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Being Productive With Siri, Your New Personal Assistant

Being Productive With Siri, Your New Personal Assistant

    The other day we detailed some of our favorite iOS 5 tips and tricks. Today we are going to look at the awesome things that you can do with Siri on the iPhone 4S (or if you are a hacker type, on the iPhone 4, too).

    Siri is very much a beta product, but can give the user some handy ways to do things quickly while not interrupting their workflow. First we will outline some of the quick things that you can do with Siri to get things done.

    Sending messages and emails

      It’s super easy to send messages and emails with Siri. First, activate Siri and say “Send email to” or “Send message to Rutherford, I will be late for the party”. Siri will understand this natural type of language and will respond with something like,

      “Here is your messages to Rutherford. It says, “I will be late for the party”. Ready to send it?”

      From here you can do a number of things. You can respond by saying “modify it” or “change it” to wipe out the message portion and start over. You can say “no” or “cancel” to cancel the message entirely. Or you can simply reply “yes”, “send it”, or “confirm” to send the message.

        One of my favorite ways to send text messages with Siri is to say, “tell Amy that I will be home in about 15 minutes”. The fact that I can say “tell Amy” is so natural that it reduces the friction between me and my productivity tool allowing me to simply use it.

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        Calling businesses and other things

        To call a business or place that isn’t in your address book simply say, “Call Big Daddy’s Steak House.” Siri will respond, “I don’t see Big Daddy’s steak house in your address book. Should I look for businesses by that name?”

        Respond “yes” or “no”. If Siri finds it she will ask you if she should call the business. Simply respond “yes” or “no”.

        You can also find businesses and places in different towns or cities (only in the US for now) by saying, “Call ‘some business name’ in Houston, Texas.”

        Calling a number is as simple as dialing it out loud. “Call 8675309.”

        Taking notes on the go

          I don’t use the stock Notes app on the iPhone much (read: not at all) as I am a plain text kind of guy, but with the addition of Siri to the iPhone 4S, the notes app may deserve another look.

          To make a note with Siri simply say, “Note, this is a really important note!” A note will be created with that said text. To create a note with a “title” say, “Create a ‘inbox items’ note”. Siri will know that this is the “inbox items” note and then you can use that name to add to it with “Add, think about what to buy mom for her birthday to my ‘inbox items’ note”.

          Siri will “tend to” add this to your note that has already been started. I’ve had trouble with this one but when it does work (I’d say 8 times out of 10) it is extremely useful.

          Setting appointments, timers, alarms and reminders

          If you have noticed yet, I love just how conversational Siri can be. With that, setting appointments, timers, alarms, and reminders is one of the easiest things you can do with Siri. In fact, you may not even need to know the exact “syntax” to these things as just saying something like, “set a timer for 4 minutes” will produce a running timer.

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          Calendar appointments

          Say, “Set up an appointment (or meeting) at 6pm next Monday with my wife.” You can even say something like, “set up a meeting with Mike Vardy every Friday at 3:00am”. This will make a recurring appointment in your calendar as well as invite Mike Vardy (as long as he is in your address book) to the meeting when you confirm it.

          Timers and alarms

          I use these all the time at work because they are so easy to do. Say, “setup a timer for 25 minutes”. Done.

          For alarms say, “set an alarm for tomorrow at 4:45AM”. You can even say something like “set an alarm for every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6AM”.

          Reminders

            We covered reminders in the last iOS 5 guide, and even though that Apple’s implementation of tasks is pretty great for a first stab, Reminders won’t be replacing my GTD system of choice any time soon. But, reminders gets much, much more useful now that I can create them with Siri.

            Setting up reminders for when I leave my house or when I arrive at work feels like I’m living in the 2000’s finally.

            To setup a reminder say something like, “set a reminder for when I leave home to remember to grag the TPS reports.” Or “set a reminder for 6PM tonight to stop and get my wife roses.”

            The “Hacks”

            OK, so all of the cool things you can do with Siri are awesome. But what about some things that aren’t supported out of the box? Take a look below for some of our favorites.

            Add a task to your favorite todo list app, notes app, etc.

