How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You
The iPhone could be an incredible tool, but most people use their phone as a life-shortening distraction device.
However, if you take the time to follow the steps in this article you will be more productive, more focused, and — I’m not joking at all — live longer.
Practically every iPhone setup decision has tradeoffs. I will give you optimal defaults and then trust you to make an adult decision about whether that default is right for you.
In addition, because this is a long post, I’ve written it in a way to make it easier to skim. Here’s how to read the post:
As a bonus, because I know you got excited when you saw this was a seventy minute read, I’ve gone all out on getting pedantic about productivity and even included three appendixes to give an overview of the behavior design principles, to break out the potential financial budget for implementing this advice, and then a real-world example from my own phone.
Also, for convenience, here is a clickable table of contents. (The links below work if you’re reading in a browser, but not if you’re reading in the app.)
Open the Apple Settings App, then go to the Notifications Section. You’re going to need to get good at opening the Settings app, so learn to find this icon:
Go app by app, turning off all notifications.
By the end, the vast majority of your apps should have a notifications setting that looks like this, i.e with no notifications:
There are only a very few reasons to leave notifications on for a particular app. Here are those reasons:
I led with this advice to turn off notifications because it’s the most powerful. Also, you’re never going to finish reading this post if you leave your notifications turned on.
These are the productivity reasons that should make you wary of notifications.
#1: Notifications are uncontrolled interruptions from your real goals. They prevent you from ever getting into a flow state. You should be in control of what you do and when — not your phone. I’m going to refer to this over and over as “your phone is a tool, not a boss.” See Appendix A at the end of this article for more.
#2: The brain science behind learning requires sustained focus to trigger myelin growth around active neural pathways. That’s what brain plasticity is about. However, if you go around interrupting that process, you’ll never get the myelin growth that locks in whatever you were learning. Essentially, notifications lead to a stunted life.
#3: Those red dots cause anxiety, and anxiety causes health problems like heart disease. It’s not hyperbole that I talked about life expectancy in the title of this post. Not specific to red dots, but mild anxiety was shown to increase mortality by 20% over a ten year period.
‘Slot machine apps’ is a pejorative phrase to refer to apps that use variable rate rewards to try to trigger mindless and addictive behavior. That’s how the app tries to become your boss — although maybe boss isn’t even a strong enough word. These are virtual drugs and due to societal oversight, your dealer (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) is allowed to pose as a respectable member of society.
Thankfully, you can configure all of your social media to eliminate the addictive elements.
Here’s what I mean. When your addictions are in the first screen of a folder, they’re still visibly calling out to you. Still bad:
Instead, move your apps to the second screen of that folder, like so (the first screen has just one app, the second screen has the rest):
This second-screen-of-folder-on-second-screen strategy requires that at least one app be visible. When you reach this decision point for social media apps, you obviously should choose LinkedIn. It’s the least addictive.
Extra credit for people that are actual productivity nuts: just delete all your social media apps.
This is the same strategy as #2, just for messaging apps. Messaging apps also have a built-in variable rate reward — that’s what makes them slot machines.
The productivity secret for inbox management is to decide when you want to check your messages. Then, process them all in one big batch. Batch processing puts you in control. Unfortunately, most people live life reactively, constantly checking their inboxes for messages to react to. For you to reach your full potential, you need to switch to a batch processing mindset for all of your inboxes.
These messaging apps should never interrupt you. This goes back to the brain science justification in #1. You want to block off your day so that you have some contiguous time dedicated to being smart and creative (no interruptions) and then other blocks dedicated to rapid task processing (email, etc.). Cal Newport calls this Deep Work (in a very good book).
Productivity nuts: consider deleting all of these apps. People who set a schedule for when and where they check their inboxes often realize they can do all of their emailing from a proper computer. For Slack users, private messages and channel notifications are meant to be asynchronous — that means you don’t need immediate alerts.
You open an app intending to get work done, and then that app prompts you to leave a review. This is an unwanted interruption, and your job is to remove as many interruptions as possible.
So disable these unwanted Review Requests.
Is it crazy how we think of computers as productivity devices but then allow so many unproductive features? I think it’s crazy. This isn’t just some app-developer hack, it’s actually a built-in feature provided by Apple. That’s how blind Apple is to the damage caused by interrupting your work flow.
What’s happening with review requests is that when you use free apps, you are actually entering a partnership with the app developer where you are working on their behalf, often by clicking on advertisements, or in the case of app reviews, by acting as marketing.
Apps with more positive reviews get ranked higher by Apple. As a consequence, app developers tend to interrupt you with review requests just as you’re doing something productive.
Do you care about the morality of opting out of this partnership? A savvy user can often leach off of the hard work of app developers and the money of investors without giving anything back. I’ve been doing that with the MoviePass service — seeing twice as many movies as I paid for, all subsidized by some venture capital investors. (Unfortunately, that gravy train seems to be ending.)
When you or I do take advantage, we’re basically stealing. This sort of stealing is not illegal, but is it bad for your health? The impact off morality on longevity is muddy. As close as I could find was research on religious vs. non-religious people within the same country.
If you’re worried about the effect of morality on your longevity, here a few workarounds. Manually go to the App Store, look through your recently updated apps, and add reviews to each of them. Share your favorite apps with your friends (as I’m doing in this post). Or, opt for the pro or paid versions. I’m finding that I almost always prefer to pay for an app.
Most people should have their phone permanently on Do Not Disturb.
Do Not Disturb is not as severe as you might think, thanks to a sub-feature to “Allow Calls From Favorites.” As a result, you can still allow certain people to interrupt you or wake you up.
The trick to getting the Do Not Disturb feature to work all day is to turn it on from the same time to the same time, such as from 9am to 9am. I tested it and that works (I was worried it would effectively turn itself on and off again in the same minute).
If, however, you do want strangers to be able to contact you (for example, if you work in sales), then just set Do Not Disturb for your sleep and leisure time.
The justification here is similar to the steps above. Limited interruptions is smart for a number of reasons, including the science of brain plasticity, the health impact of anxiety, and the productivity gains of optimizing for deep work (all covered in more depth in Appendix A below).
What the above Do Not Disturb setting allows you to do is to take a ‘whitelist’ strategy to interruptions. So rather than banning telemarketers one-by-one (‘blacklisting’), you pre-select the very limited number of people who you would allow to interrupt your day. For me, that’s my immediate family, my dog walker, and my dog’s vet.
The absolute best wallpaper is an all black background. Choosing black destroys the idea that your phone is some shiny toy that you need to be looking at all the time.
Plus, with OLED screens (most new iPhones), black actually saves battery (as much as 60%). If you chronically run out of battery or are a true productivity nut, then black is the best option for you.
If you can’t stomach making a thousand dollar phone look that ugly, choose the black with rainbow stripe option that’s right next to the black option in the Stills. That’s what I’ve done for all the screen shots in this article.
