But does it save you time?

I have an iPhone, but I have never downloaded any apps for it. Perhaps this sounds strange, as I like to save time and the universe is full of time-saving apps. But I haven’t come up with many activities that I do frequently enough, and when I only have access to my phone, that it would be worth the mindshare for downloading them and keeping track of them.

For instance, I hear there are great apps for creating and sharing lists, such as grocery lists. That’s fine, but I’ve found it also works to write my list on the back of a piece of junk mail while I’m standing in my kitchen. Then I either take this with me to the store, or I hand it off to whoever is heading there. If someone stops by the store unexpectedly, this person can generally call me from there, or exercise his/her judgment. After all, anyone doing the grocery shopping for our household likely has access to the fridge and pantry and has seen their contents.

I also hear there are good apps for figuring out nearby restaurants if you’re standing on a street corner in an unfamiliar city, and finding out what other diners have enjoyed at these restaurants. But when I’m in unfamiliar cities, I’m often visiting people who have this information. It also works to ask another human being “hey, is there a pizza place around here?” and if you’re in a restaurant, asking the waiter “what do you think is good here?”

I will admit that knowing traffic data ahead of a trip is helpful, and can save time, though before smart phones, we figured this out too. My husband and I would listen to the three radio stations that give traffic on the 1s, 5s, and 8s (if I remember correctly) around NYC, and choose our approach into the city based on that.

I’d be happy to learn that I’m wrong, and some app saves people so much time it’s life-changing. I’m working on a story on precisely this topic, but I’m trying to figure out what need that app would solve. Saving a few minutes a week is nice, but even if it adds up in theory, most of us struggle with re-purposing it.

(Of course, if you’re looking for a list of 17 productive ways to spend 5 minutes instead of checking email, again, click on that link!)

What apps do you use regularly? Do any save you time? How much time, and what do you then do with this time?

38 thoughts on “But does it save you time?

  1. the only apps I can think of that really save time for me are:

    1) google maps. absolute timesaver – i can plan to go somewhere without looking up directions at all, and adjust routes based on traffic (can use another app called Waze for this alternatively).

    2) amazon/diapers.com apps. so that if someone texts me that we need diapers i can buy them in ilke 5 seconds.

    3) mapmyrun app. not as accurate as a garmin, but this saves me time by not having to be charged.

    4) kindle app. not really a time-saver per se, but a convenience in that it allows me to read books on the phone – great for taking advantage of spare moments without having to pack reading material on paper.

    pretty much everything else on my phone just uses up time rather than saves it 🙂

  2. This is a really good question. I have apps related to photo taking on my phone which saves me time in post processing them. I also have Dropbox which syncs my photos to the desktop computer automatically. This saves me time because I scrapbook so this speeds up that part of the process and gives me more time for creating layouts. But when I was first thinking about this question, I said I use my phone more to save money than time with apps such as checkout 51 and cartwheel from target. And time is money right? Will be interesting to read other responses.

  3. I just got my first smart phone and have owned it for less than a week. So I’m something of a newbie to this territory, though I have owned a tablet (both are Android) for about a year.

    I like the Kindle app for the reason @Sarah mentions.

    I’ve found “Our groceries” helpful (also on the tablet) not only because it does allow me to list things DH would not think of but because it allows me to keep a running list rather than create one on the spot. Indeed, I use it to keep many lists, such as “pack for trip,” “take to office,” etc. I think the phone will make it that much more useful, as I am keeping the phone out a lot more than I did the tablet, and will actually take it to the store (I did usually copy the tablet list to paper if it was I shopping, though that was rare). It’s hard to quantify the amount of time this may have saved, but I think it’s positive, with added benefits of having stuff on trips (etc.) that I want and might otherwise have forgotten.

    I’ve put a weather app on my phone, which is convenient and probably saves ~2-5 minutes versus logging into my computer to check. I also put the Red Cross tornado warning app on it — they’re rare where I live, but not unheard of, and I am not infrequently out in places where I wouldn’t find out about a watch or warning any other practical way (well, my DH might call me). Probably not a time saver, but marginally a safety resource.

