I’ve been blogging about my preferred use of my 2017 11 inch iPad Pro in the past. I really like to work as light as possible and with a minimum of tools. I want to be able to set up and go in less dan 2 minutes.
My ideal set-up allows me to go anywhere and work productively. The iPad is, for the most part, a great tool for that. So let’s look at what I current do with the iPad, the tools I do it with and where I find myself limited by the tool.
Use cases and applications
As a member of an executive committee, I spend a lot of time in meetings or preparing meetings. My first use cases are based around those activities.
Reviewing (PDF) documents
Prior to meetings, I read and annotate a lot of material that I need to absorb to be able to contribute to a meeting. After all, if I am not contributing, what is my relevance in the meeting? A lot of the material comes to me in PDF format which can be annotated. And as I prefer to write longhand, the Apple Pencil is my tool of choice for such annotations. I currently annotate these PDF documents in GoodNotes 5. GoodNotes allows me to annotate and easily convert the annotations to text snippets which I can share with any app that I like. I usually move annotated PDFs to a reference repository after I have attended the meeting. This repository is either OneNote or SharePoint if it is work-related (we use Office365 at work) or DevonThink To Go when it is my own stuff. The DevonThink repositories are hosted in iCloud and backed up to my own NAS.
During meetings, I like to take a lot of notes. It helps me focusing my attention and it is a good reference for later. As I prefer writing longhand rather than typing during a meeting, GoodNotes 5 is my tool of choice. There is an excellent review of GoodNotes 5 on the Sweet Setup. If you read this blog, you know I’ve long been a proponent of Notability, but I recently switched from Notability to GoodNotes 5. Both tools are excellent and I remain a very firm fan of Notability , but GoodNotes 5 allows me to more easily work with PDF’s. As I want to limit the number of applications I use to the minimum, doing both the review and the note taking in the same app made sense.
Writing texts and articles
I’ve been using Ulysses for a very long time now. Most of my longer form writing, from Executive Committee notes to blog posts I write in Ulysses. There are two roads that lead to texts landing in Ulysses. The first is the most common one … I’ve captured an idea or a concept in Drafts and it gets fleshed out and reviewed in Ulysses. More on Drafts later in this article. The second is less common, but often leads to longer documents or posts and that is ideation in my mind mapping tool Mindnode which then gets exported as markdown to Ulysses for further development. This post, for example, started as a Mindnode document. I have quite a few future posts in my Mindnode library, just waiting to be finalised and transferred.
Ulysses is to me just the best tool on the market. It allows me to write in a distraction free environment, as I am doing now, and it allows for easy export in a plethora of formats, including direct posting to my blog. It is just the most convenient tool for writing.
Reading books and articles and taking notes
I read most of my books in the Kindle App on the iPad. I usually have two to three books which I read concurrently. That is not a good habit, but I often see a book mentioned, download it and start examining it. I do use Apple’s Books App on occasion, but that is mostly when I cannot find what I am looking for in the Kindle Store.
As far as articles is concerned, I used Pocket for a long time, but recently switched to Keep It, which I also use as a temporary storage place for any item I do not want to lose track of. I can save any web page I am reading an article on as an offline web archive, which also allows me to extract text.
And that is key to me, because I take a lot of notes as I read as well. Not (yet) with Apple Pencil, but via the Share sheet in the Kindle App and in Keep It. Both apps allow me to select text and export it to Ulysses. In Ulysses I have a folder called Book Notes, with a subfolder for each book, and I just put the notes there for each book. And while Ulysses does not easily allow me to append one note to another note, once I’m done I just select all the notes and generate one document with it, which then goes into my reference system. For articles I have an Article folder.
Manage to do’s
I’ve written about my use of Trello before. If you are curious as to how I use the tool now, look no further than this article. Microsoft Planner is a similar tool we use at work. I find it currently less complete than Trello, which I automated heavily, but combining Planner with Microsoft Flow comes close to copying the functionality.
And of course, like most directors or managers, I communicate a lot. If I can, I usually draft any communications I send out, in a dedicated app. For me, that app is Drafts, an app I mentioned before in this article and which is like a Swiss pocket knife for text. Draft now has integrations for Outlook, the email application I use on my iPad. It does not yet have integrations for Teams, the chat solution we use at work and a competitor to Slack, which I would prefer to use because it offers more functionalities, but we are committed to Office365. And knowing Microsoft they are hard at work to ensure feature parity with their closest competitors.
I have a secret weapon in an app called Textexpander which integrates with Drafts and allows me to quickly write standard text snippets in any document I am working on. This is especially useful for mails … I am always surprised how much text actually gets used again and again.
Cannot yet do
But there are things I would love to do with my iPad I cannot yet do. The first is the impossibility of preparing complex presentations in Powerpoint. Microsoft’s iPad app, while good to give presentations with, is a long way from feature parity with it Mac and PC counterparts. And this is not just about complex manipulations … on the contrary, a simple manipulation such as combining two presentations, which takes about 2 seconds on the computer apps, is impossible on iPad. And that can be quite frustrating.
A second frustration I have is that it really is impossible to write large proposals on an iPad if you are required to use Microsoft Word templates. And while it may seem that I am unloading on Microsoft, consider that most of the corporate app use is Microsoft related. That is what happens if you establish a quasi monopoly in the word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software space. I am looking for tools that play nice all the time, not some of the time, because that creates a stress (in me) and the requirement for other tools.
Finally, and I hope this will get resolved with the upcoming iPad OS, for release in September 2019, I really want the iPad to play nice with my monitor. I have a 27 inch Dell and I am currently looking at it with two black bars on either side of my Ulysses instance. And that is just not ok. That said, my Logitech K380 keyboard works like a dream.
I can do most of the work I need to do during the day on my iPad, which allows me to travel light. I actually try to use public transport, such as trains, as much as possible, and the usually 60 minute one way commute gives me adequate time to work through my mails and do some thinking which I capture either in a GoodNotes note, to be exported to Drafts, or in a mind-map in Mindnode. But to completely replace my computer with an iPad is sadly still impossible. I’m looking forward to the new iPad OS and hope that it will go a way towards addressing these issues. Until then I will need to continue to use a PC. Alas.