There are other options:
If you’re shy, choose a wallpaper that will help as a conversation starter.
If you find inspirational images inspiring:
One problem with inspirational images is that words often make your phone feel cluttered. It’s better to have an image, like a mountain or a person working out, than it is to have a quote or motivational phrase. For example, here’s a reasonable set of affirmations that just don’t show up well behind various iPhone icons and widgets.
If you are going to have affirmation or motivational text, a quick hack is to make the background yourself in Instagram Stories. Instagram will let you save the Story to your phone’s Photos.
In this case, try to stick to just a single word, and place that word low enough that it shows up below your Do-Not-Disturb message. If you take this approach, consider two things:
Here’s an example Jonathan Howard sent me when he was reviewing a draft of this article:
If you still haven’t found a suitable strategy, pick an image with a dominant color that tells a color story to prompt one of the below emotions.
Don’t pick orange (cheap) or yellow (warning). If you’re not sure? Pick Red. All of these color choices will drain your battery more than a black background, but you may find the emotional gain to be worthwhile.
The reality for me is that I alternate between a black background and a meaningful picture. There’s some possible science supporting the value of small changes to your work environment to create a boost in productivity. Unfortunately, I can’t find a citation, although I’m 90% certain I read this in David Rock’s Your Brain at Work. The theory is basically that shaking up your environment a small amount puts your brain on alert (but not so much that you’re anxious).
The Raise to Wake feature lets you quickly see notifications on your lock screen just by lifting your phone.
This is a bad idea. You don’t want to accidentally see notifications on your lock screen when you just happen to be moving your phone around. You want only see notifications intentionally.
Winners check their notifications on their own schedule.
This is yet another setting to make sure you’re the boss and your phone is your tool.
The Screen Time widget is new from Apple and it helps show you where your time is going. Ideally, the Social Media category will be non-existent. Unsurprisingly, I’m not going to be able to find a screen shot where that is true.
To install the Screen Time widget:
You’re going to use this widget as a reality check against your own biased memory.
This article is going to recommend a few more widgets later, and then recommend that you build the habit of checking the Today View by swiping right from your home screen (conceptually, it lives to the left of your home screen).
It does seem to be roughly true that what gets measured gets done. There are a number of variants of that quote, but my favorite is “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated.”
A goal for many of the steps in this article is for you to use your phone less, and to use social media apps much, much less.
This widget is how you’ll know if you’re succeeding. I consider it the feedback part of the above quote. Then hopefully the reward is an intrinsic satisfaction in your own life and productivity.
In addition to installing the widget, you should set yourself a goal for social media usage. Imagine you had a child and were setting a limit for how much television they could watch each day. Is one hour reasonable? Probably. Is six hours reasonable? No.
Now, instead of this child, consider instead that you are setting limits for yourself, and that social media has replaced your television watching time. How much “leisure” time each day do you think is appropriate for yourself? If you’re not sure, choose thirty minutes. That’s enough time to scan your Facebook and Instagram, drop tons of likes on your friends, tweet once, get the gist of the news, and consume a huge dose of We Rate Dogs.
Sometimes it’s helpful to block yourself from certain websites. I have zero pride preventing me from treating myself like a toddler in need of parental controls. The reality is that we all could use some strict blocks to prevent our worst habits.
On the iPhone, the feature to block specific websites is hidden inside of Apple’s Limit Adult Websites feature.
I’m not trying to make any point at all about your adult website usage. I just want to help you find the feature (and it’s the most deeply buried feature in this article).
Turning on this feature allows you to then add specific websites, which don’t have to be adult websites at all.
What you should consider is whether you have any habitual behaviors around checking specific websites and then use this feature to break those habits. For example, I used to live in San Francisco and so had a habit of checking the website for the daily paper. That’s the one site I block because I don’t want to have that habit anymore.
Additionally, I was a huge Grantland reader before it was shut down by ESPN. I still type that URL into my browser just out of pure muscle memory.
If I were designing content restrictions for productivity, I’d have one called Google-only, which would allow you to Google any term and then click any result. But you’d be blocked from going directly to any sites or clicking deeper into any site.
However, since I’m not the boss at Apple, the solution above is the best available approach and is probably ideal for most people. I’ll give a more hardcore solution next.
None of you are going to do this… but I tried a month with no access to a web browser. If you are up for this, I definitely want to hear from you.
The theory is that the browser is one of the addictive slot machines that draws your attention and wastes your time.
So I used parental controls to disable Safari.
In practice, I would very occasionally need a web browser, so I’d download the Chrome app, do my browsing, and then delete the Chrome app.
If this method of reclaiming your phone at all appeals to you, here’s the secret:
When I tested this, I used Chrome as my occasional browser because the path for removing access again was shorter. I trusted myself more to delete the Chrome app than to remember to find the Safari restriction option that’s hidden behind five taps.
There are four ways to organize your apps: by function, by color, by random chance, and alphabetically.
You’re going to organize your screens by function, and you’re also going to organize apps into folders by function. The home screen is for tools only. The second screen is apps organized into folders. The third screen is for junk, namely Apple apps you aren’t allowed to remove.
However, on each screen and within each folder you have to make additional decisions about organizing. You should choose alphabetically.
The phrase “your phone is a tool, not your boss” is implying that you’re the boss. But it’s more subtle than that.
We want to set your phone up so that your rational brain is the boss, and your emotional, addictive, worst-decisions brain is asleep or blocked.
The Fast system is our default. It’s effortless, instinctual, and functional for staying alive, but also the source of most of our worst impulses. It’s the system that likes slot machine apps.
The Slow system is what we think of as our rational brain. It’s analytical, but requires effort and intention to access.
When I train meditation in my Heavy Mental program, I train a verbal way of moving the thoughts that come up during a meditation into our Slow system. That way we can analyze the thought, and then drop it. The entire trick is that activating your language center always activates your Slow system.
Here, we’re doing something very similar. When you go for an app, I want you to have the actual name of the app in mind. That way it’s easier for you to be acting rationally and intentionally. That’s the main reason to adopt an alphabetical organizing structure.
The second good reason is that alphabetical is less brittle. Organizing by function is hard because sometimes apps have more than one function. Organizing by app name is intellectually trivial in comparison.
For the vast majority of people, the ideal phone setup is to embrace Google Cloud services (mail, calendar, photos, maps) and pair them with Apple hardware.
If you’re on some other setup, like Apple email or Outlook, then stick with that. It’s not worth switching.
You can often configure the Apple apps to connect to the Google services. But it’s always better to just use the Google-specific app. In this case, I’m going to talk about Gmail.
Don’t use Apple’s Mail product. Google’s actual Gmail app just works more smoothly, especially search.
And don’t bother with any app that promises any sort of “smart” filtering or sorting of your email. Relying on somebody else’s algorithms is hugely overrated.
