Tag Archives: Tasks

Tell Your iPhone to Notify You When It Connects to Your Car’s Bluetooth

Tell Your iPhone to Notify You When It Connects to Your Car's Bluetooth

If you’re like me, you head out to run errands only to get back home and realize there’s at least one thing you forgot to do. If you’re an iPhone user, you can set up a location-based reminder that comes in handy for situations like this.

How-to Geek breaks down the functionality, but it’s really pretty simple. From the Reminders app, add a new reminder, then hit the detail icon. This is where you can assign specifics for the task, including “Remind me at a location.” This feature gives you the option to set a specific location, but you can also select “getting in the car” or “getting out of the car.” If your phone connects to your car via Bluetooth, you’ll get that reminder whenever your phone is paired.

This is also useful for stuff you might forget to do when you get home. If you have a bad habit of leaving your keys in the door, for example, you could set a reminder not to do that when you’re getting out of the car. If you leave the garage door open, set a reminder to shut it when you get in the car. Check it off your list, then you won’t have to worry about remembering whether or not you did it.

Again, it’s a pretty simple option, but a useful one. For more detail check out the full instructions at the link below.

How to Create iPhone Reminders for When You Get In and Out of Your Car | How-to Geek

Prioritize Your Tasks by Motivation Instead of Time With Activity Blocks

Prioritize Your Tasks by Motivation Instead of Time With Activity Blocks

Loss of motivation can kill your productivity, but if you can switch things up while you work, you’ll keep yourself fresh and focused. Prioritizing and scheduling tasks into activity blocks that aren’t constrained by time can help.

If you’re looking for a clever way to approach your to-do list every day, author Frank Viola recommends you build one based on your motivation levels, not the amount of time it will take to complete them. Viola explains to Entrepreneur that he makes a daily task list the night before, which contains up to 10 business and personal tasks that are intermingled together to help keep things balanced:

…I’ll chunk large projects into manageable activity blocks that are not based on time at all. I’ll work on that activity until I’m not motivated by it anymore, then I’ll move on to another activity block. This ensures I’m only applying my best ability to every activity rather than half-hearted efforts.

Viola still handles urgent issues first to avoid procrastination, but the rest of his tasks fit into a “tight but loose” schedule. If, for example, you were planning out your day tomorrow, you could list out the 10 things you wanted to get done, then you would organize each item into different blocks or categories. Maybe one block is a work project, another block is busy work, and another is personal to-dos. The next day, pick a block to start with and just get working. When you lose motivation on the current block, switch to a new block, and continue. The key is that you don’t constrain your tasks by time, you constrain them by motivation. You’re still getting everything done, but in an order that’s based on how you feel in the moment, not when you think it should be done.

http://lifehacker.com/5848603/progra…

3 Novel Hacks to Kickstart Your Productivity | Entrepreneur

Photo by Jayel Aheram.

How Drawing Can Help Improve Your Memory, According to Research

How Drawing Can Help Improve Your Memory, According to Research

If you need help jogging your memory, you might try your hand at drawing. A recent study found that we remember items better when we draw them rather than write them down.

In a study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers conducted a series of experiments asking subjects to draw or write down different items. Overall, the study found that subjects were better able to recall the items when they drew them.

For example, in one of the studies, subjects were given a few different tasks with different series of words. They had to either write them down, draw them, visualize them, list attributes of the word, or look at a picture of the word in context. Subjects were more likely to remember the words that were drawn, leading the researchers to conclude:

Together these experiments indicate that drawing enhances memory relative to writing, across settings, instructions, and alternate encoding strategies, both within- and between-participants, and that a deep LoP, visual imagery, or picture superiority, alone or collectively, are not sufficient to explain the observed effect. We propose that drawing improves memory by encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace.

To put these findings into practice, New York Magazine suggests drawing your to-do list. This can help you remember what you have to do and stay focused on those tasks throughout the day. This tip may also be useful for studying, though, and creating a visual mind map can help with brainstorming projects, too.

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Of course, this is just one study, and your own results might vary, but it’s worth a shot. Overall, it may help certain ideas and concepts stick. For more information, check out the links below.

The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall | The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology via NY Magazine

Photo by StartupStockPhotos.

The Best Calendar App for iPhone

The Best Calendar App for iPhone

You have tons of options for calendars on iPhone, many that are free, but when it comes to the best, we recommend Fantastical 2, even if you have to shell out $5 to use it.

