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Siri Productivity Tips

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productivity tips with Siri

One of characteristics of Asian Efficiency is that we embrace new technology to make our lives easier and more productive. Ever since Siri came out, we were anxious to see how this new piece of technology could make our lives more productive. Today we are going to share some of our favorite ways to utilize Siri.

I first have to give credit to Charles Ngo (dr_ngo) for helping out putting this together. We’ve been sharing many tips and tricks that all are compiled in this post. Now let’s get started.

Initial Setup

To get the most out of Siri it’s a good idea to tweak some settings and to let your new personal assistant to get to know you. You will need to create a new contact with your own name and fill it up with as many details about you as you like. I highly suggest to populate these fields:

  • Home address
  • Office address
  • Relationships (see below)
siri settings

Make sure to setup "my info" so Siri gets to know you better.

These will come in really useful as you will read in a little bit.


Siri understands personal relationships if you set them up. Below is an example of my setup where you can see I have three relationships set up.

siri settings of thanh pham

My contact info and relationships. Aaron is my brother from another mother. And my real brother is my virtual assistant. Maybe something is wrong here.....

To set this up, go to your own contact, edit and populate your relationships. I highly advice you to setup your family, close friends and (business) partners in here. To link the relationship to a specific person, click on the blue arrow and select your contact person.

siri relationships

Relations are setup and you can setup many more. Even with custom labels.

Now that you have your relationships set up you can start to reference them by relationship type. For example, I could say to Siri:

  • Text my assistant that I’ll be 5 minutes late.
  • Call my brother.
  • Email my friend that dinner is on for tonight
siri texting

I'm texting my assistant by utilizing the relationship type. Pretty cool!

Of course you can always reference people by their names too. If you want to get the most value out of this, you want to populate other people’s information such as their email address and home address.

You can also command Siri to setup a relationship. You can say “Steve Jobs is my dad” and if you have a contact person called Steve Jobs it will ask you to confirm the relationship. Pretty cool!


Sometimes Siri cannot recognize a name because the pronunciation is different from how Siri reads it. For example, when I tell Siri “Email Charles Ngo” (last name pronounced as “know”) it interprets my command as “Email Charles know” (who doesn’t exist and this is an invalid command).

siri phonetics

Siri doesn't recognize the last name. You can fix this by using phonetics.

The way to fix this is by using phonetic names. This allows you to tell Siri how you pronounce a certain name. Go to your contact person, edit and click on “add field”. In the next screen you will be able to assign a phonetic first and last name.

siri first and last name phonetics

You can set this up for both the first and last name.

This is how I did it for Charles Ngo.

siri phonetics settings

The phonetics settings are in place.

Now when I say the same command Siri does recognize my friend.

siri phonetics with charles ngo

Now it works!

Raise with Voice

By default you pull up Siri by holding the home button. You can also interact with Siri when you hold the phone to your ear. It’s a default setting but you can turn it off too. Go to Settings > General > Siri. Then toggle “Raise to Speak” to off.

Personally I have it turned off because I don’t like to use Siri that way and it saves me battery life too.


Obviously Siri is mostly known for its commands (and the funny easter eggs in it) but people tend to forget that thanks to Siri you have universal dictation. You can dictate within any app which is a big time saver. Instead of typing your emails you can now dictate them and the accuracy is very high.

siri evernote

An example of dictating a note using Siri within Evernote.

What a lot of people miss out on is punctuation. You can use the following commands for that:

  • “New line” moves the cursor to a new line.
  • “Period” inserts a period (to indicate end of sentence).
  • “Exclamation mark” inserts a !.
  • “Comma” inserts a comma.
  • “Question mark” inserts a……question mark.

This means you might end up saying something like this:

Hey Aaron comma new line I’m about to finish the Siri article period can you please review it when you have a chance question mark it is really awesome exclamation mark

The great thing is that you won’t have to worry about spaces. Siri will take care of that for you so you can have natural language when you talk to Siri.

You can also use other symbols (ampersand, dollar sign, asterisk, etc) but you can also play around capitalization. Say “all caps” to make the next word in upper case, “cap (word)” will capitalize the next word and “caps on” or “caps off” will toggle caps lock. And yes, you can use smiley faces too. Just say “smiley face” or “winky face” to insert them.

Another great way to use dictation is for whenever you have brain dump sessions. Set aside some time and just dump your thoughts in Siri. She will take care of the rest. What a nice girl.


Your iPhone can be used as an expensive egg timer. If you use the Pomodoro Technique (a time-boxing technique) you can use your iPhone for that. Just tell Siri “Set a timer for 25 minutes” and off you go.


