Continuous partial work

Last week when I was in San Francisco for Dreamforce I did a little experiment: I left the MacBook at home and only took my iPad 2, iPhone 4 and Blackberry.  Don’t laugh – this week at our analyst event I am loaded down with no only the MacBook plus all the stuff I took to Dreamforce, but also my Canon camera, my personal iPad (1) and a Kodak video camera.  So honestly, I did travel light last week – for me anyway.
In the final analysis it worked out really well.  There were only two things that I absolutely needed to do that I couldn’t get done on the devices I had with me:  approve an expense report (required me to login to a card authenticated website) and send someone a file I had on my desktop PC and didn’t have a copy of locally on my iPad or in my dropbox.  Everything else I needed to get done for work (and play) for the entire week was easily doable on the devices I had with me – and the work horse was the iPad 2.
While I intended to find out if traveling without a PC in tow was feasible for the things I need to to get, I learned a far more interesting lesson through the week: the tablet made me more comfortable doing work in smaller chunks.  When I work on a PC and open Outlook to get email, or Powerpoint to work on a presentation, the shear size of the program and its various options create an expectation that I will do something great.  The simplicity of an app causes no such inflated expectations.  If I open up my laptop (especially when mobile), resume from sleep, and then open an application, I’ve made a serious investment of time and energy – now I better do something amazing: research some potential cures for cancer, solve the world debt crisis or at least balance my check book.  On the other hand, if I flip open the smart cover on my ipad, tap the EverNote Icon and jot down three random ideas that seem interesting to me at the time, there are no feelings of shame, like I have somehow wasted my one chance to ask Buddha the secret to life.
And its not just me.  When I first noticed myself doing little bits of ‘work’ in odd moments walking from one session to another I looked around and noticed almost everyone else was doing it to.  It reminded me of a phrase I heard in the early days of social media: continuous partial attention, but now applied to getting work done rather than consuming content.  It seems rather simplistic, but most things that are truly powerful do: because these devices don’t let you do much, you don’t expect yourself to get a lot done, so the momentum required to actually cause you to start doing work is lower, which allows you to start to do work more often and therefore more work overall gets done – just in smaller chunks.
This new way of work may finally let us eat one bite of the work elephant at a time.  How do you find you work differently when mobile with just a smart device vs. a laptop?






2 responses to “Continuous partial work”

  1. Hilby Avatar

    Good post. I find I am more efficient at reading and sorting my email using a smartphone. I can organize and delete junk, and read things well, but actually replying is a pain with the small keyboard and auto-correct.

    1. Chris Avatar

      Yep. I should note that I did have an Apple wireless keyboard with me when I was doing my iPad only experiment for ‘big’ content creations sessions (emails, note taking and blogging mostly). There is a limit to how much you can input using the touch keyboards – although I do find that the slight tilt you get from the smart cover makes it a little more bearable to type on the screen keyboard of the ipad2.

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