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

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Make The Finishing Touches with These Configurations

#34. Change Siri to a man

Product designers consistently choose female voices for services like Siri and Alexa because culturally we’re more comfortable with bossing around women.

Put aside that that’s gross for one second.

You’re a productivity nut. You’re going places. Don’t you think at some point you’re going to have to get comfortable bossing around men?


Should I run a study of the productivity benefits of each accent?

  • Go to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Voice. I chose Australian Man.

This is going to get weird and darkly introspective.

Originally, I’d looked into changing Siri’s voice because somebody had told me that men are more likely to be cruel to a female-voiced AI. You know what I mean about getting frustrated when Siri or Alexa makes a mistake. Alexa, especially, likes to butt in and is just begging to be told to shut up. I’m constantly having to tell Alexa, “Alexa, stop.” but how close am I to cracking and yelling “Shut up, bitch?”

I don’t treat any woman in my life that way and I don’t want to start with a robot.

I couldn’t find any research at all to back up this idea of gendered cruelty to robots, although I did find published anecdotes:

When Jeremy barked orders at his personal assistant, she didn’t flinch, but I did. Something about the sound of his sharp, commanding tone — directed not at me, but still, at a woman — repulsed me. In the few weeks we had been dating, he had never spoken to me this way. But could he? Hearing Jeremy make ungrateful demands didn’t make him seem powerful or important. He sounded entitled and difficult, like someone who enjoyed commanding for the sake of commanding. He would ask her to do things he could easily do himself, almost as if to prove that he could. Surely, it would take less time to reach out and hit the light switch by the door than to bark “ALEXA. LIGHTS ON” every time he entered the apartment.

Not finding more established research, I backtracked to to the person who’d originally told me this. Her sources were multiple backchannel discussions from people who work on these AI products. People, not just men, say the rudest, cruelest things to female AIs, much ruder and cruder than they do to male AIs. If I can get one of these AI product people on the record, I’ll add it to this post.

Our relationships to robots is so weird and interesting and scary — there’s deep cultural conditioning, new robot etiquettes, power dynamics, etc.

At heart, I’m worried about developing patterns with my female AIs that I don’t have with my female friends, peers and colleagues. And what if those AI patterns transfer over to my human interactions?

You might think the opposite, why can’t I practice treating my female AIs with respect and grace? I don’t have a good answer. I just know that this dynamic is worth examining in yourself.

Was this too weird of a tangent? This is honestly the type of shit I think about all day.


#35. Change your phone’s name

The default is something like, “Tony Stubblebine’s iPhone.” That exposes your privacy when you have your hotspot turned on, and advertises to the entire world that you don’t know how to customize your phone.

There are three strategies for choosing a new name:

  1. Entertain the people around you. For example, “Pretty Fly for a Wifi.”
  2. Advertise your services, “$15 off w/ HOTPROMO”
  3. Inspire yourself with positivity. I got this idea from an old Hippie Cafe in San Francisco that named everything after an affirmation. To order the enchiladas you’d end up saying something like “I Am a Glamorous Goddess.” You can browse their old menu for inspiration, or just take my recommendation. I chose “I Am Focused” and now my phone shows up as “I Am Focused.”

Here’s how to set this yourself:

  • Go to the Settings app and then navigate to General > About > Name.
NSA-car-on-the-corner is someone using strategy #1.

Positive self-talk is actually surprisingly effective. I always thought it was too woo-woo, but then I tested it out with some people at work. They all said it was more effective than anything we’d ever done, including journaling, meditation, sleep, priority setting, and morning routines. People have a lot of negative self-talk that they don’t like, but which they haven’t taken the time to train theirselves out of.

If you’re interested in positive self-talk, I got my start with this By the Book episode, where they read and tested a book about changing your self-talk.

Of course, training yourself to be more positive isn’t as simple as changing the name of your phone, but it’s a start.

#36. Turn off advertising tracking

If you turn off advertising tracking, then the ads you see won’t be specifically targeted to you and what advertisers know about you. The point here is that getting less targeted ads is good. You want to spend money on your own terms.