I hosted a Q&A with Marshall Hughes, who is our most prolific Inbox Zero coach. Yes, that’s a type of coach — a lot of our coaches zero (do you like my pun?) in on specific behavior changes.
In the Q&A, everyone wanted to ask Marshall about email automation tools. And Marshall was adamant that every experience he had with clients using automation tools turned out badly. Clients who chose automation were bailing on essential inbox habits. They’d given up on the most important habit of all, which is to say no to email by constantly unsubscribing and manually filtering.
So, paired with the settings above, you should be working on your email habits. That means primarily unsubscribing and blocking aggressively. I get a lot of extra email too that I consider FYI — for example, I like having a history of all of the newsletters we send out, but I don’t need to read each one as they come in to my inbox. I filter those into folders and only check those folders occasionally.
Sticking with the Google Cloud theme, use the native Google Calendar app and ignore Apple’s Calendar app.
The two most important subtleties are trying to shorten meetings and building a Today screen that’s worthy of a daily habit.
The Today habit is just you starting your day by getting a summary of what’s planned (and later, what the weather is like). If you can build this habit, then you can use it to trigger new habits.
In the Tiny Habits method, checking your calendar would be called an anchor habit. Above in the Screen Time section, I’ve already attached a new, not-quite-natural habit of checking your Screen Time widget. The reason I think that will work is because I trust that you will naturally want to check the calendar and weather, thus triggering the new and less natural habit of checking additional widgets.
On the short meetings front, this is literally a chance to save yourself hours each day by making the meetings you go to shorter and more focused. The key to focus is to have a clear goal, and push directly toward that goal.
I have one friend, a CEO, who wants the time on his calendar to be as precious as the time on a U.S. president’s schedule (he told me this during a different administration). If a meeting only needs seven minutes, then just give it seven minutes. A different friend, also a CEO, set a company policy that if a meeting invite didn’t include goals, an agenda, and pre-meeting preparation, you could skip it. The acronym there is GAP — no GAP, no need to attend.
Last, in my screenshot there’s a massive amount of time blocked off called “Reserved.” I’m unapologetic about scheduling time on my calendar for deep work. You can’t squeeze deep work into fifteen minute gaps — you need to carve out contiguous blocks of time. For most office workers, I use what Cal Newport calls a “bi-modal day.” That’s where half of my day is for deep work and the other is for shallow work, i.e. meetings, email, phone calls.
Apple Maps has gotten better, but it’s still not as good as Google Maps. You’re only going to use Apple Maps when you use Siri (it’s Siri’s permanent default).
Every other time, you’re going to use Google Maps.
This is yet another example of preferring the Google Cloud. And the custom settings for Home and Work are just small time-savers. There’s not a huge additional productivity explanation.
This will let you type faster through swiping. The world record for typing on a phone is set through the swipe method: just swipe your finger over the letters of the word you’re trying to type. The keyboard will figure out what you mean.
At first this will feel a little uncomfortable, but it will quickly become second nature.
Gboard, from Google, also has a bunch more features too like GIF and emoji search.
I found that I was so unhappy with the Apple keyboard peck-typing that I’d avoid using it altogether. I’m a fast laptop typist, so I’d always postpone writing until I got to my desk.
Now, with swiping, I’m just a little bit faster and that’s the difference between not typing anything and being willing to type a longer message.
Where that ties into productivity is what a lot of people call the “touch it once” principle. Especially with email, you want to avoid reading the same email twice. So if I happen to read a message that needs a response, I want to give that response right away.
This is the last of the settings to use the Google Cloud over Apple’s built-in options.
The main benefit of Google Photos is that the search is amazing. They use machine learning to categorize all of your photos so that you can later search them. For example, without any work I can find all my selfies by just searching for the word me. And I often pull up pictures of my dogs by searching for dog. I have even had someone pull up photos of a specific handcrafted greenland kayak paddle.
For photos, take the following steps.
I end up storing my photos in four places: Google photos, iCloud, laptop and Dropbox sync. That’s because I’m paranoid. I should probably take them out of Dropbox.
Of those, Google Photos is far and away the best experience for looking at my photos, thanks to the machine learning behind Google’s search. This is an example of where a messy-by-design organization structure beats rigid one. Search is more reliable and faster than you trying to manually categorize every photo.
If you already love your note taking app and to-do list app, then fine, stick with those. This is a recommendation where habits beat tools. Don’t switch if you already have strong habits.
However, if you don’t use a note taking app or to-do list app, or are unhappy with what you do use, let me give you a guiding theory that will lead you to Evernote: go messy and trust search.
Put your to-do list in Evernote, either by creating one long note that you edit every day or a new note for each day. Then put all your other notes in Evernote too. Don’t bother particularly with categorization. Instead, just trust that you’ll be able to find whatever you want later through Evernote’s search.
What you end up with is a messy but long-term functional system. The other approach, constantly switching apps, systems, and categorization schemes always breaks. Always.
One power of a messy to-do list is that not everything has to be a check list item. You can mix in quick drafts and longer notes to yourself. Or, as I’ve recommended in my Interstitial Journaling technique, to live mindfully, you should literally intermix short journal entries and to-do list items.
The problem with most productivity systems is that they break. As a result, a lot of productivity nuts spend a lot of their time creating new productivity systems over and over again. This, obviously, is not productive.
For that reason, where possible, I suggest that you choose messy systems over rigid systems. The ultimate messy system that I know you’re all familiar with is the paper notebook. A paper notebook gives you incredible flexibility: you can take notes however you want, write drafts, sketch outlines, draw pictures, write to-do lists, etc. A to-do list app just doesn’t allow for that.
The downside to paper notebooks is that it’s impossible (or at least very hard) to find an old note.
All of that is the argument for merging your to-do lists with your notes, and then putting them all into a single cloud-backed note taking system with good search features.
Although Evernote has advanced features that may or (probably) may not be a pleasure to use, the basics work well and reliably. I recommend starting with free and then upgrading ($60/year) if you bump into a limit on bandwidth or offline availability.
I learned to meditate from Headspace. That’s a good option. But guided meditation is something that you’ll graduate from quickly. Most people I know who meditate don’t still need a daily guide.
Once you graduate to meditating on your own, Calm is the much better option because of their built-in timer and tracking. I was an advisor in the early days of Calm specifically because of my experience building habit tracking apps.
Meditation is a productivity and performance practice. The explanation for why is a little long, so I’m mostly just going to point you to longer articles we’ve published in Better Humans. However, here’s the quick pitch for why the Calm app is about performance and not just “calm.”
A lot of people talk about meditation as a relaxing or spiritual practice. That’s fine for them. But you’re reading a productivity article, so I’m focused on what meditation does for your productivity.
The core concept comes from the world of deliberate practice, which is when you identify the components of skills that are important to your success, and then practice those components individually. I want you to approach meditation as a practice session for a skill that you’re going to use to help your productivity.
