Enough Fun and Games; Tips and Tricks for Using Siri for Productivity

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Siri is a lot of fun to play with, but it is time to get down to business. After all, with a little bit of patience and a few (many?) tweaks, Siri can become an amazingly useful productivity service. Truth be told, for the first few hours I was trying Siri I thought it was a big fat fail. After making some of the changes I want to share with all of you however, I already can’t see having to go without it. So let’s jump right on in.


Home Button? You don’t need no stinkin’ Home Button

Yes, you can absolutely activate Siri by pressing and holding the Home Button. But you don’t NEED to push it in order to get Siri to listen to you. After a simple setting adjustment Siri will become active whenever you left the phone to your ear. (It’s very similar to what Google does with voice search.)

To make the changes simply go to settings, general, Siri, and click off the lift to access button.


Who Can it be Now?

Siri needs to know who you are in order to effectively help you through your day. Go to Setting, General, Siri, My Info and identify yourself to Siri as the owner and user of the iPhone by clicking your contact card.

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Who’s in Your Life?

Remember the demo where Siri knew who “my wife” was? There’s a simple way to ensure that Siri knows who the key people in your life are. Once it does you can simply refer to the relationship and Siri will know who you are taking about.

Go to your contact information and click “edit”. Scroll down to the relationships field (it will likely have the word mother). Add information for each key relationship by tapping the tag, selecting the relationship then tapping next to it and choosing the contact card for that person. For example, I added Elana as my wife, Sunny as my assistant, and my sister Martha has my sister. Now I don’t need to identify them by name. Instead I simply mentioned the relationship and it pulls up their contact information.

Along with the relationships you are adding to your contact you can actually make unique contact labels for relationships that aren’t automatically listed. For example, “My editors” now sends an email to the editorial email account Judie, Carly, Mike and I share. Similarly, since I wanted to be able to contact my rabbinic colleague, I simply added her as the relationship “Rabbi”. Now if I say to Siri “email my rabbi” the email is automatically formatted to her.

There is another way for you to add relationships to Siri however. This is accomplished by simply activating Siri and then saying someone’s name and the relationship to you. For example you could say “Elana is my wife”. In response Siri will say, “Okay Dan, do you want me to remember that Elana is your wife?”An affirmative response will add the relationship into your contact information for the future. You can’t create custom tags this way but for standard relationships it works great.

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Use Soap on your Contacts

Siri gets confused by messy contacts. Clean them up.

There are a few ways to make things work smoother and faster but they do take some time.

First, reduce the number of contacts you have in your address book as much as possible, and get rid of duplicates. There are some programs that can help, but the fine tuning probably requires you to do this manually.

Next, bail on Google. Google does a terrible job of managing your contacts. Moreover it adds new email addresses all the time so your contacts grow in number without you knowing it. Google also has a funny habit of hiccupping and making duplicates. I don’t know why it happens but it does, and it will cause Siri to become problematic. If you are using Gmail, stop syncing your contacts with it, and use only iCloud. You can still use Gmail for everything else, but by using iCloud only for contacts you will maintain control over them. I exported my Gmail contacts and then imported them to iCloud. I then went through and manually cleaned them up, deleting any I didn’t absolutely need and getting rid of duplicates. This let me get from 3400 entries to about 1500. It makes a huge difference.

For people you plan on calling or e-mailing often, make sure that each phone number or email address is identified by a different tag. When multiple numbers or email addresses have the same tag Siri seems to get confused. (For example, only one number identified as work and only one number identified as cell.) if you have more than one Siri will often go into a feedback loop and you will have nothing but frustration.

When it comes to people who you contact quite a bit, split off individuals if you have them listed as a couple. For example, now Judie and Kevin each have their own entry and Judie’s card only has the email and phone information she uses regularly. This will make it easier to access one person or the other without having to have Siri give you a number of options. It does the same with the email and phone numbers. Sure, it will still work with the options but it adds additional back and forth response and answers with Siri. Fewer steps mean less back and forth and a much faster, and less frustrating experience.

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Time is Money and Words Count

Make sure you don’t speak for too long when you’re dictating a memo or an email. While Dragon Dictation now gives you a full minute each time you speak to it Siri comes in at no more than 40 seconds. And if you run over, Siri doesn’t simply transcribe what you’ve thus far recorded (as Dragon does), but it simply stops and leaves you with… Nothing. I’m hoping this is a bug, but it may not be. In other words, if you are using the voice to text to create a memo or, for example, this post, get used to speaking in small snippets and letting Siri transcribe what you just said before adding more.

In Conclusion

Siri is truly an amazing productivity tool but it takes some time to get things set up properly and to learn how to use it effectively. The time investment is worthwhile on both fronts because once you do the start up work Siri works amazingly well. And yes, using it as a productivity tool does not preclude you from having some fun. For example, I told Siri to “shut up”and it came back and told me that I wasn’t being very nice. When you’re in the midst of a long day that quick smile is worth a lot.


Written… with Siri, of course.

Categories: Editorials

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3 replies

  1. Dan, fabulous suggestions. Thank you

  2. Some great tips there Dan, thank you. I’m off to “define my relationships!”