These days, many web workers are upgrading to more powerful handheld mobile devices — PDA, smartphone, Internet tablet, ultra-mobile PC — and they never seem to stop fiddling with them. From checking email to reading RSS feeds to doing IM or Twitter, the mobile worker is always connected.
But not always productive.
Despite the popular thinking that being always connected and always doing email makes you more productive, the truth is that productivity drops if you allow yourself to be at the mercy of every little ping, ding or beep from your mobile device. Interruptions cost productivity, and constantly answering the requests of others means that the important tasks you want to accomplish today don’t get done.
Not only that, but you start to lose your life if you’re a slave to your mobile device. There are times when it’s best to actually be present, to talk to those you’re with, to experience the real world, and to stop stressing about email or other demands on your attention.
That said, there are ways you can use your mobile device to be more productive — and still have a life. Here are just 10:
1. Disconnect! The first rule to becoming productive with your mobile device is to turn off its connectivity, most of the time. If you’re connected all the time, the temptation to do email or chat or check out various websites (you know which ones they are) is just too strong. Download what you need, and disconnect. When you’re on the road, it’s best to focus on what you’re doing. When you have some free time, it’s best to use the mobile device for one of the following functions. Instead of being interrupted all the time and being at the mercy of email, set 2-3 periods a day where you do email — and that’s best done with a full-fledged keyboard, where you can quickly crank out the replies. So use your mobile device for its handy on-the-go tools as well as being more productive by focusing on more important tasks than email or IM — like those projects that are overdue.
2. Ubiquitous capture. If you’re a fan of GTD, you know about ubiquitous capture — the concept that you should write down any ideas or tasks that come to your mind, right away, instead of relying on your brain to remember them and wasting precious brain CPU cycles on trying to remember everything while also trying to focus on the task at hand. So write stuff down, wherever you are — either in a notebook, or voila! Your mobile device. Use it to capture every thought, every task, every goal or dream or kid’s recital. Get into this habit of noting it immediately, and you’ll never forget anything again.
3. On-the-go to-dos. If you keep your to-do list(s) on the computer, it can be a hassle to print them out before you leave home or the office. Instead, keep your to-dos on your mobile device, so you can have your errands and shopping list on the go. And even more importantly, keep a 3-item to-do list of the most important tasks you want to accomplish today, in case you need to do them on the go — then focus on those tasks, not email or other interruptions, if you do decide to work on the road.
4. Offline reading. I don’t recommend that you keep your RSS reader connected all the time, notifying you of when new posts come in. However, if you download all your RSS feeds and then disconnect, you can do some off-line reading when you have some spare time, like while waiting in line at the DMV. Even better, download an e-book and do some quality reading. Now you won’t feel like exploding by the time you get to the front of the line.
5. Keep calendar, contacts, lists up to date. This is related to ubiquitous capture, but it’s a hassle to go back to your office and have to enter in all kinds of phone numbers, email addresses, appointments — and let’s face it, most of the time we’ll never get to entering that stuff at all. Use your mobile device to keep your information up to date, when you get the info, and the data entry periods will be kept to a minimum. Now you have no excuse not to make that dentist’s appointment.
6. Project management. Now we come to the real productive stuff — the important tasks you should be doing instead of checking email. Plan your projects with your mobile device, outlining what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. If you’ve got spare time on the road, this can be an extremely productive use of your time.
7. Project research. This is perhaps one of the only times when connecting to the Internet while on the go is productive. If you’re working on a project and need to do some research, or perhaps just pull off a link or a fact to insert into your project, connect quickly with your device, get what you need, and get off. Don’t go to Digg or your favorite forum or social site, and don’t check email! Stay focused.
8. Brainstorm, outline, prep. More project work. On the road is one of the best times to come up with ideas, brainstorm, outline, or otherwise prep for a project. Being on the move gets your blood circulating and the creative juices flowing — take advantage of that and come up with ideas and other ways to move your project forward. Write them down and organize them on your mobile device.
9. Edit and write. Many mobile devices aren’t the best ways to write. But if you want to do some editing, they’ll do just fine. And if you’re seized by sudden inspiration, it’s best to write it down, while you remember. Some of your best snippets of writing can be done on the mobile device.
10. Set boundaries. All of this productive work is well and good, but it’s not healthy to be working all the time, wherever you go. Set times to work, and times to relax, and don’t cross the boundaries. For example, if you have a family at home, when you go home, be with them. Don’t use your mobile device at the table, on the couch, at a restaurant. Use it when you have down time where you can’t do anything but wait, or do it if you aren’t with anyone and it’s work time, but when it’s personal time, disconnect, put the device away, and relax.