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This guide is written to help you navigate towards the most productive iPhone experience you can get and making the most out of your smartphone investment. Keep reading so you can learn about rare iPhone features, apps, and shortcuts that you didn’t know existed. If you’ve always wanted to make your life easier, take better photos, become a better employee or a better manager, than stick around and read this piece. Consider this article as a repository of the best iPhone related content I’ve written and found on the web.
What’s in this article for you?
- Which iPhone should you get?
- The Story of How To Use The iPhone Productively
- The Settings Strategy
- Choosing The Apps To Serve You
- Keeping it all together: The Power of Sync
- File Storage and keeping your files together
- Where to go from here?
With iOS and the human interface design behind, you are getting a delightful user experience that makes your digital life a little bit easier. This obsession with smoothness is what makes the iPhone more addictive than other phones, but it also helps you sail through work more easily.
Apple is on top of their user experience (and Censorship) game since the very inception of this 10 years old operating system. This smooth walled garden experience creates delight that doesn’t make you resent using your technology and makes getting things done fully enjoyable. Anything that makes work pleasurable will yield a massive return on investment in the long periods of time, especially for the device that is with you nearly 100% of the time.
With millions of apps available, and new ones coming out every day, you can experience decision fatigue trying to figure out what is the most efficient workflow for your digital experience. Use this article as a guide towards the most efficient mobile workflow that will help you do the things you previously thought impossible, and help you move faster towards your goals.
Which iPhone should you get?
Any iPhone will do, as over the course of the years Apple perfected this product. The only piece of advice regarding the phone choice will be dependent on how much time you spend on your phone. The more time you spend using it, the bigger the screen size I recommend. That’s it. If you are reading this article, and want to become a power user, obviously you will go for the biggest one, or the one packed with the most features. I don’t think that there will be too much difference whether you chose the iPhone XR, iPhone XS (Max) or iPhone 7/8. The main difference will be battery life and screen size, pretty much most of the other things remain the same.
Personally, after owning iPhone X, I moved to the iPhone XS Max, and I couldn’t be happier, because the bigger screen is adding that extra punch of comfort. I spend 5 hours a day on the iPhone, therefore having a plus-sized phone is a worth-awhile investment. Your mileage may vary.
The Story of How To Use The iPhone Productively
This is my de facto default computer, as I am able to do the majority of the tasks and communication on it. I feel that the stability of the operating system allows me to do some very cool stuff that wasn’t possible before. I pretend that I am in front of the computer. I write long-form articles, work on spreadsheets, and do the work as I would do on a laptop.
iPhone is my window into the world. If it was my only device, I believe I would be able to survive and do my life’s work on it. More than 80% of this article was written on it.
iPhone is my communication device, my GPS, my diary, my typewriter, my book reader. In order to accomplish all these various tasks, I have a large app collection. I’ve tried consolidating the number of apps and tried to go towards app minimalism, however, I’ve learned it would be wiser if you use apps without hacking their use case. Finding a balance between having too many and too little is what makes a difference between pleasurable and resentful, and if you resent doing some things, you ultimately won’t do them.
How This Article Got Written
With the new iPhone XS coming out, I am sensing that the iPhone is taking an even bigger centerpiece in my professional life. Part of this article was written on iPhone X, but I am certain that every aspect of this piece will be in the far future as well. Naturally, this being one of the biggest pieces I’ve ever written on the topic, it has been “Improved upon” on iPhone XS Max. A big chunk of creating this piece was an experiment in mobility.
How My Workflow Looks Like
Considering that writing is one of my main activities my starting point of any entry is Drafts app, and it is defining my entire ecosystem. All texts, no matter how short, get life inside of Drafts. Three apps that Follow Drafts are Launch Center Pro, Omnifocus and Evernote. All four of these applications are in my dock and are used on a daily basis.
Thanks to iPhone X’s “app switching” using multiple apps at the same time became a breeze. This lets me power through multiple apps, giving “multitasking like” experience to your phone. This is especially interesting when I am writing, as it is super easy to jump between Evernote and Safari browser, as I am researching on the topic that I am writing for.
Often times I will use Drafts app for creating a short note, and later on, deciding where I want to send it. This gives me a very powerful short term writing/note memories.
Even though I can get caught up in entertaining things on my iPhone, I still find my productivity workflow so powerful, as it allows me to work anywhere. There are no limits as to where I can produce, and how comfortable I can feel while doing it. I’ve been trying to implement this workflow for a long time, and it took hard work to develop, but I don’t think it would have been possible to this extent, had there not been these serious updates to iPhone XS Max and task switching in particular.