Fantastical 2

Platform: iPhone (and iPad)
Price: $4.99
Download Page

Features

  • Compatible with Google Calendar, iCloud, and Exchange
  • Quickly add new events with natural language (“Lunch with Alan tomorrow”)
  • Notification Center support
  • Map view for event locations
  • Week view in landscape mode
  • Integration with Facebook events
  • Widget support
  • Quick Actions on iPhone 6s
  • Light and dark themes
  • Reminders integration with notifications

Where It Excels

A lot of things are great about Fantastical 2, but what separates it from the pack the most comes down to its design. Fantastical 2 is incredibly easy to use, fast, and it’s powerful enough for most people. As a basic calendar, you can view your events on a calendar and they’re visualized in a readable and easy to understand way. You can add new events without a lot of taps and the natural language entry means you can type out an event just like you’d say it out loud.

Fantastical also offers up just enough options for viewing your calendar to make it useful for a variety of people. You can check out a list view in portrait mode that offers both a week ticker and a month calendar at the top, or flip your phone to landscape view to see a more detailed look at your week. These three views make it pretty easy to glance at your calendar to get a gist of your schedule at any given moment.

Fantastical 2 is updated consistently with new features, but more importantly it’s always kept up to date for new versions of iOS and any new features that might come along with a new iPhone (like Quick Actions on the iPhone 6s) or in the operating system itself (like widget support). Finally, Fantastical 2 is just as reliable as Apple’s built-in options, which, when it boils down to it, is one of the most important aspects of a calendar. Syncing always works, crashes are very rare, and notifications always happen when they’re supposed to.

Where It Falls Short

The most obvious downside of Fantastical is the $5 price tag. While paying for the app means you’ll get continued support and you don’t have to worry as much about the app getting acquired by another company (which are oddly common in calendar apps), not everyone wants to shell out cash for a calendar app. We do cover some free options below though.

Beyond that, Fantastical is missing some of the social or third-party integrations that you’ll find in other calendar apps. While it does support Facebook events, that’s pretty much it. You won’t find detailed views of your weather, Evernote reminders, or anything else here. On one end, that means Fantastical is a solid calendar app on its own, but on another, it means you can’t auto populate your calendar using other services.

The Competition

You have a lot of good competition in the calendar space on the iPhone, so if you don’t feel like shelling out the $5 for Fantastical, don’t worry.

Let’s start with Sunrise Calendar (Free). Sunrise Calendar was our previous pick for the best calendar on iPhone. It’s free, supports the big three calendar services, integrates weather forecasts, and links up with tons of other services. The problem is the app’s now dead after Microsoft acquired the team who made it. A lot of the Sunrise features are now being integrated into Microsoft’s Outlook app, but the iOS app for Sunrise will never get updated again.

Any.Do Cal (Free) is another decent free option, but it hasn’t seen an update in a year. Cal is a little more fun and playful then Fantastical, integrating a lot of images into its design as well as working well with the Any.do to-do list app. As a calendar, it does everything it needs to, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to do anything new.

Finally, as far as free options go, it’s worth mentioning Google Calendar (Free). If you’re deep into Google’s ecosystem, the Google Calendar app is great. It shows you events from Gmail, to-dos, and even gives you little added features like flight information. The problem, of course, is that most of the usefulness relies on other Google services, so if you’re not using any of them, Google Calendar is far less useful.

In the paid space, the biggest competitor to Fantastical is Calendars 5 ($6.99). Calendars 5 is a very capable app that includes natural language input, a task manager, and a variety of view options to glance at your calendar. The week view in Calendars 5 is good, better than Fantastical’s in some ways, but the rest of the interface is a bit lacking. Calendars 5 is also a universal app, so if you use your iPad a lot, it’s great to just purchase one app instead of two.

Week Calendar ($1.99) is another app that once sat in our App Directory. It’s packed with a ton of features, including multiple views, your choice of navigation app integration, templates, widgets, and more. It’s also quite possibly the ugliest option available, but that hasn’t prevented it from being one of the most popular calendar apps out there.


Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.

Beware of “Completion Bias” When Working Through Your To-Do List

Beware of "Completion Bias" When Working Through Your To-Do List

Checking things off of your to-do list feels great, and that feeling can even make you more productive. That same feeling, however, can also keep you from tackling larger, more important tasks.

“Completion bias” is when your brain specifically seeks the pleasure completing a task brings. Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Bradley Staats, an associate professor at North Carolina University, explain that completion bias can trick you into focusing on only small tasks because you’ll want to experience that positive feeling more. You spend the day taking on small, easy tasks (like answering emails, doing busy work, or other general housekeeping tasks) and feel like you’re being productive. But when you look back at what you accomplished in the day, you realize you barely made a dent in your actual work. Unchecked, completion bias can bring your productivity to a grinding halt, and even ruin your ability to make a decent to-do list.

To fix it, Gino and Staats suggest you mix up your to-dos so you’re not just taking on the small stuff. Do an easy task, then use that good feeling as momentum to take on a more difficult task, and repeat. And when you make your to-do lists, be sure to include the more difficult tasks that will impact your important work along with the easy stuff. You can learn more at the link below.

http://lifehacker.com/this-graphic-e…

Your Desire to Get Things Done Can Undermine Your Effectiveness | Harvard Business Review

Photo by LaShawn Wiltz.

To Round Is a Fun, Bubble-Based Task Manager

To Round Is a Fun, Bubble-Based Task Manager

Android/iPhone: Not everyone needs their to-dos in a list. To Round takes a totally different approach to organizing tasks by putting each task into a bubble.

To Round has everything you’d expect from a basic to-do list. There’s a calendar to schedule tasks for later, tags to organize them, task priority, and a list of completed tasks. You can also set it up so you only see certain tasks based on filters. The different is in the ball system. The bigger the ball, the higher priority, and the more it pushes itself down to the bottom. It’s a fun system and if you’ve found lists too boring to maintain, To Round is worth a look.

To Round (Free) | Google Play
To Round (Free) | iTunes App Store

Keep a Rolling Grocery or To-Do List on a Butcher Paper Roll

Keep a Rolling Grocery or To-Do List on a Butcher Paper Roll

If you want a simple, cheap way to keep a grocery or to do list in your kitchen, or wherever else, try a roll of the ever useful butcher paper.

It’s a pretty simple idea, but I do like the thought of having a list that’s easy for everyone to find and write on, but that isn’t on the fridge or sitting on the counter somewhere getting in the way. And it serves as it’s own reminder. When the list gets long enough that it hits the countertop or floor, it’s time to take care of some things. You can use butcher or kraft paper or, as At Home In Love suggest, painter’s masking paper from your local hardware store. It’s cheaper, the paper’s a bit thinner, and the rolls are a good size.

DIY Kraft Paper Grocery List | At Home In Love via Apartment Therapy

Learn the Basics of Making Effective Lists in this One Minute Video

We’ve covered a whole lot of tips on how to make great lists, but if you want a quick refresher of the basics, Flikli’s short video is a good place to start.

None of the advice is particularly new, but it’s good advice nonetheless, like:

The video is a quick primer, but you can check any of the above links for more information on a particular step.

Fantastic Tips for Using Lists Brilliantly | Vimeo via Design Taxi

This Tool Turns Your Vague Goals Into Actionable Tasks

This Tool Turns Your Vague Goals Into Actionable Tasks

To reach your goals, it helps to break them down into a series of actionable tasks. This tool from Harvard Business Review can help you organize the process to come up with an easy-to-read plan.

If you want to turn your vague goals into manageable to-dos, you’ll have to do some brainstorming and come up with some milestones. Harvard Business Review’s interactive tool gives you a template in which you can get the job done. You simply enter your goal, and then you fill in a series of tasks for the goal that go from broad to specific.

http://lifehacker.com/5925801/how-ca…

You can do this on your own, obviously, but this tool makes planning a lot easier. After you fill in all the fields, it populates a one page plan with all the actionable tasks necessary to reach your goal. Give it a try for yourself at the link below.

A Tool to Help You Reach Your Goals in 4 Steps | HBR

If You’re Going to Multitask, At Least Do It Right

If You’re Going to Multitask, At Least Do It Right

“Multitasking” has become a bad word. Most research says that our brains aren’t truly capable of focusing on multiple things at once, but that doesn’t mean multitasking is evil. If you want to multitask, here’s how to get the most out of it.

http://lifehacker.com/5922453/what-m…

The Benefits of Multitasking

If we know it can be detrimental to our productivity to multitask, why should you even bother trying? In The Age of the Infovore, author Tyler Cowen points out that, despite its known cognitive downsides, multitasking does something you can never underestimate when it comes to our work: it keeps us interested.

The emotional power of our personal blends is potent, and they make work, and learning, a lot more fun. Multitasking is, in part, a strategy to keep ourselves interested.

Staying interested means staying motivated, and that’s the toughest part of the battle. Multitasking can also make it feel like you’re doing more. That, in turn, can drum up more excitement for your work, and create a larger sense of accomplishment when it’s all done. It may not be what’s actually happening, but sometimes the way you feel about your work is more important than how much you’ve done at the end of the day. Multitasking can make crappy work more enjoyable, too, and help you occupy your mind and fight off frustration when a task is giving you trouble.

Multitasking may not be ideal, but it’s also not the demon everyone’s made it out to be. If you’re going to do it, there are ways to make the best of it. With the right approach to multitasking, you can avoid the worst of the pitfalls and still get plenty of work done.

Multitask at the Right Times

When multitasking, you need to know when to do it and when not to. Consider multitasking to be a tool that goes in your tool box. You wouldn’t use a hammer to tighten a screw, and you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail. Or as psychologist Shelley Carson explains:

The ideal situation is to be able to multitask when multitasking is appropriate, and focus when focusing is important.

No two people are the same, so knowing when it’s appropriate to multitask is largely up to the way you work. Be mindful of how you take on certain tasks. Do you get more easily distracted by some tasks more than others? Take note of these, so you can create a mental list of the work you know you’re best “single-tasking” on.

You can also track what you do during the day so you know which times of the day bring you the weakest mental focus. If you know that you have a hard time focusing late in the afternoon, you’re probably better off multitasking some other time when your brain is capable of firing all cylinders. In short: you don’t need to shun multitasking from your life completely, but realize that there’s a time and place for it.

http://lifehacker.com/how-tracking-w…

Limit Yourself to Two Big Tasks at Once

Multitasking doesn’t have to mean doing everything at once. Most of us try to do too many big things at the same time, and thus spread ourselves too thin. It’s not uncommon for most of us to overestimate our abilities, so you have to set a hard limit for yourself to keep things in check.

While research has shown that your brain isn’t good at focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously, your brain might benefit from switching focus between a limited number of tasks. In a study led by Etienne Koechlin at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, and published in the journal Science, Koechlin found that bouncing back and forth between two tasks came at little cost to focus and task efficiency for participants. The trick, as Koechlin explains to Scientific American, is to make sure that the tasks are worthwhile:

Task complexity itself does not prevent from dual-tasking. People should be able to switch back and forth between two complex tasks (by postponing one while executing the other one), provided that the incentive of pursuing each task is large enough.

Furthermore, both tasks must be rewarding to you. If you simultaneously work on an exciting task and a boring, unrewarding one, you’ll likely lose motivation for the latter task. When that happens, the demotivation can carry over to the rewarding task as well. So prioritize two, and only two, tasks to take on at once—and make sure they both keep you motivated.

This also gives you the opportunity to give your brain a break. Working on two tasks at once lets you shift gears from one task to the other when you get frustrated, stumped, or need a breather from one task. If you hit a wall, you can shift to the other task and keep your productivity train chugging.

http://lifehacker.com/why-you-should…

Layer the Right Kinds of Tasks Together

It’s also important to consider the type of tasks you take on at the same time. Naturally, some tasks just go better with others. Watching a TV show while running on the treadmill, for example, or folding the laundry while having a phone conversation, work well together. Layering your tasks with other compatible tasks not only makes multitasking possible, but it actually makes it more productive than single-tasking.

http://lifehacker.com/use-layered-ta…

Many of us find some of this synergy naturally, but it’s a good idea to take some time and really think about what tasks of yours layer with one another. If you were to examine your house chores, for example, you could probably lay out an efficient schedule that allows you to multitask and clean your house in no time at all. It might look something like this:

  1. Start laundry
  2. Soak dishes
  3. Spray shower/bath cleaner
  4. Vacuum the living room
  5. Wipe down bathroom counters
  6. Wipe down shower/bath
  7. Vacuum bedroom
  8. Clean dishes
  9. Switch laundry to dryer, and so on…

With the power of “multitasking,” all of those chores are completed in the time it takes to wash a single load of laundry. And all while listening to your favorite podcast to boot. Determine your own tasks that can be worked in tandem and create the perfect order of operations. If you plan everything out right, your multitasking will be efficient and your focus unphased.

http://lifehacker.com/how-to-streaml…

Make Mind-Numbing Work More Bearable

Some work is no fun at all, but you can make those things you hate doing better with a different type of task layering. A recent study from Ohio State University led by Zheng Wang & John M. Tchernev, and published in the Journal of Communication, examined the relation of these needs to productivity and motivation. Wang and Tchernev found that multitasking with concurrent rewards made work far more satisfying for participants. Wang explains:

They are not being more productive—they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work… [Students] felt satisfied not because they were effective at studying, but because the addition of TV made the studying entertaining. The combination of the activities accounts for the good feelings obtained… they get an emotional reward that keeps them doing it.

While studying and watching TV may not be the best example, the same effect is possible with other types of tasks. For example, you could listen to an audiobook you haven’t had time to read while you do yard work, or work through some audio language lessons to keep your mind occupied. You could take a pleasant walk outside and go through your backed up email inbox on your phone, marking the most important ones to respond to later. You could bring your laptop to your favorite restaurant and finally finish up that project, simultaneously removing distractions and keeping yourself in high spirits with yummy food.

Those positive feelings, while not always contributing to your productivity, can be more beneficial when you look at the big picture. You’re not a robot, and you have emotional needs that need to be met. Multitasking can make menial or dreaded tasks something we actually want to get done. You might even complete something you’ve been putting off sooner because you made it more enjoyable.

http://lifehacker.com/take-on-the-ta…

The key here is choosing the right types of “reward tasks” to layer with your productive tasks. It’s best to avoid things that constantly interrupt you or require a great deal of switching your focus. Your goal with these rewards is to layer them in tandem with your tasks, not distract you from your tasks completely. Listening to music, having a TV show you’ve already seen on in the background, or eating your favorite snack are good examples.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.