Creating a Powerful Attention Mode for iPhone

Action Button + Shortcuts + Focus Mode = Attention

When I am sitting and having dinner with my family, and a notification comes in to my iPhone, it instantly pulls me away from my time with family. To counter this I started to put my phone on DND. This worked like a charm, except then I would forget to turn it off, or in cases when I was out on a date night with my wife, miss important messages from my kids or other family.

That was not working, so I wanted to craft a mode on my iPhone to help me direct my focus back to the people physically near me, while at the same time keeping my phone in a state where I could use it and get important notifications. (Side note: seems like iOS 18 is really going to help with this, I look forward to that in a few months.)

I also wanted this mode to be easily activated by using the otherwise useless Action button on the side of my phone.

That’s how I ended up with my new ‘Attention Mode’.

My Goal

Here’s what I wanted:

  • Notifications only from family.
  • Notifications only from apps which tend to be urgent.
  • A worse phone experience so as to not get sucked into the phone when I do respond.
  • Nothing glowing unless needed.
  • Applicable in any setting where I need to pay attention better.

The Action

I found that I could do about 95% of this in the Focus mode setting alone, but I had to move to Shortcuts to get the last 5%. So I actually trigger the Focus mode and one more setting change by using a Shortcut, which is assigned to the Action Button on my iPhone 15 Pro.

Here’s what the Focus Mode does:

  1. Restricts notifications to only selected people (in my case, my wife, kids, and immediate family) via the “Allow Notifications From” setting.
  2. Restricts notifications to only a select grouping of apps. This took a bit for me to work through, and I regularly change it, but right now the ‘Allow Notifications From’ for apps is only: August (smart lock), Calendar, CARROT, FaceTime, Find My, Home, Messages, ParkMobile (parking timer and payments), Phone, Reminders, Signal, Uber, United, and Wallet.
  3. No scheduling or smart activation — this gets activated manually.
  4. Focus Filters: filter calendars to only my personal and family calendars (this gets rid of holidays and anything else you’ve subscribed to); Always On Display set to ‘Turn Off’ (now your screen is off when the mode is on); Silent Mode set to Turn On (keeping my want for the silent switch intact).

Now we head over to Shortcuts, here’s what that looks like:

Walking through what this is doing:

  1. Looks at which focus is currently set, and if the current Focus Mode is ‘Attention’, it turns that mode off, and turns off my color filters.
  2. If ‘Attention’ is not the current focus, then it sets Attention to the current focus until it is turned off again, and it turns on my color filters.

The key here is what the color filters do. iOS has a lot of options you can do to improve accessibility, and we can use some of those to change the overall system as well — one of those options is color filters. You can tint the entire system to have a particular color overlay, or make the entire thing grayscale. For example, red is useful if you want a night mode, and it looks awful at the same time, but no more blue light. Grayscale removes all color, and actually looks quite pretty, while keeping the phone very useful.

If you want some night vision preserving mode, then red is the way to go. Otherwise, Grayscale. And here I simply have mine triggering Grayscale. The only way I know to do this, is to do it in Settings:

  • Open Settings
  • Search “Color Filters”
  • Tap Color Filters
  • Turn Color Filters on, and then select Grayscale
  • Turn off Color Filters

That will set your color filter to Grayscale when Shortcuts toggles it on or off.

Now you got to Settings > Action Button, and select your new Shortcut as the action. It should turn on your Focus and set Grayscale.

Outcome

It’s really clean, and works wonders. I used to flip my phone face down on the table, or keep it in my Hardgraft sleeve as a way to stay focused. But I constantly faced issues of missing things which are the very reason I carried my phone with me. Parking meter expirations, Uber Eats driver questions, texts from my kids — by using this Attention Focus, I don’t miss anything, while limiting my distractions.

There’s something really uncanny and great about a grayscale iPhone display. You get all the utility of your phone, but in a way in which it doesn’t suck you in as readily. To be fair, you can still get lost in it. Grayscale very odd, and I very much like it.

Last Tip

There is the occasional glitch where the Always On Display will not resume after leaving the Attention Focus mode. This happens maybe 5% of the time, but it’s annoying. Theoretically you only need to tell Attention to turn off Always On Display since you have it set to on at the primary OS level, but because of this glitch, I also explicitly set Always On display to turn on in my Personal focus mode. Thus if I see that it’s not staying on, I can quickly toggle to Personal Focus and it resolves itself.

Ok, one more thing: if you screenshot in grayscale mode, the screenshot is full color.

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