April 20

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iPhone Configurations and Apps for Fearless Productivity

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This is the essential guide to iPhone configurations and apps for fearless productivity.

In fact, these configurations and apps have helped me double my productivity (and much better improve my state of mind) in the past months.

You’ll learn about:

  • The rationales behind my approach to iPhone productivity
  • iPhone configurations to reduce distractions
  • Apps for work productivity
  • Apps for productivity habits

So if you want to tame your iPhone to work for you (and not against you), you should get a lot of values from this guide.

Let’s dive right in.

The Rationales

Lion focus eye

Let’s start with a section on the rationale behind my approach to iPhone productivity. It is to…

  • Configure iPhone to reduce distractions. There are many configurations on your iPhone to help you personalize your phone and make it work for you. So the first place to get started is all in the Settings. If you follow the steps I share, you will be able to remove most distractions from your phone (and life).
  • Tame the social apps. Not long ago, the biggest distraction for work was email. It still is but second to social apps for most of us. Can you count how many notifications you receive a day from apps like Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, WeChat, Line, Instagram and Twitter? The better you can tame them, the more control you will have over your phone.
  • Take control of emails on iPhone. Email apps are another big source of distractions. Usually, they comes with work and demands our attention. That’s why it’s important to address it properly on your iPhone.
  • Choose the right productivity apps. There are thousands of productivity apps. I’ll share with you those apps I have used to turn my phone into a productivity device.

Now that you understand my rationales, let’s go to the next section.

Essential Configurations to Reduce Distractions

iPhone configurations to reduce distractions

This section is all about the essential configurations you’ll need to make for your iPhone to work for you.

It could bring a lot of anxiety if you’re used to staying constantly connected on the phone. Even worse if you use it for work or business.

The decision is yours. If you’re ok with anxiety in your life, then you can stop here. But if you want to reduce anxiety in your relationship to your phone and with people around you, you should give these configurations a go.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that all the configurations are in the Settings app:

iPhone Settings app icon
Image by Wikimedia

And the best trick I’d give you…. if you don’t know how to get to any setting, just search, like this…

Search in iPhone Settings

Ok, let’s get started with the first most important configuration.

1. Turn off app notifications

I turn off notifications for most of the apps on my iPhone. Email apps are no exception.

Facebook and its Messenger app too.

Notifications for WhatsApp, Telegram and other messaging apps are still on. I don’t get many notifications from those platforms. Besides, as I enable “Do Not Disturb” mode, these apps do not distract me.

Other apps I keep notifications on are delivery and transport apps like Grab and Uber.

It was a scary decision I had to make but it turned out that I would still check those social apps, in fact even more often than I should.

Here’s how to turn off notifications on iPhone.

Settings > Notifications

Now turn off notifications of all the apps that unnecessarily distract your attention.

2. Enable “Do Not Disturb”

What this does is that all notifications that you still keep turning on in the first step of this post would not make a sound or pop up on your screen when your phone is locked.

You have a choice of receiving calls from your favorite contacts only or from everyone. For me, I allow calls from everyone because I only receive a few calls a day.

Settings > Do Not Disturb

Turn it on. Then scroll down to “Allow Calls” from your “Favorite” contacts or “Everyone”

do not disturb on iPhone

3. Set App Limit

Setting app limits is a good reminder to not spend too much time on your phone. I limit Youtube, Netflix and other video apps to only 1 hour a day. Messaging apps to only 1 hour. Email apps to only 2 hours.

Here’s how to set app limit on your iPhone.

Settings > Screen Time > App Limit

Set app limit on iPhone

Choose the right time limits for your apps that fit your need and schedules.

Don’t be surprised how much time you spend on your messaging apps and how you often have to ignore the limit you set! When it happens, just be easy on yourself.

4. Turn iPhone into black and white

The psychological reason behind this is to help you fall out of love with your expensive (and addictive) iPhone and so you will spend less time with it (and more time being productive and with the people you care about).

I don’t always turn this filter on but would do it whenever I find myself spending too much time on my phone.

