iPad

Incorporating a tablet into a productive work day

The iPad augments and enhances how Patrick Gray works. Find out how he incorporates his tablet into his work day.

I'm often asked for specifics of how a tablet can be used on a daily, productive basis, and thought I would share how I incorporate my Apple iPad into my work. For context, I own a consulting firm and my job entails a wide variety of tasks. In a light travel month, the majority of my work gets done in my office. Heavy travel months (which usually require 15-30 days on the road) have me working everywhere -- airplanes, hotel rooms, spare corners in clients' offices, and local coffee shops.

At the office, most of my computing needs are handled by a Windows-based desktop. A large monitor and ergonomic keyboard make writing a pleasure, and nothing beats a massive amount of screen real estate. I frequently edit and encode video and audio, so a more powerful machine makes sense vs. just connecting a laptop to the monitor and keyboard. It's also beneficial to have two similar computing platforms, so when my laptop or desktop need service or upgrades, the other can take its place. However, the iPad still plays a key role when I'm in the office.

Organization and research

My tablet acts primarily as an organizational and research tool. I try to spend several minutes each evening and morning reviewing and planning my workday. I have three critical tools that I use, each of which synchronizes with all my computing devices. Most of this process is facilitated through my task list (the Toodledo app and web tool, set up according to David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology) and calendar (the iPad standard calendar, synced to an Office 365/Exchange Server). I also use Evernote, which acts as a free-form text-based note-taking utility, for jotting down future TechRepublic article ideas and other tidbits of information that I don't want to forget.

Note taking and file sharing

In addition to Evernote, I use Noteshelf for taking notes, and it even allows handwritten input with a rubber-tipped stylus or finger. It's not perfect, but there's easy conversion to PDF and exporting of notes to Evernote and Dropbox, which allows quick archiving and sharing. I keep a notebook for each project and gain some measure of insurance knowing notes are backed up should I lose the tablet.

The Dropbox app also serves as an easy way to share files, and I dump everything from PDF directions to an event, to documents and spreadsheets that I can rapidly view. Another app that I frequently use is SalesForce Mobile, which allows me to quickly log calls with prospects or review information before a meeting.

Content consumption

My tablet also serves as what the pundits call a "content consumption" device. For me, that content comes in the form of newspapers, RSS feeds, books, and web sites. I read The Wall Street Journal on a daily basis, and their iPad app does a nice job of duplicating the paper and allowing offline reading. And while I've used a variety of RSS apps, I stick with those that use Google Reader as a backend, so that my feeds stay in sync across all my devices.

I probably spend less time web browsing than the average user, but when I need to quickly look up information, the iPad makes it easier than booting a computer. Similarly, the built-in email application works well and makes for an easy way to "triage" email over my morning coffee.

When I travel, I usually include my laptop (currently a Samsung Series 7), because most tablets still fail to provide a decent document creation and editing experience. The iPad's on-screen keyboard is useless for anything beyond a short blog post, and all of the word processing applications I've tried have been lacking. In particular, much of what I write goes through a proofreader, and most of these applications do not support Microsoft Office Word editing and revision functionality. If the iPad had a moderately competent word processor, I'd be more willing to leave the laptop at home in favor of a wireless keyboard.

At the end of the day, my tablet is not indispensable for my job; however, I'd likely replace it if it were lost, since it does augment and enhance how I work. After trying an Android tablet, I went with the Apple product, mainly due to the broad application support (which is the same reason I continue to use Windows). I find some of the different form factors, particularly those with keyboards, interesting items in the Android camp, but without some of my critical applications, I'm staying with Apple for the moment.

The tablet fits a nice niche in my computing arsenal, although I'm well aware that my usage may be vastly different than yours or your employees. For me, anything that facilitates my time management and makes travel a little easier is a no-brainer. Others might think a $400+ notepad and task list replacement is laughable. In any event, consider how you and your colleagues work as you determine whether tablets would be beneficial.

How do you incorporate your tablet into your work day? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

2 comments
0426bert
0426bert

I am in a local territory sales position for an office technology (hw/sw) dealership. The iPad is great for accessing our CRM when i'm driving down a street and I want to get background on the firm I'm looking at. Contacts, past history, etc. can help me quickly assess the account. I also have the Satellite Map on, and it's great for showing you an out-of-the way business that you might have overlooked. Oh, and for business usage the Logitech Bluetooth keyboard case is a must-have. I use the Notes app while in meetings and can type on a keyboard - much faster and more accurate. Having the Calendar synced to my office Outlook is tremendous. Our new phone system is set up to forward a phone message to your e-mail, so now I can easily pick up any phone messages through the iPad - very handy. In the business community, things like iPads are still very rare, so you look cutting edge when you incorporate it into presentations - I use SlideShark to show Powerpoints. Lastly, a lot of the document management software I sell has a Tablet component that lets a user easily bring up documents for viewing and taking actions in a workflow. When you show it on the iPad it is still a really cool thing to see, and it grabs attention. I felt that having the iPad would increase my productivity enough to easily justify the $800 expense - totally out of my own pocket. In sales, that could be just adding one more sale for the year. However, there is the downfall of the enticement of the device. I have the NY Times on mine - just the free Top News section, and it is tempting to see "what's going on". They refresh that many times during the day, so there is always new content. There is also a game called Words with Friends..... One night I forgot my iPad at my desk and only had my laptop at home. I was stunned at how much more "work" I got done, not having the iPad around. It gave me pause....but I'm hooked. I love my iPad.

Skruis
Skruis

For my serious work, I have a core-i7 w/ 3 24" monitors. You're right. You can't beat screen real estate. While I'm at my main station, I have my win8 slate docked next to me. On it, I have my communications apps loaded (bria, spark, lync, email, etc) and my bluetooth headsets paired to it. The advantage of using it for this purpose is that I can install all of those essential applications on one pc and take them anywhere with me so now installing this there and that there...they're always just there. In addition to that, I installed Mouse w/o Borders to kind of turn the slate into a 4th screen where really, they just share a mouse and keyboard and I can transfer files with it (but I primarily use Live Mesh for the file sync). And because it is a windows pc, I also have Visual Studio, MySql Workbench, etc. installed so when I'm at a client or when I'm in my home vs my home office (above detached garage), I can still do my serious work albeit in a limited fashion when compared to my main station. At home, I have a 24" monitor that I connect via HDMI and when I'm at a client, I rely on the 11.6" screen and a set of bluetooth keyboard/mice. Occasionally, I'll bring my 14" Toshiba USB display with me to clients if I'm anticipating heavy onsite coding, other than that, the 11.6" screen @ 1366x768 seems to work well enough for those random coding sessions (though it can be a bit painful when you're used to 3 24" 1920x1200 screens) but it's replaced my laptop for the last 4 months. It's pretty nice having the slate and I can see where the iPad can compliment your work environment. It's just an added bonus that my slate runs Windows 8 cause I have a workstation and a slate and not a workstation, tablet and a laptop. The dual functionality of a win8 slate (metro for consumption and the desktop for production) suits my workflow rather well. If I had only 1 24" display at my desk, I could seriously consider using the slate AS my pc and use only 1 device for every purpose...that's real value and even if I can't benefit from it, I know others could. I guess it's technically possible that I can replace my main station but I'd need a powered usb hub, usb->vga adapters, large external storage, etc and then I still couldn't run my games (BF3, Arma2:OA, etc) on it so it seems my PC is still needed but it's not a stretch to see other users using a win8 slate as their pc, as their laptop and as their tablet. 1 device, that's pretty cool.