              Adding tasks to services like Toodledo, RTM, or even OmniFocus requires a little setup, but is pretty easy to do. In fact, on the RTM blog they just posted a way to add tasks to the native Reminders app and have it sync with RTM. We are going to show you a more generic way to do this though that you can do with any service that allows email or text input.

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              There are a bunch of web services that allow you to add items over email or even text message. Some of the ones that come to mind are Twitter, Toodledo, Evernote, OmniFocus, Remember the Milk, Springpad, etc.

              Let’s take Evernote for example:

              To send a note to Evernote from Siri setup a contact in your iPhone’s address book called Evernote. An even better thing to do is to setup two contacts. One with the First Name ‘Evernote’ and another with the first name ‘Ever’ and the last name ‘Note’. This will ensure that Siri won’t screw up recognizing when you say “Evernote”. Next, put your “send to Evernote” email into your Evernote’s contact info.

              After this activate Siri and say “Tell Evernote that I have to rethink the way that we are going to launch the site”. Siri will read it back to you and then you can confirm the send.

              This proves to be one of the most powerful things that I can get my iPhone 4S to do.

              Setting up Twitter

                It seems like a total misstep that Apple didn’t add Twitter support out of box. What’s even weirder is that Siri knows what Twitter is but just won’t help you out in Tweeting.

                Bad Siri.

                But there is a way to get around this. Make a contact called “Twitter” in your address book with the standard SMS number of ‘40404’. Also, you have to setup Tweeting by SMS on Twitter.com or over your phone by sending your password. After the initial setup, say, “tell Twitter that sending messages from Siri is awesome”. Siri should reply with her familiar “Here’s your message to Twitter. Ready to send it?”

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                Set up adding to OmniFocus inbox with Siri

                  For you OmniFocus nerds out there, here is how you can send to your inbox with Siri (that is until the geniuses at The OmniGroup bring us something better). You need OmniFocus for your Mac with the Mail.app rules setup. Refer to this OmniGroup forum posting to set that up.

                  Next, set up an OmniFocus contact like I outlined above for Evernote. For your email address, use one that is set up in your Mail.app but instead of the regular email address, add ‘+omnifocus’ before the ‘@’ symbol. For example:

                  Your email is “[email protected]”. Use the email “[email protected]” for your OmniFocus contact info.

                  Now use Siri by saying “tell OminFocus that I need to grab some coffee when I go to the store”. The next time you sync with your OF database you should see your new inbox item.

                  Siri on productivity

                  Since we have only had a limited time with Siri, there will of course be more and more neat tricks uncovered as time goes on. But, I can already tell just how important this way of interacting with your iPhone will change productivity in the coming years.

                  I had a huge realization the other day when I had my earbuds in listening to music and programming. Something came to mind that was totally unrelated. I always have paper next to me to jot quick notes and reminders down and then come back to them to process. Instead, I long held my headset button and said, “tell OmniFocus ‘such and such that I needed to remember’”. Then I went back to listening to music and working. Later, when I was processing my inbox I realized that I captured something into my system with the least amount of resistance that I have ever experienced.

                  Now, I’m not saying that Siri is perfect. Not by any means. I’m also not saying that Apple has invented voice recognition and we should blindly follow and worship them. What I am saying is that Apple has provided consumers with the first accessible voice recognition and, dare I say, artificial intelligence that normal people can use. There can be a bit of a learning curve to get Siri to do exactly what you want it to do, but for the most part it is intuitive and extremely useful.

                  Good productivity tools are the ones that are useful and can stay out of your way. Siri accomplishes this task and I can’t wait to use it more and more in my everyday workflows.

                  More by this author

                  CM Smith

                  A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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                  Last Updated on February 15, 2019

                  7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

                  7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

                  Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

                  Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

                  Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

                  So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

                  Joe’s Goals

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                    Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

                    Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

                    Daytum

                      Daytum

                      is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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                      Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

                      Excel or Numbers

                        If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

                        What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

                        Evernote

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                          I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

                          Evernote is free with a premium version available.

                          Access or Bento

                            If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

                            Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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                            You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

                            Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

                            All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

                            Conclusion

                            I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

                            What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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