The Optimal iPhone Settings and Best Apps for Productivity, Focus, and Health

Posted on

#12. Choose Gmail

For the vast majority of people, the ideal phone setup is to embrace Google Cloud services (mail, calendar, photos, maps) and pair them with Apple hardware.

If you’re on some other setup, like Apple email or Outlook, then stick with that. It’s not worth switching.

You can often configure the Apple apps to connect to the Google services. But it’s always better to just use the Google-specific app. In this case, I’m going to talk about Gmail.

Don’t use Apple’s Mail product. Google’s actual Gmail app just works more smoothly, especially search.

And don’t bother with any app that promises any sort of “smart” filtering or sorting of your email. Relying on somebody else’s algorithms is hugely overrated.

  • Get a Google account (you probably already have one).
  • Download the Gmail app.
  • Put the app in that “Messages folder” we created in Step #3.
  • And make sure notifications are turned off (also Step #3).
  • Then, delete Apple’s mail app. Apple has only recently started letting you delete built-in apps. Take advantage of it!
  • Go to Gmail from your computer and disable your inbox tabs. You probably think Google is helping you by automatically categorizing your incoming email, but you’ll be way better off developing the habit of unsubscribing and manually filtering.

I hosted a Q&A with Marshall Hughes, who is our most prolific Inbox Zero coach. Yes, that’s a type of coach — a lot of our coaches zero (do you like my pun?) in on specific behavior changes.

In the Q&A, everyone wanted to ask Marshall about email automation tools. And Marshall was adamant that every experience he had with clients using automation tools turned out badly. Clients who chose automation were bailing on essential inbox habits. They’d given up on the most important habit of all, which is to say no to email by constantly unsubscribing and manually filtering.

So, paired with the settings above, you should be working on your email habits. That means primarily unsubscribing and blocking aggressively. I get a lot of extra email too that I consider FYI — for example, I like having a history of all of the newsletters we send out, but I don’t need to read each one as they come in to my inbox. I filter those into folders and only check those folders occasionally.

#13. Choose Google Calendar

Sticking with the Google Cloud theme, use the native Google Calendar app and ignore Apple’s Calendar app.

  • Install the Google Calendar app.
  • This is an app where you’re going to keep notifications on and just turn off badging. Never allow badging anywhere.
  • Then enter the Google Calendar settings.
  • You can change the start of the week from Sunday to Monday (or in a few locales, Saturday). I’m a Monday person. I don’t understand how any person thinks the week starts on Sunday given that Sunday is literally part of the weekEND. But whatever, people have strong opinions on this and I can’t dissuade them.
  • Disable “Show declined events.” You declined the event so that you wouldn’t have to think about it.
  • Disable “Show event illustrations.” That’s a nonsense feature.
  • Then, go into Default event duration and set the default to 30 minutes. You don’t need an hour for most meetings. If you’re the one creating the meeting, you can be in charge of saving your and everyone else’s time.
  • Last, add the Google Calendar widget to the top of your Today screen: head over to your Today screen (swipe right from your home screen) > scroll down to the edit button > turn on Google Calendar > Move Google Calendar to the top.

The two most important subtleties are trying to shorten meetings and building a Today screen that’s worthy of a daily habit.

The Today habit is just you starting your day by getting a summary of what’s planned (and later, what the weather is like). If you can build this habit, then you can use it to trigger new habits.

In the Tiny Habits method, checking your calendar would be called an anchor habit. Above in the Screen Time section, I’ve already attached a new, not-quite-natural habit of checking your Screen Time widget. The reason I think that will work is because I trust that you will naturally want to check the calendar and weather, thus triggering the new and less natural habit of checking additional widgets.

On the short meetings front, this is literally a chance to save yourself hours each day by making the meetings you go to shorter and more focused. The key to focus is to have a clear goal, and push directly toward that goal.

I have one friend, a CEO, who wants the time on his calendar to be as precious as the time on a U.S. president’s schedule (he told me this during a different administration). If a meeting only needs seven minutes, then just give it seven minutes. A different friend, also a CEO, set a company policy that if a meeting invite didn’t include goals, an agenda, and pre-meeting preparation, you could skip it. The acronym there is GAP — no GAP, no need to attend.

