Ditching My Laptop Saved My (Writing) Life

Ditching My Laptop Saved My (Writing) Life

Listen to the podcast episode here: https://www.nicoleroccas.com/018-2/

The other night, I popped in my earbuds and proceeded to type nearly 700 solid words of a book chapter. Not so extraordinary until you add the following: I managed to do this during the peak of my evening commute. While standing up. On a moving bus. Packed to the brim with other commuters.

If you would have told me a year ago I’d be able to write at all in those kinds of circumstances, let alone complete the better part of a book manuscript while on the go, I would have laughed in your face. But this past January, when my laptop bit the dust, I finally did something I’d been thinking about for a long time: I ditched my laptop in favor of a tablet. The switch has completely transformed not only my writing life but, how I function as a professional more generally.

In this post, I’m sharing what prompted this decision, what my tech setup is, and what I don’t use my tablet for.

Why I switched to a tablet

  • Limited multitasking = better focus. What first prompted me to consider switching to a tablet was a desire to set more intentional parameters around my tendency to multitask while writing and doing other task-oriented work. Between the smaller screen and app-based operating system, a tablet makes it more difficult to toggle between windows and tabs, or multitask across different apps simultaneously. Some may view this as an inconvenience, but it has helped me minimize distractions while writing and doing other tasks.
  • Portability = sanity. In the past, I’d often leave my laptop at home because it was too heavy and bulky to take with me on a daily basis. Although I opted for one of the widest tablets on the market, it’s still significantly sleeker, lighter and more mobile than the smallest laptop I’ve ever owned. Folks, my tablet fits in my small purse. Being able to keep my tablet with me on the go has helped me become more organized and efficient during one of the busiest personal and professional years of my life—and I don’t have a backache from my laptop bag to prove it.
  • Timesaver = commute saver. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ll (not) miss until it’s gone. I never realized how much the hassle of taking out my laptop and getting it fired up deterred me from using it, particularly in time-sensitive environments. Like most smartphones, my tablet turns on with the push of a single button—I can be typing away within 20-30 seconds. I can’t emphasize this enough: it’s so easy! Easier than I ever thought writing on the go could be. And all that ease-of-use translates into being able to maximize previously overlooked margins of time—I have literally typed portions of my current book while walking from one subway platform to another (the things one does when inspiration strikes).

My setup

  • As an “Android person” on a budget, I opted for the Samsung Galaxy Tab with a 10.1” screen (see it here). This is a rather large tablet, and I chose it because I assumed I’d miss the bigger screen of a laptop. I didn’t anticipate how much time I’d spend reading or text-typing while holding the laptop in my hands (as opposed to using it with a keyboard or on a stand). In the future, I will probably switch down to a 7 or 8” screen—I’m used to the smaller “screen” of a tablet now, and that size will be easier on my wrists.
  • Though I do a lot of text-typing, I still type fastest and easiest with a full, external keyboard. After testing several options, I settled on the Logitech Bluetooth Multi-Device Keyboard K480 and am pleased with it. It’s neither the sleekest nor the most expensive wireless keyboard out there, but I’m a picky typist and it’s now the only keyboard I use for all my devices, including my desktop computer. I love the cradle it has for tablets and phones—it effectively eliminates needing to use a tablet stand, and gives me a laptop experience when I want it. Unlike using a laptop, however, I can easily pick up the tablet and roam when I want to.

    The ultimate test: I recently used the keyboard to record minutes at the 3-day board meeting for the nonprofit where I work and I was impressed. I have been taking these minutes for several years and this was the first keyboard I didn’t want to smash against the wall halfway through the week. It was also my first time recording minutes without a laptop, and I loved that I could grab the tablet at a moment’s notice to go snap pdfs of board members’ notes for record-keeping, verify information with others without forcing them to sit in front of a computer, and show colleagues important documents or information in passing or over dinner.

5 apps that maximize my tablet experience

  • Google Drive—For my own personal writing, collaborative projects, and storing household and professional documents
  • Google Slides—I now use Google Slides for all my speaking engagements, and keep my slides on my tablet. Instead of printing out notes or using a laptop during my talk, I pull my slides up on my tablet and make sure to make my notes visible. Bonus: I can continue editing my slides while traveling to the talk without having to keep saving or resending ppt files to myself or the venue.
  • Heck, the whole Google Suite —Especially Google Tasks and Google Calendar. What makes Google helpful is that it’s fast and simple, and it syncs across all devices. I no longer step foot in a meeting without Tasks and Calendar ready to go.
  • Scanner Pro Plus—For scanning receipts, book pages, or anything else that I need to capture as a pdf. I have the paid version, which allows more options for formatting the documents.
  • XODO PDF Reader and Annotator —For marking up and taking notes on pdf files when using my tablet. I experimented with a few different markup apps and had the best experience with XODO. The app also lets you save and embed your notes into the pdf file to export elsewhere.

What I don’t use a tablet for

There are many heavy-lifting tasks I can’t or prefer not to use a tablet for. These tend to be tasks that actually require multitasking across different programs or software that’s not available in full form on tablets. I’ve always done these tasks on my desktop computer and will continue to do so.

Here are some examples:

  • Audio editing for podcasts
  • Final editing and posting of blog posts on WordPress
  • Scheduling social media posts for work
  • Graphic design and anything that deals with the backend of my websites
  • Professional editing for my clients
  • Some writing. (When I’m able working from the comfort of my home office, I still do a lot of writing on my desktop. But because I sync all my writing across devices using GoogleDrive, I often step away from my desk to write on my tablet in the living room or elsewhere.)
  • Final book edits and sewing chapters together into one manuscript

If you’re looking for a way to mobilize your writing life, I recommend experimenting with a tablet. It’s been the most useful professional purchase I’ve made this year and would love to hear how it works out for you!


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