What Is Focus Mode and How to Use It to Boost Productivity

Focus Assist Productivity Featured

There are plenty of distractions in the office that can rob you of valuable time, especially when you have a deadline to meet. This is often made worse when working from home, as you are in a familiar environment, and it’s easy to lose focus. That doesn’t need to be a daily challenge, so why not let technology assist you? If you have a Windows computer, the built-in settings and features of Focus keep your eyes on the monitor and your fingers typing swiftly.

Good to know: does your Windows desktop look blurry? Learn a few ways to fix it.

What Is Focus Mode in Windows?

Similar to Apple’s Focus Mode, the Windows version lets you create a working environment with minimal distractions. You can customize many of the settings, such as reduced notifications in the taskbar, muting all system sounds, and hiding flashing icons. You can access the Focus feature via “Settings -> System -> Focus.” From here, merely press the “Start focus session” button to start using it. In Windows 10 and earlier versions of Windows 11, it’s referred to as Focus Assist.

Focus also works rather well with the “Do not disturb” settings in Windows, which let you not only focus on getting work done but also remind you to take a break. You have the option to enable “Do not disturb” automatically when you start a Focus session. In addition, you can use Focus to control notifications while you’re busy working.

Tip: you can use Focus alongside companion apps to maximize its effects. These are the best ones.

Many enjoy working with light music in the background or listening through headphones. You can link your Spotify music streaming account to the Clock app in Windows so that it automatically plays when you start a Focus session.

  1. Left-click on the Start button and click on “All apps.”
Clicking on "All apps" from Start menu in Windows.
  1. Scroll down and click on “Clock.”
Selecting "Clock" from app list.
  1. At the bottom of the Clock window, click on “Settings.”
Clicking on "Settings" button in Clock app page.
  1. Click on Spotify on the right in the “Focus sessions” section to expand the options.
Clicking on Spotify under "Focus sessions" to expand options.
  1. Click on “Sign in” to link your Spotify account to the Clock app.
Pressing "Sign in" button to link Spotify account.
  1. Select which playlist or podcast you want to listen to.
  2. Toggle the slider to “On” for your selected audio to play alongside it automatically.
Toggling Spotify slider on to start playing music.

Good to know: want to listen to music safely while driving? Learn how to control Spotify from Google Maps or Waze.

Integrate Microsoft To Do for Tracking Tasks

It’s possible to make it a little easier to stay on top of your daily tasks with Microsoft To Do. The preinstalled Windows application seamlessly integrates with Focus so that you can select which task you are working on.

  1. Ensure that you are signed in to Focus and Microsoft To Do with the same account.
  2. Open the Clock app again.
  3. By default, the Clock app opens with Focus sessions in view. You can also link your Spotify account from here.
"Link your Spotify" option in Clock app.
  1. Under the “Get ready to focus” section is Microsoft To Do’s task list. If it’s collapsed, click on the three dots and select “Expand task list.”
View of Tasks with three-dot menu visible in Clock app.
  1. The tasks that you previously created in Microsoft To Do should be visible in the block. Hover your cursor over the task you want to focus on and click “Select for session.” Take care not to click on the task’s name, as that will mark it as complete. If successful, the task’s border should become green.
Clicking on "Select for session" option to activate Microsoft To Do tasks for Focus session.
  1. If you want to focus on a different task, click on “Deselect” and choose another.
Deselecting Microsoft To Do task to focus on another.
  1. To work on a task that has not been added to Microsoft To Do yet, click on the “+” to create it. This will also insert the task into your Microsoft To Do workflow.
"Add a task" option to bring new Microsoft To Do task that has not been previously added.

Tip: if you feel unmotivated to work, perhaps it would help to listen to a positive podcast to brighten your day.

Other Ways to Minimize Distractions in Windows

Microsoft’s Focus isn’t the only way to stay on track. There are other smaller actions you can tweak to remove unwanted distractions in Windows.

For example, you can turn off animations and background images. This prevents any eye-grabbing elements from diverting your attention.

  1. Right-click on Start, then click on “Settings.”
  2. In the left panel, click on “Accessibility.”
Navigating to "Accessibility" from Windows Settings.
  1. Click on “Visual effects.”
Clicking on "Visual effects" option under Accessibility in Settings.
  1. Toggle the slider for “Animation effects.”
Disabling "Animation effects" option in Windows Settings.

You can also choose which icons appear in the taskbar and reduce the number of visible items. To do so:

  1. Right-click on “Start” and click on “Settings.”
  2. In the left panel, click on “Personalization.”
Clicking on "Personalization" option in Settings.
  1. Scroll down and click on “Taskbar.”
Selecting "Taskbar" option under "Personalization" menu.
  1. If not already expanded, click on “Taskbar items” to see the options.
  2. Toggle the relevant sliders to disable the taskbar features.
Disabling taskbar features in "Personalization" menu.

Good to know: if you’re experiencing unresponsive taskbar issues in Windows 11, check out this list of fixes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need an Office365 subscription to use Focus?

No. While Office365 is a useful suite of tools for productivity, Focus and Focus Assist are included features in Windows 10 and Windows 11.

Can you link other streaming services?

Currently, Spotify is the only streaming service you can link to a Focus session. More options may be added in the future.

Is Microsoft To Do free?

Yes, Microsoft’s task-tracking application is free and preinstalled on most Windows computers. You don’t need an Office365 subscription to use it.

Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Charlie Fripp.

Charlie Fripp
Charlie Fripp

Charlie Fripp is a technology writer with a strong focus on consumer gadgets, video games, and cyber security. He holds an undergraduate degree in professional journalism and has worked as a journalist for over 15 years. In his spare time, he enjoys playing various musical instruments and gardening.

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