Focus Assist : A do not disturb mode for Windows 10

You have probably heard of the Quiet Hours feature in Windows 10. In the April 2018 update, Microsoft has enhanced this feature significantly and has given it a new and weird name; Focus Assist is the replacement for Quiet Hours. It works similar to the do not disturb mode you find in smartphones. Using Focus Assist you can silence notifications temporarily. The notifications will still show up in the Action Center, but those sliding pop up boxes which appear next to the notification icon will not be shown when Focus Assist is active.

New name

Focus Assist is probably a more appropriate name for this feature than Quiet Hours. Unlike the do not disturb feature in smartphones, this is something you would typically use when you want to focus on something you are doing on your computer; not when you want to take a break from your computer.  There might not be anything quite about what you are doing on your computer when Focus Assist/Quiet Hours is enabled. However, this is a name that gives no hint to users unfamiliar with it as to what the feature does.

Enhancements

Focus Assist improves upon Quiet Hours in two main areas. First, you can turn Focus Assist on or turn off automatically based on a schedule or based on events like playing a game or projecting your display to an external monitor. Second, you can add exceptions to Focus Assist and continue to receive important notifications; it is no longer show all or show nothing.

Cycling through Focus Assist’s modes

Focus Assist has three modes:-

  • Off
  • Alarms Only
  • Priority Only

The Priority Only option is one of the key features of Focus Assist, but it becomes really useful only after you have customized Focus Assist’s priority list. I will discuss the priority list in a subsequent section. The Alarms Only option refers to the alarms from the Alarms & Clock app. In order to cycle through these modes, single-click on the Focus Assist icon from the quick actions list in the Action Center.

Action Center

The label for Focus Assist in Quick Actions changes to Alarms Only or Priority Only when you are in those modes. The moon icon is the same in all the modes.

If the Focus Assist icon is not visible

If Quick Actions is in collapsed mode, the Focus Assist icon might not be visible. Click on the expand button to expand Quick Actions. If Focus Assist still does not show up, it means that it has not been added to Quick Actions. You can add it by going to:

  • Start Menu
  • Settings
  • System
  • Notification & Actions
  • Edit your quick actions.

An alternative method to turn Focus Assist on or off

Another way to change the state of Focus Assist is to right-click on the notifications icon at the bottom right of the screen.

Action Center Context Menu

Configuring Focus Assist

To go straight to Focus Assist settings, right-click on the Focus Assist icon from quick actions.

Focus Assist Context Menu

You can also access it via:

  • Start Menu
  • Settings
  • System
  • Focus Assist

Configuring Focus Assist’s priority list

In the top section of the Focus Assist window, you can change the current state of Focus Assist. But we have already seen easier ways of doing that. A more interesting option is the option to customize your priority list. The priority list is where we can specify which notifications are allowed to get through when Priority Only mode is active. Clicking on that option opens the priority list window.

Priority List Settings

Click on the plus button next to Add contacts or Add an app, to add contacts or apps to your priority list. Giving priority to contacts currently seems to work only with Microsoft Apps. If you are using the pinned contacts option, those contacts are already on the priority list by default. You can turn their priority status on or off using the Show notification from pinned contacts on taskbar option.

If you have linked your phone to Windows, you can put calls and text messages from that phone to the priority list using the Show incoming VoIP calls and calls from a linked phone option and Show incoming text from a linked phone option respectively.

Automatic Rules

Automatic Rules are the other major improvement which Focus Assist brought, besides the Priority-Only option. They allow you to activate and deactivate Focus Assist based on the occurrence of certain events.

Automatic Rules for Focus Assist

There are four rules available here. To turn the rules on or off click on the on-off toggle. To configure a rule, click on the name or icon for the rule. There is also the option Show me a summary of what I missed while focus assist was on. When Focus Assist is turned off after being enabled for a while, Windows will show you a summary of the notifications you missed while it was on. I personally like this feature, but if you want to turn it off, you can do so here.

Common Options

There are a couple of options which are common to all the rules. The option you must pay particular attention to is the Focus Level option. This option determines which mode Focus Assist will be set to when it is turned on automatically. Your options are Priority Only and Alarms Only. There is also an option to show a notification in the action center when Focus Assist is turned on automatically

During these times

This option allows you to schedule Focus Assist. You can set the start time and the end time and how often you want the schedule to repeat.

When I’m duplicating my display

When you are duplicating your display, Windows shows alarms only by default. This is an extremely useful feature when you are duplicating the display for a presentation. But you may want to change this setting if you are duplicating your display for private viewing. To disable this feature or to set the mode to priority only, click on the rule and go to the settings screen for the rule.

When I am playing a game

When you are playing a DirectX game in full-screen mode, Windows automatically detects it and enables Focus Assist in priority only mode. The defaults are good for this rule in my opinion. But if you want to disable the feature or set the mode to alarms only; you can do so by clicking on the rule and going to its settings screen.

When using and app in full-screen mode

When you are using an app in full-screen mode, like when watching a video, you may not want to be disturbed by notifications. 

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