A slight variation of the timer are the alarms you can set. If you want to take a quick nap, you could say “set a timer for 30 minutes” or you could also say “wake me up in 30 minutes”. The latter is an alarm while the former is a timer.

Alarms can be set simply by saying “Set an alarm for 3pm” or “Wake me up at 9am”.


Reminders are new in iOS 5 and I love this new feature. There are two ways to have reminders stored: one with deadlines and one without deadlines.

For reminders without a deadline, simply say:

“Remember to (whatever)”.

For reminders with a deadline (time-sensitive):

“Remind me to (whatever) at [date/time]”.

I use this feature all the time so I will never forget things. I mostly use this for tiny things to do that don’t have to be in my task manager or on my calendar.

If you setup your home address and work address, you can use location based reminders. This is really neat! For example, if you know you need to hang up the laundry at home but you’re not sure when you will be home – it’s useless to set a reminder for a specific time. That’s when location reminders come in useful. You can say things like:

  • Remind me to hang up the laundry when I get home.
  • Remind me to set coffee when I get to work.
siri location reminder

An example of a location-based reminder.

Likewise, you can also use reminders when you leave a specific location. For example, you could say “remind to pick up milk when I leave work” and you’ll get notified when you are outside your office location.

Neat huh?


One of my other favorite features of iOS 5 is that Siri is really well integrated with the calendar app on your iPhone. To insert calendar events, you can use the following commands:

  • Schedule a (event) at (date)

For example:

  • Schedule a staff meeting at 5pm
  • Schedule a meeting next Tuesday at 2pm
  • Schedule a sexy date with Megan Fox next Friday at 7pm.
siri megan fox

Besides scheduling, I wish Siri could actually talk to Megan Fox and schedule that date. Maybe in the next iOS update.

Siri uses the default calendar on your iPhone. If you use Google Calendar, you have to change the default calendar. You can do this by going to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendar and then scroll towards the bottom where it says “Default Calendar”.


Text messaging is really easy and can be done very quickly. While you can dictate your texts, I usually like to send texts through Siri. You can use the following commands:

  • Send a text message to [name]
  • Tell [name] that [text message]
  • Text [name] that [text message]

Quick and easy.


Calling is easy as well. Just say “Call [name]” and off you go. To utilize this more, it’s really useful to add certain companies and institutions to your contact list that you frequently call. For example, I call a local taxi company a lot so I’ve created a contact called “taxi”. All I have to do now is say “call taxi” and the correct number is being dialed.

Some ideas for other contacts to use:

  • Bank
  • School
  • Concierge
  • Tech support of your “favorite” company ;)

In some situations it’s easier to dial a number straight from Siri, e.g. when you’re getting a girl’s phone number you just met at a bar. When you exchange numbers, have her dictate her number by saying “Dial (number)” so your phone calls her. I’m sure she’ll be impressed by this little trick and you can thank us later (don’t forget to invite us for the wedding).

There are a lot more cool and useful features you can use but we will save those for another future article. Siri can be a really useful productivity tool and it is still in its infancy – I can only see it get better and more resourceful over time.

What are some of your favorite Siri commands and tips? Share them in the comments below!

Photo by Yogesh Mhatre.

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Posted by Rachel Jablon  | February 12, 2014 at 1:08PM | Reply

If we do use Siri or voice control to call the bank, how do we use it to “press 1 for customer service” or something similar?

Posted by Ashley  | July 10, 2013 at 10:30PM | Reply

How can I fix a problem where my daughter has an unusual spelling of her name and whenever I write an email using dictation, Siri never spells it right? I made a contact and did the phonetic thing, but she still spells it wrong in dictation.

Posted by Zack  | August 7, 2012 at 12:53PM | Reply

How do I get Siri to “find” someone, as in command, “where is Judy”?

Posted by lori  | August 7, 2012 at 8:01AM | Reply

I’m trying to get Siri to set up relationships and my contacts are from my i-tunes – I do not have an info sheet on my contact list that gives different relationships – am I missing something? I sink to the cloud – must I use google to do this relationship set up?

Posted by Michelle  | June 23, 2012 at 11:41AM | Reply

Great post – Siri now seems useful tool rather than just a gimick. Thanks :)

Posted by Chris  | January 30, 2012 at 3:31PM | Reply

Great post! How do you get the network to say your own name?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | January 31, 2012 at 1:10AM

Jailbreak your iPhone first. Then in Cydia search for “Fake Operator” and you’re set.

Posted by AE Aaron  | January 31, 2012 at 8:29AM

Springtomize does this (among other things) too. Found under Cydia.

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