You should read our full article on Deliberate Practice to get a feel for how to design practice for all important life skills.
With meditation, you’re practicing a two-step process that you will use outside of the meditation. The first step is becoming aware of where your mind wandered, acknowledging the thought and then putting the thought down. Call that Awareness. The second step is bringing your focus back to your point of focus (usually your breath). Call that Focus.
This Awareness-Focus loop is what you are practicing during a meditation session. A lot of people feel bad if their mind wanders during meditation. But you should actually feel good. The more often your mind wanders, the more times you get to practice this Awareness-Focus loop. I tell people what they are doing is mental pushups. The more wandering they do, the more pushups they get in.
Now that you’ve practiced, here’s a way to then apply the Awareness-Focus loop in ways to be more productive by beating procrastination.
There are basically two philosophies for how to use a goal tracker. Both involve picking a set of small goals or habits and marking them off in the app each time you do them.
In the Quantified Self philosophy of goal trackers, you are tracking your goals simply out of curiosity because you want to get more information about yourself. (The word Goal in Goal Tracker doesn’t even come into play.)
The second philosophy is focused on a goal-oriented behavior-change mindset where you are using the goal tracker for motivation and accountability in order to get yourself to adopt a new behavior and become a better person.
I simply do not understand the Quantified Self philosophy — don’t they want to improve? Every time I go to a Quantified Self event, I feel like I’m surrounded by aliens who love data but not growth.
It just doesn’t make sense.
So my goal tracker recommendation is for a goal tracker I built. It is the foundation of the Coach.me community. Most users and most coaches started out by forming habits through this goal tracking app.
Obviously, I’m talking from my own book here. This article is the product of prior work that started with this goal tracker and then morphed into coaching and personal development publishing. There are many links out there to projects we built at Coach.me or articles we published at Better Humans.
So, with the caveat that I’m deeply biased, my position is that I’ve seen all the other goal trackers and generally they all use similar formulas and then differentiate just a tiny bit on what graphs they show you.
However, we put every ounce of our design effort into something different: your psychology and motivation. That includes how we trigger reminders, how we try to avoid triggering guilt, how we introduce variable rate rewards for your own good, and how we handle when a goal is too challenging for you.
If you’ve read this far in the article, I think you will have picked up on my philosophy, which is that I want to see results.
Trying to remember hundreds of passwords is a waste of time. Using the same password for all your accounts is the fast track to getting hacked.
There are a number of good third-party password managers that are much easier to use than Apple’s built in Keychain. If you are already using one, then stick with it. This is a principle (covered also in Appendix A) that habits are more important than tools. The benefits of your habits around your current password manager outweigh the feature benefits of switching to a different manager.
I use 1Password but that’s not what I’m going to recommend to you. I signed up with them a long time ago when they had a pay-once option. But now they’ve moved to a subscription model that’s quite a bit more expensive than other better options.
So, if you are looking to use a password manager for the first time, then install LastPass. It’s the probably best for most people and definitely the least expensive at $24/year.
Download LastPass here. You’re going to need to set it up in three places: as an app on your phone, as an app on your computer, and as an extension in your computer’s web browser.
On your iPhone, you’ll also need to configure LastPass to fill passwords in Safari. Select your password manager from iOS Settings > Passwords & Accounts > Autofill Passwords.
The theory behind the value of a password manager comes down to pragmatic security and reduced cognitive load.
Your parents used to memorize people’s phone numbers. Now nobody does that anymore. It should be the same with passwords — you have better things to remember. That’s a cognitive load reduction.
Plus, password managers can save time. A common trap is to half-way embrace unique passwords for each app or site, but then find yourself constantly forgetting and having to go through a lost-password routine. This is wasted time.
On the security front, most people who don’t use a password manager end up reusing passwords. So when a hacker gets your password to one site, they get it for all sites. Password managers aren’t immune to getting hacked either, but at least if you use a popular one you’re likely to hear about it when the hack happens.
After accuracy, the must-have feature for calculators is a history. Otherwise you’re going to make a typo and not notice.
Unfortunately, Apple’s calculator does not ship with a history feature. So:
Notice the second line of numbers at the top? That’s a history. Having that history saves you time and reduces your errors because you can spot when you’ve fat-fingered an entry. Reduce your anxiety and live longer.
“Even people displaying minor symptoms of psychological distress were found to have a 20 percent increased risk of dying over the 10-year study period.” (This is the same citation I used in the section about turning off notifications.)
Technically, this is quadruply redundant.
You can swipe down to get the camera from your control center, tap the camera on the lock screen, or swipe left from your lock screen.
That last, swipe-left from the lock screen is really convenient. Practice that. But also add the camera to your toolbar.
The camera is a great tool for happiness and gratitude. I’m not talking about preening in front of the camera all day. I’m talking about capturing the most interesting moments of your day for posterity and to share with others.
Using your camera regularly also helps you develop an eye for detail.
The general theme of this article is to set your phone up to be more present in the world. Looking for pictures to take is one way to be more engaged with your surroundings. Stopping a meal so that you can capture your food, however, is not the path to living in the moment.
If you are wanting to post pictures to Instagram and Facebook, you can consider the placement of the Camera app to be a replacement habit that allows you to schedule your social media usage. Take a picture in the Camera app and then post it later, during your allotted leisure window.
What does 70% chance of rain mean? Sometimes it means there’s a 70% chance of rain over 100% of your area. But it can also mean there is 100% certainty of rain, but only over part of your 70% of your area.
That’s confusing. And so the only sane way to check the weather is to compare it to the Doppler radar. These radars visualize the rain and the direction that the rain is heading. That way you can eyeball for yourself if the rain is actually going to affect you.
Download the NOAA Radar app.
While you’re setting up weather, you should place this Doppler app on your home screen, and then go to your Today screen and turn on Apple’s Weather widget.
A big part of productivity is planning. You’ve heard a million people complain about how inaccurate weather forecasting is. So here’s the solution: be your own forecaster.
The idea behind Pomodoro is to be fully focused for a set period of time, usually twenty-five minutes, and then have a five minute break.
This is a way to train yourself to avoid procrastination. You end up constantly pushing yourself a little bit harder to make it to the end of your work period, knowing that you’ll get a short reward after.
The rules of Pomodoro aren’t complicated, but it’s still nice to have a dedicated app. There are two good ones, but I prefer BeFocused Pro for $2.99 because it can easily categorize your Pomodoros. For example, I’m currently in a Pomodoro that I marked for the Writing category.
When do you use Pomodoro? It’s useful for when you are doing individual work, like checking your email or working on a project. You wouldn’t use this method during a meeting.
This is one of a handful of strategies in this article for beating procrastination. My intention is that you use all of them at once. For example, the Meditation section is mostly focused on meditation as training that allows you to catch and overcome the feelings that lead to procrastination.
