Productivity apps are like military intelligence: the unoriginal will claim that they’re an oxymoron, but they really exist and when they work they are terrifyingly effective. The modern smartphone is nothing less than a fully portable computer connected to a global information network, which is good, because the modern brain is still a shaved caveman struggling to remember more than four tasks at a time without dropping something. A truly smart life comes not from deciding to be a genius, which isn’t the way that works, but by gathering and using the best tools, which is how the entire rise of mankind worked.
We’ve found some of the smartest iPhone productivity apps for download. Use these to get better at pretty much everything.
reQall reverses the polarity of your Internet-enabled iPhone — instead of being a constant engine of distraction, it focuses you on exactly what you need to be doing at all times. It couldn’t make your iPhone more productive without erasing Angry Birds.
reQall records text or audio notes (automatically converting the latter) and integrates them with your calendar program. Customizable tags group to-do lists and invitations, e-mail, and IM reminders keep you on top of multiple projects, and the all important “Here and Now” feature is the lodestone of a digital life. You take out your phone, you look at the screen, and you know what to do next. A computer hasn’t come this close to solving the riddles of life since Deep Thought, and “42″ is a far less useful reminder.
TimeLogger takes the Track & Field approach to your work life, generating useful billing data in the progress. Tap TimeLogger when you start a task, tap again when you’re finished (or have to pause), and you know exactly how long you’ve been working.
The obvious application is for invoicing, but the TimeLogger is so much more than that. Properly used it’s a productivity turbocharger. The human brain is the most vulnerable thing in the world to distraction — because something like a squirrel might be easier to distract, but it won’t justify the make-work and facebooking to itself after. Using your reQall to-do list, set a time to get that job done (or move on from where you’ve gotten to), start the clock ticking, and you suddenly have a focus for finishing on time.
If you don’t need an all-in-one solution like reQall, you still need to reach Inbox Zero. Because the empty inbox isn’t just a sign of productivity, it’s a Nirvana of it. Rapidly clearing your mailbox means you’re never swamped, but it’s important to filter and forward your tasks clearly. After all, “Delete All” will zero your inbox even faster, but somehow we can’t bring ourselves to recommend it.
Producteev can connect with all your other information services, funneling forwarded information into automatic alerts and to-do lists. Getting things done is your job, so let the phone take care of tracking which and when.
Discussing iPhone productivity without Evernote is like discussing public transport without mentioning trains — it’s certainly possible to talk like that, but you’ve revealed that no-one should listen to you. Evernote is the output side of the productivity equation, providing an all-in-one storage system for every sketch, scribble, idea, and innovation that you have while working.
Outright losing vital scraps of paper or forgetting the brilliant insight you had on the bus is the worst productivity loss possible, because all that effort outright disappears. In fact it becomes negative, as the scratching agony of knowing you no longer know what you knew disrupts your thoughts.
It’s nice to pretend that productivity increases are all about optimizing our good sides, but eliminating bad habits is just as important. Which is unfortunate because it’s the bad habits we enjoy. Twinkle might be just one more speck of light in a galaxy of Twitter-reading apps if not for one thing: alerts when someone sends you a message or replies by name.
Why does this help? Because now you have a barrier to chronic updating. If the alert hasn’t gone off you can’t even pretend that there’s anything important you’ve missed. That won’t stop you from checking in to see what everyone’s saying (if things had to be important to work Twitter wouldn’t exist), but forcing yourself to admit you’re wasting time instead of checking just in case of important messages, you’re likely to work a little longer before your next tweet.
Image credit: macroworld / iStockphoto