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Smart Phone Working

There’s a lot of stuff online about being more productive by using your SmartPhone (personally I use an iPhone) as a piece of office equipment, so that you can work from where-ever you are, whenever you want/need.

Great, as far as it goes.

But here’s the problem – what if the benefits of working like that are outweighed by the costs.

This is the first of two articles which look at ways you can use your SmartPhone as a mobile office: in the second of these I’m going to look at some of the more widely used, general purpose apps you can use. (There’s not much point in discussing specific-use apps, as each of us will have different needs because we do different things and so our specific-use apps will need to be different.)

Today though, I’m going to look at if the idea is a good one in the first place.

SmartPhone working – the ups

Let’s start with what’s good about using your SmartPhone as a mobile office.

Dealing with emergencies – whenever something arrives in your inbox marked ‘urgent’ you can find yourself a quiet corner of the street and bash of an email almost immediately. The client won’t have to work for hours (or even days) for you to reply when you’re next in your office.  Admittedly, you might not have all the information at your fingertips and you might not be able to concentrate as much as you would otherwise, but at the very least you can send a ‘holding’ email so that your client knows you’ve got the stuff and you’re working on it.

In my experience that’s often enough and can go a long way to mitigating any problems.

Deadtime can become less dead – you might not be as productive in your dentist’s waiting room as you would be in your own office but at least with your SmartPhone by your side you can get something done. At the very least, even if you can’t create anything, you can read/listen to things.

You feel more confident – it might not be that you actually do more things, but just knowing that you could handle something can give you more of a chance to enjoy what you’re doing. In my gym-time I’ve often got my phone with me (either music or podcast listening) and that means I’m more likely to stay in the gym for longer, knowing that if I get a phone call or email about my business I’m going to know about it – there’s no nagging background, lurking anxiety about missing out on something.

I’m not pretending for a moment this is a comprehensive list, just a starting point, off the top of my head.

SmartPhone working – now the downs

So then… There are advantages – but what about the downs?

You’re not efficient – for me, I have to admit, this is a killer. What takes me 30 seconds to do on my big-screen, powerful Mac computer in the office can take what-feels-like-forever on the tiny screen and small, soft keyboard of my phone, no matter how Smart that Phone is. I have to ask myself it it wouldn’t be quicker in the long run to just leave a task until I’m back in the office.

Yes, I know that doesn’t respond to to clients as quickly but sometimes it’s about quality not quantity.

(The obvious compromise is a quick-fire response from your SmartPhone to say you’re working on it but then work on it when you’re better equipped (that is, back in your office!).)

It stops you enjoying yourself – yeah, before you ask, this is the flip side of the point I made before about being able to take time off confidently. The fact is that sometimes, instead of making you feel free and liberated it makes you feel you’re still in the office. We attach certain states of mind and behaviours with places (have you noticed that you start to behave more like a child when you go back to your parent’s house for Christmas? 🙂 ) and for better or worse, our SmartPhones are sometimes associated in our minds with work.

When that happens instead of feeling like we’ve left the office, it feels like the office is in our back pockets, still with us.

Being “always on” isn’t the way to go!

It stops you enjoying other people – it’s one thing to put your head into your SmartPhone when you’re alone (or want to be left alone!) but it’s quite another when you’re with friends. How often have you looked over at a different table in the restaurant you’re at and seen three or four people on a near-by table all on their phones, texting other people, instead of enjoying the people they’re with!?

Don’t forget the apps on your phone are designed by very, very smart people to make them addictive. They want you to spend time on them so they make them do two things: want to look at them; and carry on looking at them.

Many of these apps are not designed to be efficient – instead they’re designed to be a time-suck!

It tempts you with The Big Shiny – there’s always something new coming out. In fact only this week I’m trying out a replacement to my trusty Evernote (the THE notetaking app). Unless you’re very disciplined you end up always checking out the next new thing… and the next… and the next… each time hoping that you’re going to find The One. That makes about as much sense as a series of one night stands trying to find a partner-for-life: you need more than just one date!

Again, I’m not pretending this is a comprehensive list – just my first thoughts!

SmartPhone working – so what’s the verdict?

Unhelpfully l’m in the air!  (If you’ll pardon the AIR pun!). I can see both advantages and disadvantages, so how about some common-sense balance? I’ve spent many a productive train journey listening to podcasts and so on – but similarly I’ve spent many an unproductive session in a cafe (or having a ‘day off’) … both as a result of my SmartPhone.

So after much experimentation, here’s what I’ve done as a compromise to try and get the best balance. YMMV, of course!

I’ve kept my working apps on my phone, so I can use them when I need to but:

  • I’ve taken them off my home screen and put them in a folder so that they don’t immediately grab my attention if I happen to look at my phone for a ‘valid’ reason
  • similarly I’ve turned off notifications so that they don’t shout at me, jumping up and down saying “look at me, look at me!”
  • When I do get something coming in that would be better handled immediately I make a conscious choice about whether it’s better to fight through things on my phone or wait till I’m back in the office: almost inevitably I end up sending a message saying some nice version of “Got your message and I’ll look at it as soon as I’m in the office”. Then I add it to my notifications of things to do in the office and get on with my day.
  • I’m pretty strict with m Do Not Disturb settings. Lots of my clients have my mobile phone number so they can (and feel they can) get to me personally and quickly. However, when I’m having time off my DND is on. That means I can be confident of responding pretty quickly, but on my terms.

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