How to make your iPhone work for you

July 20, 2020

In 2012, my first boss instilled in me the importance of tech only being useful tech if it helped you do something. He loved the simplicity of Apple products all the way down to their packaging. iPhones have developed quite a bit in the last 8 years and with so many new features it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Over the past month or so, I've tried hard to change the way I interact with my phone. I still have a long way to go (my Screen Time graphs are more than a little terrifying!) but I've picked up some handy tricks along the way.

Below you'll find my must-have productivity hacks and handy tips and tricks.

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash


Rearrange your home screen

Decluttering my home screen has been one of the most effective things I've done to improve how I use my phone.

I accomplished this in 3 steps.

Step 1

I worked out what I actually needed on my homescreen to be efficient. My old homescreen included what felt like a million apps, all with notification buttons turned on. This resulted in two things -

  1. Information overload - the little red buttons made me more likely to open an app just because I thought I should
  2. It was impossible to find anything. Folders meant apps were grouped by theme but remembering which app was where was a nightmare

Step 2

I put all remaining apps into folders and moved them onto the second and third screens. My homescreen now includes apps that I actually use on a regular basis -

  • Instagram
  • Photos
  • Notion
  • Camera
  • Maps
  • Weather
  • Breezometer (a must have in Dubai given how dusty it gets)
  • Settings
  • Notes
  • Toggl
  • 1Password
  • Medium
  • Spotify
  • Messages
  • WhatsApp
  • Careem (UAE Uber alternative)
  • Extra - I'll reinstate Slack on my home screen as soon as I start needing it on a regular basis again

If I need anything else, I make use of the Search bar (more on this below) by pulling down on the homescreen and typing in the name of the app I need.

Step 3

I changed my background. Having a dark background has two advantages

  1. Dark backgrounds are less distracting; I do what I need to do and that's it
  2. My battery has thanked me - dark backgrounds require less battery power than bright backgrounds

I went the extra mile by creating a custom background on Canva. Reminding myself to take a breath also works wonders for anxiety.

Minimise notifications to avoid distractions

There is nothing worse than a phone constantly pinging and what feels like millions of red dots telling you to open an app.

Whilst rearranging my phone, I also decided which notifications are actually necessary. I now have a tiered system.

  • Tier 1 - Apps that need notifications and red dots These are the apps that I use on a regular basis and which I don't want to miss notifications for. Examples include: WhatsApp, Mail, Calendar, Messages, LinkedIn, Instagram, Slack, banking.
  • Tier 2 - Apps that I don't need to be notified about but I do want to show in Notification Center. Examples include Fitbit, Medium and Pinterest. I like knowing there are updates, but it's not crucial that my phone notifies me about them
  • Tier 3 - Apps that don't need notifications but do need red dots. For example App Store updates

Tiering my apps was time consuming but my phone is now less distracting as I'm only notified for things that are important.

To set up your notifications go to Settings and scroll down until you find the app you'd like to update. Alternatively, go to Settings > Notifications to see a break down of notification set up per app.

Scheduled Do Not Disturb

I love Do Not Disturb. I've set mine up so that between 10pm - 7am each day everything is sent to Notification Center. This means my phone stays quiet and I'm not distracted when I should be going to sleep! As an extra bonus, when you've set your phone to "wake up" you get a Good Morning screen, complete with weather for the day.

Important note - if there are people that you want to be able to contact you no matter the time of day, you can activate Emergency Bypass. To set this up, go to Contacts > Find the contact > Click Edit > Scroll to Ringtone > Toggle Emergency Bypass to On.

Night Shift

As well as scheduling Do Not Disturb, you can set your phone up for Night Shift. This small setting shifts display colours to the warmer end of the colour spectrum. Blue light keeps us awake so activating this setting (in theory) helps you get a better night's sleep. I've set mine to activate and deactivate along with sunrise and sunset, but you can schedule it to any time that suits you. To access this setting go to Settings > Display and Brightness > Night Shift.

Screen Time

And yes, I named my phone "Nancy Drew" to make it easier to find!

I'll let you into a secret. When I first looked at my Screen Time usage I was more than a little horrified. Taking into account time spent on apps and pick ups (the number of times I pick up and unlock my phone), the graph told me that I was using my phone far too much. One way of mitigating this it to set up app limits, essentially limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to use a certain app each day. It might seem draconian, but it's an effective way to break any habits!

To turn on Screen Time, head to Settings > Screen Time > Turn on Screen Time > Continue > Select the device. To turn on App Limits, Settings > Screen Time > App Limits. You might be surprised!

Helpful tips and tricks

Rearrange Control Center

Control Center is great for accessing things you use on a regular basis. I've set my Control Center up so that I can easily access my Wallet, Timer and Network settings (wifi, hotspot etc), to name a few. To customise, head to Settings > Control Center > Customise Controls. You can also rearrange the apps by holding the three grey lines and dragging the apps to reorder.


Swiping right on the lock screen or Home screen gives you access to the Today View. Within this view you can see information about apps you use most frequently. I've set mine up to include Weather, Breezometer, Calendar, WhatsApp and (dreaded!) Screen Time. You can add or remove widgets by scrolling to the bottom and tapping Edit. Like in Control Center, rearrange widgets by holding the three grey lines and dragging to reorder.

Make the most of 3D touch

Did you know if you hold down an app, you access a quick menu? I had no idea about this until recently and I've used it ever since. My favourite use is for setting a quick timer - hold down Timer in the Control Center to access quick start. Most apps have an in-built quick menu, for example Google Calendar lets you add events.

Screen recording

Ever tried to explain how to use an app or describe an error and thought "it would be so much easier if I could just record"? Screen recording lets you do just that. Accessible from Control Center, you can record your screen and then save to Photos for future use.

Search bar

Pull down from the top of the screen to access the Search bar

I didn't give the search bar a second thought until I started using it to look for apps that I'd hidden on my second screen. Since then, I've used it to:

  1. look for apps I've moved to my second or third screen
  2. do quick searches to pull up results from apps on my phone and Safari
  3. make quick calculations without heading to the Calculator app


Being stuck without wifi - or wifi that is so slow it might as well be non-existant - can be really frustrating. An easy way around this is to use your phone as a hotspot. You can access this through Settings > Personal Hotspot or by pressing and holding the wifi icon in Control Center.

QR scanner

QR codes are making a comeback, especially as digital menus are becoming increasingly prevalent. By opening up your Camera and centring the QR code, you can access the website without needing to download a separate app.

Document scanning in Notes

The Notes app has becoming increasingly powerful. One of my favourite tricks is to use it as a document scanner. Once a document is scanned you can mark it up using the various "pen" styles and even add a signature. To access the scanner, open a new Note and touch the Camera icon.


As phones have become ubiquitous, our relationship with them has also evolved. Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you make the most of your phone and use it to your advantage.

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