How To Use a Smartphone to be More Productive

About a month ago my husband upgraded to an iphone and handed me down his Droid. It was my first smartphone. I had been avoiding smartphones because I have typically seen them as a time suck. My husband plays Tilt to Live and Angry Birds all the time, and he’s always on the phone and I just wasn’t sure about it. However, we had PAX East coming up and I knew that I wanted something that would allow me to communicate via twitter better than my internet connected but not smart enV2. So, I went for it. However, I think in the last month I’ve figured out how not to let my smartphone become a time suck, and actually, I have managed to use it to improve my productivity. So here’s what I’ve been doing.

1. Turn off all notifications for social networks/emails

Every time my husband gets an email, his phone buzzes. I think I would go crazy. So, I turned everything off. If I want to know if the mails are new, I have to pull the phone out, enter the app, and look. In some cases, I force myself to refresh. What I like about this is that it is such a process that I put off my social network checking until I have a clump of time and do them all at once. This has proven to actually keep me more focused in general because I no longer leave these open on my computer where I can see all the updates and jump on them immediately, removing myself from my current task.

2. Limit games

I refuse to download Angry Birds. Here’s the games on my phone: minesweeper, sudoku, and a GRE vocabulary game (I’m a scientist, my vocabulary is terrible). If I am going to play games, they are going to be logic and learning, and I’m less likely to allow these to be a time suck. I do try and play the vocabulary game daily, though I have been slacking lately. Did you know that amortize means pay back over time? I do now!

3. Find useful timewasters

So, other than my logic games and the social networks that aren’t worth checking every five minutes, what do I do on my phone? Mostly, I read RSS feeds. I have two feeds, one of which I was reading before which is all the geek/tech/nerd blogs that keep my twitter feed happily active and let me know important things like John Shiban writing a new alien series (!!!). The other feed is scientific articles in my field. I was previously getting email alerts for those, but it was terrible to go through them separately, so I finally collected them in an RSS feed and stuck an app on my phone, and now if I have five minutes somewhere, like the bus stop, I can go through those instead of playing a game. I also will check news headlines. I used to never know what was going on in the world, seriously. Now, I feel informed and I’m doing things that are good for my career.

4. Take notes

I was the kind of person who tried every possible variety of carrying around a notebook to jot things down in and then leave it somewhere just when I needed it or I would jot things on scraps of paper and then forget them. Now, I have Evernote, which is one of many free apps for taking notes on the phone. I love it. I can easily jot things down and my phone is always somewhere nearby. The nice thing about Evernote is that it also uploads to the internet, so if something happens to my phone, my notes are all backed up!

5. Schedule Effectively

Now, I would have liked something like Epic Win for the iphone on my Droid, but there seems to be a no-go on that so far. I did find a cute little alarmed to-do list that chides me into getting things done. It’s called Astrid Tasks and it has an adorable little guy that makes funny messages at me when I don’t get things done. It complains when I snooze too often. I am easily guilted by little electronic figures (which reminds me, the Wii balance board probably misses me …), so this has worked well to convince me to get things done that I typically put-off and to remind me of things I would forget.

6. Super multi-task

I don’t know about you, but I’m always faster than my computer. I upgrade pretty regularly, this one is only a bit more than a year old, and it’s still too slow for me. Now, that’s probably because I run two browsers and typically have a large number of documents open in various programs. Either way, if I’m solely using the computer, I will eventually make it mad and it will slow down for a bit opening programs and webpages. Previously, all I could do was stare at it and wonder how long it would take. Now, I pick up my phone and do one of the above mentioned items, I check my email if it’s been a while, or my rss, or learn some new words. At least I’m doing something useful, and usually, something I would have to do eventually anyway.

There you have it. This is what I’ve been doing on my Droid. Now, that’s not everything. I also have a couple of fitness apps (MapMyRun is a favorite!), I have a piano and tuner/pitchpipe, a music player so I can play Protomen nonstop for two weeks and Pandora for when I need something different, Yelp to find dinner while traveling, and a drink mixer app for karaoke night, but most of these are specific use items. I have not yet paid for an app, and for now I don’t plan to, especially since when the iphone upgrades I’m sure the husband will get the new one and give me the old one. Then I would have Epic Win. Think about how crazy productive I might become then!

So, is your smartphone a time suck or a time creator, or if you don’t have a smartphone, why not, and might you try it sometime soon?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Holly
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 12:38:44

    I love apps that sync to computer or across devices, since I also have an iPad. I mostly use my Droid for socializing (text/Twitter/foursquare) but Evernote and Grocery IQ are a couple of great productivity apps that I use. Also have great health/fitness apps such as RunKeeper and My Fitness Pal.


  2. GirlsAreGeeks
    Mar 28, 2011 @ 13:22:28

    I haven’t gotten into foursquare yet, possibly ever, we’ll see. Grocery IQ looks cool though, maybe I’ll try that one!


  3. Flufferwuffer
    Mar 29, 2011 @ 17:12:22

    Thanks for the awesome tips! My boyfriend JUST got a Droid X (the first smartphone in our family) and if he gets TOO sucked into the time-wasting possibilities, I’ll throw him this post.


  4. Koolaye
    Apr 19, 2011 @ 13:38:39

    Great post!! I’m currently shopping for my first smartphone! I have Verizon and narrowed it down to either the iPhone or the Droid Bionic (which has yet to release). I’m so excited, but at the same time, I was concerned about being glued to the phone, but this statement hits it right on the head: using the phone as either a “time suck or a time creator.” I’m going to keep this in mind and definitely use the phone as a time creator.


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