By Marcus Coetzee, 6 November 2019.
Have you ever wondered whether you could work exclusively on a tablet? This article shares my experiences and insights on this subject, and how as a management consultant I’ve been able to do most of my work on it.
I bought an iPad four months ago. I’ve never owned a tablet before. Now I’m using it to do 75% of my work; I still require my laptop to do the remaining 25%. I aspire to go ‘iPad only’ but I still need to make some shifts in how I work.
I wrote this article because it is what I wanted to read when I was thinking of buying a tablet. The internet was too full of technology reviews and clickbait articles.
The principles of this article will apply to any modern professional tablet with a stylus. However, I chose an iPad after watching colleagues hand write their notes on the screen using the Apple Pencil. I wanted a simpler computing experience and hoped that this device might offer it. I was also inspired by Michael and Radek on The Podcast, who frequently talk about how they use their iPads and how it has forced them to rethink how they work.
The configuration I use
I use the 2018 iPad Pro 10.5” that takes a SIM card. I also use the Apple Pencil and generic standalone Bluetooth keyboard, which I ordered separately. I also have an origami cover which I can fold into a variety of shapes to brace my tablet.
I elected to skip the official Apple Smart Keyboard (the one attaches to the iPad) as I wanted a light and minimalist experience. I take my external keyboard with me if I expect to do more than 15 minutes of typing, otherwise I leave it at home.
I do most of my work using Google Suites (Gmail, Google Documents, Google Spreadsheet, Google Drive). I shifted over to this cloud system because it makes it easier to collaborate with colleagues and clients, and because I like my files to be accessible from any device. I also use Notability, Nozbe and the Safari web browser.
The work I do easily on my tablet
The 75% of my work, which I can do easily on my tablet involves:
- Reviewing and annotating documents (e.g. proposals, reports, technical documents). I use Notability where I can highlight sentences and hand write comments on PDFs.
- Reviewing and typing brief emails. (When rushed I tend to write terse emails, sometimes only in the subject line.)
- Drawing sketches (e.g. flowcharts, mind maps and organograms) when I’m not near my extra-large whiteboards.
- Handwriting notes at meetings and coaching sessions.
- Handwriting my thoughts in a journal.
- Outlining strategies, articles, proposals, reports and presentations.
- Reading and highlighting books on Kindle or iBooks.
- Browsing websites.
- Writing content for articles, proposals, reports and strategies.
- Tracking and organizing tasks with Nozbe.
The work I must do on my laptop
About 25% of my work can only easily be done on my laptop. This work is as follows:
- Plugging my laptop into a projector or TV in a boardroom for a presentation or to take notes that everyone can see.
- Developing financial models and projections on MS Excel or Google Sheets.
- Formatting complex documents on MS Word.
- Designing presentations on MS PowerPoint
- Quickbooks accounting software
I still do Zoom or Skype conversations on my laptop, but these can also be done on my tablet should it be required.
I don’t have any social media apps installed on my iPad. I need to log in via my web browser to access them. This helps to reduce distraction.
What I most love about working on a tablet
The tablet makes it easier for me to do the work I want to do. This involves coaching leaders, facilitating and designing strategies, and writing. Conversely, it is harder for me to to do the work I don’t want to do (the 25%). This is all deliberate and intentional.
I find it more difficult to multitask on the tablet, despite the split screen functionality. I enjoy this constraint as I prefer to do one thing at a time.
The iPad is great to travel with. It is very light. The battery runs for 10+ hours so I can do a whole day’s work and travel without needing to recharge. The SIM card enables me to access the internet wherever I am. The tablet replaces so many of my devices (e.g. notebook, journal, A4 pad of blank paper, kindle and laptop). This helps me live my ‘one bag’ lifestyle and be a ‘digital nomad’ as I travel between offices, coffee shops and cities, and into the field.
I can also take handwritten notes on my tablet at meetings and coaching sessions instead of typing on my laptop. This enhances rapport.
Finally, I have been able to continue writing in cursive while while maintaining a paperless office. It took a while to get used to writing with the Pencil on the glass screen but now its second-nature. It’s been months since I last wrote on paper.
Warning, it is not for everyone!
I must emphasize that while a tablet may suit the type of work I do, it is definitely not for everyone. I have a particular set of work habits and preferences that might be different from yours.
The iPad Pro is expensive. I bought it instead of replacing my four year old Thinkpad laptop. By the time my old laptop dies, I hope to have converted all my work to the tablet which looks possible since I’ve been working increasingly in the cloud. I made this bold decision to buy an iPad after many months of research and lobbying my wife to endorse my decision to buy one. (Now she clearly sees the value and how I use it for my work.) I’m also able to deduct the costs as a business expense and claim back the VAT. This makes it more affordable.
It fits the type of work I do best (having conversations, conceptualizing and providing feedback). It ‘blocks me’ from more specialized technical work that does not fit my temperament or aptitude, by making such work more difficult to do.
Technical specialists (e.g. software developer, statistician, engineer, lawyer, economist, researcher) will struggle to do the majority of their work on it. The apps are not as sophisticated as their desktop counterparts. For example, the MS Excel and Google Sheets apps only enable me to do basic spreadsheet work, and this is a laborious process.
Using a tablet as your primary computer requires a drastic change to your workflow and how you think about computers. This will be much easier for young people who grew up in an app-based world where the storage of files is secondary to the software they are using. They have learned to navigate smoothly between different apps and the ‘walled gardens’ of the Google, Apple and Microsoft ecosystems. In contrast, I’m still learning how to do this.
I’m still learning how to use my iPad effectively. I’ve had many headaches along the way. It’s been a steep learning curve, but then this is the first tablet I’ve owned. Fortunately, it suits the type of work that I do and how I prefer to work. I’m also someone that enjoys tinkering with technology and my workflows, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so.
Please don’t buy an iPad Pro if it is not going to be your primary computing device or if you have a tight budget. Rather go for a cheaper tablet or iPad Air without the SIM card.
Overall I’m happy with the shift I’ve made, but I’ve still got a lot to learn.