If you’re reading this in the palm of your hand, it’s probably tough to remember the days you weren’t tethered to your iPhone. But when it comes to smartphones, there’s a fine line between “useful tool for getting things done” and “all-mighty controller of your entire life.” And if you prefer the former, then it’s time to reassess your technology habits. That’s why we’ve tapped four tech experts for their best-kept iPhone hacks to ensure your device boosts productivity — instead of harming it. We’ll double tap to that.
10 Easy iPhone Hacks to Boost Productivity
1. Define what “productivity” means to you.
“In my view, productivity isn’t simply about getting a lot of things done,” says Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners and author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones That Really Work. “It’s about getting the right things done. The only way you know if you’re getting the right things done is if you’re thoughtful about what it is that’s most important to you.”
Once you’ve identified that, ask yourself, “How can my iPhone give me traction in what I care about most?” Bergman says. For example, if your priority is spending time with your kids, set a special ring on your phone that’s different for your kids than anyone else. That way you’ll know to prioritize those calls.
2. Schedule everything — even the obvious.
Bregman is teased for scheduling lunch dates with his wife on his calendar, but he insists there’s no better way to lock in what matters most. “It might seem weird, but you’ve got to put that stuff in your calendar,” he says. “There’s a tremendous amount of evidence that says if you decide when and where you’re going to do something, then you’ll do it.”
iCal, Gmail — choose whichever works best. And factor in which will sync best with your work calendar, or shared calendars with family members. Getting everything in one place will save you extra headspace.
3. Get picky about your apps.
“Don’t download an app without having a need first,” says Peggy Duncan, Personal Productivity Expert and Founder and Lead Trainer at The Digital BreakThroughs Institute. “Figure out what you need to do while on mobile, then find the app that’ll help. [Then] group similar apps using broad categories. This works better than app overload.” Duncan’s favorite functional apps include: PDF Converter for converting documents to PDFs; Copier for copying and pasting text from various sources to use later; and Duet Display for using the iPhone as a dual monitor with a laptop while traveling.
4. Keep an uncluttered home screen.
“The best way I’ve found to minimize distractions on my iPhone is to keep the home screen as lean as possible,” says Michael Simon, a Staff Writer at MacWorld. Much like Duncan, he’s discovered the power of minimizing the number of apps across his entire device. “I used to have hundreds of apps in folders across multiple pages, but these days I try to keep things limited to the apps I absolutely need,” he says. “And if there’s one that’s sucking too much time, I’ll just delete it.”
5. Let your phone hold your thoughts — so you don’t have to.
“Most people have their iPhone with them virtually all the time, so it makes a handy tool for externally capturing what’s on your mind,” says John Forrister, a Utility Player at the David Allen Company. “Don’t discriminate — big ideas or small, they should be quickly captured in some version of a digital inbox where you can decide if there’s action later. You can send yourself a quick email, use an app that sends you email, or put them in the “inbox” of your list management app,” Forrister says. “The key is to make sure they land in some type of an inbox that you will go through within 24 to 48 hours, so your mind can let go of the tracking job.”
6. Only do work on your phone that works well on your phone.
“You can be more productive by noticing what you like to do on your iPhone, and what you don’t like as much,” says Forrister. “Yes, there’s an app for almost everything. Even so, there are some things that are easier on a bigger screen, or two bigger screens. If you’re doing something that feels like more work than it needs to be, consider switching to an activity that fits the iPhone screen and interface better.”
7. Distinguish between “emergency scanning” versus organizing emails.
“It’s tempting to look at email on the iPhone when you’re away from your computer,” says Forrister. “Quickly scanning to see if something time-sensitive has shown up can be productive if it allows you to communicate or handle work now that would take more effort later.”
What that doesn’t mean? “Going through each email in your inbox, deciding if it’s actionable, adding that action to a list, then filing or deleting the email,” Forrister warns. “If you know that an email is not timely, and you know that you’re not going to fully clarify its meaning and organize it in your system, don’t spend your time on it until you are ready to process it to completion… Be smart about whether you want to do that on the iPhone or back at your computer.”
8. Sync your phone with other devices.
“I always have my iPhone with me, so it needs to be loaded with everything I need to get things done, both on the phone and in sync with my other devices,” says Simon. “Outlook, Gmail and Slack are a must, but my secret weapon is iA Writer. I have it installed on my Mac, iPad and iPhone. And with Dropbox integration, I can jump to one of my Android phones or my Chromebook too and pick up right where I left off. It’s the first app I install on any new device I get.”
9. Get familiar with your iPhone’s “secret” functions.
The iPhone comes equipped with a variety of tricks that most people don’t even know about. That means you might be missing out on enhanced functionalities as a result. Here are a few of Duncan’s favorite functions:
- Shake your iPhone to get the option to Undo. Note: This feature has to be turned on by going to Settings > General > Accessibility.
- Use your device as a magnifying glass. Open the Camera app and tap the phone’s Home button three times to activate the magnifier. Once you see what you need, tap the round, white button to freeze. Then pinch the image to expand it. Activate this feature using the same steps described in the previous tip.
- Go back to the top of the screen by tapping your device at the top. (It’s near where the time is.)
- Take a photo while you’re recording a video with the help of the white button to the left of the Record button. Tap it, and you’ll take a photo without disrupting the recording.
10. Don’t let your iPhone bug you.
“The most productive way to use your phone during a time when you’re doing the thing that is most important for you to do… is to not use your phone,” says Bregman. “When you’re doing the thing you most want to do — writing a chapter in your book, spending time with family, or in a meeting for your business — that’s when you want to shut your phone off. That’s when you want no distractions.”
Ask yourself, “Is your technology bothering you, or are you bothering your technology?” Bregman says. “We should be in a situation mostly where we’re bothering our technology.”
And keep in mind, willpower alone usually isn’t enough to pry you away, says Bregman. Instead, eliminate the choice. For example, “If you don’t want to be on your phone while you’re driving, put it in the trunk. If you need it for navigation, then use Do Not Disturb while driving.”
Bottom line: “Use the technology to create an environment that makes it more likely you’re going to do what you’re going to do,” says Bregman. “That often means disabling the technology. Otherwise it’s going to nag you.”