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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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