A few days ago I wrote “Part 1” of this article, which talks about what makes our phones so addictive and at a high level how an app like Launch Center Pro (LCP) can help. If you haven’t already done so I suggest reading Part 1 before reading the rest of this article.
If you ask most people why carrying a smart phone with them everywhere was so important they would most likely tell you it is so they can always be in communication with family members and close friends. That may be the most important use we have for our smart phones, but for most of us we spend far more time doing other less productive things. So let’s start by putting the critical communication functions of our phones front and center. Using an app like LCP can help you do that if you “force” yourself to use LCP to launch/open pretty much everything on your phone. By force I mean you put all of the apps into folders so they are out of sight and out of mind and use LCP to get into your most frequent and important apps. For apps you only occasionally you just use the search function (swipe down from the center of the screen and type in what you are searching for to launch it). That way you can eliminate the vast expanse of colorful app icons from which you can choose to go down the rabbit hole with.
If you look at the LCP main screen I have below from my iPhone you will see that I have a couple of “buttons” assigned to communication related tasks.
Adding In the Power of Automation
In the image above you will see a button labeled “Text.” This button is actually what is called a group in LCP and when used it opens up a second screen under that button that you can then fill full of other additional buttons or actions. In order to access the buttons in a group folder like this you first press and hold the group button and then slide your finger over to the button you want to choose and release your finger. Once you get used to where all these buttons are you develop muscle memory and this press and slide method ends up being a really fast way to kick off an action.
The group I call “Text” has several actions, most of which are very simple like sending a text message to a single person (and this is a basic action that can be setup in LCP). But I also have more complex actions like texting a group of people. For this I use the iOS application Shortcuts to automate sending a text to a group of people. Shortcuts lets you pre-populate a text with numerous recipients so that all you have to do is press the “group text” button in LCP and Shortcuts will kick off an automated sequence that will prompt you for text and then send that text out to a group of people. This ends up saving quite a few clicks (navigating over to the messages app) and then it also saves you from having to search for the group thread that you want to text. An example group text Shortcuts automation can be downloaded here.
Another way I use automation with LCP is to help me limit how much time I spend browsing news. I limit my time by setting a 5-minute timer before I open Apple’s News app and I do that with a Shortcut (which you can download here).
I have a similar Shortcut automation that I use for Facebook but this one has a couple of additional steps. First off, I don’t use the iOS Facebook app because in the past it has been a huge battery suck and I honestly don’t trust Facebook. Since I don’t trust Facebook I also do not want them tracking anything about my web browsing, so I only open the Facebook web page using the DuckDuckGo browser for iOS.
The great thing about this browser is that is allows you to completely erase all browser content when you are done and that means there is no way for Facebook to continue tracking my web browsing history after I leave their site. The only downside to how I do this is that I have to login each time I visit Facebook (because I don’t let the site store any cookies and that includes my login). I use 1Password so it is about two extra taps to have my username and password entered securely. The way I look at it is that these extra steps is an extra deterrent for me to visit Facebook. I like checking in occasionally so I can keep up with extended family but not linger on the site and this method of setting a timer and logging in keeps my usage right where I want it.
I also use a Shortcut to kick off playing some of my favorite playlists in Apple Music. The “shuffle playlist” shortcut is a bit tricky. I don’t know why Apple set up the Shortcuts app this way, but if you want to play a playlist via Shortcuts and have it shuffle the music there is only one way to do it. You have to use a “Siri Suggestion” to create the shortcut (otherwise it will just play the playlist in order and not shuffle it). To do this first go into Apple Music and go into the playlist you want and press the shuffle button on that playlist and start playing the playlist. Now go into the Shortcuts app and create a new shortcut, select within the search field on the new shortcut screen and type in “shuffle.” You should see an option to create an action based on the playlist you just started in shuffle mode.
The final automation item I want to highlight is how I have streamlined and automated my usage of OmniFocus. OmniFocus is a high-powered task management Mac, iOS, and web app. If you don’t use OmniFocus and use another app instead, that’s okay. Shortcuts can automate quite a few task management apps so there is a good chance you can do some automation regardless of the app you use. As you can see from my screenshot below of my OmniFocus group screen, I have a lot of OmniFocus-related actions. Most of these actions pre-populate the “tags,” “Project,” and the “Due Date” for me automatically based upon which of these buttons I press. Then all I have to do is fill in the name of the task and I’m done. As I go through my work day these automations literally save me hundreds of button presses and keystrokes per day.
One last critical piece of information concerning Shortcuts. In order to turn a Shortcut into a button in LCP you need to download and run another Shortcut (you can download it here). This shortcut will present you with a list of shortcuts in your library and you select which one you want to install in LCP. The shortcut then opens the LCP app and lets you select where you want to add that shortcut as a button. Pretty slick…
I only scratched the surface in describing my complete LCP setup but hopefully this gave you enough examples and ideas that you can think about how you could setup LCP for yourself. It is a long process in that you won’t be able to think and layout all of the apps and actions you need all in one shot. Start with the most frequently used items first and slowly over time add in the rest.
This may sound like a lot of work to set up and in the end it adds extra steps to just directly pressing the native application icon… so why do it this way? For simply launching apps the main reason to use LCP is that it keeps you from seeing all the other applications on your iPhone before you get to the one you meant to open. This saves you from going down an “app rabbit hole” and wasting a bunch of time. Then there are the timer automations that alert you when you have spent your pre-allocated amount of time in that app, which really helps you from spending hours in an endless feed app and wondering where the afternoon went. And finally the integration with Shortcuts allows you to save time on things like group texting a task management.
Circling back to why I did this in the first place (which was to help kick my iPhone addiction), I can say that using LCP like this has drastically reduced my iPhone usage. I went from using my iPhone several hours a day to well under an hour… all while actually increasing my productivity. The key thing for me is that I was able to do this without throwing the baby out with the bath water. I didn’t have to quit using the iPhone “cold turkey,” I just had to eliminate most of the rabbit holes and temptations that are part of the current iPhone operating system and application environments.