    I’ve put on Trello, which I’m using basically as a to-do list, and which probably has about the same utility as the Our Groceries app. And I’ve added a flashlight app, as I’m pretty frequently out in the dark for one reason or another and want a flashlight. I have a bunch, but now I won’t need to go grab one (estimated time savings — 2 minutes per grab, maybe once/day? I walk my dogs in the dark at night and like to have one then, among other things).

    I’ll be interested to see what others post.

  4. I use Evernote A LOT. I use it in the following ways:
    – to snap photos of information that I might want later but won’t need a hard copy of (e.g. The schedule for my daughters music class)
    – I take photos of recipes I can search on, especially from magazines or other hard copy sources. This saves time finding specific recipes and also if I’m out at the grocery store I can check what I need. I also have a master list of recipes for dinner
    – I save copies/links to appliance manuals to save time finding them

    I also found a baby activity log app really helpful in the first 4 weeks to track feeds etc. it’s easier to tap a button than find a pen and make notes one-handed in the dark at 2am…

    I also like the SunSmart app that means I can quickly check the UV exposure index.

    Oh and I use my banking app all the time to check our funds and pay bills.

    1. @Zenmoo – Interesting. For us, banking and bill paying are usually an at-the-home-computer sort of thing. We mail in most of my checks (there aren’t any branches around) and use direct deposit for husband’s paycheck. I think some other list-making and tracking is partly about people’s personalities. On the baby stuff, I never recorded anything like feedings, diaper changes. I’d more remember, yeah, she ate about 3 hours ago and is screaming. Time to eat! But I have friends who make ledgers of all of this.

      1. Our doctor used to always ask about those things and in our sleep-deprived fog, we could never remember anything, so it was nice to have it on the phone. I also felt like I was nursing ALL THE TIME and it was nice to get actual validation in minutes that it was 4+ hours/day in the first couple of weeks 🙂 I’ve exported the data for our older one and hope to include it in her baby book somehow, but need to figure out how to make it pretty.

  5. **Kindle app, definitely – better to read than wasting time on Facebook (which I deleted, and I’m really happy about. Thanks to the SHUbox for planting that idea).

    **PixlrExpress for editing and sharing photos. Another good thing for a spare 5 minutes.

    **Google Maps for navigation and traffic

    **Impetus – current favorite. It’s a custom interval timer with audio prompts and is beautifully designed. I use it for my not-quite-ready-for-Couch-to5K “running” workouts. I’m up to a whopping 30 seconds of running now 😀

    I also used some awesome baby app for tracking all the feeding stuff for the first couple of weeks.

  6. Google Maps for sure. The Weather Channel app. I also like “Around Me” for road trips because it allows you to see what’s at upcoming exits and plan stops accordingly. Bank app for depositing checks because otherwise checks we get have to be mailed. None of those things are earth shattering, but I find them all more handy than their alternatives.

  7. I travel a lot so I use TripIt. It saves me time, but more importantly, it saves me anxiety. I forward the email confirmations from airplane, train, hotel, bookings to [email protected] and they automatically form a sensible itinerary where all of my times and confirmation numbers are all in one place. I used to find myself wondering “did I book a hotel for that trip?” and then wading through my email to find a confirmation. My spouse likes that he can just log in and see my travel schedule. I don’t have lots of apps, but this and the grocery one are useful for me.

  8. I am in the boat with whoever said they save more money than time with a phone – although, being able to access coupons and discounts for places while on the go rather than having to look them up beforehand and print them out definitely saves time too. Also, GPS is invaluable to me.

    1. This reminds me, I used my phone in a store’s dressing room to find a 50% off coupon on an expensive jacket I was trying on, and the salesperson scanned the coupon right from my phone. I was pretty excited about that 😀

  9. Sometimes, it seems that the reason you don’t get the same benefit out of certain things like apps, organizing clothes/lunches the night before, or meal planning is because you work at home.

