How to Automate Your iPhone Based on Time, Activity, or Location

Your iPhone can become more efficient with a few simple automations that show relevant information and hide distractions, depending on what you’re doing. Automating your iPhone can help you be more productive at work, get a better night’s sleep, or surface useful reminders at the best possible time.

Set Up Focus Modes First

Many automations depend on the Focus modes Apple added to iOS 15 in 2021. Apple further expanded these Focus modes in the iOS 16 update. The first thing to do is spend some time setting up the Focus modes that are relevant to you.

Related: What’s New in iOS 16 for iPhone

Set up Apple's predefined Focus modes

Head to Settings > Focus to get started. If you’ve previously automated Do Not Disturb mode, you’ll already have one Focus mode enabled.

You can add more using the plus “+” icon in the top-right corner of the screen or by tapping the “Set Up” button that appears next to the default options like Work and Sleep.

In addition to picking from Apple’s suggestions, you can choose Custom to set up an entirely new Focus mode. Give it a name, pick an icon, and hit “Next,” followed by the “Customize Focus” button to get started.

Create your own custom Focus mode

By default, Focus modes silence notifications that aren’t time sensitive. You can also choose the contacts and apps you would like to allow notifications from or silence.

For example, you can pick important contacts, so you never miss a notification from family and friends while burying distractions like Facebook requests or mobile game notifications.

You can use the “Options” button to display silenced notifications on your lock screen, which means they’ll be delivered silently (only appearing when you check your device, but not buzzing or showing a pop-up).

You can also dim the lock screen, ideal for the “Sleep” Focus mode or any time you want a darker appearance.

You now have the ability to tie your lock screen, Home screen, and Apple Watch face to a Focus mode. You’ll find these options under Settings > Focus menu (under a specific Focus mode’s settings).

Hit “Choose,” then pick from your available choices.

Customize Focus lock screen, Home screen, and Watch face

For lock screens, you can create new ones by long-pressing your lock screen and tapping the “+” plus button. Here you can add widgets to your lock screen or choose a simple wallpaper-only design. You can display widgets relevant to your current activity, like weather information or calendar appointments.

You can do the same for your Home screen. Take some time setting up specific pages of apps on your Home screen, then pick one that you’d like to see when your chosen Focus mode is enabled.

Some Focus modes (like Work) let you “Create a New Page,” which suggests apps and widgets based on the activity, though this only works for Apple’s predefined options.

Lastly, pick an Apple Watch face. This uses your Apple Watch gallery, so if you have specific things you’d like to see, make sure you’ve created the Watch face first.

Schedule Your Focus Modes

To make Focus modes truly useful, they should be fully automated. You can turn them on and off manually, but it’s much better if you set them up to activate and deactivate based on relevant criteria.

Enable Smart Activation for a Focus mode

Under “Turn on Automatically” in the Settings > Focus menu (under a specific Focus mode’s settings), you’ll have an option to enable Smart Activation.

Siri learns about your habits based on your activity, which gives Siri a chance to put what it knows to good use. Your iPhone will use location, time of day, and the types of app you are using to make a call about which Focus mode to activate.

Schedule Focus modes manually

If you don’t trust Siri to get it right, or you’ve had a bad experience with the assistant’s predictions, you can tap the “Add Schedule” button to set your criteria.

For example, you can set your Focus mode to activate during work hours or late at night when you’re trying to get some rest. You can also set the Focus mode to activate once you reach certain locations, such as your home or the gym.

Sync Focus Modes Between Devices

You can use the same Focus modes between devices, including your iPad and Mac. All you need to do is check the “Share Across Devices” toggle under Settings > Focus on your iPhone to see the same Focus modes show up on your other devices.

Share Focus settings between Apple devices

Use Focus Filters to Hide Distractions

Finally, Focus filters take the whole Focus system to the next level. These allow you to filter out information that isn’t relevant to the current Focus mode. This is arguably most useful when you want to concentrate, like when your Work or Study Focus modes are activated.

Hit the “Add Filter” button in a Focus mode’s settings under Settings > Focus to see your various options. For example, using the Messages filter, you can choose to only see conversations from specific contacts.

Use Focus Filters to get even greater control

You’ll also find third-party apps here, which offer similar options. Lastly, there are a few system settings, such as the option to use Dark Mode (ideal for nighttime Focus modes) and Low Power Mode.

Set Reminders Based on Location and More

Focus modes aren’t the be-all and end-all of iPhone automation. For example, the Reminders app also has useful features. One of these features is the ability to receive reminders based on your location.

To do this, tap on a reminder to edit it. Next, tap on the “i” button to view additional options. You can then toggle “Location” and pick a location where you’d like to see the reminder surfaced on your iPhone lock screen. This works great for receiving reminders of the items on your shopping list once you hit the store or for silencing text messages as you drive.

Surface specific Reminders items at set locations

You can also tag “When Messaging” to receive the reminder when you’re messaging a specific contact. This is handy if you want to remind someone of something without bothering them until you’re already chatting.

Use Shortcuts to Set Up More Complex Automations

There’s a whole world of automations to be discovered in the Shortcuts app. Through Shortcuts, you can set up automations that will help you save battery, curb distractions, or trigger actions when you launch specific apps.

Better still, you can now hide the pesky “Running Your Automation” notification too.

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