New Work Flow with Tech

[This might be my first purely techie post in a long time, but hey…]

For the first time as a principal, I have a desktop computer on my desk.

I’ve always just carried my laptop to and from school every day, but with the launch of the iPad, I thought it might be time for a change. The laptop is good enough, but there were starting to be too many times when I wanted more screen real estate, and I found myself really envying my wife’s big honking desktop, but the big issue was really that I didn’t want files in two places. My laptop was organized to the point where it was pretty much hardwired to my brain. (My knapsack is like that too, but even it is wearing out… some might argue, so’s my brain.) With the summer hitting, and with a realization that carrying my laptop and my iPad to and from school every day was really counter-productive, I made the leap.

How I made the changes:
1) DropBox – For $100 / year, I get 50 gigs of space. About 99% of the files I use are in two folders (with dozens of sub-folders. I’m a file organization nut.) What I love about DropBox is that the files really do live on the computers, and DropBox syncs the changes, as opposed to having to pull from the cloud every time. Also, DropBox has apps for the iPad and iPhone, so I can get to my files no matter if I’m on my home machine (now the laptop), school machine or iPad.

2) MobileMe – Syncs my calendar and contacts and mail accounts between all the machines for $100 / year. And I found that Back To My Mac has been useful for those times when I do need a file on the school machine that isn’t in the DropBox folder. If iDisk was a bit more robust, I wouldn’t need DropBox, but for now, DropBox blows iDisk away.

3) EverNote – I use this for my general note-taking on the iPad… it’s quick, it syncs easily, and it is very easy to keep notes organized. It is also replacing "Stickies" for my quick "jot it down" notes on the computers — which is a really, really good thing. If iOS4 for the iPad allows users to push documents to iDisk or DropBox, I could see this starting to lose luster, but for now, I love it.

4) GoogleApps – Perhaps this was just plain luck, but Chris Alfano, SLA’s amazing web developer, convinced me to move SLA’s mail to Google Mail as part of our strategy to use GoogleDocs and GoogleApps more. (As a hard-core DIY former-sys-admin, I was probably a harder sell than I should have been… what’s that slide I have in my slide-deck, "What are you willing to unlearn?" I’m still evolving.) Using the SLA GoogleApps suite was awesome — and that needs to be its own post — and once I realized (again, thanks Chris A.) how I could set up my own GoogleApps suite for Practical Theory – including moving my Practical Theory email – another piece fell into place. GoDaddy had long only provided POP mail support, but now, with Google hosting my personal email, I had access to an IMAP account, which was a huge piece of the puzzle for streamlining the workflow between iPad, iPhone, laptop and school computer. So far, I am just using GoogleApps standard edition for my private GoogleApps account, but at $50 / year, if there’s a reason to upgrade to Premium, I won’t mind doing it.

(I’ve long used Spanning Sync as a way to sync up iCal and Google Calendar… I’m not 100% sure it’s necessary anymore, as it seems just too easy to subscribe to GoogleCalendars on iCal on all platforms, but I like that it makes the calendars native to my Mac accounts, as opposed to subscriptions… and I bought a lifetime account, so for now, I’m still syncing that way. I don’t think you have to, if you’re looking at what I’m doing as a model.)

(I’m also thinking about moving my Flickr account to Picasa, but I don’t think it has the social network that Flickr has yet. Yet.)

What all this has done has made every machine I work on, essentially, a thin client for my work, which is awesome. I love not taking the laptop to and from school every day, and I’m now thinking about replacing the old knapsack with something a little lighter for every day use.

Things I’ve noticed that I really like:
I love using the iPad as my primary mobile device. When it is paired with the bluetooth keyboard, it is a hugely productive tool. I think the keyboard is the thing that moves it from primarily a media consumption device to a productivity tool. I’m looking forward to doing observations on the iPad this year.

DropBox really is amazing. And I created aliases to put on my laptop and school computer so that the folders I most use are still only one click away, as opposed to two. (Yes, I’m that OCD sometimes.)

Using the iPad as a note-taking mobile-meeting device has had two unexpected ancillary benefits. First, because it doesn’t multi-task, I don’t multi-task as much. Even writing this blog entry, I stayed on it the whole time. I’m actually not as excited for iOS4 for the iPad because of that. (Who am I kidding… I’m just hoping I’m learning the lesson of self-discipline… who am I kidding again? Must check twitter…) Secondly, because it has a smaller footprint (I use the Apple case that tilts it diagonally up slightly on its horizontal axis,) I find that it allows me to be more present in meetings where I’m using it as a note-taking tool than my laptop did, because I’m not working over the top of a laptop screen.

After five years without a desktop screen, using the big honking iMac is lovely. Screen real-estate when analyzing spreadsheets and such is really nice to the point where I’ve thought about getting a personal desktop at home and really making the laptop a really secondary machine that would mostly be for long trips and such. I am even going to try to present from my iPad tomorrow, which would mean I wouldn’t even need my laptop for conferences and such.

Things I’m hoping happen soon:
I’m hoping that MobileMe will soon allow me to store my iTunes library in the cloud as well. Rumor is that is soon to happen. Until then, I’m using my iPad as my office jukebox, which isn’t the worst solution, really.
The iPad won’t really be a full production device until you can push documents created or modified on the Pad to the cloud via DropBox or iDisk. Right now, if I work on an iWord (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) document on the iPad, I can only get it off of the Pad by syncing the device with a computer. It’s why I use Evernote all the time instead. In the end, that is hamstringing me from time to time, as it creates the "multiple copies of the same document" problem that I absolutely want to avoid. My fear is that Apple only allows you to do it with iDisk. My hope is that DropBox can be push/pull too. (Hey Apple, if you are reading this… please make this happen!)
GoogleDocs functionality on the iPad – this could be better… and hopefully will be soon.

Thing I don’t love:
This is a "cloud" problem that is exacerbated by using multiple devices. I don’t love that my files are in DropBox, my GoogleDocs are in Google, my notes are in Evernote, and I need MobileMe for my AppleSync stuff. I worry about remembering what is in my GoogleDocs and what isn’t, and as we use GoogleDocs more and more at SLA, I see this problem getting worse, not better.
I was a committed Things user as my to-do list, but it isn’t a cloud solution, and now I’m syncing my phone and my pad and my laptop, so I think I need a cloud-based solution for that. I don’t love the Google To-Do list. RememberTheMilk? Anyone have any other suggestions?

Apps I use all the time on my iPad:
Evernote
Mail / Calendar / Contacts…
iWork suite (Pages, Keynote, Numbers)
BlogPress (blog writer)
I’m going to buy FileMakerPro for the

Overall, I am thrilled with how my work flow has changed… and carrying a lighter knapsack has made my back much happier.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:New Work Process

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