Pomodoro comes at procrastination from a different perspective. It makes for a smaller, more achievable goal. A lot of people get down on themselves if they can’t go an entire 8-hour work day without procrastinating. Pomodoro helps you set a more achievable goal, say 25 minutes. And if that’s too long, make your Pomodoro even shorter. You can always start small and build up to your final goal.
(The third main strategy for beating procrastination is next — using Brain.fm for background noise.)
A lot of people have trained themselves to listen to music while they work. But almost all research says that performance is poorer in the presence of a background sound.
One obvious benefit, though, of music is social. You put on your headphones and people know not to bother you. I often wear headphones with no sound just to indicate to my coworkers that I’m busy.
The research, however, on music as a background noise is that it’s tricky — there are occasional benefits to productivity but also many, many pitfalls. There is another approach: an emerging field of auditory science used to boost focus and reduce mind-wandering.
Brain.fm is the best of these brain music options.
Since I come from the world of coaching, I spend most of my time helping people apply behavior changes. As a result, I often end up in a place where I think I see certain advice working, but I don’t necessarily understand or trust the scientific explanation for why that advice works. That’s the case with Brain.fm.
My experience with Brain.fm is that it’s amazing and works exactly as advertised. Sometimes, without sound, my brain will have a tendency to wander. With the Brain.fm focus music, it some how shuts down that wandering during any dead spots in my work (like if I’m waiting for an app to load). As a result, I have more sustained periods of focus.
However, I find their explanation of the science to be inscrutable. It sounds exactly like the type of pop-culture brain science that lots of people spout. This doesn’t bother me, as long as it works.
However, Brain.fm have run studies funded by the National Science Foundation that back up my experience, which is that Brain.fm is better than silence and silence is better than music.
I need to emphasize that this is a corporate-run study that magically ended up with a self-serving result. So, more than the science, I just want you to take my word for it enough to try it out for yourself (remember, there’s a free trial).
Your podcast app should be on your home screen and you should train yourself to listen to podcasts during your commute, while cleaning, and during light cardio.
If you listen to podcasts on the bus or subway, here’s an important, little-known fact. It’s preferable to just listen! You don’t also have to be playing games and scrolling Instagram. Be a single-tasker.
The below are where most people should start when it comes to productivity and health podcasts.
Of course, Tim Ferriss is on this list. But I rounded him out so that you get a diverse set of ideas and approaches.
Do not approach your podcast subscriptions as if you need to listen to every episode. Instead, pick and choose the most recent episodes that feel relevant to you.
I’ve never heard anyone who shares my reasoning for why and how to listen to productivity and health podcasts. Most people just think having more information is inherently good. That’s not my reason.
Information is never enough for making important changes. You need to get emotionally hooked, amped up and committed. The podcast format gives you a chance to connect with advice at an emotional level and really feel the social proof. That matters.
Second, most advice only works for some people some of the time. I’ve written before that you should approach personal development advice as if it only has a 10% success rate. The obvious implication is that you’ll always be needing to try lots of approaches until you find the one that works for you. Given that observation, it feels entirely natural to me that you would listen to both Jocko Willink and Gretchen Rubin.
Do not bother with cliff notes. There’s more value in being a slow reader, where the stories in the book can work on your emotions, and where your brain can roam freely to make connections between the words and your own world. So skip book summary apps like Blinklist, and embrace reading on the Kindle.
So, yes, install the Kindle app. This would be a good app for your home screen. Try to replace mindless social media usage with deep learning via either reading or podcasts.
But you’re probably not done.
Do you like to read before bed? Do not bring your phone to bed. That kills your sleep, bad sleep kills your health, and eventually your bad health is going to kill you. For the “Human Longevity” promise of this article, buy a Kindle Paperwhite and put that next to your bed. If you’re an iPhone owner, you can afford this second device.
Do you want a book recommendation to go with this section? I’ve got one you’re not going to hear anywhere else. Go buy the sci-fi book Dune and read it in the context of personal development.
Also, two behavior design notes:
I’m absolutely positioning the Kindle to be a replacement habit for Facebook and Twitter. How much smarter would you be if you replaced half of your social media usage with reading?
Second, I have a not-very-well supported theory that’s paired with the book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The behavior design implication of that book is that you need to speak to two systems of the brain. Speaking to the rational, Slow System is easy. Just lay out the facts.
Speaking to the emotional Fast System is much harder, namely because it’s so hard to see or introspect on what’s going on in there. But if you accept that difficulty (and this is the part of my theory that feels like pop brain science), then you realize that you need to start looking for ways to rewire your emotional core.
Then, having accepted that rewiring your emotions is part of most behavior design, I’ve started to notice things — like that most self-improvement advice is not very rational. That’s by design. A self-improvement book is mostly emotional rewiring. That is exactly why you need to read the entire book rather than cheating with a summarized version.
I’ve tried and like Firefox Focus and Google Chrome, but there’s a problem. Either you’ll end up cutting and pasting URLs that auto-opened in Safari or you’ll end up having to manage individual app’s preferences about how to handle a URL click.
Skip those complications. Safari is good.
There’s a secret, super rad option in Safari called Reader mode. This mode strips out all of the in-article ads, clutter and junk. I find that it does a great job and saves me from fat-fingering ads that have been placed inside the body of the article.
Here’s the before and after on an article in Reader mode.
To turn on reader mode once, there’s a little four line icon at the top left of Safari. I’d managed to find that on my own.
What I hadn’t realized was that if you long press on that icon, you’ll get an option to turn on Reader mode permanently for that site. This is amazing and completely changed my experience of reading articles on my phone.
There are two things that you’re setting up here.
One is that you’ll flat out save time by not seeing or accidentally tapping any ads. That’s a small productivity gain each day.
The second is related to being in charge of your phone. You don’t want to see ads because you don’t want your phone telling you what to buy and when. Advertising on your phone breaks the tool-not-boss rule.
You’ve hidden all of your shallow social media experiences in a folder on your second screen. Now, build a replacement habit for those dead times in your day when you would be tempted to be on Twitter or Facebook.
Pick the media that actually makes you smarter and then put apps for that on your home screen.
My apps are Medium, Kindle and Podcast. Maybe you include the Washington Post (although that’s probably an anxiety producer that doesn’t actually need to be checked all day).
These are your deep learning apps and you just need to make sure they are easier to find than your old, shallow, addictive apps.
Replacement habits are a very common strategy in behavior design. The underlying brain science is that it’s easier to create a new habit than to delete an old habit.
In fact, you don’t ever really delete old habits. You might stop using the neural pathway for your old habit, but the neurons are still there, waiting for a moment of weakness. Eventually those cells will die out. But there isn’t actually a way for you to train them to death.
That’s why we use replacement habits so often. You can train a new, strong habit that supersedes your old habit. In this article, we’ve come at social media usage in a bunch of ways, all of which work together. We’ve tried to short circuit your existing habits by moving the apps, we’ve added accountability through Screen Time, and in this section, we’ve finally introduced the replacement habit that you’ll do instead.
