We could all use a ‘This is Fine’ Focus mode

These days, it often feels like the world is on fire. Sometimes, quite literally. In those moments, my phone morphs into an instrument of endless doomscrolling. So when Apple tweaked its Focus modes in the iOS 16 beta earlier this summer, I knew what needed to be done. I had to create a “This is Fine” mode.

The grounding principle behind a This is Fine mode is the fact that sometimes, you are not fine. Even so, life doesn’t stop just because terrible things keep happening. Deadlines need to be met, bills need to be paid, dogs need walking, kids need picking up from school, and you still need to eat. But even if I understand that it’s sometimes best to ignore my Twitter feed, mustering the willpower to do so leaves my brain a pile of mush. I know that doomscrolling is bad for my mental and physical health, and yet, it’s so easy to do when the latest tragedy is all anyone can think of or talk about. Layer in personal calamities or, I don’t know, the whole pandemic, and you’re going to end up curled in a ball on the couch sooner or later. My goal was to create a technological bandaid that let me zero in on the tasks at hand so I could freely decompress later.

Focus modes aren’t new. Apple introduced them in iOS 15, but while I dug the concept, they were clunky to program. Technically, they’re still annoying to make in iOS 16, but there are also more avenues to have fun. Case in point, you can link Focus modes to a specific lock screen and create custom homepages. With watchOS 9, you can even sync a particular Focus mode with your Apple Watch. The news cycle may be grim, but I don’t have to be.

Hence, setting my lock screen for this mode as the This is Fine dog sitting atop an adorable dumpster fire. You can add widgets on iOS 16’s new lock screens, but given the purpose of this particular mode, I opted not to include any. The idea is to limit the information to essentials only.

screenshot of This is Fine homepage

I’ve limited which apps I can see by selecting a custom homepage.

In the Focus mode menu, you can also specify which people and apps are allowed to notify you. In my This is Fine mode, I only let four people text me: my two besties, my therapist, and my husband. These are the people with whom I have an explicit, mutual agreement regarding emotional baggage during working hours. Everybody else can wait until I’m ready. (But if it helps to think about who you’d rather silence notifications from, iOS 16 lets you configure it that way as well.) As for which apps are allowed, I’ve limited it to the Mindfulness app.

iOS 16 also lets you select from a series of homepages. Some are the ones you’ve already made, and others are auto-generated suggestions. For this particular mode, I’ve selected a single screen that highlights a Health app widget depicting my sleep (a subtle reminder to maybe get more), some photos from happier times, the Weather app, the Calm app, the Notes app, and KakaoTalk — the messaging app I use with my family.

As for my linked watchface, I’ve picked a no-nonsense Gradient face. It’s got complications for the Mindfulness app, the date, and sleep schedules. Restful things! It’s also a watchface that’s low-key and doesn’t bombard you with information. If I look down at my wrist, I’m much more likely to remember, “Oh, you’re trying to be zen right now.”

You can also add Focus filters, which lets you customize how your apps and devices behave when a particular mode is enabled. For this mode, I kept it simple and filtered out any messages from folks who aren’t my besties, husband, or therapist. There are also options to automate when a mode turns on — but I opted to skip that for this mode. This is a mode where I want to be intentional, so it’s something I manually turn on when things get to be too much.

Screenshots of Fitness and Sleep modes showing despairing woman working out and sleepless Kirby.

If you’re going to make Focus modes, might as well have some fun with it.

In all seriousness, it kinda blows that I felt the need to set this up in the first place. That said, it’s been incredibly good for my brain whenever life decides to hurl curveballs my way. When Uvalde happened, I was able to hit pause on the chaos unraveling around the internet and write my silly blogs. When the news about Roe v. Wade exploded, I was at my mom’s funeral. Flipping this mode on helped me stay present in the moment, while the picture of the This is Fine dog was a bit of comforting dark humor. The day after my dog unexpectedly died, I was less tempted to spiral. I could decompress in peace while staying connected to the people I love most.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this serious either. I poke fun at myself with my Fitness focus mode, and it honestly keeps me from quitting strength training sessions early. Kirby staring at the ceiling while trying to sleep makes me chortle whenever my Sleep mode comes on. My Work mode turns on automatically every time I arrive at the Verge office, as does my Reading mode whenever I open the Kindle or Manta app. These are all more functional, lighthearted ways to use Focus modes, but the idea remains the same. Make it easy to tune out the noise, give yourself the grace to log the hell off, and have fun while you’re at it.

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge

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