15 ways you can use your phone to improve your productivity

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  • Many of us spend waste time on our phones instead of using them to get things done.
  • There are plenty of ways you can use your phone to actually boost your productivity.
  • Here are 15 things you can do with your phone that can lead you to getting more done with your day.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The very premise of owning a smartphone is that it makes you a better, more productive person.

Combining a medley of technologies into a single device - phone, messaging, navigation, music player, alarm clock, and more - should equip you for almost anything. Right?

Of course, that's not the reality. Many of us spend too much time mindlessly staring at that tiny screen and not getting stuff done.

The good news is that your phone really can make you more productive - you just need to use it more thoughtfully.

Here are 15 ways you can noticeably increase your productivity with your smartphone.

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Use your phone for better time management and task scheduling

Use your phone for better time management and task scheduling

How good are you at prioritizing tasks and accomplishing your to-do list?

If you need some structure to how you approach your day, you might want to try your hand at one of the many common time management techniques that rely on scheduling blocks of time to accomplish tasks throughout the day.

The Pomodoro Technique, for example, is a popular strategy that breaks your day into 25-minute chunks. You can install a Pomodoro app like Focus Booster or PomoDoneApp, or skip apps entirely and simply use your phone's timer to chunk up your day.

Use your phone's search for anything and everything

Use your phone's search for anything and everything

You probably waste a lot of time trying to find things on your phone, from apps and contacts to calendar entries.

But the built-in search tool (pull down from the top of the Home screen) can find all sorts of things for you more quickly than you can. There's no need to find the calendar app, open it, and look for an upcoming appointment, for example, when you can go to it directly by searching for its name.

The same is true of contacts, email messages, text messages, apps, and web sites. If you have an iPhone, Spotlight Search is even more powerful than Android; it's even able to do simple math without opening the calculator.

If you have an Android, install visual voicemail

If you have an Android, install visual voicemail

If you've never owned an iPhone, you may not know how liberating its built-in visual voicemail is.

Rather than needing to dial into your voicemail and listen to messages, iPhone users can see a list of their voicemails and choose which one to listen to with a tap.

You can get the same productivity boost on an Android phone though — most of the major carriers offer their own free visual voicemail app. You can install the app in the Google Play store for AT&T, T-Mobile, or Sprint. Verizon users can get it directly from Verizon.

Let your phone read aloud to you

Let your phone read aloud to you

You shouldn't be looking at your phone while driving — it's dangerous and often illegal.

But you can reclaim that lost time by having your phone read aloud to you.

An almost entirely unknown feature on the iPhone can read any screen aloud — emails, text messages, web pages, app screens, and even Kindle books. You need to turn the feature on in the Settings app; tap "General," "Accessibility," then "Speech," and finally turn on "Speak Screen."

Now, to get your phone to read anything aloud, swipe down with two fingers from the top of any screen.

Delete your worst time-sucks

Delete your worst time-sucks

There is no shortage of statistics that tell us we waste an enormous amount of time on our phones. One recent survey found the average internet user spent two hours and 22 minutes on social networking and messaging platforms.

If that describes you, you already know that it can be challenging to moderate your use of social media — the entire experience is engineered to be addictive. The solution? Delete social media apps from your phone outright, so you are forced to rely on your computer for that kind of time-waster. Just imagine what you could accomplish by getting two hours a day back.

Use Pocket to easily share websites with your computer

Use Pocket to easily share websites with your computer

No doubt, you often run across articles and web sites that you need to spend more time with and need to save for later. If you currently email these links to yourself, there's a much better way.

Pocket is an app for both iOS and Android that lets you save web pages with a single tap. They're immediately saved to your Pocket account, which syncs with the Pocket plug-in for Firefox browsers back on your computer.

Get centered with meditation

Get centered with meditation

Your phone is usually the Grand Central Station of distractions and multitasking. But just for once, let it help you relax and center yourself. Using a mindfulness app like The Mindfulness App or Calm, you can set aside anywhere from three to 30 minutes a day to conduct guided meditations and reset amid your busy lifestyle.

