Bonus: Use the checklist to create your own Focus modes.

2. Focus modes (or, how to get the right notifications at the right time)

Basically, a Focus mode is a customized use of Do Not Disturb settings. There are a few defaults, which you can use to see how this feature works. To find the Focus modes on an iPhone or iPad, tap “Settings” and scroll to Focus. Tap “Focus” and you will see the default list.

You can add a new Focus mode by clicking the + icon on the upper right side of the screen. You will be presented with a list of choices (e.g., Custom, Fitness, Gaming, Mindfulness or Reading). I typically use Custom.

Type a name for your Focus mode. Choose a color and image. Choose the contacts who are allowed to notify you in this Focus mode. You can add (+) or remove people from the list (-). You can allow calls from certain “lists” (like No One, Favorites, All Contacts, Groups of Contacts). You can also allow repeated calls from the same phone, in case someone really needs to get in touch with you. That begs the question: What if that person is why you created the Focus mode? I digress.

Note: You can edit a contact to allow them through no matter what by enabling an emergency bypass and “Allow Time Sensitive Notifications” in your Focus mode. Open the Contact record, tap “Ringtone” and toggle the “Emergency Bypass” switch. Repeat as necessary.

Next, you can allow notifications for those apps you want and silencing notifications for others (think Outlook in the story above). Note: You can allow “time sensitive” notifications from apps that you did not list above so you don’t silence the reminder to call into the pretrial conference. Tap “Allow” and your Focus mode is ready for use.

When the Focus mode is activated, it is activated on all your Apple devices. You can use Control Center to turn it on or off. Another neat feature is the ability to hide or show a certain home/lock screen when the Focus mode is turned on. This will require some thought about which apps you might want to hide or show but could be worth the time. When you tap on the Focus mode you just created, you will see an Options section. Tap on “Home Screen” (or “Lock Screen”) and choose which screen you want to see when the Focus mode is active.

Finally, you can turn on the Focus mode on a schedule or based on an automation. Take a few minutes to tap through the options. Compare that to your preflight checklist for a deposition and adjust accordingly to help you avoid interrupting your next deposition. Test it out to make sure it works as you expect.

Focus has become a buzzword of late considering all the distractions brought to us by, yes, these smart devices. Create some Focus modes so you can focus on what matters most this month.•

Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Attorneys in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. He writes about legal technology at and is a frequent speaker on the subject. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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