    My grocery delivery app is what turned me into someone who even knows where my cell phone is. Standing in front of the fridge writing the list in crayon really doesn’t work for me. I will inevitably think of something else when I am out of the house. I spent significant parts of the day outside the house and need a (light system) that allows me to capture and retrieve information anywhere. Evernote helps me jot down the ideas that come to me in different locations. Dropbox allows me to upload my professional reading and take it anywhere. There are places where I have been much better off using Uber than taking cab.

    1. @June – that might be part of it, though I observe my husband, who is constantly running all over the place. He still has a flip phone! I think the ultimate question is whether something is going to simplify your life or not. I was just speaking with an expert who mentioned the huge abandonment rate with apps. In many cases, people use something once, find it isn’t an improvement over previous ways of doing things, and never use it again. There are a few that don’t fit that (the check depositing, as people have mentioned, or Google maps) but if an abandoned app isn’t deleted then it becomes clutter.

  10. On the whole, I probably waste more time than save on the phone. Only because I use the internet on my phone! Things that do save me time are similar to above:
    -Google Maps: never have to look up directions ahead of time and print them, can find the nearest xyz wherever you happen to be
    -Open Table for dinner reservations, so you don’t do all the legwork and pick a place only to realize they have no openings for the night you have a sitter!
    -Weather. Can quickly check while standing in the closet wondering what to wear.
    -Grocery app (I forget what it is), but my husband and I both use it and we have a permanent list of things we need every week and then can add to that specifics. I like the back of envelope list fine, but needing to re-write the 15 usual items every week is tedious.
    -I’m going to say it—Facebook saves me time when I’m trying to share my kids pics with family. No need to upload to the computer, hunt for emails, etc… I just snap the pic, upload to FB and post. I got rid of FB for months and didn’t miss it, but I started hearing from my parents, sister, cousins etc… that they miss the pictures of my kids. Sure I could upload them to Flickr or email them out but those are multiple steps that I don’t want to take.

    1. @Ana – bingo on the first line! That was another interesting insight from an interview I just did on this topic: it is not that an app does or doesn’t save you time. It might save you a few minutes, but the problem is that once many people are on their phones, they go down a rabbit hole of checking email and social media and next thing you know, 40 minutes of your life is gone. If you live close enough to the bank, that might even dwarf the time spent going there to deposit a check…

      1. No…not on the bank one. That one actually is a time saver & I will never waste time walking to and waiting in line at the bank again.

  11. I’ve only had a smart phone – iPhone in my case – since February. My most heavily used apps are Audible and Kindle with Instagram coming in at a distant third. If I’m looking at my phone, I’m probably using one of those apps. My reading time doubled when I got my iPhone (vs my Kindle which doubled my former amount of time spent reading), and the Audible app is so much nicer than my old iPod (and my phone charges while I use it in the car). Instagram is for eye candy, checked once or twice a day. I also love Starbucks so having their app to pay and track my free drinks is nice. I use the Reminder app that came with the phone to track my to-do list and grocery/town lists (how many time have I left my written list at home?!?!). I have FB and Twitter, but rarely look at them (prefer FB on the computer). I also have one local and one national news app, but rarely look at them also. I have a couple bank apps but don’t really use as our banking is done on my computer. I did pay for the NOAA app so I have access to radar for weather, and I do use that a few times every week. I also use the Verizon app to see how much data I’ve used since I’m on the minimal data plan and want to make sure I don’t go over (I’m almost exclusively on Wifi). So the six apps I use most would be Audible, Kindle, Instagram, Starbucks, NOAA and Verizion. The rest I could live without. Included apps I use are Reminders, Weather, Podcasts, and Notes (love syncing this between my computer and phone).

