The Best Productivity App Is Already On Your Phone. You Just Don't Know It Yet.

Let us explain.

01/24/2016 10:06 am ET

This story is part of our monthlong “Work Well” initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. You can find more stories from this project here.

There are a zillion productivity apps out there -- things that help you organize your day, email more efficiently, remember your grocery list. A lot of them are good, but let's be real: You won't ever use them.

When's the last time you actually opened that calorie-tracker app? More power to you if you said, "Why, just today after my lunch of kale and parsnip soup!" For the rest of us, there's good news: Smartphones already come armed with basically everything you need to become a more productive human. 

Whether you have an iPhone or an Android device, there's a good chance you've been using these things already without realizing their full potential. Here's our guide to unlocking the most productive feature on your smartphone -- no downloads necessary. 


If you're not using the "Google Now" app, it's time to start. (Chances are, it's pre-installed on your phone, which is the entire point, but you can also download the app if you're missing it. It's also available for iOS, though we'll get to that later.) The app can read your text messages to you, take down reminders and deliver smart updates about bad weather, flights, packages you're expecting and so on.

Here's the biggest thing we use it for: reminders. It seems really, really stupid, but we promise this function helps once you're in the groove. You pull up the Google Now app -- either by tapping it, saying a voice command or, on certain phones, holding down the "home" button -- then say "Okay Google." That'll prompt the app to listen to your command.

Then, you can say things like:

  • "Remind me to buy bubble wrap at Kmart." If you've allowed Google to track your phone's location, it'll give you a buzz when you pass the store. If you can get over how creepy this is, it's actually pretty awesome.

  • "Remind me to preheat the oven when I get home." Yep, also kind of weird, but you can tell Google what your home address is and get location-specific reminders when you get there after work.

  • If you overindulged at lunch and feel it in your gut, say "Remind me at 8 p.m. to maybe just eat a salad for dinner." Instead of tracking your calories via a separate app, you can check in on how you're feeling and make better choices with simple reminders.

  • "Remind me to call grandma this weekend." She misses you.

Here's the real trick: Because you'll absolutely sound like a lunatic if you're caught saying all of these things to your phone, just whisper them very quietly into your device's microphone. The app will hear you just fine.


Reminders are just one very basic use for the app, though. There are a slew of functions and other voice commands that are useful: For example, you can ask it how to say "help me" in Spanish. It's pretty great.

Of course, there's a major caveat: You have to be okay with turning your personal data over to Google. To get the most out of Google Now, you have to let it automatically dig through your Gmail and such for bits of information. Only you can decide if that's worth it, though you can always monitor what data Google's collecting via your activity page


While you can download Google's app for many of the above features on your iPhone, remember that the whole point is to avoid superfluous things you're not likely to use on your device. Think of your home screen as a beautiful zen garden of vital programs, if you must. 

We recommend trying to get more out of Siri.

The famed digital assistant can understand a lot of the same voice commands as the Google Now app. It can also remind you to preheat the oven when you get home -- if your iPhone doesn't know your address, you'll be prompted to type it in. And, also like Google Now, it understand a ton of other voice commands that can increase your efficiency. Want to know what song is playing? Don't ask the human DJ or Google the lyrics: Just ask Siri and let it take a listen.

It is!

The big takeaway here is that you can probably get creative with the stuff that's already built into your smartphones to improve your life and avoid clogging your storage with other apps you don't really need. If you really must try other apps, there are a ton out there (for iOS and Android).

That's fine by us: We'll just be over here whispering secrets to Siri.

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