Last, in my screenshot there’s a massive amount of time blocked off called “Reserved.” I’m unapologetic about scheduling time on my calendar for deep work. You can’t squeeze deep work into fifteen minute gaps — you need to carve out contiguous blocks of time. For most office workers, I use what Cal Newport calls a “bi-modal day.” That’s where half of my day is for deep work and the other is for shallow work, i.e. meetings, email, phone calls.

#14. Replace Apple Maps with Google Maps

Apple Maps has gotten better, but it’s still not as good as Google Maps. You’re only going to use Apple Maps when you use Siri (it’s Siri’s permanent default).

Every other time, you’re going to use Google Maps.

  • Install the Google Maps app.
  • Add Home and Work addresses to My Places in the app. This will involve connecting to a Google account. If you have trouble and are using a custom Google domain, then you may need to enable some permissions from the site admin panel. In that case, these are the instructions that helped me.
Not my real address.
  • Go to Google Maps Settings > Navigation settings and turn “Keep map north up” on. This is a power setting for people who actually aspire to build their sense of direction.
  • Add Google Maps to your home screen. This is another one of those tools-over-drugs apps.

This is yet another example of preferring the Google Cloud. And the custom settings for Home and Work are just small time-savers. There’s not a huge additional productivity explanation.

#15. Install the Gboard keyboard for faster typing

This will let you type faster through swiping. The world record for typing on a phone is set through the swipe method: just swipe your finger over the letters of the word you’re trying to type. The keyboard will figure out what you mean.

At first this will feel a little uncomfortable, but it will quickly become second nature.

Gboard, from Google, also has a bunch more features too like GIF and emoji search.

  • Install the Gboard app.
  • Now go to your Apple Settings > General > Keyboard > Add New Keyboard.
  • It’s easy to accidentally cycle back to the old default keyboard, so delete that (don’t worry, you can get it back). Go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Edit. Then delete the default one. It’s probably named as a language, like English (United Kingdom).
  • If Gboard isn’t showing when you go to type a message (perhaps you skipped the above step), then hit the globe icon to switch to it.
  • I also set my keyboard to black before knowing that I could delete the default Apple Keyboard. That helped me know visually which keyboard was active. You can also set your keyboard theme by opening the Gboard app and heading to themes.

Gboard and swipe makes me more likely to write things down on my phone. This is me setting my One Priority for the day.

I found that I was so unhappy with the Apple keyboard peck-typing that I’d avoid using it altogether. I’m a fast laptop typist, so I’d always postpone writing until I got to my desk.

Now, with swiping, I’m just a little bit faster and that’s the difference between not typing anything and being willing to type a longer message.

Where that ties into productivity is what a lot of people call the “touch it once” principle. Especially with email, you want to avoid reading the same email twice. So if I happen to read a message that needs a response, I want to give that response right away.

#16. Switch to Google Photos

This is the last of the settings to use the Google Cloud over Apple’s built-in options.

The main benefit of Google Photos is that the search is amazing. They use machine learning to categorize all of your photos so that you can later search them. For example, without any work I can find all my selfies by just searching for the word me. And I often pull up pictures of my dogs by searching for dog. I have even had someone pull up photos of a specific handcrafted greenland kayak paddle.

For photos, take the following steps.

  • Install Google Photos app and follow app’s instructions.
  • Place Google Photos app on your home screen. This continues our tools-over-drugs theme.
  • If you’ve been storing photos in iCloud, this is now redundant. Copy your photos over according to these instructions.
  • You can try turning off iCloud storage for photos: Apple ID > iCloud > Photos. However, when I did this, I ran into trouble so I’ve left it on. This step isn’t crucial.
  • Most people will need to pay for Cloud photo storage (this is true for iCloud also). I’m currently on Google’s $1.99/month plan for 100GB, but am close to needing to upgrade to their $9.99/month for 1TB.

That’s Eloise, a pure-bred French Bernard, and Eggs, a mixed Aussie Shepard.

I end up storing my photos in four places: Google photos, iCloud, laptop and Dropbox sync. That’s because I’m paranoid. I should probably take them out of Dropbox.

Of those, Google Photos is far and away the best experience for looking at my photos, thanks to the machine learning behind Google’s search. This is an example of where a messy-by-design organization structure beats rigid one. Search is more reliable and faster than you trying to manually categorize every photo.

Prev3 of 7Next

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *