iPhone apps help reduce clutter and improve productivity

After a week of playing with my new iPhone 3G, I’ve found the following applications to be helpful to my productivity and in my fight against clutter.


Notes — I played with a number of the list-style programs (My Lists, iNeedStuff, To Do, etc.) and productivity applications (EasyTask Manager, OmniFocus) and found that Notes is just as effective for keeping track of action items and projects. Seeing as Notes is free and installed on the phone at point of purchase, I don’t recommend paying to download a more specialized application. Grocery lists, errand lists, and other to-do items are easily stored and erased when finished.

Photos — Use a digital camera with better than 2 megapixels and a micro focus to take closeup pictures of the bar codes on your membership cards. Then, transfer the pictures to your iPhone and store them in a folder in Photos titled “membership cards.” Barcode scanners should be able to read the barcode image and they also can be manually typed into a keypad if the scanner doesn’t work. Give it a try before you throw out your membership cards, but I’ve had success with this at my grocery store and pharmacy. (The Camera on your iPhone won’t work for taking pictures of bar codes because it can’t focus well enough at close range.)

Calculator — Ignore all of the tipping programs and budget planning programs available for download and simply use the calculator that is already installed. If you turn the iPhone on its side, the standard calculator transforms into a scientific calculator. Save your money and stick with the one that is provided and works.


Jott for iPhone — We’ve already discussed the wonder that is Jott in a previous post, so there isn’t much more to say about this application. If you’re someone who is tempted to text while you drive (DON’T DO IT!), Jott is the perfect application for you. It’s super convenient and free to download.

Evernote — Like Jott, Evernote is a program we’ve discussed in detail in previous posts. Integration with the iPhone Camera, however, makes this an even more useful tool. My only complaint is that it doesn’t seem to allow for web page tagging. It’s also a free application.

Unclutterer — Don’t forget to include an Unclutterer icon on your home screen! Directions for how to install one are here. We know that the man vacuuming his face off creeps a few of you out, but I find him to be unbelievably entertaining. Why can’t he figure out how to vacuum properly?!

Google Mobile — This application gives you iPhone formatted access to all Google applications. I’m a committed user to Google Calendar and Google Docs, so it’s nice to have these services in an easy-to-use configuration. I’ve also installed a separate Google Reader application, but you can access it through the main Google Mobile as well. It, too, is free.

34 Comments for “iPhone apps help reduce clutter and improve productivity”

  1. posted by Robb Irrgang on

    The Unclutterer icon, although great for promotion, kind of goes against the concept of the site, doesn’t it? You’d be better off promoting a feed reader like NetNewsWire.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Robb — What? You read other websites in addition to ours?! Say it isn’t so!! 😉

    Yeah … the Unclutterer icon is a bit over the top. I doubt anyone except for Unclutterer staff actually uses it. For us, though, it actually is nice because it’s one click to make sure that the site is online and that spam hasn’t been published.

  3. posted by Nathania Johnson on

    I use Zenbe for lists. It’s free but unlike the installed Notes, you can check off things on your list.

    Before, I was just going around the grocery store with my list on Notes, and having to stand around and backspace to erase things i’d picked up.

    Zenbe doesn’t auto-erase the item when you check it, which is perfect so i don’t have to spend time making another list next week.

    Also, there’s a couple of flashlight applications which are handy, turning your iphone into a light source.

    And, having a Bible app makes it great for going to church on Sundays. i hope it doesn’t sound sacriligous to say that I don’t need to carry the Bible – it’s on my phone.

    Now, my problem is a cluttered iPhone interface. But at least I’ve grouped similar applications (games, etc) together.

  4. posted by Emily on

    My problem with Notes is that it doesn’t synchronize. I have to spend my time making the list of things on the little phone keyboard, which I do love, but is not NEARLY as efficient as a full-sized keyboard.

    I use OmniFocus, which is way overkill for just notes and $100 if you get the desktop app as well. I think there is a free or very low-cost app that will allow you to sync the notes to the desktop. I hope Remember the Milk comes out with something like that.

    (Part of the issue, as I understand it, is that app developers don’t have access to the iTunes syncing, so any and all syncing has to be done over the air. OmniFocus uses WebDAV servers, which is seamless once it’s all set up, or Mobile Me.)

  5. posted by Laurie on

    I for one love the icon and it’s on my main page, so I can read easily every day! Thanks for a great site. I also love my iPhone too, I’m not sure if it makes me more uncluttered, but I defintely use it for more than just a phone.

  6. posted by Marie on

    Okay, want to hear something sad? My hands get clammy a lot for no reason, so I’m afraid that if I get the iPhone it will just slip out of my hands!

  7. posted by Paula on

    I always thought that the icon demonstrated someone who perhaps had taken unclutterer a bit far. He was so good at decluttering that he is vacuuming himself away…

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Paula — Oooooh! I like that explanation, too!! Around the office, we refer to him as “suck face man” … which makes me laugh about him even more. Have you seen the guy hiding at the bottom of the page? He cracks me up, too.

  9. posted by BlackMacX on

    Emily, this application might work for you (though I haven’t been able to get it to work with v2.0 of the iPhone/Touch software), iPhoneNotes, URL:http://www.v1ru8.net/2008/03/2.....enotes-03/. It doesn’t fully synchronize with Apples Notepad, but it works well and allows you to create, upload, download and copy to your Mac (I assume you have one from the post you make and having OmniFocus). I have tried the desktop GTD app, Things (it has an iPhone counterpart of the same name; though at the moment, sync’ing isn’t possible).

  10. posted by Emily on

    @BlackMacX: Thanks! I will check it out.

    And @Marie: You can get cases for the phone that will make it harder for it to slip out of your hands. My boyfriend has one that is rubbery because he got tired of it slipping out of his pants pocket when he sat down in the car.

  11. posted by Tiffany on

    @Marie yes, there are cases and skins. I know someone who covered the back of his second iPod Touch with skateboard grip tape because his first one slipped out of his pocket in a cab.

  12. posted by Dean on

    Can you load skype on the iPhone?

  13. posted by Ethan on


    Yes you can. Somewhere on lifehacker there is a tutorial on how to use it to make and receive calls with the touch if your interested.

  14. posted by Jack on

    I have to say I disagree with your post about todo list apps being the same as notes…they aren’t even close. I use Things and iNeedStuff and they are FAR more efficient than notes. With Things I can organize my stuff MUCH more effectively and in a GTD manner. iNeedStuff makes making a grocery list about a 5 min task and it is location aware so it will resort your list at the store you’re shopping so you don’t forget stuff. I used notes for both these tasks before these apps were available and I have to say I HIGHLY recommend both of them as they’ve saved me a TON of time.

  15. posted by Sharon on

    Hee hee! I had never noticed the guy at the bottom of the page, glad you pointed that out. He’s adorable! And I’ve always loved the “suck-face guy”!

  16. posted by Mike on

    Try eWallet for keeping copies of cards in a secure format. For ones that are less security concerned (grocery store/club cards) try scanning the card front and back rather than taking digital photos – much more accurate and standardized way to deal with the images.

  17. posted by Puhsitch on

    Doesn’t the Google Mobile application, in terms of Google apps, just bring you to the web interface via Safari? The only thing I’ve seen the application do on its own is just general smart-searching. My webclip to Google brings me right to what I need (Google Reader, specifically) without all the extra steps!

  18. posted by Ric Wilson on

    If you haven’t checked out TaDa before, I’d highly recommend it. I keep all kinds of lists there for myself and for my family. You set up your free account at http://www.tadalists.com, and then you have a password protected website with all your lists. This means no syncing required and changes appear instantly for everyone.

    One of the best uses is for family shopping lists – we have ones for the Grocery Store, Pharmacy, Hardware, etc. Then, when you need something, don’t tell me about it, put it on the appropriate list from your computer, iPhone, Blackberry, whatever. Then when one of us goes to the store, even if someone adds to the list 30 seconds before I walk in, when I open the list everything is there. And like Zenbe, when you check things off, they don’t go away so you can reuse items (like milk, eggs or shampoo).

    My 2¢, ric

  19. posted by Jay on

    There is a $40 utility I think the users of this site would appreciate called The Missing Sync. It allows for Notes to sync with your Mac or PC, can back up SMS messages so you don’t have to have them on your phone if you want to save them, and for the business person, can back up your call log. it sounds like users want to be able to back up this kind of data so I thought I would throw it out there. The same software is available now for Symbian, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and an array of PDA’s. I don’t work for Mark Space, I am just a faithful user.

  20. posted by Nimic on

    Now all I have to do is be able to BUY an iPhone 3G :). I refuse to wait in line for one 5 hours. Anyone got any tricks up their sleeve to avoid the human clutter at the Apple store or the lack of stock at the AT&T store?

  21. posted by J on

    a lot of people talk about this barcode stuff with these cards for the supermarket and what not. get rid of all that crap and just use your phone number in the store – works for me every time, i never forget the number, and i’m not wasting time taking pictures of cards or showing people my phone.

    either tell the clerk your number or key it into the atm reader.

  22. posted by Andy on

    “Why can’t he figure out how to vacuum properly?!”

    First, I want to say that I love your web site. Until today, I never really kept up with it, which has got to be why my life is in complete shambles! Doi? Anyway, after re-discovering your site again for the umpteenth (stupid word) time, I read the line that I quoted above and oh how it made me laugh and laugh and laugh.

  23. posted by Sam on

    I agree about Zenbe over Notes. The biggest problem I have with Notes is that I can’t write them up quickly on the computer, I have to type them in on the virtual keyboard, which is very slow by comparison. I type up my lists at lists.zenbe.com, then sync them to my phone. Significant time saver for me.

  24. posted by Erin Doland on

    I hadn’t heard about Zenbe until today. I’ll give it a try.

  25. posted by Mike on

    I love Jott, too, but I find the iPhone app nearly useless, since it doesn’t allow you to send email reminders of the transcribed text — instead, you have to go to their website (or the app on the iPhone) to see the note you sent.

    I think this is a big oversight on the part of Jott, and I hope they’ll fix it — until they do, I’ll just keep Jott’s phone number in my Favorites list, and the iPhone app won’t take up valuable screen real estate.

  26. posted by Kevin on

    Another vote for Zenbe. The ability to sync via wireless is very nice!

  27. posted by dap on

    Why note stick with your Google app’s and try Google Notebook? http://www.google.com/notebook/m you can follow this link to learn about its use with a GTD approach too:

  28. posted by Joel on

    I “sync” Notes by emailing them to my Gmail account. My Gmail account has filters to handle the sent Notes.

  29. posted by Brandon on

    You mentioned that you used a separate Google Reader app on your iPhone.. I wasn’t aware that there was one? Could you please share what app it is you are referring to? Thanks!

  30. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Brandon — To be a little more technically correct, it’s not an app. It’s a webpage with an icon on my home page of my phone. The page link is here: http://www.google.com/reader/i

  31. posted by Albert on

    The photos option for membership cards sounded familiar. I posted about it a while ago (http://www.tisgoud.nl/blog/200.....Phone.aspx).

    Instead of using a camera I used a scanner to produce the images.

    Great use of Evernote BTW.

  32. posted by Matthias on

    A major drawback of Evernote is that it does not allow do edit notes. The Goole app seams to be a great app. But for an unknown reason it is not availble in the German store.

    In my opinion, the need of tools like OmniFocus is depending on your job and the resulting complexity of your projects. For project managers simple note could not be enough.

  33. posted by Michael G on

    I am a big desktop OmniFocus fan for my To Do stuff. I am liking the iPhone version now that it is syncing smoothly. It was a bit of a rough start out of the gate. I’m am hoping for Omni to come up with a version of Omni Outliner for the iPhone that synchs with the desktop. I’ve tried out all the web based apps, and I think they are headed in the right direction, but none of them worked smoothly and predictably. There are other things I’d like to have notes on than To Do stuff, that I’d like to be able to synch so I’m still waiting on that.

    I still think that the voice recording apps could use improvement too. I like the idea of Jott, but for some reason around here it often takes forever for the notes to be transcribed. If it did that quickly in a consistent way, I would love it. Incidently OmniFocus also has a voice recording feature where you can leave a note on a next action. Helpful, but I still dream of a nice synching voice notes program. I do love the feature on Jott where touching the screen ANYWHERE starts or stops recording. Now that makes sense for the car, which is the only place I need voice notes.

    Love the iPhone though. Wouldn’t want to go back.

  34. posted by Becca on

    I use GroceryIQ on my iPod touch, which helps me come up with my shopping list for the grocery store, and helps me remember what I usually buy. It organizes things by aisle and allows me to check things off as I find them, as well as to take notes on individual items and mark quantities. It’s awesome, and I believe it’s free!

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