Confession of a Recovering Productivity Addict

Six years ago, when I was living in Spain, I was obsessed by Productivity. I tried to make my system as efficient as possible, using the best apps to help me get things done and spending hours a week listening to podcast on the topic. Of course, the irony was that I spent more time learning to be more productive than actually being productive. It’s easy to look down on that with hindsight as I now know many of the fundamental principles and ideas which help with productivity but back then I didn’t. At the same time, I don’t really care for listening about productivity advice (especially as an isolated topic) anymore, I know that the thing that would make the biggest difference for myself is applying what I already know, not learning something new.

The 20% that takes you 80% of the way

Just like everything, there are a few core productivity principles which take you a long way. Applying those will be more beneficial than spending hours trying to learn the other 80%. Unfortunately that means doing stuff rather than sitting back and listening or reading. I’m not certain on what this 20% is exactly – and it may well vary a bit for you – but the things that make the biggest difference for me include: - Getting a good nights sleep - Doing some regular exercise - Not eating too much bad stuff (it makes me feel tired and bloated) - Listing the key things I need to work on and do today - Writing down the steps in a project and marking the next step - If I don’t know what the next step is, thinking of whom I could ask to find out - Doing a task straight away if it will take 2 mins or less - Saving tasks as soon as I can

Perhaps I needed to be an addict?

I was originally going to write a bit of a rant against productivity culture where people constantly seek that extra trick (or worse app) that will help them finally be productive (spoiler, no matter how productive you are, you can always be more productive and even if you do reach 100% productivity, you will still wish you could do more.) but as I started writing I realized I was (partially) wrong. Those earlier experienced actually help me greatly today and just because I don’t need to hear that advice, doesn’t mean others don’t.

Still, I wonder if most people who are concerned about being productivity would be better served spending more time doing than consuming about productivity.

Today I am declaring a war on “the most optimal”

You Don’t Need to Do “Real Work” on the iPad, Just Normal Work

One of the ideas that get’s branded about when we talk about the iPad is that you “can’t do real work on the iPad”. I used to debate this topic a lot but today I realised that it’s complete rubbish. Not because you can do everything on the iPad, but actually it’s not that important and distracts from the issue that is really important. Let me explain.

The Can’t Do Real Work Narrative

The can’t do real work narrative works so well for two reasons, there are people who propose it and then there are those of us stupid enough to spend time debating it. Sure, it’s a fun question and topic to debate but the conclusion that is put forward — tablets suck, they aren’t the future of computing etc — isn’t dependent on that statement.

So a brief summary of the debate. Real work usually means programming or graphic design work, or occasionally working with some complicated CMS system (because tech writers) it includes every professional task someone needs to do (even if they do it rarely). Under these conditions you can’t do “real work” but in truth things are getting better all the time, there are interesting hacks around these issue which can be better than traditional solutions and not everyone needs to do these tasks.

Not everyone needs to do these tasks

This last point has become increasingly resonate within my own life. I changed from teaching to being a content writer. My day now looks like most typical corporate jobs instead of a life of traveling from location to location, creating handouts and presentations and other more unique challenges.

In my last job, there were some of these classic “real work” tasks that I found difficult: designing graphics, making videos, web design.

In my new job, I have the problems that most people suffer at work and let me tell you, you don’t need powerful programs like photoshop on the iPad to solve those problems.

The Real problems people face with real work

With software, there are a few core programs that I require, many of which have basic iPad apps that lack essential functionality. There are also a few websites and programs which just aren’t compatible.

With hardware, the idea of using my iPad at a desk for hours on end just isn’t sensible. Sure I could jerry rig some system to prop it up at the correct hight, and if I attended a few more meetings then I probably would have the sedentary work life that leads to neck-ache, but I do and as such a giant external monitor on a MacBook Pro is a very welcome relief. 1

These are issues which are rarely discussed when it comes to the iPad and real work and yet are much more pertinent for the average person. If you can’t access every webpage, then you can’t use an iPad for work. If there is some pesky item which needs to be dragged and dropped and doesn’t support touch, then you can’t use an iPad for real work. If you can’t access a common feature in a common app that your office uses, then you can’t use an iPad for real work.

The same isn’t true of chrome OS or Windows 10

Look, there is a lot I don’t like about Chrome OS and Windows 10. They all have downsides and the tablet versions of these devices really do, but they do the basics right. You can open up either device and do what most people in an office need to do (and at home too boot).

The solution to the iPad’s problems for being usable at work isn’t really in pro apps like Photoshop or xcode, but it is in being able to do the last 10% of tasks that people in offices can’t do or are better with a different device.

  1. I should note that there are rumors that the latest iPad Pro will support external monitors in someway. This would be a good step forward but technically you can already do that with the lightning to HDMI output and this doesn’t really solve the issue. You still need to look at the iPad screen to touch it. Unless Mouse or touchpad support came to the iPad that is.

Just wondering if @manton hosted microblogs have support for markdown footnotes? Anyone know?

Not going to lie. I’m pretty excited to get drafts for Mac beta set up on my work computer. Having a scratchpad to send words anywhere is going to be great.

My new mission. Convert my company to using the Oxford comma by highlighting every sentence where it would clearly help.