The App Library Is the iPhone’s Most Underrated Productivity Hack

Free yourself from digital mess

Made by author with mockup

Digital decluttering is a self-help must-do and one that, for the most part, I’ve failed miserably at. I’m the kind of person whose computer desktop is the digital equivalent of picking up a stack of papers and throwing them everywhere. I regularly waste time scrambling through it when I need to find that one important document among the various screenshots, downloads, and copious files named “untitled.”

Unsurprisingly, my phone was no different.

Thanks to ever-increasing storage availability, my iPhone had expanded into a several-app-page monstrosity, with no organization whatsoever. It was a mixture of apps, folders, and webpages—a full royal rumble of icons. I’ve tried a whole host of tricks and tips to sort it: color-coding, using only folders, using just a single folder, deleting everything, and more. All resulted in a few days of thinking it’s working, realizing it’s not, and reverting to old habits. I needed to find an answer, because this chaos had consequences. Opening my phone was not only distracting—it was also stressful. Research has shown that our digital clutter can make us feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as our physical clutter.

And then a hero appeared. With the release of iOS 14 and the App Library, I’ve finally found the solution to my clutter.

Home screen transformation

It’s a big step for the iPhone. Previously, Apple seemed unwilling to budge from its layout structure and refused to give users more control over how they laid out their apps. (Remember the excitement when widgets were first added, only to find you couldn’t actually add them to the home screen?) Users would loudly say, “You can do it on an Android phone,” to no avail. But it seems the company is listening after all, or it finally bowed to demand.

Since the arrival of the App Library, my phone has undergone a transformation. I’ve been able to trim it to one app page, with a (slightly menacing) black background to further limit distraction. I was able to remove everything that couldn’t fit in this one-page setup. But rather than be forced to delete these apps, I’ve been able to relegate them to another window. This is the true beauty of the new feature. You could install hundreds of apps and hide them all in this library.

Better yet, you don’t even have to bother figuring out how to organize them — we can all agree that moving apps around on the home screen and trying to drop them into folders is torture — since an algorithm takes care of the process for you. The various folders include suggested, recently added, social, utilities, and many more.

If you’d rather not scroll through app folders, you can tap the search window to see all of your installed apps in an alphabetical list that you can search or scroll through.

Screenshots: Author

Previously, the process of starting a digital declutter on your phone was a serious undertaking that most of us were too lazy to carry out. Now, it couldn’t be easier. Simply long-press on any app, wait for a menu to pop up, and press “Remove from Home Screen.” The app will magically disappear from the home screen and reappear in the App Library. It took me a matter of minutes to condense my apps onto one page.

Pro tip: Once you’re happy with your setup, be sure to go to Settings → Home Screen and set newly downloaded apps to appear only in the App Library. This will prevent new apps from disrupting your layout or appearing on a new page.

The bigger picture

The arrival of the App Library and the process of digital decluttering help us combat a bigger issue. As our work, social life, and free time become more and more tangled in technology, we’re in danger of letting it control us, rather than the other way round. We’ve transitioned into the attention economy, and every app is fighting for this attention — and doing a really good job of winning it. In the United States, we use our phones an average of about four hours a day, and that number is expected to increase.

We need to take back control. As computer science professor and author Cal Newport puts it, “It’s about embracing technology, but doing so on your terms, instead of the terms of the technology companies themselves.” The ability to control our home screen layout might seem minor, but it’s an important step in making sure the technology serves us. For me, it’s working. I’ve already reduced my screen time to around two hours a day since decluttering, and I don’t find myself switching between the various app pages, almost wanting something to grab my attention. It also encouraged me to go a little further: I turned off most of the icon notification badges so the little numbers and red circles no longer catch my eye. I also went through the notifications that appeared in my Notification Center and set several of them to appear there without notifying me.

The App Library is the solution I desperately needed to regain some control over my phone. If you give it a chance, it might just help you take the first step in fighting back against your digital clutter.

Editor in Chief of Post-Grad Survival Guide • Columnist in Marker • Words in Forge, Debugger, Future Human & more • Lets connect on LinkedIn: bit.ly/3i8wFBd

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