This is a variant on “your phone is a tool, not your boss”. When you want to spend money, you want to use your phone for research and then make a purchase based on that research. You do not want the other way around, where your phone is telling you or brainwashing you what to buy. You are the boss.

  • Go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising. Turn on Limit Ad Tracking.

You’re still going to get advertising in some places, but almost all of the advice I’ve given here includes paying for the ad-free version of the apps you use.

Paying for ad-free apps probably saves you money, as you’re less likely to buy something you don’t want.

#37. Set auto-lock to the maximum time

When you stop using your phone, it’ll auto-lock to prevent some stranger from grabbing your phone and digging through your private info. That’s basically a good feature, but most often the result is that you end up locking yourself out.

Most people keep their cell phones on their person — so keeping your phone locked is not a huge security risk. We’re only talking about five minutes — that’s the maximum auto-lock setting. If you check your phone on the way into your gym, walk to your locker, put your phone in your locker, change into your workout clothes, lock your locker and walk away, your phone has probably already locked itself. (Plus, most of you actually take your phone out to the gym with you!)

So the strategy here is to save yourself the few seconds it takes to unlock your phone by extending the auto-lock time.

  • Go to General > Settings > Display & Brightness > Auto-Lock.
  • Max out auto-lock to 5 minutes.

“Never” would be too aggressive.

My take on the value of saving time here is that those few seconds of waiting for a phone to wake up is when you are at risk for getting distracted. So, worst case this setting saves you a few minutes of time (research says you check your phone 25 times per day). But best case, it saves you from 30 minutes of goofing off.


#38. Set your personal hotspot password to a random three-word phrase

Sometimes you need to share your hotspot password with a close friend or loved one. A random three-word phrase is something you can say out loud that they won’t have trouble spelling.

This is also a more general trick for creating quality passwords that are easy for you to say or remember. Think about your router’s password for example and how you’re always having to share it with guests. Sharing a three-word phrase is so much easier than a string of random letters and numbers.

The debate about the security of this strategy for passwords ranges from very positive to just slightly positive.

  • Go to Settings > Personal Hotspot. Set the password to something like appleduckmovie.

I did an edit pass to try to remove my private info from this article — so this is not my actual password.

I spent a summer driving all over the United States, totaling 9,000 miles while working from a campervan. I know a thing or two about internet access from weird spots. In almost all places, using my phone as a hotspot beat out trying to find local wifi. My phone was faster and more convenient. This setting is about making your hotspot even easier to use, especially when you are connecting new devices to it or sharing it with traveling companions. That can actually be a real productivity win.

#39. Turn on Control Center everywhere

Swipe down from the top-right of your screen and you’ll have access your Control Center which contains toggles for wifi, bluetooth, flashlight and more.

Apple wants to give you the option to turn this behavior off when you’re inside of a different app. That’s a mistake.

The main reason to have always-on access to the control center is so that you can toggle wifi on and off. Direct, manual toggling of the source of your internet is an important way to control the speed of your app experiences.

  • Go to Settings > Control Center. Enable Access Within Apps.
  • While you’re here, go to Customize Controls. You might want to add some more options. I put my alarm and timer here since I use both and want shortcuts.

Isn’t Orientation Lock the weirdest, feature-bloatiest, least-Apple option? Does anyone unlock their orientation for any reason other than videos? And then does anyone remember to turn it back on afterward? IMO — this feature should be removed and full screen videos should always play in portrait mode.

There have been dozens of times where I’ve wondered why an app was slow and then realized the culprit was either the wifi or the cell signal. As someone who travels a lot, I often find that I get the best internet speeds when I’m willing to take direct control of switching between wifi and cell service. Sometimes one of those is much stronger than the other.

When you are using your phone as a tool, then fast internet is a direct link to productivity. That’s the main reason to have access to the Control Center.

#40. Turn on Background App Refresh

This setting used to clog up your bandwidth and kill your phone battery. But we’re in a new era of fast bandwidth and better batteries. So turn it on.

