[This week, GradHacker and ProfHacker writers are collaborating on a series of posts about productivity apps and systems. The 8am post every day is part of this collaboration. Today’s post is by GradHacker writer Stephanie Hedge, a graduate student in the Department of English at Ball State University. Follow her on Twitter at @slhedge--@jbj.]
Starbucks is one of my favorite places in the world to work. Coffee, company, and a relaxing atmosphere help me concentrate and keep focused on my task. As it can be a pain to lug my laptop everywhere, I have a tablet, as well as a mobile phone, and I use both when working away from my desk. But working on my iPad is only useful if I have the right tools to support my workflow, and the ability to access my documents across platforms. This post provides hacks for productively managing a workflow across different devices and working in any location!
Hardware for tablets: Tablets provide a unique work opportunity, as they combine the best parts of a computer with a piece of paper, and provide a product that is more useful than either on their own. Having both a keyboard and a stylus will ensure that you are taking full advantage of your tablet’s affordances.
Targus Keyboard and Case: Although your tablet will have an on screen keyboard, typing is much easier and faster when using a bluetooth keyboard. I prefer the Targus all in one keyboard and case for iPad; although pricey, it allows you to rotate the iPad in the stand for maximum workflow customization, and the case is durable but elegant. Targus also has a number of cases for all tablet and e-reader brands.
Jot Classic Stylus: A stylus is always useful for navigation, note taking, and annotating, and the Jot is a precision stylus that mimics the feel of a pen. The Jot uses a precision disc for ballpoint accuracy, and using one on your tablet is like using a pen to write. There are fancier Jot brands with far more features to explore, but for the money, the Jot Classic is my pick for best stylus. Targusalso makes a stylus that works across any device with a touch screen, although it does not have the precision tip.
Software: Usefully moving between desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices requires file access and software that works on everything. This can be tricky if you are running different operating systems for all of your devices, but checking to see if your apps are available across platforms is an important first step before you use them.
The first step in working on the go is ensuring that you have access to your files from any device, anywhere in the world. Cloud Storage is becoming standard (Windows 8 and Snow Leopard incorporate Skydrive and iCloud into the OS), and finding a storage system that works for you is essential.
In my opinion, Dropbox is unbeatable as the best place for data storage. It creates a local file on your desktop, and auto-syncs everything you do to the cloud. Your files can be accessed through the Dropbox website or through the Dropbox app, which is available for iOS and Android. Dropbox is the best way to store files, and is the best storage system across platforms and devices. Dropbox also comes with a suite of useful features, like file sharing, creation of a stable url for files, and providing access to previous versions of files.
There are a number of other apps for storing your data on the cloud, like SugarSync (available for both PC and Mac and supports auto-sync), Box (available for PC, Mac, and Android devices and provides 5GB of free storage), Google Drive, or Springpad (which creates “smart notebooks” for your files), and it might take some playing around to find the best system for your documents. However, key features to look for in a storage system are storage size, auto-sync capability, and security, as well as cross platform compatibility and mobile availability. For example, Amazon Cloud Drive is great for music, but because it does not support auto-sync, it may not be the best place for those ongoing documents.
To specifically manage your PDFs, try Mendeley, which includes a reference manager for your files, integrated annotation capability, and importantly for the scholar on the go, backup and sync capabilities that work across devices (including your tablets and phones).
Managing your bookmarks between different devices is an important part of maintaing a productive workflow, and there are a number of different tools you can use. One tip is to use the same browser across devices, signing in and maintaing your bookmarks. Chrome (new to iOS devices) is my pick for browser, and tab syncing is coming soon!
My pick for best bookmarking (and notetaking!) application is Evernote, which allows you to save webpages as well as images and notes, and is the best way to sync your notes across devices. Evernote is supported on nearly every computer, tablet, and phone, and is a must-have for working on the go. Zotero is another useful program for organizing your sources online, and it stores your work right in the browser. However, it does not have dedicated apps for mobile devices, so make sure your mobile browsers support Zotero. Other useful book marking sites include Instapaper (for iOS, Android, PC, and Kindle), a “read later” system for sites and articles. With the click of a button, your bookmarks are saved across devices, and you can access these files anywhere. Bookmarking through Diigo allows you to use their applet on any device, and supports mobile and tablet devices. Diigo allows you to highlight, make notes, and save pages with an intuitive tagging system, and is one of the best ways to manage notes on and across webpages.
Being able to manage your documents across different devices isn’t useful unless you know what you need to be working on, and there are a number of different calendar and to-do list apps. GoogleCalendar is my go-to for all my scheduling needs, and I can access it from a browser anywhere. It integrates well with other Google products, like GMail, and keeps your scheduling up to date.
Wunderlist is my pick for best To Do list app; it is simple, easy to navigate, auto-syncs between my devices, and sends me emails when tasks are overdue. It also allows me to see tasks that I have completed, which helps to keep me motivated, and Wunderlist is available for Windows, OSX, Linux and Android. If Wunderlist doesn’t do it for you, try Toodledo or Astrid.
Key to maintaining a useful workflow is ensuring that you can work productively on documents across devices. Working in GoogleDocs is an excellent solution to this: any changes made in the doc on one device is immediately accessible on all devices. Your work is saved on the cloud, and easily accessible from anywhere in the world. GoogleDrive allows you to access these documents when not connected to the internet, and GDocs allows you to create diverse documents. If you are looking for a dedicated word processor, my pic is Pages for OSX and iPad. It is easy to use while being feature rich, and is relatively inexpensive. Whatever content creation tool you use, make sure that the files are able to be opened and worked on across devices.
There you have it; a complete package for turning your disparate devices into a single workflow tool. Although it may take some time to initially set up your devices to support your workflow, you will soon be able to work productively from anywhere in the world.