Use Do Not Disturb mode

Use Do Not Disturb mode

Another way to find your Zen — and work more effectively — is to block out all of your phone's usual distractions.

If you need an hour to work uninterrupted without phone calls, text messages, and other notifications taking your eyes away from your project, turn on Do Not Disturb mode. Many people use DND at bedtime, but never think of it during daylight hours.

On the iPhone, you can manually enable DND by pulling down the Control Panel from the top right of the screen and tapping the quarter moon icon. The process is similar on Android: Pull down from the top and find the "Do Not Disturb" quick-access button.

Sync notes with your desktop computer

Sync notes with your desktop computer

Ordinarily, your phone and your desktop computer exist in separate universes — it's not easy to share notes and documents between them without emailing yourself. By moving to the cloud, though, you can always have access to the same documents no matter where you are or what device you're using.

For notes, consider Microsoft OneNote or its popular alternative Evernote. Both of these options keep everything you write in sync between your computer and phone. For everything else — documents, spreadsheets, and presentations — use Google Docs or just store your Microsoft Office files in a cloud service like Dropbox or OneDrive.

Use a better keyboard

Use a better keyboard

Want to type faster on your phone? If you find default smartphone keyboards too slow and clunky, look into downloading a different one.

Android users have long been able to take advantage of the elegant Swype keyboard, and it's available for iPhone users now as well. With Swype (and similar keyboard alternatives) you keep your finger on the screen and swipe your way through the word, moving from character to character as if it were a Ouija board. If you've never tried it, Swype sounds strange, but it's extremely easy to learn and can dramatically increase your typing speed.

Let white noise soothe you while you work

Let white noise soothe you while you work

Work in a noisy office or just find it really hard to deal with incidental distractions while you're trying to concentrate? You're a good candidate to work with soothing white noise in the background.

White noise can mask background sounds and improve your focus. Yes, there are dedicated white noise apps for both iOS and Android, but you certainly don't need to install one. Just search for "white noise" in Spotify to get access to all sorts of white noise tracks, including traditional white noise "static," as well as nature sounds like rain and waterfalls.

Listen to podcasts

Listen to podcasts

When you're in the car, your first impulse might be to play music.

But your commute time is a golden opportunity to learn something new by digging into podcasts. There are plenty of great podcasts on business, productivity, and personal growth.

Or, with more than a half million podcasts available for sampling, you can also take a break from all that and listen to a podcast that can satisfy your curiosity and teach you something.

Get Siri to remember your relationship to contacts

Get Siri to remember your relationship to contacts

Pop quiz: Find the phone number to your dentist. Or your doctor. Or plumber.

Even if you have them stored in your phone's contact list, it might still take you a while to track them down.

To make it easier to call or text people with whom you have some sort of relationship, iPhone users can teach Siri what those relationships actually are. Just say, "Siri, Bob Smith is my boss." After that, you can just say, "Siri, text my boss," and you can get to that contact without any searching.

Download the apps your team uses instead of logging in via Safari

Download the apps your team uses instead of logging in via Safari

Unless you're a salmon, don't fight the current. If your organization uses tools like Trello, Slack, or Google Hangouts, install the appropriate apps on your phone. Having the app installed means you don't need to log in via Safari each time you need to use it on your phone.

More importantly, you'll instantly see notifications when something requires your attention, and you can communicate or manage projects from anywhere with just a few taps.

Use your phone to keep tabs on your competition

Use your phone to keep tabs on your competition

Finally, if you're in the business world, you can put your phone to work keeping tabs on your competition.

You can use social media apps like Twitter and Facebook to keep tabs on how competitor companies engage with customers, use social media influencers, or communicate their brands. You can also build a set of links to competitor websites or install apps that keep you in the loop on your competition's news and activities.

Stay on top of them when you're on the go, to help inform your strategy when you are back at your desk.

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