Here’s how…

  • Go to Settings.
  • Then, choose “Accessibility.”
  • Select “Display & Text Size.”
  • Next, touch “Color Filters.”
  • Slide it on and you’ll see all the filters you can choose from.
  • To turn it to black and white, choose Grayscale.

Watch this short video instruction:

5. Disable “In-App Ratings & Reviews”

Have you ever been annoyed by requests from your apps to rate and review them on App Stores? Don’t get me wrong. I would still love to support and review those apps that help me. In fact, I’ve done more often than most of us.

iPhone has the option to turn off app ratings and reviews. Here’s how to do it.

Settings > Account > iTunes & App Store > In-App Ratings & Reviews

Watch this how-to video:

6. Place productivity apps on your home screen or dock

Home screen is only a single click or swipe away. The dock on the bottom of iPhone screen follows you on all home screens.

Placing your productivity apps on your first home screen and dock can save you a few seconds every every time you want to open your productivity apps.

iPhone home screen and dock

Don’t underestimate the few seconds you can save every time you want to get to the app you want. They will add up as months and years go by.

7. Turn off “Raise to wake”

Notice how your iPhone invites you to unlock and play with it once you hold it up? iPhone calls it “Raise to Wake.”

You might think this can save you a second or two but what if what it does is to suck you into your phone instead?

Turning this off helps me reduce distractions a lot because it takes me an extra step to get distracted from my difficult and meaningful tasks and oftentimes, I’d stop before getting distracted.

Here’s how to turn off “Raise to Wake” on your iPhone:

Settings > Display & Brightness > Raise to Wake

Watch this video instruction if it helps:

8. Offload Unused Apps

How many apps do you have on your iPhone now? I have 216!

Check number of apps on iPhone

How many do you actually use? Not as many as you have installed, right?

Deleting the unused apps could be a pain in the neck if you have many apps but luckily the latest version of iOS lets you automatically “Offload Unused Apps.”

This feature automatically removes unused apps, but keep all documents and data you create with the apps. When you reinstall the app later, you will get back all your data.

Just a handy feature!

Here’s how to Offload Unused Apps on iPhone:

Settings > iTunes & App Store > Offload Unused Apps

And here’s a video instruction I’ve made to walk you through the process.

iOS Apps for Work Productivity

Now it’s time to get into the productivity apps section of the guide.

I’ll cover my tested and tried apps that I use to be productive on the go when I don’t have access to my computer.

Let’s dive in.

9. “Spark – Email App by Readdle” for Inbox Zero

I love Spark – Email App by Readdle and use it for both my iPhone and Mac book.

Spark Email App by Readdle

Here are my best favorite features.

  • It syncs everything. Even the email accounts and signatures syncs seamlessly on all your devices. Set it up on one of your devices and you’ll get it set up every where.
  • Send Again.” You can choose any email you have sent or those that you have received and send it again. It’s a great time saver. Have you ever loved an email newsletter you received and wanted to use it as a template? This feature is a killer for this!
  • A single swipe for two actions (mark as read and archived). If you’re an inbox zero freak like me and hate to see unread emails in your archive, you will love this feature. I found most email clients requires two or even more touches to do this trick.
  • Send email later. Have you ever wanted to have your email sent at a later time? This feature will come in handy.
  • Follow up reminder. Spark also lets us set a reminder to follow up on your email if you expect a reply.
  • It’s FREE! Other apps that give you all these email capabilities (or even fewer) would charge you a few bucks but Spark is completely free.

I’ve tried many email apps on my iPhone. Outlook, Boomerang, Polymail, Gmail… are just a few of what I’ve used. And Spark is the best.

10. Gmail app to send confidential emails

Gmail app is my option when I want to send a confidential email.

This feature allows us to set an expiration date and passcode for our email.

Here’s how to send a confidential email on iOS Gmail app.

Recipients would need a passcode to read the email.

12. Boomerang Mail to request read receipt

Missing the “Read Receipt” feature available on Microsoft Outlook for PC when you do not have access to it? You will love Boomerang Mail for that.

In fact, this email app has several other cools features too. It is known for helping us write better emails with the suggestions for both grammar and sentence structures.