Skip this step if you already have a way you track steps. Lots of you have Fitbits or other ways to do this.
If you aren’t already using a pedometer, your iPhone will automatically track steps for you in the Health App. However, you don’t want to have to open that app in order to see your step count.
So, you’re going to need to install an app that comes with a Today screen widget. My recommendation is Pedometer++.
You’re building up reasons now to check your Today screen daily. That’s good.
Also, I went looking for some research to include here on the benefits of 10,000 steps. Unsurprisingly, the pleasing roundness of that number owes more to marketing than to any particular science (9,901 steps is practically just as good).
There is quality research on the health benefits of even tiny amounts of walking (much less than 10,000 steps): trading two minutes of sitting per hour for two minutes of walking per hour reduced mortality by 33%.
That’s not a justification for doing a full more-is-better 10,000 steps though. The science for doing more walking is mixed, and requires piecing together your own projections. For instance, this 2004 Arizona State paper classifies people who walk 10,000 steps as active and people who walk 12,500 as highly active. But they leave it up to you to cross reference other studies on the health benefits of being in either activity category.
So, my recommendation is to wait on the science and trust your gut instead. For most people, walking feels good. It’s a chance to use your body, to build up pride in a consistent amount of activity, to listen to podcasts, to see your town or city. Those should be reason enough.
The official position in the Better Humans publication is that CICO is just the wrong framing. Rather, instead, you need to think: to lose weight, I need to burn fat.
Our position is that weight loss is all about putting your body into fat-burning situations.
Calorie restriction, it turns out, is not guaranteed to lead to a fat-burning situation. It can instead lead to a lower metabolism.
What does lead to fat loss then? Low carb diets and fasting. And the most common form of fasting is time-restricted eating, where you fit all your eating into an 8 hour window and then fast for the next 16 hours. People refer to this as 16:8.
Additionally, my experience watching people diet (I ran a 15,000 person diet study and have had more than 100,000 dieters come through Coach.me), is that time restricted eating is an easier behavior change. Basically, it’s easier to train your body to skip breakfast than it is to give up carbs, not for a month, but for the rest of your actual life.
Of course, you can combine both approaches. But if you had to pick one, I’d start with time restricted eating.
If you absolutely want to go Low Carb, download MyFitnessPal and upgrade ($49.99/year) so that you can track macros. You want to keep your carbs below about 50g. If you don’t pay for the upgrade, you’ll only be able to see calories and I’m telling you that’s not effective.
But really, where I want you to start is just to skip all of that food restriction stuff and start with time restricted eating. As an example, I try to stop eating before 8pm and then don’t start again until noon the next day.
To track all of this, use an app called Zero and put it on your home screen.
Consider that your body has two primary sources for fuel. One is glycogen, i.e. the carbs you eat. And the other is stored fat. Your body uses insulin to switch from one source to the other.
Specifically, when you are in a fed state, i.e. you ate recently, your body releases insulin, which inhibits your body from burning fat. Dr. Fung’s uses a train track visualization below and I always try to keep in mind which track I’m intending to be on.
Night shift “shifts” the colors of your display away from the blue spectrum and toward the warmer (redder) spectrum. That’s supposed to help you sleep better.
The standard advice seems to be to avoid screen time and blue light starting two hours before your bed time.
However, my experience with sleep coaching is that people are often going to bed much later than they should, often because of a phone addiction. Starting Night Shift four hours earlier gives you an opportunity to both go to sleep more easily and also to shift your bed time up. If you find yourself going to bed earlier, then just get up earlier. Congratulations, you’ve become a morning person.
The case against screens is strong. Here a quote from one study:
The science for the red shift as a solution to all of the above negative effects is much more iffy. In fact, Night Shift is a pretty silly feature. The studies say blue light is bad. But at the time the Night Shift feature was built, nobody had done proper testing of red light. It turns out red light is also bad.
So, the reason I like this feature is because it’s a prompt to start working on your evening routine to head to bed. Basically, it’s just a color coded reminder. That’s it.
The Medical ID feature makes key medical information available to strangers when your phone is locked.
If you are incapacitated during a medical emergency, a stranger can go to your power-off screen (long press right button and volume up on modern iPhones). That’s where your Medical ID info will be.
I see Medical ID as having three practical benefits to you, in order of likelihood.
Product designers consistently choose female voices for services like Siri and Alexa because culturally we’re more comfortable with bossing around women.
Put aside that that’s gross for one second.
You’re a productivity nut. You’re going places. Don’t you think at some point you’re going to have to get comfortable bossing around men?
This is going to get weird and darkly introspective.
Originally, I’d looked into changing Siri’s voice because somebody had told me that men are more likely to be cruel to a female-voiced AI. You know what I mean about getting frustrated when Siri or Alexa makes a mistake. Alexa, especially, likes to butt in and is just begging to be told to shut up. I’m constantly having to tell Alexa, “Alexa, stop.” but how close am I to cracking and yelling “Shut up, bitch?”
I don’t treat any woman in my life that way and I don’t want to start with a robot.
I couldn’t find any research at all to back up this idea of gendered cruelty to robots, although I did find published anecdotes:
Not finding more established research, I backtracked to to the person who’d originally told me this. Her sources were multiple backchannel discussions from people who work on these AI products. People, not just men, say the rudest, cruelest things to female AIs, much ruder and cruder than they do to male AIs. If I can get one of these AI product people on the record, I’ll add it to this post.
Our relationships to robots is so weird and interesting and scary — there’s deep cultural conditioning, new robot etiquettes, power dynamics, etc.
At heart, I’m worried about developing patterns with my female AIs that I don’t have with my female friends, peers and colleagues. And what if those AI patterns transfer over to my human interactions?
You might think the opposite, why can’t I practice treating my female AIs with respect and grace? I don’t have a good answer. I just know that this dynamic is worth examining in yourself.
Was this too weird of a tangent? This is honestly the type of shit I think about all day.
The default is something like, “Tony Stubblebine’s iPhone.” That exposes your privacy when you have your hotspot turned on, and advertises to the entire world that you don’t know how to customize your phone.
There are three strategies for choosing a new name:
Here’s how to set this yourself:
Positive self-talk is actually surprisingly effective. I always thought it was too woo-woo, but then I tested it out with some people at work. They all said it was more effective than anything we’d ever done, including journaling, meditation, sleep, priority setting, and morning routines. People have a lot of negative self-talk that they don’t like, but which they haven’t taken the time to train theirselves out of.
If you’re interested in positive self-talk, I got my start with this By the Book episode, where they read and tested a book about changing your self-talk.
Of course, training yourself to be more positive isn’t as simple as changing the name of your phone, but it’s a start.
If you turn off advertising tracking, then the ads you see won’t be specifically targeted to you and what advertisers know about you. The point here is that getting less targeted ads is good. You want to spend money on your own terms.