  12. Wow, where to start?… 😉 (First, I have an iPhone, so the apps I’m listing are all for iOS.)
    Since we’re talking about time, I use ATracker for logging time. Just a quick tap and I’m logging a different activity. (I also use Chronos, but that’s more of a back-up in case I’ve left someplace and forgotten to mark ATracker.)
    Due is an app I use a lot — not so much to “save” time as much as to make sure I’m staying on task (and not “wasting” it). I use it esp. for things that need done by a certain time as it has this “auto-snooze” feature that reminds me every single minute until it’s marked completed or otherwise dealt with. (More on why that’s important later.)
    I use Week Calendar to enter events on my calendar — mostly for the Template feature that saves most all of the [textual] information for me and all I have to do is select the day and/or time for the new event. (I also use icons attached to events so I can take a quick glance and know what kind of event it is.) I use Calendars 5 to actually alert me, though. Alerts are more configurable with Calendars 5 and when viewing my schedule, it’s a much “cleaner” look.
    When working on projects, I can get “tunnel vision” and otherwise forget about time… That’s why paper date planners, etc., have never worked for me: I need something that will “jump out” and say “Hey dummy! You’ve got this appointment coming up — you need to be getting ready…” 😉 So apps like Due and calendar apps are an essential part of my being productive.
    Past that, I have apps like Google Maps or Scout for GPS-like directions (and for looking up nearby businesses/stores/restaurants). I can even send a contact an ETA text from within Scout.
    Banking apps for mobile deposit are wonderful! (I can’t remember the last time I went to the bank to deposit a check — it’s been literally YEARS!)
    Mvelopes is my budgeting app so I have all of my balances immediately on-hand (so no need for checking balances before leaving or calling DW).
    Along the same lines is Keeper for remembering the umpteen-hundred passwords I’ve got to keep track of for both personal and professional life.
    And not only saving time, but money, too: GasBuddy! I’ve got the two cheapest stations near the house marked as favorites, but if I’m out running errands and notice I’m going to need gas, I open up GasBuddy and it automatically shows me the cheapest gas prices in my immediate vicinity. I double-check what the prices are “at home” and know exactly which station to go to for the cheapest gas. No calling (or driving!) around town to see what my plans should be.
    There are various other “productivity” type apps I have/use on a regular basis, but one I’m using more and more is Drafts… Whether I’m out and only have my iPhone or if I’ve got my iPad, I can open up Drafts and start entering whatever it is I want to capture. I can then send it off to other apps (inc. Evernote as @Zenmoo makes use of) or toss it once it’s no longer needed. (For example, sometimes I only want/need part of a text, but I can only capture all of it from the Messages app. I throw the contents into Drafts, then from there copy just what I want, toss the whole note and paste the contents I want to keep.) I haven’t scratched the surface of what I know Drafts can do (to help save me time, etc.) but even that is so much more helpful than trying to figure which app I want to use it in and/or how BEFORE capturing the information. Now I just capture and can go on, knowing that what I need will be available later.
    None of those apps, in and of themselves, are what I would call “life-changing” — but for me, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts… (And that’s ultimately why I started using PalmPilots back in the day — and now smartphones.)

    1. @Eric – thanks for your comment, and all these ideas. Interesting on the idea of needing a “push” notification that you have something coming up, or have committed to doing something else. For someone who’s really into tech, an app is great for that. You could also set a wristwatch alarm (that’s what my husband does — a reminder to leave one meeting and go to another, basically).

      1. @Laura my biggest issue (in general) with watch alarms is that they’re… generic. Yes, now I know I need to get ready to do something else, but “what” is that something else? 😉 That has been (and continues to be — at least unless/until I get a smartwatch) the biggest advantage of having a smartphone for alerts: I know exactly what to prep and when to prep for it.