Besides writing, I am involved in iPhone photography, image processing, and video creation. This turned my iPhone into a content factory, and I can only blame myself if I don’t have interesting things to publish, as you can create multi-media content 24/7.
Finally, I use the iPhone for creating video updates on Periscope, Youtube Live, and Instagram. As the world is exponentially becoming digital, video content is spreading quickly, and the need for its fast-paced creation is growing. Having a reliable video camera in your pocket is becoming a must-have for most digital creators, and iPhone’s 4K camera is up for the task.
URL Schematics, tying it all together
iOS URL schematics are links that allow you to open the content inside of another application. They are connecting my Omnifocus tasks and my work. I can jump straight from the Omnifocus into an Evernote note, moving from task manager directly to the work environment. It is easy to create tasks from within Evernote back into Omnifocus thanks to the “sharing” sheet that seamlessly creates them. See more on how this ties together in my article on Evernote Omnifocus integration.
The Settings Strategy
There must be a strategy behind your settings. If you don’t control your phone, your phone will control you. And I specifically think about notifications. They can be a lifesaver or a bane of your existence, and being mindful and controlling what comes your way will require some discipline as well as mindfulness that goes into it. Out of all settings, notifications are probably the most important ones, as they are making a dramatic impact on your day to day performance.
Another thing that goes into your setup strategy is battery and power management. I see far too many people that abuse batteries on their phones by leaving far to many applications running in the background (including background refresh), depleting and draining healthy batteries decimating their performance. The care for your batteries starts from day one of you buying the phone. Even with extreme phone care, my own batteries last me around a year, just in time to get a new one.
But in order to reach a two-year mark as most people do, you will have to tackle “background refresh”. This segment of your settings allows a background process for your apps to download content even while you aren’t using them. Unfortunately, the default settings for all apps is to leave this setting on. This isn’t a problem when you have a few apps that are permissible to your internet access, but when it’s about every single application on your phone, it tends to get problematic not only on your battery life but also on your phones data allowance. It is best to take care of background refresh before it goes out of control.
Choosing The Apps To Serve You
The bigger question than the choice of phone will be the choice of apps and tools that will serve you. Software defines your user experience and your productivity, therefore you want to have the most productive setup that you can get. As technology and smartphones are getting more powerful they need more taming. Investing time and energy is a prerequisite, and the fact that many people leave it to the entropy to do its thing, they are wasting valuable resources on the longer timeframe. Bad notifications, battery-draining apps, overflowing email inboxes, too many people having access to you are very real things that destroy the purpose of the smartphone, making you addicted to social media apps. All of these things that I call “digital entropy” are robbing you from mental health, drain your energy and turn you into a slave to your mobile device. I would know about these things from personal experience.
I’ve spent a lot of money on good and bad software, and I’ve spent more money than I care to admit, as well as a way to many monthly software subscriptions, but there are a couple of apps that persisted in my workflow and are completely worth the mention. You’ll be able to enjoy my list of the apps that I believe are the top tool in their respective category Categories I will cover:
- Email managers
- Calendar apps
- Task managers
- Project management apps
- Note Taking Apps
- Chat Applications
- Apps for writing
- Application Launchers
- Photography management & Camera apps applications
Top Email Manager – Default Mail app and Airmail & Gmail app as backups
Email is a centerpiece of business communication, and as such you need a very reliable tool to communicate. I’ve tried finding a better alternative to a default app but it seems that defaults lately have been beating 3rd party apps consistently.
Airmail has the triage features that help you move emails into other applications (such as task managers and others). You will probably want to utilize different email apps for different things, so you can separate the personal from business, and keep your business email clean.
Top Calendar Application – Default Calendar & Fantastical 2
The default calendar app is one of the rare if not an only app that has home-spring (home-screen) utility by showing you the date, and as such, it is a pretty straightforward app. I’d argue based on my personal experience that it is syncing slightly better than your 3rd party application.
Besides the default app, I am a huge fan of Fantastical and everything they’ve done to their natural language comprehension mechanism, which makes it exceptionally easy to get events saved into the shared calendar.
Top Task Manager – Omnifocus 3
Perhaps I am not the best person to discuss task managers, because I simply didn’t try out as many task managers as I’ve used to in the past. I’ve stuck with Omnifocus, which has an aggressive development team that makes a difference.
Whatever your task manager is, you want to have an app that is continuously worked on and improved. I’d say that besides Omnifocus, there are only a handful of apps that have such backing, such as Todoist and Asana.
Top Project Management App – Trello
Trello is really getting closer and closer to my heart, and on recent iPhone XS Max, it was beyond amazing to utilize the app, because of the increased screen size.