This is a variant on “your phone is a tool, not your boss”. When you want to spend money, you want to use your phone for research and then make a purchase based on that research. You do not want the other way around, where your phone is telling you or brainwashing you what to buy. You are the boss.
You’re still going to get advertising in some places, but almost all of the advice I’ve given here includes paying for the ad-free version of the apps you use.
Paying for ad-free apps probably saves you money, as you’re less likely to buy something you don’t want.
When you stop using your phone, it’ll auto-lock to prevent some stranger from grabbing your phone and digging through your private info. That’s basically a good feature, but most often the result is that you end up locking yourself out.
Most people keep their cell phones on their person — so keeping your phone locked is not a huge security risk. We’re only talking about five minutes — that’s the maximum auto-lock setting. If you check your phone on the way into your gym, walk to your locker, put your phone in your locker, change into your workout clothes, lock your locker and walk away, your phone has probably already locked itself. (Plus, most of you actually take your phone out to the gym with you!)
So the strategy here is to save yourself the few seconds it takes to unlock your phone by extending the auto-lock time.
My take on the value of saving time here is that those few seconds of waiting for a phone to wake up is when you are at risk for getting distracted. So, worst case this setting saves you a few minutes of time (research says you check your phone 25 times per day). But best case, it saves you from 30 minutes of goofing off.
Sometimes you need to share your hotspot password with a close friend or loved one. A random three-word phrase is something you can say out loud that they won’t have trouble spelling.
This is also a more general trick for creating quality passwords that are easy for you to say or remember. Think about your router’s password for example and how you’re always having to share it with guests. Sharing a three-word phrase is so much easier than a string of random letters and numbers.
I spent a summer driving all over the United States, totaling 9,000 miles while working from a campervan. I know a thing or two about internet access from weird spots. In almost all places, using my phone as a hotspot beat out trying to find local wifi. My phone was faster and more convenient. This setting is about making your hotspot even easier to use, especially when you are connecting new devices to it or sharing it with traveling companions. That can actually be a real productivity win.
Swipe down from the top-right of your screen and you’ll have access your Control Center which contains toggles for wifi, bluetooth, flashlight and more.
Apple wants to give you the option to turn this behavior off when you’re inside of a different app. That’s a mistake.
The main reason to have always-on access to the control center is so that you can toggle wifi on and off. Direct, manual toggling of the source of your internet is an important way to control the speed of your app experiences.
There have been dozens of times where I’ve wondered why an app was slow and then realized the culprit was either the wifi or the cell signal. As someone who travels a lot, I often find that I get the best internet speeds when I’m willing to take direct control of switching between wifi and cell service. Sometimes one of those is much stronger than the other.
When you are using your phone as a tool, then fast internet is a direct link to productivity. That’s the main reason to have access to the Control Center.
This setting used to clog up your bandwidth and kill your phone battery. But we’re in a new era of fast bandwidth and better batteries. So turn it on.
The upside is that you’ll have one less thing to manage, and all of your apps will stay updated automatically.
No special discussion here other than referencing saving your cognitive budget. When automation works well, you’re saving your brain cycles to do something better. That’s the case here.
GarageBand was 1.8GB when I went to check my installed apps. On a new phone, I’m not planning to do a lot of managing my storage, but 1.8GB is enough to get my attention.
Don’t worry, you can always reinstall these apps.
This is the sort of thing that’s better to do now, while your focused attention is on setting up your iPhone. You’re saving yourself time down the road when you run out of storage at an inopportune time.
Some people take right away to talking to Siri, and other people don’t.
The problem is the mental version of muscle memory. If you’ve never talked to Siri, then it’s hard to muster the new behavior in those occasional times where it would be useful.
Here’s what I suggest: go through the script below a few times and see if anything sticks. You can turn on Siri by long pressing the button on the right of your iPhone. In parentheses, I’ve listed the phrase that will reverse the alarm or reminder that you just set.
Now do something to make calling people easier. Set a nickname for a loved one, like your mom.
What we just did here is a tactic called deliberate practice. When most people read about an iPhone trick, they will try to store the trick away in their memory, hoping that they will remember that trick down the road.
I want you to consider a much more effective approach. If you ever think you want to use a new trick or behavior later on, try practicing it first. The practice makes later recall so much more likely.
This is really a life philosophy to build in practice time for all of your life and work skills. For a very deep dive, see Jason Shen’s Complete Guide to Deliberate Practice. This is the same article I recommended in the Meditation step.
There are basically two keyboard shortcuts that everyone should have. One is for your email address and the other is for your home address.
Once you get used to the power of shortcuts, you’ll probably start adding more.
Go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement
Now when you type either of those shortcuts, you’ll get an option to autocomplete to your full text replacement.
This is a pure and simple productivity hack. No discussion necessary.
There are at least (at least) five places where your phone will pull your home address.
If you went through the Google Maps section, then you added a home address there.
If you went through the Text Replacement section, then you set a shortcut for your address.
There are still three more places to set:
Boom. Now you’ve saved yourself some typing down the road. That’s productivity.
Yes, you should have backups even though practically every app you install stores your data in the cloud. But backups do make it much easier to set up a new phone when you upgrade (or lose it).
I strongly suggest iCloud backups — they’re cheap. I’m on the $10.99/year package for 20GB and creeping toward the next level which is just another $0.99/month for another 30GB.
There should be options there to manage your iCloud storage and which apps get backed up. You should back up most of them given how cheap storage is.
I used to resist paying for backups, but the math on the time savings alone is great. You’ll pay a few tens of dollars to save yourself hours of work when you upgrade your phone. And then you’ll save yourself a huge headache if you actually do lose your phone completely.
Below are the principles that come up over and over again in this article. Where possible, I’ve tried to cite science.
However, many of these principles come through my work at Coach.me. We started as a gamified habit tracker, and through that experience, we helped a few million people form a few tens of millions of new habits. The vast majority of those people were motivated by productivity or health.
And then, also through Coach.me, I ran a brain training group that worked individually with 2,000 people and, separately, started a behavior design coaching certification that’s produced coaches who’ve worked more than with 20,000 clients.
So, the principles that don’t have citations are, well, just, like, my opinion, man.
No need to lead with science here — this starts as dead simple philosophy. What’s the point of life? Abdicating your life to be a servant of your phone is a shitty approach.
There are a handful of exercises in this article that have very small surface-level productivity gains. Does it really matter if you save one second every time you open your phone?
I say yes. In my experience training people to break procrastination or enter flow states, those pauses are prime times for you to get distracted. In those cases, a two second pause can turn into a 30 minute break.
If any programmers are reading this, what is the honest answer to how long it takes to run your automated tests? Is it the literal time that the tests run, or the time of the break you take while the tests are running?
From my piece on Superhuman Cognitive Stamina:
Many people look at this as the Steve Jobs turtleneck story. What did he wear to work every day? A black turtleneck. So while you were spending your cognitive budget getting dressed, he was saving his up for when he got to work.
