How to Organize Your Life With Your iPad

iPad keeps you focused wherever you go

Woman on ipad

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The digital world is supposed to save us time, but for many people, it has the opposite effect. If you are struggling to keep up with a busy schedule, use your iPad to tackle the problem. The cool thing about the iPad is its portability; it keeps you on top of things whether you're lying in bed or sitting in the stands of a soccer game.

Many of the apps you need to organize your life come on the iPad, and there are plenty of third-party apps in the App Store that can help.

Instructions in this article apply to iPads running iOS 12 or iOS 11.

Get to Know Siri and Voice Dictation

If you are trying to be more organized in your life, Siri can be your best friend. Siri helps you stay organized when you feel like you can't spare the time. Instead of creating multiple folders on your home screen to organize your apps into neat categories, you can simply say, Hey, Siri, launch [app name] and not worry about keeping your iPad in order. Siri knows precisely where every app is.

Hey, Siri can be turned on and off in the iPad Siri & Search settings, along with the option to press the Home button on older iPad models to summon Siri.

Siri can also be a key component of smart multitasking. Siri can send text messages and email, FaceTime or call your friends, look things up on the internet, and enter appointments in your Calendar app.

Screen showing a list of some of Siri's capabilities

Try saying: Hey, Siri: email [friend's name] to take the feature out for a spin. As long as you have your friend's name programmed into your Contacts app, Siri guides you through a short email.

Want to write something longer? Open your favorite email app, type in the subject, and then activate voice dictation for the content of the message. You can use dictation any time the keyboard is on the screen by tapping the microphone button, and with voice dictation, you can use phrases like new paragraph, comma, and period to add punctuation.

Don't Forget Spotlight Search

Most people have heard about Siri, but for a feature that is so powerful, Spotlight Search often flies under the radar. As its name suggests, Spotlight Search can search your entire iPad for apps, music, movies, and books, which makes it a great alternative to Siri for launching apps, but Spotlight Search can do much more.

Swipe down from the middle of the Home screen to open Spotlight Search. Type what you're looking for in the search field. Spotlight Search searches all content on your iPad, so you can use it to search for a specific email address. It searches outside your iPad, so you can find results from the App Store, Wikipedia, or a particular website. It searches within apps, which may be its most compelling feature. For example, you can type in a nearby restaurant and Spotlight Search gives you a result from the Maps app. Tapping on the result shows you details about the restaurant, including directions to it, reviews, and a link or number to make a reservation.

Screen showing Spotlight Search results include websites and suggestions

Set Reminders

The best way to stay organized is to complete the tasks you need to perform when you need to do them. It doesn't do you any good to remember the trash needs to go out when you see the truck pass by your house.

The Reminders app is a simple app, but can be an enormous timesaver. When you set a reminder, the iPad displays a notification at the appropriate day and time to remind you. You can mark reminders as done and see a list of uncompleted items when you open the app.

Best of all, you can use Siri to do the heavy lifting with a simple Remind me to take out the trash tomorrow at 8 a.m.

You can also make lists using the Reminders app. Set up to-do lists or individual lists for each store or vacation you have planned. It's a great way to keep up with grocery lists. Add items as they occur to you (or tell Siri to add them). When you sync with iCloud, your grocery list is up to date on your iPhone when you get to the store.

Screen showing Reminders app containing to-dos and lists

Notes

Don't underestimate the power of the Notes app. It may seem like a simple app, but a cloud-based notebook can be incredibly useful. See a book you'd like to read or hear about a TV show you want to watch? Make a note of it and look up the details online later.

Use the Notes app for any type of note-taking from studying in class to brainstorming a new project. Find an item on eBay or Amazon you might want to buy? Use the Share button to add it to either a new note or an existing note. You can also add a photo to a note or draw a picture.

The Notes app works with Siri, so you can tell her to create a note and then dictate the content to her. Highlight or draw with markers included in the app.

Screen showing Note app drawing and highlighting tools

Calendar

Perhaps the most potent cloud-based tool is the Calendar app that comes with the iPad. You can use Calendar to keep up with appointments, events, lessons, birthday parties, and everything else. The iPad can use your email and text messages to create events in Calendar to help keep track of birthdays and appointments.

You can opt to share your calendar across the iCloud account, so if everyone in the family signs in with the same Apple ID, they can see the same calendar. Of course, you can create new events by asking Siri to schedule one for you.

