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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 “my_email@example.com”. Use the email “my_email+omnifocus@example.com” 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 May 28, 2020

                  18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools (2020 Updated)

                  18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools (2020 Updated)

                  No one can dispute the countless benefits technology has brought us. Undoubtedly, it has allowed us to connect, perform, improve, and leverage our resources beyond what was once imaginable.

                  If you’re not taking advantage of some of the hundreds of time management apps and tools out there, you’re definitely missing a trick.

                  But with so many apps to choose from, how do you know which ones to use?

                  Well, this will depend on your needs. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 18 of the best time management apps that can help you with the most common challenges of managing time.

                  Let’s dive straight into the list.

                  1. Rescue Time – Use Your Time Wisely

                    If you have doubts if you are using your time sensibly, this app will send you weekly reports to indicate what things are stealing your time. Aside from its automatic time-tracking feature, this app also has distraction blocking and efficient report tools.

                    RescueTime helps you avoid being overwhelmed by too many tasks. This app also has a team software that’s dedicated to time management among team members. With this app, you may be shocked to discover how much time you’re actually wasting.

                    Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                    2. Remember The Milk – Keep on Top of All Your Tasks

                      If you’re struggling to manage everything you have to do, and you work with many different devices, then this is the app for you. It’s a great free tool that is compatible with your mobile, computer, Gmail, Outlook, etc., and it allows you to sync all your devices for easier time management.

                      This app will help you to manage your tasks easily and reminds you of them – wherever you are. You can share tasks and lists with others, making it a great tool for teams as well.

                      Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                      3. Focus Keeper – Boost Motivation to Complete Tasks

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                        This app is based on the principles of the Pomodoro Technique, and it is aimed at individuals who procrastinate and feel overwhelmed by tasks. It has a simple, efficient user interface that is easily customizable based on your needs.

                        Focus Keeper is designed to enhance your focus and remove any anxiety you might have with time pressures. This is a great app to use if you want to prevent yourself and your team from being burned out.

                        Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                        4. Toggl – Keep Track of Time Spent on Projects and Tasks

                          Effective time management starts with being clear on exactly how much time you actually spend on your projects and tasks and through analysis – working out how you can manage them more effectively. Toggl allows you to do all this even with its simple design.

                          Toggl includes great time-saving features integrated with its intuitive interface. This is a great alternative to time-sheets if you need to track how much time you spend on different projects.

                          Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                          5. Dropbox – Store and Send Large Files Easily

                            There are many apps that allow you to transfer content from your computer to other devices, but Dropbox is free and it is easier to use than the others. With the Dropbox app, you can even access and share important files on the go. It is an easy way to share your files and documents with others for improved productivity.

                            Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                            6. Evernote – Keep All Your Notes in One Place

                              Evernote is a free productivity tool that allows you to capture all your ideas, thoughts, and images in many different ways (e.g., with voice, notes, or images). You can even record your meetings, interviews, speeches, and ideas, create lists, add voice or text attachments, and share your files with friends. You can also sync Remember The Milk with Evernote to better optimize your time.

                              Available iOS, Android, and Desktop

                              7. MindNode — Focus on Tasks at Hand With Mind Mapping

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                                Mind mapping is a great productivity technique, and Mindnode is one of the best free mind mapping apps available. It helps you to become more organized by focusing your thoughts – thereby gaining clarity on what needs to be done.

                                This app allows you to customize various visual tags and templates to suit your needs. You can also easily share your documents with others.

                                Available on iOS and Desktop

                                8. GoodSync – Back Up and Sync Your Files Effortlessly

                                  This software allows you to back up, restore, and synchronize your files easily. It supports folders from a variety of locations, and it has filtering options that let you exclude subfolders from synchronizing.

                                  This app also allows you to sync files to and from your phone. If you have never backed up your files before, you should definitely take a look at this tool.

                                  Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                  9. MyLifeOrganized (MLO) – Manage Your To-Do Lists Effectively

                                    Check this out if you find it difficult to manage all your tasks, work with your to-do lists, and organize your goals. This task management software helps you target what you should be focusing on to reach your objectives.

                                    MyLifeOrganized is one of the best task management apps for focused work. It automatically generates to-do lists with priority actions for your immediate attention so that you can track your progress methodically.

                                    Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                    10. 1Password – Have All Your Passwords Remembered

                                      1Password allows you to keep all your passwords in one encrypted database – protected by one password. This saves you time when you forget your passwords and need to retrieve them. This also allows you to use various passwords for different accounts so you don’t compromise on security.

                                      Available iOS, Android, and Desktop

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                                      11. Pocket – Keep Your Eye on the Ball

                                        When you’re surfing the web, it’s easy to get distracted by enticing and fascinating websites. That’s why you need effective time management apps like Pocket. You can use this tool to save your ‘finds’ to access and read later on at a convenient time. This prevents you from getting distracted and negatively impacting your immediate work.

                                        Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                        12. Focus@Will – Boost Your Attention Span

                                          This amazing app combines neuroscience and music to boost your productivity. According to the developers, it’s possible to increase your attention span by up to 400% using Focus@Will, making this one of the best time management apps available.

                                          Focus@will is ideal for those who find it difficult to focus while studying, working, or reading. It also helps you control your ADD.

                                          Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                          13. Alfred – Interact With Your Computer in a Smart Way

                                            This small and simple tool allows you to launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks with just a few keystrokes. This makes life so much easier as you don’t need to go through the start menu to access what you want. The only downside is that it’s only available for macOS.

                                            Available on desktop (macOS)

                                            14. Forest – Boost Your Focus by Growing a Forest

                                              Forest is a unique reinvention of time management apps. This unique and fun app helps you stay focused and on-track by making you focus on another thing.

                                              The concept is simple: whenever you want to focus, plant a virtual tree. If you stay focused, the tree will grow. If you lose focus, the tree will die. As the app’s name implies, you can grow multiple trees to create a virtual forest!

                                              Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop (Firefox Add-on)

                                              15. Trello – Track Your projects in a highly visual way

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                                                Trello is a hugely popular app that you may already be familiar with. It works by allowing you to create cards for tasks that you need to complete. Each card moves across the Trello board, which is typically broken into columns such as To Do, In Progress, and Completed. This serves as your cue to start working on and completing the associated tasks.

                                                Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                                16. Quire – Unfold Your Ideas

                                                  Quire is an innovative time management app that helps boost your team’s productivity. The strength of this app lies in its features for collaboration and ease of sharing. You can streamline and adjust your workflow based on your team’s needs and preferences.

                                                  Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                                  17. TimeTree – Have a Shared Calendar With Your Family

                                                    This TimeTree app allows families or teams to share multiple calendars and appointments with each other. So, whether you’re planning a party or running a local sports team, Time Tree can keep everyone up-to-date with all current and upcoming activities and events.

                                                    Available on iOS and Android

                                                    18. Todoist – Capture and Order All Your Tasks and Activities Easily

                                                      Todoist is close to being the ultimate digital to-do list and one of the best time management apps out there. It’s available via browser and app, and it lets you schedule all your tasks and activities. Each item can be flagged for priority as well as a given due date. There is also a neat option to add notes to any of your tasks.

                                                      Available on iOS, Android, and Desktop

                                                      Final Thoughts

                                                      The above list covers what we consider to be the very best time management apps and tools available. And the good news is that many of them are completely free of charge!

                                                      So, what are you waiting for? Select the ones that will be the most valuable to you, and begin boosting your productivity now!

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                                                      Featured photo credit: freestocks via unsplash.com

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