There is also a Boomerang for Gmail Chrome extension that you can use to add useful functionalities to your email management.

13. PDF Expert by Readdle

It is the only PDF viewer and editor I have on my iPhone. (In fact I also use it on my Mac computer.)

A few features I like about PDF Expert:

  • Signing without printout. This is my best favorite feature as I often have to sign and send out documents for work and business. The signature I have created in the app is just perfect!
  • Annotations. The app has markers, pens and notes to make notes on PDF.
  • Speed. PDF Expert opens the fastest compared to a bunch of other PDF apps I’ve used.
  • Password protection. You can create a password to protect a PDF file you create with the app.

14. Office 365

You can be productive on the go with Office 365. All the essential Microsoft office apps are available in the package to allow you to work on iPhone.

Microsoft has just launched a handy tool on Apple Store for iOS called Office to let you easily access all your Office apps and data from a central app.

15. Google Docs

I use Google Docs for online sharing and collaboration on documents. The online documents load faster on Google Docs.

It’s user friendly. And it is free.

16. Dashlane to manage passwords

How many passwords do you have? How many have you forgotten? I have had only about 220+ so far.

Using Dashlane to manage my passwords (and other important personal information) has been a wonderful investment.

The only passwords I have to remember now are the ones for Dashlane and Mac book. The app also lets me create strong passwords.

The auto fills save me a lot of time from having to type and login into my websites and apps.

17. Brain.fm for ease of focus

This app really works! Try this for a few minutes and you’ll see how it works for you.

In fact, I’m using Brain.fm as I’m write this guide.

The app helps me focus my attention when I work.

18. Freedom to totally block distractions

When you want to be extremely productive in writing, you will want to use Freedom. It will completely block all websites and apps for the period of time you set.

This leaves you no choice but to focus on what you have to do in front of you.

Freedom helped me break bad habits of distractions in the first place.

19. BeFocusedPro for Pomodoro

BeFocused Pro

BeFocused Pro is a great app to help you implement the Pomodoro Technique.

While others might use the technique to get into flow with fun, I use this app to tell me when to rest! I might go hours without a single break and get moving when I write.

20. Kindle app for book reading

Kindle gives me access to all the books I want to read in the world. Before Kindle, I would have to wait for several weeks to get my books. The book stores in Cambodia does not have a good variety for me to choose from.

I can read all my favorite books with just a few clicks! This app is the source of my wisdom!

iPhone Apps for Better Habits

Apps for better habits

In this section, I’ll share with you the apps I use to help me create productivity habits. These include meditation, focus, journaling, and better sleep.

Let’s dive right in.

21. Calm for Meditation (and Falling Asleep)

Calm is more than just a meditation app. I’ve also learned a lot about meditation from the Calm Masterclass. The Breathing Exercise in the app is also very powerful.

The Sleep Stories, soothing sounds and music help me fall asleep easily.

It is a powerful app that everyone should use.

22. Brain.fm for focus habit

I’d introduce Brain.fm here again. While it lets me focus immediately, the app has helped me create my focus habit.

23. The Five Minute Journal

I use this iPhone app to help me start my day with gratitude, set my intentions for the day and remind me of my daily affirmation. The app lets me finish my day by reviewing amazing things that happened in the day and how I could have done better.

The Five Minute Journal keeps both my journaling and writing habit.

24. Sleep Cycle for better sleep

Sleep Cycle helps me understand my sleep (and how I snore!), and wake up at a time I feel rested most to wake up.

The app uses a 30-minute wake-up phase that ends at your desired alarm time. During this phase, it will monitor signals from your body to wake you softly when you are in the lightest possible sleep stage.

Over to You

That’s all for my guide to iPhone configurations and apps for fearless productivity.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What configurations or apps from this guide do you want to try out first?

What other configurations or apps did I miss?

Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Y Samphy

About the author

I am a business and legal consultant. My former employers and clients include embassies, multinational consulting companies law firms and NGOs. Productivity and self-improvement are at the heart of my career and life. On this website, I want to help you become more productive and live up to your potential. Learn more about me here.


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