8 secrets for even more iPhone productivity

8 secrets for even more iPhone productivity

These hidden techniques for Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Notes also work on the iPad

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If you rely on your iPhone or iPad for productivity, you know Apple's apps handle a lot of useful tasks, such as figuring out travel time to an appointment or checking co-workers' availability when setting up meetings. (If you didn't know them, check out my survey of iOS's productivity enhancements and my comparison of Microsoft's Outlook clients to Apple's.)

But some useful capabilities are not available in Apple's iOS apps -- or maybe they are, but hidden from you. In fact, there are a bunch of features you likely use on your computer's productivity tools that you wish iOS would also support. Here are eight that actually exist, though they're hidden.

iOS Mail: search unread and flagged messages

To find all unread messages in Mail, go to the message list and search for "unread," then tap Message Is Unread. Similarly, searching for "flagged" lets you find all flagged messages.

1. Mail: Find unread and flagged emails

Apple's Mail app highlights unread messages with a blue circle and flagged messages with a flag icon. But there's no way to filter for only those emails. Except there is: The trick is to type "unread" or "flagged" in the Search field, then tap the option that appears to filter by type. (To get the Search field, scroll to the top of a message list, above the first message.)

2. Mail: Quickly jump to a mailbox

A related trick: You can type in the name of a mailbox (Trash, Sent, or Junk) in the Search field and jump to it. The mailbox names will appear below any messages that use that term.

3. Mail: Search within a thread

If you tap an email in a thread (look for » to the right of the time stamp) to open a list of that thread's contents, the Search field becomes Search Thread field, restricting the search to that thread.

4. Calendar: See your whole day within an invite

iOS Calendar: expand day

Tap the calendar preview in an opened event to see your full day.

When you accept an invitation or open one you previously received, Calendar highlights the event in the context of the surrounding few hours. Tap that snapshot and it will expand to show your full day, a handy view in case you need to suggest a different time or know when you still have time to do work outside your meetings.

5. Calendar: See all accepted invitations

Most people know that the Inbox in Calendar shows pending invitations; in fact, you'll see a number of pending invites (including previously accepted invitations with changed times) next to the Inbox label. But tapping Inbox shows you not only your pending invites but also, if you tap Replied, those you've previously accepted -- in one very handy list. 

Unfortunately, they're not listed in the order of occurrence but grouped by who sent the invitation.

6. Calendar: Schedule a conference room

iOS Calendar: book a room

To book a conference room managed by an Exchange server, simply invite that room to your meeting.

One of Outlook's signature features is the ability to book a conference room for a meeting. There's no such feature in Calendar, but you can still book a conference room: Simply enter the room's name as an invitee; the Exchange server will book the room for you.

Also, you can see if the Exchange-managed conference room is free the same way you can check the status of any invitee.

7. Contacts: Merge duplicates

If you connect to several accounts such as Exchange, email, and iCloud, you'll likely have multiple entries for some people or for conference rooms. Contacts lets you link these multiple entries, so their information appears merged and your contacts list shows only one entry. I say "appears merged" because the data still resides across the various accounts, not copied across them or combined into a single account, but at least you get a unified view of all the accounts' information.

To link entries, tap one to open it, tap Edit, scroll all the way to the bottom, tap Link Contacts, tap the duplicate from your contacts list to merge, and tap Done. You can link multiple contacts, not only two; if you have more duplicates for the contact, keep linking them until they're all linked.

Notes: lock a note

To lock a note for the first time, tap the Share icon to open the popover with the Lock Note button. Tap the button, then enter the password you set up for Notes in Settings and tap OK (or use Touch ID).

8. Notes: Password-protect notes

The ability to lock notes is new to iOS 9.3, which was released yesterday as a free update. But it's not at all obvious that the feature exists after you have installed iOS 9.3, much less how to use it.

First, you have to set the password to unlock the notes, which you do in the Settings app. Tap Notes, then tap Password to set the password that will unlock your notes. (You can also enable Touch ID to unlock them via your fingerprint, if you have a Touch ID-compatible iPhone or iPad.)

To password-protect a note in Notes, open the note, then tap the Share button. In the bottom row of options, you'll see a new one: Lock Note. You'll need to enter the Notes password or use Touch ID to actually protect the note. (Oddly, on an iPad you can't use Touch ID for the initial locking.) Once the note is locked, a lock icon appears at the upper right of the note; tap it, then Unlock Note to reveal the note's contents -- after you enter the password or use Touch ID, that is. The note stays unlocked until you lock it again, which you can do by tapping the lock icon.

Once an individual note has been locked, the lock icon lets you toggle between locking and unlocking that note. You need to use the Share button only the first time to lock a particular note. And you need to use the Share button to remove the lock completely from a note -- you'll see Remove Lock in its menu after tapping the Share button from within a note that has been previously locked.

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