How Apple's Calendar and Contacts Apps Can Make You More Productive

Knowledge is productivity power

We all have busy lives, and for many iOS users, the Calendar and Contacts apps have become key to meeting daily communication and productivity targets. With these tips, you'll be far more productive when using either app.

Missed call and Calendar notifications on iPhone
Lifewire / Hilary Allison 

Information in this article applies to iOS devices—iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices—running iOS 12 or iOS 11 and, where applicable, to Macs running macOS 10.14 Mojave, macOS 10.13 High Sierra, and macOS 10.12 Sierra.

Picture Your Contacts

When someone calls, your iOS mobile device displays their number and name on the screen. The iOS operating system is smart enough to guess who might be calling by taking a look at your email messages if a phone number is not in contacts.

However, one way to make it super-easy to tell who is calling you is to add an image of your contact. That way, you know who is calling with only a glance.

  1. Tap the Phone app and select Contacts at the bottom of the screen.

  2. Scroll and tap a person's name for which you want to add a photo.

  3. Tap Edit in the upper right corner.

  4. Tap Add Photo on the upper left side of the screen.

    Contact screen in iOS
  5. Select either Take Photo (with your device's Camera) or Choose Photo (by tapping one in your Photo library).

  6. The photo displays in a circular window. Move and Scale the image by using your finger to move the image around within the clearly shown frame and using pinch gestures to scale the image to the right size.

  7. When you have the contact's picture just the way you want it, tap Choose to add the photo to the contact.

    Adding an image to a contact in iOS

In the future, a picture of the contact appears on your iPhone display when they call you.

You can also assign images to contacts from within Photos. When you find an image you want to use for a contact, tap the Share icon and choose Assign to Contact. Then select the contact in the Contacts list.

Never Miss Email From Anyone Who Matters

Mail's VIP feature provides an excellent way to monitor incoming mail from important contacts. It combines all the messages from key contacts inside one easy-to-watch folder. You can also set your iOS device to alert you when you receive messages from key people. Here's how to set up VIP mail.

  1. Open the Mail app on your iOS device and go to the Mailboxes view. If you see a VIP mailbox already in the list, skip to Step 4.

  2. If you don't see a VIP mailbox, tap Edit at the top of the Mailboxes screen.

  3. Tap the circle next to the VIP mailbox to turn it on. Tap Done to return to the Mailboxes screen, which now contains a VIP mailbox.

    iOS Mail Mailboxes screens
  4. Tap the circled I (information button) to the right of VIP to open the VIP List.

  5. Tap Add VIP to select contacts you want to add to the list.

    You can also add contacts to your VIP mailbox by moving your cursor to the immediate left of the sender's name in an email and clicking the star that appears.

  6. After you have chosen the people you want in your VIP List, scroll to the bottom of the list and tap VIP Alerts.

  7. Enable Allow Notifications and then set the style of notification you prefer.

    iOS Mail settings for VIP notifications

Reschedule Events in Calendar

When you need to change the time of a scheduled event, you can:

  • On both iPhones and Macs, tap the event to open it, tap Edit and change the time, day, or location.
  • On both iPhones and Macs, you can also use Siri to reschedule an event, say something like “reschedule my 2 pm meeting on April 24 to [new time].”

Add Calendar Events From Mail

Apple has created a series of data detectors that make it easy to add events from mail. Here's how it works: When you receive an email containing an event, you should see a small item appear at the top of your mobile device screen. It features a Calendar icon and a phrase: Siri found an event in this email.

If you want to add the event to your Calendar, all you need to do is tap add to Calendar. A new calendar event is created for you.

Changing Calendar Default Alerts Times

Everyone has different needs. You may find that you need to change the time of the alert when creating new Calendar alert items. Why not change the default time to one that suits you better?

To achieve this, open Settings > Calendar > Default Alert Times. This is where you can choose the most appropriate time for alerts to remind you about Birthdays, Events, and All-Day Events. In the future, when creating an Event alert, the default time is your usual preference, saving you a few seconds when setting up new events.