Trello is a game-changer for teams, and it has become my go-to management tool for my team. I am going from an idea to the delegation in a matter of seconds.
Getting multiple people on the same platform is quite a challenge, but when they are there, it creates astonishing time savings, that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
The Best Note-Taking App – Evernote
I’ve talked about Evernote dozens of times, and I always get caught up with it. I think that it’s statement enough that I wrote this article on Evernote, and that I still keep on using this app 9 years later since I’ve first registered.
I’ve written dozens of times about it, and I really suggest you check it out. There are a few reasons why I suggest it, and the biggest one being the power of its search. It’s handling audio, text, images as well as files.
Top Chat Application – iMessage
Yet One more of top of the line default applications. The main advantage is the native environment. Based on my experience Apple apps have more reliable notifications than any other app, and a number of people using them are creating a network effect. The majority of my clients and people I am working with are on iMessage on all of their devices.
It handles pretty much everything and offers a certain level of ubiquity that for me, it basically turns it into a new email. I’ve been using all sorts of chat apps, from Slack, over Skype to Discord, and I’ve found that iMessage is giving me the most optimal user experience.
However iMessages don’t come without their own problems, they don’t handle past history very well, searching what you talked about is a big problem. You can search your iPhone’s spotlight, but it is very hard to find anything with the clunky search UI that Apple left you with. However given that it is your default texting experience, and it handles and mangles all sorts of files and file sizes through it, and above all, it is free.
Top Apps for Writing
There is no single application that I am using for writing, as different apps serve different purposes. Writing requires inspiration, so switching between apps that serve different purposes is something that keeps my mind entertained. A part of being a writer is fighting procrastination, and multiple tools allow me to do just this.
But in this constant flow for the new apps, I’ve identified the ones that stayed with me for a very long time. We can divide writing apps into three main categories:
- Word processors (Word and Pages) – they are helping you manage the text and prepare it for print
- Text Editors (Byword, iA Writer) – they are great for blogging and creating content for digital.
- Long-form Editors (Ulysses, Scrivener) – these are designed for large manuscripts.
- Note Taking applications (Notes, Evernote, One Note) – they are great for catching ideas on the fly and keeping them in a central location so that you can access those ideas at the later note.
Application Launchers (Launch Center Pro)
This is a Very specific category for iOS. These apps are bringing your phone together. One home-screen is not enough for all the things you want to keep in your muscle memory. Launch Center Pro redefined the way I use the iPhone, by allowing me to have tap-able shortcuts upon which I can text/call my favorite people, access specific bookmarks, or subsections of the apps.
One overlooked application launcher is your Siri. We only got 35 positions on the plus-sized home-screen (and less on smaller phones), so it’s helping a lot when you get it ingrained to access you are less frequently used applications.
Keeping it all together: The Power of Sync
iPhone in an of itself might even not be the most powerful standalone phone, but it has two amazing things going for it: efficient ecosystem and synchronization. If all the work that I’ve done on my phone wasn’t accessible on my computer, I’d find iPhone a dead end.
Sync is a game-changer, as it takes technology out of the way. You stop thinking device-centric, you start developing a “cloud mindset”. Whether you want to keep on working on your computer, or on your tablet, having things that sync effortlessly makes your job easier and your mind different.
Work isn’t something you go to, it’s something that is “with” you. Your work needs to have a certain flow of serendipity, and Apple’s features like handoff, make it easy to move your work from one device to the next, without losing the flow or the context.
File Storage and keeping your files together
Think one of the biggest hurdles of mobile work is accessing files from your computer on your mobile devices. With the Files app and iCloud drive now up on iOS, Apple slightly improved upon this issue, but the mindset is still not there.
One trick that I stick to, is syncing the Desktop folder with Dropbox, so everything that I’ve casually left on the laptop/desktop, is easily accessible on the phone.
The file system and cloud still aren’t the perfect match, but in due time, I think even this gap will get bridged. Until then, try to be mindful of the files that you want accessible at all times.
Where to go from here?
While many tenants of smartphone philosophy are platform agnostic, I think apps behind the iPhone and software teams that build them are making a big cultural distinction compared to other platforms. iPhone and iOS applications that empower it are at the cutting edge of mobile productivity.
This article is ever-evolving and you need to bookmark it, as over time it will be my living list of best iPhone productivity advice that I find on the web. This and any article will be as good as you act on it. I challenge you to start incorporating some of the apps mentioned here into your own workflows. Define what you want out of the phone, and dive in to get the most out of it, and finally leave us a comment and let us know what action will you take after reading this piece.