Only one iPhone feature matters if you’re trying to decrease stress

Nope, it’s not an app.
Nope, it’s not an app.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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I eagerly downloaded “Moment” after reading the app’s slogan: “Put down your phone and get back to your life.” Life! How delightful that sounded.

Not so. I’ve been using Moment, which tracks every minute you spend on your iPhone, for almost a year. The results are dismal. I still look at my phone during dinner. I have finished only one of the ten books I said I would read on the subway. And I re-downloaded my social media apps just two weeks after deleting them.

These screenshots show my lack of progress:

Image for article titled Only one iPhone feature matters if you’re trying to decrease stress
Image: Leah Fessler/Quartz

It’s particularly damning that my screen time is equally horrendous on weekends—when I’m supposed to be getting back to said “life.”

But I don’t feel any sense of personal failure for not successfully cutting down my screen time. I’m not constantly “glued” to my phone, and my excuses for screen time are pretty innocuous: My commute is really long, I need it for work, I read a lot on Pocket. After my year-long experiment with Moment, I don’t think eliminating screen time is the answer to our work-life woes.

Moment’s real, unintended blessing was leading me to the only iPhone feature that actually saved me time and improved my life. This feature isn’t an app. You don’t even open your phone to use it. It’s voice-controlled Siri reminders.

I have a complicated, well-documented relationship with Siri. The idea of a feminized digital servant irks me on many levels. However, as someone who constantly forgets things and finds it nearly impossible to juggle all of my personal and professional responsibilities, I can confidently say that Siri voice reminders made me a significantly more reliable, effective, and efficient friend and colleague.

If you’ve never heard of the functionality—which simply allows you to set reminders on your phone, using just your voice (or finger)—you’re not alone. Here’s how it works:

  1. Open iPhone settings, and click on “Siri & Search.”
  2. Turn on “Listen for ‘Hey Siri.'”
  3. Say “Hey Siri” a few times so Siri learns your voice.
  4. Then, when you think of something you need to remember later, say aloud, “Hey Siri, remind me to [insert reminder] at [insert time] on [insert day].” (If you prefer, you can hold down the iPhone home button for a few seconds, which will wake up Siri, then say “Remind me to X.”)
  5. Siri will automatically add your reminder to your iPhone’s pre-installed “Reminders” app.
  6. When said day and time arrives, a banner reminder will pop up on your iPhone’s locked home screen—ensuring you see the reminder before you open your phone.
  7. When you’re ready, you can mark the reminder as “completed” in your iPhone “Reminders” app.

While using Moment to track my phone use, Siri voice reminders offered an invaluable perk: I could use my iPhone to accomplish something important, without adding to my daily screen time. Enthralled by the seemingly effortless productivity, I began using reminders more and more.

  • Lying in my bed at night, I’d think of a Slack message I forgot to send my boss: “Hey Siri, remind me to message Heather about story deadline at nine am tomorrow.”
  • Sitting in my office, I’d remember dinner plans I made last week: “Hey Siri, remind me about dinner with Lydia on Friday at 4 pm.”
  • On a Wednesday, I’d think about the dog shelter I wanted to volunteer at on weekends: “Hey Siri, remind me to walk dogs on Saturday at 10 am.”
  • In October, I’d learn that my boyfriend really wants sweatpants for Christmas: “Hey Siri, remind me to order Sean joggers on December 1.”
  • In the morning, I’d run out of coffee: “Hey Siri, remind me to buy coffee in one hour.” In the afternoon, I’d realize I have no groceries: “Hey Siri, remind me to go to Trader Joe’s at five.”

Though I started using the voice reminders to save me screen time, they also saved me from constantly carrying around the cognitive load of all the responsibilities, ideas, and errands I have to remember, which otherwise linger throughout the day. And more surprisingly, they helped me feel more present in both my personal life and at work.

Often, I’ll receive a text or gChat from a friend or family member mid-day. Whether they’re excited, upset, or just in need conversation, I find it nearly impossible to juggle personal messages and work, which means I de-prioritize personal threads, or respond half-heartedly. Far more effective was having Siri remind me to text or call back these loved ones after work, when I was able to devote my full attention. Likewise, easily documenting professional reminders during off-hours prevented me from getting sucked into the work vortex while I was relaxing or hanging with friends.

Another unexpected perk of Siri voice reminders was that I became more innovative. Most of us have our keenest ideas at random moments, which makes them easy to forget. With voice reminders, I was able to call out my ideas (often to the entertainment of anyone around me) at anytime: Drifting to sleep, I’d say “Hey Siri, remind me to add Kafka reference to story tomorrow.” Taking a shower, I’d call out “Hey Siri, remind me about foot washing story in two hours.” Walking to the subway, I’d think of a friend whose struggling, and say “Hey Siri, remind me to buy a chocolate bar for X this afternoon.”

Ultimately, Siri voice reminders are not earth-shattering. They won’t solve your phone addiction, and they probably won’t curb it either. But they do provide a simple, seamless way to gain control over your daily life, and ensure you’re more present for yourself, and the people you love. However small that win may be, I’m beyond willing to take it.