So, on your phone, you want to look for places to eliminate decisions ,because you’ll use those decisions somewhere else.
This NYT piece is the right primer on the research that says willpower is limited. This other NYT piece is the right primer on Carol Dweck’s work that points to the opposite conclusion, that self-belief determines if willpower is a limited resource. Science is so frustrating — two seemingly opposing views. I believe willpower is limited, but trainable.
When you spend time in the productivity world, you start to realize how much time people spend playing around with productivity systems.
Part of this is that a lot of productivity nuts are pursuing productivity as a hobby — essentially, they are role-playing a world where they are more successful. So for them, it’s fun to constantly tweak systems and try new tools.
However, the other reason people spend so much time changing tools and systems is that rigid tools and systems break. When they break, it’s almost always easier to just start over from scratch with a new system.
So, where possible, try to use a messy system. Those will tend to be less fragile. In this article, the most common messy systems were backed by a strong search feature.
A strong habit is a case where you can do something automatically and effortlessly. That’s so valuable. It’s very rare that a new tool has a feature that’s more valuable than your old habit.
Many productivity reviews say the opposite. They say you should definitely try the newest and latest thing.
They’re wrong. If you have a habit based around an old tool, then you should be unapologetic about sticking with that tool.
If any programmers are reading this, a good tool to examine would be your text editor. I alternate between Sublime and Vim. I want to be a Sublime user, but my muscle memory around Vim shortcuts is so good that I still find I’m much more productive in Vim which was publicly released in 1991 and which I’ve been using since 1996.
Cal comes from the perspective of deep work often being your most productive and valuable work. Mihaly’s research was actually just focused on happiness. Deep work is when people report the deepest levels of satisfaction.
Both of them recognize how difficult it is to do deep work or deep learning. Those moments don’t come by accident, and when they do, they are easily disrupted.
A lot of the advice in this article is meant to make it just a little bit easier for you to focus, to get into flow, and to achieve deep thinking and deep accomplishments. The main strategies are to eliminate interruptions, replace shallow behaviors with deeper ones (reading vs. tweeting), and schedule leisure activities and shallow activities so that they don’t interfere with your deep work.
By default, your phone is set up to create anxiety. I referenced a study about how mild anxiety leads to increased mortality twice in this article.
You paid too much for your iPhone to let it kill you — that’s an outrageous side effect. So instead, eliminate the anxiety.
I gave a few examples of how your phone can change your diet and activity patterns in order to help you live longer. Use Coach.me, Zero & the Pedometer.
The bare-bones budget for the advice in this article is as follows:
Bare-bones budget: $59/year
The mid-level budget for the advice in this article adds:
Mid-level budget: $122.99 up front and then $189/year
The max-level budget for the advice in this article is
Max-level budget: $262.99 up front and then $1,172.99/year.
#1. Turn OFF (Almost) All Notifications.
Zero badges anywhere. No notifications for messaging, email, Slack. My most notable deviation for notifications is for Coach.me.
#2. Hide social media slot machines
I don’t have the Facebook app installed although I do check the web sometimes. Facebook bullied me into having the Facebook Messenger app installed because they won’t show me messages on the mobile website.
#3. Hide messaging slot machines
I do see text messages on my home screen from a small handful of people, namely my family and my dog walker. I look at everything else during scheduled inbox time.
#4. Disable App Review Requests
#5. Turn on Do Not Disturb
Done, but just for leisure and sleep time, i.e., 6pm to 9am.
#6. Be strategic about your wallpaper
I went with the built in black-with-rainbow.
#7. Turn off Raise to Wake
#8. Add the Screen Time widget
#9. Add Content Restrictions
Just sfgate.com for me, which was a website that made more sense to visit when I lived somewhere else.
#10. (Optional) Use Restrictions to turn off Safari
I did this once in the past. I would do this again temporarily to break any new web browsing habits.
This is how I did it. You probably won’t have a TV folder like I do — most of those apps are just ways to watch Warriors basketball games.
#12. Choose Gmail
Yes. I get to Inbox Zero every day, practice “Touch it Once” where I never read an email more than once, and unsubscribe/mute/filter so that I have as little email in my inbox as possible. I don’t use any built-in smart filters.
#13. Choose Google Calendar
#14. Replace Apple Maps with Google Maps
Yes. I only have a Home set, since I work from home.
#15. Install the Gboard keyboard for faster typing
Yes, with black background and Apple keyboard removed.
#16. Switch to Google Photos
#17. Use Evernote for all note taking, to-do lists, everything
Yes. It’s in my toolbar.
#18. The Case for Calm as your go-to meditation app
Done. It’s on my home screen.
#19. Install the right goal tracker for you
Yes, Coach.me, and more than 11,000 check-ins to my habits. I personally track:
#20. Store all your passwords in a password manager, probably LastPass
I use 1Password, but if I were starting from scratch I’d use LastPass.
#22. Put the Camera app in your toolbar
#23. Use this Doppler Radar app
#24. Use this Pomodoro app
#26. Subscribe to these podcasts
#27. Install the Kindle app but never read it in bed
Yes. I charge my phone in the kitchen and use my Kindle Paperwhite in bed.
#28. Use Safari this way
Yes. The option to automatically turn on readability-mode for certain sites is one of my favorite features.
#30. Track steps this way
I also get steps from a Garmin watch, but I find I’m more likely to have my phone on me than I am to be wearing my watch. So my phone has the more accurate count.
#31. Prefer Time Restricted Eating Over Calorie Counting
Yes. Love the Zero app and I generally try not to eat before 12. I also own a KetoMojo blood tester ($60) to measure when I’m in a fat burning mode.
#32. Schedule Night Shift
Yes, mine is set for 8pm.
#33. Set up Medical ID
Yes, mainly so that I can share my emergency contact. I don’t actually know my blood type.
#34. Change Siri to a man
I’m using the Australian Man voice.
#35. Change your phone’s name
Yes, “I Am Focused”
#36. Turn off advertising tracking
#37. Set auto-lock to the maximum time
#38. Set your personal hotspot password to a three word phrase
I’m not telling you what it is.
#39. Turn on control center everywhere
Yes. I also have quick access to my timer and alarm from here, although I’m most likely to set those from Siri.
#40. Turn on Background App Refresh
#41. Delete Garage Band
For me, just Garage Band.
#42. Develop verbal memory for talking to Siri
Yes, for all the ones in the list plus calling and face-timing people.
#43. Set up these text replacement shortcuts
I use three: my address, my personal email address, and the URL coach.me.
#44. Set your address
Yes, in all five places.
#45. Backup this way
Yes, I use iCloud, with multiple redundancies since my photos get backed up to other places and all of my important individual services are backed by cloud storage.
Do you have anything to add or correct in this article? Let me know and I’ll make an update.
How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You
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