        Oh, and something related to the “time-waste” nature of smartphones: with ATracker, you can set an alert on an activity so if you’ve been doing that activity for more than “x” minutes, say, it will prompt you (and even optionally “nag” you every so often if you so desire if using the Pro version). You set all of that up when you define the activity to begin with. Then, as you’re tracking time, you just tap that activity and ATracker starts tracking how much time you’re “doing” that activity. If it exceeds “x” minutes, ATracker alerts you and says you’ve been doing “[activity]” for more than “x” minutes, do you want to continue? You can ignore it if the answer is yes, or you can change activities and mark it as such in ATracker. If you’re prone to get “sidetracked” while doing a particular activity, then set one of those alerts for that activity. Done and done. 😉

  13. I just went to fetch my iphone to see which apps I use.

    Fitbit 🙂

    For time saving, I love my bank’s app – like last night, my Spanish teacher told us we needed to pay our exam fees and once we were done with the lesson, I grabbed my phone and quickly paid her. Done!

    I recently downloaded the Kindle app and it has been useful to quickly read a sample or two while I’m waiting for something or eating my sandwich in the pause area.

    I’m writing a 31 days of enough time series on my blog and on Thurs last week, I wrote about my favourite productivity app – here you go (feel free to delete link if you don’t allow that on your blog)


    I’m quite ruthless about deleting apps once they no longer serve me – I tried the grocery list app, etc. and honestly, we’ve used a paper list on our fridge for YEARS and it’s working well so why change that?!

  14. I don’t own a smartphone, but there have been several occasions recently when a check deposit app would’ve come in handy.

    I make paper lists, print out directions/note alternate routes ahead of time, and generally investigate options (e.g., restaurants) in advance.

    The main reason I don’t have a smartphone is that I want to compartmentalize my life to a certain extent and avoid the temptation to multitask. I would find it extremely stressful to be followed around all day by email and running lists of things.

    1. @sara – yes on the last point (see my response to Ana’s comment). This is the major downside of having everything on the phone. You need to be on the phone a lot, and there are reasons you might not want to do that.

      1. @Laura and @sara , I have a different take on that… For me, it’s definitely NOT a “need” (checking email and social media, etc.), but it absolutely IS a “convenience”. On things that I deem as “needs” (e.g.- calendar reminder alerts), they get “permission” to notify me whenever/wherever I am. Things like email and social media (et al.), do NOT get that permission. (I can selectively choose not only which apps can send me “alerts”, but HOW they send me those alerts… For instance, some I want to know immediately, so they can show up even if the phone is “sleeping”. Others I don’t need to know “immediately”, but the next time I unlock the phone, they let me know then and I can selectively choose to act on those I want/need to. Still others are more of “it’d be nice to know, but only when I have the time and when I’m interested”, so they collect in the Notification Center, but down at the bottom of the list after I’ve taken care of whatever else I want/need. And then there’s those that I could care less about and are complete time-wasters, so they MAY get permission to throw up a badge [that shows up over their icon, telling me they’re trying to get my attention], or I turn off notifications for those apps altogether.)

        In other words, I don’t “check email” just “because I can” or because I’ve got the phone out… And I certainly don’t check social media for either of those reasons. BUT, there have been a number of times when I’ve been out and needed information that someone sent me in an email that didn’t (or more often couldn’t) get put somewhere else [like a coupon]… Having email right on the phone was an absolute time-saver in those instances. I have certain contacts that I flag as “VIPs”, so emails from them get filtered into a separate section (though they’re still accessible within the “main” list of emails). This let’s me quickly scan a very short list of emails to see if there’s anything of real import — if I feel so inclined. But generally speaking, I use email (and even social media, though to a lesser extent) on the phone to RETRIEVE information I already know about — NOT get “new” information.

        By cultivating which apps notify you and how they can notify you, you’re not so tempted to fall down that rabbit-hole of multi-tasking… It’s much easier to: pick up the phone, take care of whatever the task is, then put it back down and get back to what you were doing before.

        Otherwise, if you set it so every app could always notify you whenever/wherever, then sure, it could be a nightmare that’s best left avoided altogether… But by training the phone (that is, adjusting your settings) to only allow certain apps to notify you in certain ways — and even certain times — it’s much easier to see/use the phone as an enhancement to productivity rather than a hindrance. 🙂

  15. Apps that save me time:
    *The Weather Channel (for obvious reasons, not wanting to wait for the radio or TV)
    *Amazon – I need a bday present for Saturday’s kid party. Let me order it while I walk to my next meeting.
    *Key Ring – It keeps all my bonus cards in one app. no need to carry all of them, or remember the specific card for the specific store
    *Uber – no need to sit around waiting to see if a cab will show up
    *ProjectLife – this would only be for people who want to do digital scrapbooking, but the ability to put a page or two together when I have some downtime is awesome. at the end of the year I can get a photobook printed.

