Productivity

A Desk of iPad

Ben Brooks shares his thoughts after spending a day working from an iPad:

“When I have my Mac in front of me I am doing a lot of things, but not focusing on a lot of things. With the iPad only I felt that was reversed—I did a bit less, a bit slower, but what I did do was more focused and therefore carefully done. [...] That’s not to say that I won’t benefit from a laptop, or that an iPad is the best tool, but that the iPad did everything exceedingly well. I loved it. Not enough for everyday just yet, but when I know I have a busy day in meetings, I’m now going to leave the laptop behind.”

I enjoy seeing other people try these sorts of experiments. As many of you may know, I don't own a Mac and thus my primary device is an iPad (4th-gen). For me it's not an experiment or something I do for giggles, but a way of life. With that said, my verdict is the same as Ben's.

Just about anything I need to accomplish on a daily basis—writing and publishing articles, editing and uploading images, etc—I can do from an iPad. I never feel hindered, creatively or otherwise, by the iPad's size or OS limitations. In fact the opposite might be true. As the saying goes, constraint breeds creativity. Because it's so light and thin, I take my iPad out of the house far more often than I ever did my clunky old Gateway laptop. And as Ben points out, having only one app on the screen at any given time helps my productivity immensely.

Are there things about my iPad-only workflow that I wish were better? Absolutely, and maybe I'll write about them sometime. But at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied having the iPad as my primary device.

If you don't think it can be done, try it out for a day or two. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Fantastical 2 for iPad Released

Fantastical 2 has been my calendar app of choice for the past few months. My one quibble so far has been that it was only designed for iPhone. I have used it on my iPad in 2x mode, but it has never been a great experience.

That all changed with today's release of Fantastical 2 for iPad. All of Fantastical's key features—including the DayTicker and its ability to understand natural language input—have been carried over from the iPhone version. The main difference is that the iPad app takes full advantage of the larger screen to display more information at once. It's more than a basic calendar; it's a detailed dashboard for my schedule.

As it stands now, the iPhone version is where I will quickly create new events, and the iPad version is what I'll use to manage and review existing events. I recommend picking up both if you haven't already done so, especially since the iPad app is on sale for $10, a discount of 33%.

On Working from Home

A couple weeks ago, Shawn Blanc asked on Twitter,

“Do you work from home (remote or for yourself)? What’s the best thing about it? What’s the worst?”

I gave a quick reply then, but I think this a question that deserves a more detailed answer.

Now, I've only been doing the “work from home” thing for a few months now and I'm definitely not making a ton of money yet1, but I feel like I'm starting to at least get a grasp on which things I like and dislike about the experience.

The funny thing I've noticed is that it seems like each pro is also its own con. I know that sounds silly, but if you check the responses to Shawn's tweet, a lot of other self-employed people feel the same way.

I'll explain myself a bit more in the sections below.

More Time with my Family

The upside: When I was doing the corporate stooge thing, I felt like I rarely got to see my wife and son during the work week. I would leave early in the morning, come back late in the evening, and maybe get a couple hours with them before bedtime. Then we'd try to make the best of our weekend time, but of course it just flew by like that and it was back to the grind. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But now, I'm just as much of a stay-at-home dad as I am a work-from-home guy. I get to set my own schedule, which means I get to wake up and have coffee and breakfast with Chelsea, then a little playtime with Brendon, before I sit down to get my work done.

This has had a profoundly positive effect on my relationships with the two of them, especially with Brendon. Now that I'm actually around more often, his attitude towards me has improved noticeably — to him, I'm no longer just the guy he used to see sometimes, but “Daddy”, and that means the world to me.

The downside: There is no such thing as an office (or basement) in my house, not even so much as a real desk. My “workspace” options are: the living room, the dining room table, bed, or somewhere outside like the front porch or back yard. And really, that's one of my favorite things about working at home, but there is nothing to truly separate me from the goings-on around the house.