The upside is that you’ll have one less thing to manage, and all of your apps will stay updated automatically.

  • Go to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and make sure everything is toggled on.

No special discussion here other than referencing saving your cognitive budget. When automation works well, you’re saving your brain cycles to do something better. That’s the case here.

#41. Delete Garage Band

GarageBand was 1.8GB when I went to check my installed apps. On a new phone, I’m not planning to do a lot of managing my storage, but 1.8GB is enough to get my attention.

  • Go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage.
  • Tap through to any large apps you aren’t planning to ever use. There will be a delete option there.

Don’t worry, you can always reinstall these apps.

Never used Uber? That’s how you can tell this is a new phone.

This is the sort of thing that’s better to do now, while your focused attention is on setting up your iPhone. You’re saving yourself time down the road when you run out of storage at an inopportune time.

#42. Develop verbal memory for talking to Siri

Some people take right away to talking to Siri, and other people don’t.

The problem is the mental version of muscle memory. If you’ve never talked to Siri, then it’s hard to muster the new behavior in those occasional times where it would be useful.

Here’s what I suggest: go through the script below a few times and see if anything sticks. You can turn on Siri by long pressing the button on the right of your iPhone. In parentheses, I’ve listed the phrase that will reverse the alarm or reminder that you just set.

  • Set alarm for tomorrow at 8am. (Turn off alarm)
  • Remind me to check the oven in 35 minutes. (Remove reminder to check the oven)
  • How old is Malcom Gladwell?
  • Timer for 10 minutes (Turn off timer)
  • What is 20% of 46?

Now do something to make calling people easier. Set a nickname for a loved one, like your mom.

  • <Person’s full name> is my mom
  • Text my mom love you

What we just did here is a tactic called deliberate practice. When most people read about an iPhone trick, they will try to store the trick away in their memory, hoping that they will remember that trick down the road.

I want you to consider a much more effective approach. If you ever think you want to use a new trick or behavior later on, try practicing it first. The practice makes later recall so much more likely.

This is really a life philosophy to build in practice time for all of your life and work skills. For a very deep dive, see

Jason Shen’s Complete Guide to Deliberate Practice. This is the same article I recommended in the Meditation step.


#43. Set up these Text Replacement shortcuts

There are basically two keyboard shortcuts that everyone should have. One is for your email address and the other is for your home address.

Once you get used to the power of shortcuts, you’ll probably start adding more.

Go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement

  • Add your full address. I used the shortcut: ma
  • Add your full email address. I used the shortcut: em

It’s easy to make the mistake of getting the phrase and shortcuts reversed. You should test these right after adding them.

Now when you type either of those shortcuts, you’ll get an option to autocomplete to your full text replacement.

This is a pure and simple productivity hack. No discussion necessary.


#44. Set your address

There are at least (at least) five places where your phone will pull your home address.

If you went through the Google Maps section, then you added a home address there.

If you went through the Text Replacement section, then you set a shortcut for your address.

There are still three more places to set:

  • Go to Settings > Apple Id Etc. > Payment & Shipping.
  • Go into Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay and check your Shipping Address option.
  • Also, Siri pulls your home address for your personal entry in your contacts. Go into Contacts and then edit your own entry in order to make sure it’s current.

Boom. Now you’ve saved yourself some typing down the road. That’s productivity.

#45. Backup this way

Yes, you should have backups even though practically every app you install stores your data in the cloud. But backups do make it much easier to set up a new phone when you upgrade (or lose it).

I strongly suggest iCloud backups — they’re cheap. I’m on the $10.99/year package for 20GB and creeping toward the next level which is just another $0.99/month for another 30GB.

  • Go to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud.

There should be options there to manage your iCloud storage and which apps get backed up. You should back up most of them given how cheap storage is.

I used to resist paying for backups, but the math on the time savings alone is great. You’ll pay a few tens of dollars to save yourself hours of work when you upgrade your phone. And then you’ll save yourself a huge headache if you actually do lose your phone completely.

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