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7 iPhone Apps to Boost Your Productivity

7 iPhone Apps to Boost Your Productivity

    The iPhone has been out for more than a week and the hubbub has started dying off and the realities are starting to set in. Not to try and put more fuel on the fire of hype, but I always think the point when the Reality Distortion Field effect starts wearing off* is the best time to look at the technology objectively as well as the application options available to you.

    I mean, when an application that tests how long you can push a button gets web-wide coverage, you know there’s some kind of reality distortion going on.

    So, I’ve compiled a list of apps from the iTunes App Store that I’ve found useful and good for productivity that you might be interested in trying out. That is, if you hadn’t already done so during the week’s excessive hype. Or if you’re not busy playing Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart.

    To find any of these apps and install them, fire up iTunes and run them through the iTunes Store search box. And if you’re favorite productivity application isn’t listed here, it could be because I haven’t tried it or didn’t like it—but then, just as likely, it might just be because of the bone-headed decision to restrict some apps by country.

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    * I purchased mine well before this point in time arrived.

    OmniFocus

    I’m bringing out the big guns first, when it comes to productivity. OmniFocus is a great GTD task management application. It’s a “port” (and I use that word loosely) from Omni Group’s popular desktop application of the same name. Though it’s on the pricier end of the available iPhone apps, the functionality offered can be accounted for.

    Some developers just want to get a mobile version of their desktop application up at the App Store, but OmniFocus is one of the few that leverage the iPhone’s capabilities as distinct from the Mac with location-based task lists thanks to the iPhone’s GPS location services.

    OmniFocus for the iPhone will sync and integrate with OmniFocus on the Mac if you’re running the latest version of the software. If your tasks are important to you, make sure to keep your data backed up, because I’ve read a review or two where an application crash caused complete data loss.

    Mocha VNC Lite

    Oh, crap. I’ve just got in bed and want to do some reading online with my laptop, to relax before going to sleep. But I’ve left a torrent running on the computer in the home office and the Internet connection is so slow, it’s almost unusable!

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    I’ll have to get out of bed, turn the torrent off, and if I want it done by morning, I’ll have to get out bed again when I’m done and turn it back on.

    Okay, I’m sure you can think of a scenario that’s more about becoming productive and less about pandering to laziness, but Mocha VNC works like Screen Sharing on the Mac does. You can use Mocha to control your Windows, Mac or Linux computer and the level of interaction is surprisingly high. You use the multi-touch finger controls to zoom around the screen just like when you’re using MobileSafari. Best of all, it’s free.

    BookShelf

    BookShelf is an ebook reader for your iPhone. It does text documents all the way to Mobipocket books. I definitely think this app can boost your productivity because it allows you to get more reading done quicker. You can read any book in your entire library in the living room, on the train, heck, even when you’re pedaling away on your exercise bike. Ever tried to lug an entire library of books around? Not fun. This is simple and easy. I’ve had the iPhone 3G since Friday and I’ve already finished two-and-a-half books thanks to BookShelf.

    Mobipocket, the ebook reader I’ve been using on Windows Mobile or CE devices for close to a decade, is apparently coming out for the iPhone in months to come. But BookShelf beat them to the punch and they get a vote from me.

    What I’d like to see: a smoother desktop app for shoveling books onto your phone and a revision of the “chunking” process that turns it into a background function you don’t need to worry about.

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    Evernote

    I can barely live without Evernote on the Mac these days. The iPhone version makes it easier to create notes on the go and also easy to view them, but if you want to edit them, you won’t be too happy—Evernote doesn’t allow it. I’m hoping, nay, begging, that they’ll build the ability to edit existing notes into a future version. Please, guys?

    You can do snapshot notes with the iPhone’s camera or audio notes. And, of course, you get searchable images as usual once your snapshot has uploaded to the Evernote server.

    NetNewsWire

    I’m a user of NetNewsWire on the Mac, so this app had me excited. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the experience I had hoped for, and not only that, but it won’t seem to download my entire collection of feeds as synced with Newsgator.

    But, where before I spent precious office time catching up on feeds (after I got my real work done, of course), I can now get (most of) them done when I have an idle moment—like when I’m waiting for someone to say something interesting at that dinner party! This frees up extra time to work on new projects or take on another small client project back at the office.

    Sidenote: before you lambast me for my previous habit of reading feeds when I could’ve been working on a new client, feed reading is actually an important task for a writer whose work is primarily online. It’s not extra time I was desperate to have before, but thirty minutes a day can add up.

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    Google Mobile

    There may be no Spotlight on the iPhone (yet, the optimist would add), but Google Mobile does the job just as well as a Mobile Spotlight would. That is, aside from the system-wide integration that it obviously lacks.

    Google Mobile will let you perform a search that hunts through your contacts and the web and provides you with the most relevant and local results first. Does the job damn well, while we’re waiting on Spotlight. You hear that, Apple? We want it along with copy and paste, okay?

    Twinkle

    You might be surprised to find a Twitter client in a list of productivity apps, but there’s a good reason for it. Since I’ve installed Twinkle, I’ve stopped using Twhirl or constantly refreshing the tab I have Twitter open in; I know Twinkle will let me know when someone replies to or messages me and since installing it my time spent on the site in general has decreased a lot—without really affecting my participation in the community there.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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