Set Travel Time Alerts in Calendar

One of the most useful Calendar features is its ability to figure out how long it will take you to travel to scheduled events. To use this, follow these steps:

  1. Create an event in the usual way and then open that event.

  2. Tap Edit.

  3. Next, enter the event location and allow Calendar to access your Location data if it asks you to do so.

  4. Tap Alert and then create a Time to Leave alert in the drop-down menu. You can create multiple reminders, including conventional reminders that the event is about to take place. When you set the Time to Leave alert, your device reminds you when to leave for your meeting destination.

    Adding travel time alert to Calendar event on iPhone

Share Calendars With Others

The ability to share Calendars with others is a little-used gem. This can be useful when you want to share family or work-related calendars.

When you share a calendar, anyone you choose to share it with can read or edit the calendar and add their own entries, which is why you should create a specific calendar to share, rather than sharing all your private schedule data.

To create and share a new calendar, follow these steps:

  1. Open Calendars and tap Calendars at the bottom of the display.

  2. Tap Add Calendar, name the new calendar, and assign it a color.

  3. Tap Done, which returns you to the list of calendars.

    iPhone screens showing the process to add a shared calendar
  4. In the list of calendars, tap the I (information button) to the right of the calendar you just created and want to share.

  5. On the next screen, tap Add Person.

  6. Enter the email addresses of the people you want to share the calendar with to send an invitation to them to share the calendar.

    iPhone Calendar screens showing invitation to shared calendar
  7. Tap View and Edit next to the email address you entered. Move the slider next to Allow Editing to the On/green position.

After the people you emailed accept your invitation, you and your family or colleagues can keep track of one another's schedules to ensure you don't clash.

When you share calendars, you are alerted when the people you are sharing with add or edit anything.

Use Nicknames With Contacts

If you use nicknames, you can ask Siri to "call my mom" or "call the doctor" or "send a message to the boss." Siri is smart enough to look for people's nicknames when performing a command for you, although you need to assign these names first.

There are two ways to do this:

Method One: Use the Contacts Screen

  1. Open the Contacts screen for the person you want to add information about.

  2. Tap Edit at the top of the screen.

  3. Scroll down and tap add field.

  4. Select Nickname from the options.

    Contacts Add Field selections on iPhone
  5. Tap in the Nickname field near the top of the card.

  6. Type a name or relationship, such as Dad, Mom, My Boss, or whatever and tap Done.

    Adding a nickname to a contact on iPhone

The nickname appears immediately beneath the Contact's name near the top of the screen.

Method Two: Use Siri

Launch Siri and ask it to call a nickname—“Dad,” for example. If you haven't already assigned the nickname to a contact, Siri asks who the correct person is.

After you name the correct person, Siri asks if you want it to remember that nickname relates to that contact. Say "yes," and you can use that nickname to refer to the contact in the future.

Work With Other Services

Your Calendar and Contacts apps can sync with third-party services, including Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft Exchange-compatible solutions. That's useful for casual Gmail users but essential for people who need to access corporate systems from iPhones.

To sync to a third-party service:

  1. Open Settings.

  2. Tap Passwords & Accounts.

  3. Select Add Account.

    iPhone settings for adding new accounts
  4. Select the type of account you want to sync data with. Tap Other if you don't see your option on the list.

  5. Select the type of account you use and enter the relevant details to establish contact with the service.

    Selecting an account type from iPhone Add Account settings

After you set up these accounts on your iPhone, your iPad and Mac automatically sync with the services, which means you can access work calendars and schedule appointments using your Apple product.

Bonus for Mac Users: A Scheduling Tip

This is such a great feature it is a shame it is currently only available on Macs. The ability to open almost any kind of file to schedule is a little-known talent. You can use it to, for example, maintain timesheets or ensure presentation materials are at hand when you are on your way to a meeting.

The feature is a little hidden, but here's how it works:

  1. Create a new event in Calendar using Command + N or by clicking the plus sign (+) at the top of the screen.

  2. Double-click the event to open the information window.

    Calendar view showing open event information window
  3. Click the date in the information window to expand it.

    Calendar event information window showing alert option
  4. Tap the Alert field to open a drop-down menu.

  5. In the drop-down menu, select Custom.

    Custom Alert in Calendar app on Mac
  6. In the box that opens, select Open File in the top field.

  7. Choose the file you want to open and set the time at which the alert activates.

  8. Click OK.

    Mac Calendar option to open file at event time

When that event is scheduled to take place, your document opens so you can go straight to your meeting. You can add additional alarms by tapping the + button beside the alert.