January 21, 2014, 12:40 PM — I'll be the first to admit: "Use your smartphone to remind yourself of things" seems like a story that doesn't need to be written. Of course you can use it to keep track grocery lists, to-dos, reminders, and calendar entries. But I bet you didn't know that there are gobs of other tricks for keeping track of things with your phone. Most of them don't even require any apps--you can use your phone's built-in features. Here are a few of our favorite ways to augment your forgetful biological brain with the synthetic brain in your pocket.
Use it as an alarm clock
You might have already known that you can use your phone as an alarm clock, but did you know you can set multiple alarms from it? Go to the Clock app on either your iPhone or Android phone, go to the alarms section, and add all the alarms you want. You can turn them off and on, assign them to certain days of the week, and even set a different alarm tone to each of them.
Can your dumb clock radio do all that? Nope.
Set a photo reminder as your background photo
If you're more of a visual-spatial thinker and find that to-do lists don't do you any good, here's a tip to try: Take a photo of something that will remind you of whatever task you need to complete and set it as your phone's background photo. Every time you wake your phone from sleep, you'll get an in-your-face reminder that the milk you have at home has turned, so you don't have to eat dry Froot Loops tomorrow.
Remember your hotel room number
Were you staying in room 6804 or 8640? Take a picture of your hotel room door to remember your room number. This trick can also be useful if you're attending a conference and don't want to forget the meeting room you're in.
Don't transcribe--take a photo
Don't waste your time rewriting those brainstorming ideas you scrawled on a whiteboard; instead, point your phone's camera at your notes and take a photo of it, so you can sit and organize your thoughts later on.
You might even be able to use an OCR program like Prizmo to turn that picture into text.
Park your car, drop a (virtual) pin
Don't get lost in a sea of cars the next time you go to the mall or a football game. If you've got good GPS accuracy, drop a pin at your current location in your mapping app of choice--and save the pin if possible--so you can narrow down your search for your car later on.
If this isn't an option, take a photo (or photos) of your surroundings so you have an idea of what visual cues to look for when you return to the lot. This can also be useful if you're visiting a city you're unfamiliar with.
Make sense of cable messes
Got a wiring mess to untangle? Take a picture of everything when it's plugged in. That way, you can remember which cables went where when you're done tidying up.
Keep tabs on who borrowed what
"Who did I lend my stuffed hedgehog to?" Take a picture of your friends holding items you lent them, and even email/share it with them. So you both will remember, and there will never be an argument about whether or not you lent it to them. (It's also useful for shaming them on Facebook, if they're slacking about returning your stuff.)
Use it as a wallet backup
Take pictures of your driver's license, health insurance cards, and credit cards (front and back). Photos can't necessarily replace the real thing, but if you need a piece of information from one of your cards but don't have your wallet on hand, you'll still have all the info that you need. Just be aware of the security risks and make sure you set a passcode on your phone to help secure it.
Foursquare as a to-visit list
Check-in apps like Foursquare aren't just for where you are, they're for where you want to be. Foursquare's to-do list is perfect when you pass that cute bistro you want to try someday.
Text reminders to the future you
Use an online service like Oh, Don't Forget to send yourself a text message at a particular date and time. This can be particularly useful if you aren't a big believer in calendars or if you just had a brilliant thought you don't want to lose.
This trick can also come in handy if you're on a blind date and want to fake an excuse to leave. "Oh, that text was really important--I have to go!"
Digitize those receipts
Need to keep receipts from your business trip for your expense report? Take pictures of receipts when you travel to keep a record of your expenses. It's easier than keeping the actual paper, and it can be a boon for the organizationally challenged. Just check to make sure that a digital facsimile is an acceptable form of record-keeping for tax or expense-report purposes.