Brendon is too young to understand that there are things I need to get done, and that it can't always be playtime whenever he wants. I can always lock myself in my bedroom and let Chelsea watch him, but he knows where I am and he'll sometimes just stand by the door and cry for me, which I have a hard time ignoring.

There are times when I can leave the house and work from a coffee shop, but I tend to stay home more often than not because we share a single car and my wife needs it to run errands.

More Freedom

The upside: Like I mentioned earlier, I'm able to set my own schedule. Since my work is all web-based and the internet never closes, I can work at any time I please. Maybe I'll write after breakfast, maybe I'll do it in the middle of the night after the others are asleep — the choice is entirely mine. I can also take breaks or get some house chores done whenever I want.

The downside: With such an open-ended schedule, I'm discovering just how hard it can be to stay focused on my work. I've written about focus before, but that was when Unretrofied was more of an after-hours project rather than my primary gig. Man, was I ever naïve.

No, working from home requires focus of a far higher order of magnitude. I no longer have a boss watching me like a hawk and micro-managing the things I do. I am completely responsible for myself, for better or for worse. If I succeed at writing something awesome, or if I fail (probably because I wasted time repeatedly checking my various inboxes), that's all on me.

There's a lot of pressure involved with that. It sort of feels like graduating from high school only to find out that my doctoral thesis is due tomorrow.

Another downside is that when I do manage to get in the zone and start being productive, it can be hard to draw the line on when to stop. There have been times that I've stayed up until 4am writing something when I should have long been asleep. Allowing myself to stop working on a half-finished project, and being okay with its incompleteness, is harder than I expected it would be.

Less Social Interaction

The upside: I realize it's somewhat fashionable these days for people to dub themselves introverts, but that is truly the way I feel. I don't want to sound like an asshole about it, but being around other people tends to exhaust me after a while.

It's so nice not having to deal with the kind of silly small-talk I had to endure daily at my corporate job. It was a call-center position and I was on the phone with chatty florists all day, so you can maybe imagine how much I began to hate it after five years.

The downside: Just because I tend to prefer solitude doesn't mean I don't want any interaction with the outside world. I'm at a point in my life where most of my friends are off starting their own families and having full-time jobs and everything else that comes with being an adult. I can't even remember the last time I hung out with someone other than my relatives, and even that is only on occasion.

This is somewhat alleviated by social media – in fact, I think I interact with my internet friends more than my real-life ones at this point – but it's not quite the same. I feel like Paul Rudd's character from I Love You, Man, as if I need to go on a bunch of man-dates to feel normal again. (I'm only half-kidding.)

* * *

Obviously, there was no way to fit all of this into a tweet. There's a lot of nuance in how I feel about working from home, and although there are some downsides I'm still trying to work through, I'm very glad for the experience and I hope to continue doing it as long as possible.


As a writer, my goal is to inspire others to be more creative and do their best work. If my writing has helped or inspired you in any way, please consider supporting this site with a modest donation or by signing up for the $3/month membership subscription.


  1. I could not completely support even myself on the money I'm making, much less my wife and son. My wife's dance school is our primary source of income, with a little help from what I make writing on Tools & Toys, as well as from my membership subscribers

Steven Pressfield's Trying Something New

Steven Pressfield, best known for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance and a few excellent books on doing professional knowledge work, is easily one of the best resources of creative inspiration around in my book (see what I did there?). Can't say enough great things about the guy.

Which is why I'm excited about his upcoming newsletter experiment.

“What makes something ready for the Big Leagues? How long do we have to languish in the minors before we break through? What does it take to get over the hump?

I suspect that no few of the readers of this blog find themselves in that exact same spot.

What’s missing?

What’s the final piece to the puzzle?”

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? If you click through to the newsletter signup page, he goes into more detail on what this project is about (emphasis mine):

“I have a new, long form project that’s about the writing of a first novel; what takes a project from being unpublishable to being publishable. It’s too long to be on the blog, so I’m going to give it with a bunch of other goodies.”

Such advice from Steven is sure to be invaluable, so it was an instant sign-up for me. How about you?