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What Is Focus Assist in Windows 11?

Windows 11 comes with a myriad of features, with one centered on reducing distractions by controlling how, when, and how many notifications you receive when you’re trying to stay focused on something or have a set of dedicated hours to finish a task.

The functionality of keeping you focused while preventing notifications from popping up on your screen is called “Focus Assist.”

How To Enable & Customize Windows 11’s Focus Assist to Your Needs

Focus assist can be turned on/enabled in a few different ways. However, if this is your first attempt at figuring it out, the best approach would be to head over to its section inside Windows 11, where you can tweak things to your liking. To get there, go to Settings > System > Focus Assist. (More on customizing to follow).

A quicker way to turn on focus assist would be to invoke the quick settings via the taskbar. Either use the Windows logo key + A shortcut or click on it to get the options in front of you. You can identify focus assist by the half-moon icon and the associated labeling. Look at the image below for visual reference.

Configuring Windows 11 focus assist with quick settings menu
Configuring Windows 11 focus assist with the quick settings menu.

With the quick settings methodology of turning on focus assist, the OS will behave in the following way:

  1. Clicking on it once will turn on focus assist with “priority only.”
  2. Clicking on it the second time will keep it on with “alarms only.”
  3. Clicking on it the third time will turn it off.
  4. The cycle keeps repeating.

Customizing Windows 11 Focus Assist

Switching gears back a little bit, if you want to define how Focus Assist behaves more precisely, go to its primary section/settings. To recap, that is accessible via Settings > System > Focus Assist.

As soon as you navigate there, the first three choices you’d see will be the same ones that are inbuilt within the quick settings for Focus assist. So, to review again, these are:

  1. Off: As it suggests, this means that Focus Assist is off
  2. Priority Only: Focus assist will be on with the exception of you getting notifications for things you’ve allowed. This can be personalized to your needs by clicking on the customize priority list option right underneath. Note that with this, Alarms will work also.
  3. Alarms Only: Focus Assist will be on, and the only time you will be notified of anything is when your Alarm goes on.

Now, as a fourth option, there is a checkbox that says Show a summary of what I missed when focus assist was on. By default, it’s unselected. If selected, you’ll be able to see all your notifications that you skipped after you turn off focus assist.

Windows 11 standard focus assist customizations that includes priority only and alarms only
Windows 11 standard focus assist customizations that includes priority only and alarms only.

Further Customizing Focus Assist in Windows 11 via the Automatic Rules

To help make things feel more tailored to an individual, Windows 11 goes out and offers additional automatic rules to further customize focus assist. There are five such rules. Look at the screenshot below, and keep reading down to know what these rules are and what they mean.

Windows 11 focus assist automatic rules
Windows 11 focus assist automatic rules.

Understanding the Windows 11 Focus Assist Automatic Rules

As seen in the image above, there are five automatic rules concerning Windows 11 focus assist — which can also be turned on or off. As such, every distinct rule can be interpreted as below:

  1. During these times: Straightforwardly, this rule will automatically turn on focus assist within the time slot you decide.
  2. When I’m duplicating my display: If on, this will automatically enable focus assist when connecting to a second screen.
  3. When I’m playing a game: With this, you can let Windows turn on focus assist while playing a game on the applicable device.
  4. When I’m using an app in full screen mode only: As suggestive as things can be, with this alternative, focus assist can be set to turn on whenever using any app in full screen.
  5. For the first hour after a Windows feature update: This choice will routinely permit focus assist to run for the first hour after a “Feature” windows update.

The first four rules can be narrowed down by what kind of notifications can be received. That is, if an individual rule will leverage priority only or alarms only focus level.

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Knowing if Focus Assist Is On

If you’re in doubt whether focus assist is even working, you can easily verify that by its icon that appears to the right of the date and time. This will only display when focus assist is on.

Every time you see this icon, it’s proof that the focus assist feature in Windows 11 is active.

focus assist icon by the date and time in windows 11
Focus assist icon by the date and time in windows 11. This icon only appears when focus assist is on.