I’ve had an iPad for several years and have talked before about how I use it in my day to day work as a professor and some of the applications (apps) that I prefer.
In that blog post from last November, I was using the app Week Cal as my calendar of choice. A few months ago there was a software update and a giant black bar of doom started appearing across the screen in the app. At first it was merely annoying and I figured that the next update would solve the problem. Nope. I contacted the company and was told that it was happening because I was using an iPhone app on an iPad. This was stated matter of factly and it was very clear that there was no motivation or desire to fix this particular issue. Based on that interaction I started my search for a new calendar app for iPad.
Originally my goal was to get something for free that would get the job done because I like a good deal. The Apple calendar app is o.k., but I find that entering things in is a bit clunky. I also used an app called Sunrise for a few weeks which was a step up from Apple’s offering, but I still wasn’t really happy. A few quick searches of some of my favourite productivity blogs (Asian Efficiency , LifeHacker yielded an interesting possibility. Many readers on those two sites recommended an app called Fantastical.
First of all I loved the name FastastiCAL because I am all about horrible puns and plays on words. There are two major advantages to this app based on my usage of it for ~2 weeks. The first is the layout of the calendar. The top half of the screen shows you a weekly view and by pulling down on this panel you can expand it to fill the screen. The bottom half is filled by two panels; the one of the left shows you a rolling log of the events that you have coming up or recently completed, and the right panel is a monthly view. The second major advantage is that entering events is a breeze because you can type them in sentence form and have the event appear in your calendar. For example, if I typed in “Meet Carla for lunch at McDonald’s on Sept. 29” an appointment with Carla from 12-1 p.m. at McDonald’s would appear on my calendar for Sept. 29th. This saves me a ton of time and also makes entering recurring appointments very simple. An added bonus that I really appreciate is that you can move around in your calendar when adding events so you can avoid double booking yourself, or can look up what you already have planned for a particular day. There is also the ability to add events to your calendar verbally, but I haven’t tried that option yet.
One caveat is that I don’t use Outlook for my calendar scheduling, so I’m not sure if the app is compatible with that program. I do believe that it interfaces with Google though.
The other drawback is that the app isn’t cheap compared to other calendars that are free or a few dollars to purchase, however based on my use of the app over the past few weeks it’s been worth every penny for me. Fantastical also comes for iPhone and I may look at putting it on that device in the upcoming weeks.
I received my first iPad as a Christmas present several years ago from my partner. Prior to that I had purchased an iPod and that was the first Apple device that I owned. I still use a PC laptop as my primary computing device at work, but I have integrated my iPad into my daily work flow. I am now on my second iPad (a first generation iPad Air). I thought that it might be interesting to other academics if I described how I use my iPad at work. Below I describe three of the apps that I use every day and how they have led to increases in my productivity as a scientist.
I used to use a paper calendar and was frustrated when appointments changed or got cancelled and entering repeating appointments was a pain. During the transition to an electronic calendar I maintained a paper and an electronic calendar for a few months because I was paranoid that the iCloud would eat my data. This never happened and I love the convenience of using an electronic calendar. I find that I prefer the Week Cal display and set-up compared to the Apple Calendar App. I found having an electronic calendar extremely useful when I was recently preparing my tenure file; it was easy to go back in time and look at the past 3 years of my life. I only use my calendar for appointments (i.e. I physically have to be somewhere at a certain time and place).
Academics are busy people and we have to keep a lot of balls up in the air at the same time. I am a typical type-A personality and prior to having my iPad I kept a notebook with a master to-do list and notes on each of the many projects that I had on the go. It was all there, but it wasn’t very organized or efficient. As a compulsive list maker I was looking for a program that was flexible and could deal with the complexities of my varied projects. Several years ago I read the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and it was a life changer. OmniFocus has had a similar positive impact on my productivity. The Omni company has recently released version 2 of the app for iPad. The program is very expensive for an app, but it has been worth every penny for me. The program also has a steep learning curve, but once you figure it out it is awesome!
The Clock app comes as a default app on the iPad and I use it in a few ways. When I’m doing a task for the first time, but I know that it’s a repeating task that I’ll need to do again in the future, I use the Stopwatch feature to determine how long it takes me to complete the task. I now know that it takes me about 15 minutes to reconcile my monthly research account spending on my corporate credit card. That’s useful information because I now know that I can get this task done in one of those awkward 15 minute chunks of time that pop up in my schedule.
I also use this app to avoid procrastinating on a task that I don’t feel like doing or to work on a project in short bursts. I like to break overwhelming projects into smaller pieces. I can usually do any task for 30 minutes even if I don’t really want to do it. I promise myself that I only have to work on that task for 30 minutes and then I’ll stop. This works like a charm; I’ve made progress, but the evil task from Hell hasn’t stolen my entire day. Working in these shorter periods of time of intense focus and taking quick breaks in between is called the Pomodoro technique.
These three apps in combination keep me on track, organized, and focused during my work days and have helped me to increase my productivity.
How are you using apps on your iPad in your work as an academic? Feel free to comment below.