  16. Most apps are time/money wasters (I’m looking at you CandyCrush). The ones that are lifesavers are:
    *Evernote (this took some time to figure out how to use most efficiently and I started really using it once I got a SnapScan printer)
    *Uber — simply awesome
    *Whichever airline you use most (I like the United app)

  17. -Grocery IQ, because it syncs with my husband’s list, and you can also order the list to match the grocery store’s layout (I find THAT a major in-store time saver)
    -Goodbudget, for keeping track of family budgeting

  18. While I have some convenient apps that I really appreciate, I can’t think of one that actually saves me much TIME, except a map app (and that’s mainly the time spent trying to print the map on my failing printer). And I don’t use that one often enough to make a significant impact on my time.

  19. The OurGroceries app saves me time, in that it eliminates multiple shopping trips. My husband and I both use it to note groceries, household items, and pretty much anything we need to buy other than gas; then when we shop online or IRL, we don’t forget anything. (The rule for the adults in our house is, if you use the last of the milk, coffee beans, or whatever, you are responsible for putting it on the app; we rarely run out of anything.) Other useful apps that make life more convenient, though they are not necessarily time-saving: Gcal, weather, navigation (Waze is good for making real-time traffic route adjustments while driving), Evernote (I have all kinds of reminder checklists for party planning, scheduling seasonal maintenance on our house, etc. in it), Hootsuite, banking (no more waiting in line to deposit checks; plus, I can do things like pay my friend for my share of our hotel vacation rental on the fly), Amazon, and my public library’s app (great for renewing books or requesting holds). I work for a government agency that has strict rules about internet access and keeping personal and business correspondence separate, so I use Gmail on my phone to deal with my personal email during the workday. However, I turn off my phone’s audio notifications for email and check it when it’s convenient, rather than every time I receive mail.

  20. The bank app is definitely a time saver!

    I like organizing apps like Cozi (calendar), Evernote(documents) and Trello (to do lists) but all of these have a desktop version. I prefer entering info on the computer but like that I’m able to check calendars/to do lists /important documents via phone. I think these organizing apps have made me, well, more organized and saves me time from searching for missing papers etc..

    I also find navigation apps and the Yelp app very useful though I don’t know if these always save time.

  21. Med student here. I use uptodate and epic rates to look things up quickly on my phone instead of logging into a hospital computer. I’ve used a flashcards ap to study. I’ve used the kindle ap to study as well since you can load it with PDFs and books for quick reference. I also use google maps to check traffic before my drive home. I use notepad to keep track of grocery needs since I’m rarely home and more likely to remember my phone than a paper list

    1. @Sophia – Google maps can definitely save time. I’m not quite ready to go to apps with the grocery list, but it does seem a lot of people like them!

  22. I pretty much use my phone like I use my computer, but on the go to use spare moments.
    *Bloglovin for reading blogs
    *Google Drive, Docs, Spreadsheets for writing (our grocery list is on Google docs so we can add items when we think of them while we are out.)
    *Yelp when I’m traveling somewhere new
    *Google Maps
    *My Fitness Pal for calorie counting
    *Time tracker so I have it with me all the time

  23. I once used a time logging app to keep track of my time, but logging my time took so long that I gave up eventually! Even though I do want to log my time properly and see my routines and what I could do better, I haven’t tried to do a time log again.

    One app I am grateful for is a journaling app. It’s much easier and quicker to tap out a diary entry, instead of writing it by hand. It’s also convenient to find old diary entries with a ‘search’ option. Can’t wait to see that on a paper diary.

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