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

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Use These Apps and Configurations for Deep Learning

#26. Subscribe to these podcasts

Your podcast app should be on your home screen and you should train yourself to listen to podcasts during your commute, while cleaning, and during light cardio.

If you listen to podcasts on the bus or subway, here’s an important, little-known fact. It’s preferable to just listen! You don’t also have to be playing games and scrolling Instagram. Be a single-tasker.

The below are where most people should start when it comes to productivity and health podcasts.

Of course, Tim Ferriss is on this list. But I rounded him out so that you get a diverse set of ideas and approaches.

  • By the Book. These two hosts buy a self-improvement book and then test the advice for an entire month. This speaks to my heart: I don’t trust anything in personal development until I’ve seen it tested by a third party.
  • Found My Fitness. Dr. Rhonda Patrick pushes my understanding of the science of health, with the goal of improving your energy, focus, health and longevity. She’s very focused on explaining new research.
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I find her approach so much more realistic and human than most other productivity and habit experts. Plus I’ve used a lot of her tactics with our coaches and the results were amazing.
  • Jocko Podcast. He’s a former Navy SEAL with a face made for frowning. Don’t follow his Instagram — that’s just daily pictures of him waking up at 4am and rubbing it in your face. Paired with Gretchen, I feel like you’ll get the full emotional range of how to approach life. Jocko’s a no nonsense guy and sometimes you need to just quit debating and go take an action.
  • Unmistakeable Creative with Srinivas Rao. Most of his interviews have a productivity or personal development angle. He gets great interviews of people I haven’t heard from before. I often pull ideas from his podcast.
  • Tim Ferriss. Of course you should listen. I thought episode #2 was life-changing and have been hooked ever since.

Do not approach your podcast subscriptions as if you need to listen to every episode. Instead, pick and choose the most recent episodes that feel relevant to you.

I’ve never heard anyone who shares my reasoning for why and how to listen to productivity and health podcasts. Most people just think having more information is inherently good. That’s not my reason.

Information is never enough for making important changes. You need to get emotionally hooked, amped up and committed. The podcast format gives you a chance to connect with advice at an emotional level and really feel the social proof. That matters.

Second, most advice only works for some people some of the time. I’ve written before that you should approach personal development advice as if it only has a 10% success rate. The obvious implication is that you’ll always be needing to try lots of approaches until you find the one that works for you. Given that observation, it feels entirely natural to me that you would listen to both Jocko Willink and Gretchen Rubin.

#27. Install the Kindle app, but never read it in bed

Do not bother with cliff notes. There’s more value in being a slow reader, where the stories in the book can work on your emotions, and where your brain can roam freely to make connections between the words and your own world. So skip book summary apps like Blinklist, and embrace reading on the Kindle.

So, yes, install the Kindle app. This would be a good app for your home screen. Try to replace mindless social media usage with deep learning via either reading or podcasts.

But you’re probably not done.

Do you like to read before bed? Do not bring your phone to bed. That kills your sleep, bad sleep kills your health, and eventually your bad health is going to kill you. For the “Human Longevity” promise of this article, buy a Kindle Paperwhite and put that next to your bed. If you’re an iPhone owner, you can afford this second device.

Do you want a book recommendation to go with this section? I’ve got one you’re not going to hear anywhere else. Go buy the sci-fi book Dune and read it in the context of personal development.

  • The lady-witch advisors, the Bene Gesserit, are what happens when you have fine-tuned mastery over habit.
  • The human computing Mentats are what’s possible through extreme brain training.
  • The Gom Jabbar test of humanity? That’s the mind-over-matter possible through meditation. An animal gives in to the illusion of pain; a human can see through that illusion.
  • The Butlerian Jihad where humanity overthrew and then banned all artificial intelligence? That’s what I keep saying here about making your phone a tool, not your boss.

Also, two behavior design notes:

I’m absolutely positioning the Kindle to be a replacement habit for Facebook and Twitter. How much smarter would you be if you replaced half of your social media usage with reading?

Second, I have a not-very-well supported theory that’s paired with the book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The behavior design implication of that book is that you need to speak to two systems of the brain. Speaking to the rational, Slow System is easy. Just lay out the facts.

Speaking to the emotional Fast System is much harder, namely because it’s so hard to see or introspect on what’s going on in there. But if you accept that difficulty (and this is the part of my theory that feels like pop brain science), then you realize that you need to start looking for ways to rewire your emotional core.

Then, having accepted that rewiring your emotions is part of most behavior design, I’ve started to notice things — like that most self-improvement advice is not very rational. That’s by design. A self-improvement book is mostly emotional rewiring. That is exactly why you need to read the entire book rather than cheating with a summarized version.

#28. Use Safari this way

I’ve tried and like Firefox Focus and Google Chrome, but there’s a problem. Either you’ll end up cutting and pasting URLs that auto-opened in Safari or you’ll end up having to manage individual app’s preferences about how to handle a URL click.

Skip those complications. Safari is good.

There’s a secret, super rad option in Safari called Reader mode. This mode strips out all of the in-article ads, clutter and junk. I find that it does a great job and saves me from fat-fingering ads that have been placed inside the body of the article.

Here’s the before and after on an article in Reader mode.

Good bye Car Ad, Hello Steph Curry Article.

To turn on reader mode once, there’s a little four line icon at the top left of Safari. I’d managed to find that on my own.

What I hadn’t realized was that if you long press on that icon, you’ll get an option to turn on Reader mode permanently for that site. This is amazing and completely changed my experience of reading articles on my phone.

Long press on the Reader icon on the top left. Then turn it on for the current site or all sites.

Long press on the Reader icon on the top left. Then turn it on for the current site or all sites.
There are two things that you’re setting up here.

One is that you’ll flat out save time by not seeing or accidentally tapping any ads. That’s a small productivity gain each day.

The second is related to being in charge of your phone. You don’t want to see ads because you don’t want your phone telling you what to buy and when. Advertising on your phone breaks the tool-not-boss rule.

#29. Organize your home screen for deep learning over shallow learning

You’ve hidden all of your shallow social media experiences in a folder on your second screen. Now, build a replacement habit for those dead times in your day when you would be tempted to be on Twitter or Facebook.

Pick the media that actually makes you smarter and then put apps for that on your home screen.

My apps are Medium, Kindle and Podcast. Maybe you include the Washington Post (although that’s probably an anxiety producer that doesn’t actually need to be checked all day).

These are your deep learning apps and you just need to make sure they are easier to find than your old, shallow, addictive apps.

Spotify is hiding on this screen. When do you listen to that? My recommendation is to do deep listening, i.e. pick an album and listen to it while single tasking.

Replacement habits are a very common strategy in behavior design. The underlying brain science is that it’s easier to create a new habit than to delete an old habit.

In fact, you don’t ever really delete old habits. You might stop using the neural pathway for your old habit, but the neurons are still there, waiting for a moment of weakness. Eventually those cells will die out. But there isn’t actually a way for you to train them to death.

That’s why we use replacement habits so often. You can train a new, strong habit that supersedes your old habit. In this article, we’ve come at social media usage in a bunch of ways, all of which work together. We’ve tried to short circuit your existing habits by moving the apps, we’ve added accountability through Screen Time, and in this section, we’ve finally introduced the replacement habit that you’ll do instead.

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