Apple's Calendar app is excellent if you are deep into the Apple ecosystem, but if you use Google apps a lot, you can use the Google calendar app on your iPad and get many of the same benefits.

iCloud Photo Library and Photo Sharing

It's amazing how many photos people take now that just about every smartphone comes equipped with a camera. If you take a lot of photos, especially family photos, iCloud Photo Library performs two critical tasks:

  • It makes the photos you take available on all your devices. You can snap a photo with the camera on the iPhone XR and then admire your snapshot on an iPad screen.
  • It backs up all your photos to iCloud. Even if you lose both the iPhone and the iPad, your photos are waiting for you at icloud.com and in your iCloud Photo Library on your Mac or PC.

Don't overlook iCloud Photo Sharing. It takes organizing your photos into individual albums to the next level and lets you share them with friends. Photo Sharing allows friends and family to download a copy of the photo in the cloud to their iPhone or iPad. You can also create a public page on icloud.com with the photos in your shared album. 

Turn on iCloud Photos in the Settings app by tapping your name and then selecting iCloud > Photos and moving the slider next to iCloud Photos to the On/green position. You can send photos to a shared album by tapping Share while viewing the image in the Photos app.

Scan Old Photos Into Your iPad

Organizing your photo library used to be about taking old photos and turning them into albums. Nowadays, it is more about getting those old photos into your digital life.

It's a task that is easier than you might think, and there's no need to buy an expensive scanner. There are plenty of great scanner apps such as Scanner Pro that can do the trick for only a couple of bucks. The nice bonus these apps have over merely snapping a picture of that old photo is the ability to automatically realign it so that the photo turns out looking straight.

A good scanner app is also useful for keeping digital copies of contracts, invoices, and any other paperwork you may want to stay safe.

Take Pictures as a Reminder

A photo can be better than a note. Want to make sure you get the right brand of paint for finishing a project? Take a picture of the paint can. Ready to buy a new couch? Take your iPad with you and snap a photo of each possibility at every store with the price tag prominently displayed. Then, go home and review all the choices without relying on your memory for the costs.

Third-Party Cloud Storage

While iCloud Photo Library is great for photos, what about all your other documents? If you use the iPad for writing letters, balancing your checkbook with a spreadsheet, and various other tasks, it might be worth your while to cozy up to some third-party cloud storage. Not only can using solutions like Dropbox and Google Drive save storage space on your iPad while backing up your precious data, but they also create a centralized spot for your documents. Because they work across devices, you can get at your data on your computer, smartphone, or iPad.

The best part about third-party solutions is the ability to be platform-independent. So you can use an iPad, a Samsung Galaxy phone, and Windows PC and still get at your data.

Third-Party To-Do Lists

If you make only one change in your life to be more organized, making to-do lists has to be that change. Nothing keeps you on target for completing larger tasks than breaking them down into smaller steps and scheduling them. This is how skyscrapers are built, how complicated computer programs are coded, and how doing a remodel of your bathroom can go from a massive project to an organized one that is within reach. If the Reminders app in iOS isn't robust enough for you, try one of the many third-party to-do apps in the App Store.

The Todoist is an excellent cloud-based to-do list that you can use on your iPad, iPhone, or computer. You can set up multiple projects and assign tasks to multiple users. Todoist sends out emails for tasks that are due that day and for upcoming tasks, making it a great way to organize a project. One advantage of Todoist for families is the multiuser support; each family member can have an account linked to the master account.

Things is another awesome app for keeping organized and making to-do lists. It supports the iPad, iPhone, Mac, and Apple Watch, so it keeps you organized across multiple devices. It doesn't have the same multiuser support as Todoist, but if you can't get buy-in from the family to work on tasks they've been assigned without some personal prodding, Things may be the best tool for the job.

Centralize Your Personal Finances

Getting organized about finances can be one of the hardest tasks of all, especially in busy households where finding the time to pay bills can be a monumental task. This is where Mint and similar apps come into the picture. With Mint, you centralize your finances by putting your bank, credit cards, bills, and savings all in one app. You can access the information through Mint.com or with the Mint app, so you can pay bills on your laptop at your desk or at the soccer game with your iPad.

Mint.com is owned and operated by Intuit, the company behind Quicken, but there is no shortage of financial and budgeting apps on the App Store depending on what you want to do.

One Password to Rule Them All

The old saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket rings true in these days of cybercrime. While there is no reason to be overly paranoid, there are good reasons to take a few basic steps to protect yourself and your identity. The most important of these is to use different passwords for different accounts.

It's OK to use the same password for mostly harmless accounts like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Let's face it, thieves breaking into and streaming free video isn't exactly a cause for alarm. On the other hand, those same thieves getting into your Amazon account is another story.

The worst part about using multiple passwords is remembering all those passwords. Writing them down on a piece of paper isn't safe, which is where password managers come into the picture. The 1Password app lets you store passwords for quick account access and stores credit cards and addresses to help you fill out online forms faster. Dashlane is a reliable alternative to 1Password, but it is more expensive for the premium edition.