Pointers Extra: Getting Things Done with iPad Pro
Apple's latest device is terrific for GTD
Do take a look at that previous series, as everything still applies, and a giant part of this is how well Apple devices play together: you can tell your Watch to remind you of a task you want to do, and know that it will be on your Mac immediately. Equally, if you don't have an iPad Pro, you should look away now, as this is a reason to buy one.
Not to overstate this, but...
GTD is based on three steps that you repeat over and over: Capture, Process, and Review. We want to argue that the iPad Pro, more than any other device, adds a fourth part we'd called Create. Take a look at the start of an idea we were working on: that's the mind mapping app MindNode on the left, and the outlining one OmniOutliner on the right.
We knew very broadly what we wanted to do, but getting to the stage where we had a regular To Do list to pull it off was a long journey, and we got there faster by doing this. We started to doodle on the mind map, then thought of a specific thing we'd need to remember, so we swiped MindNode to the side, opened OmniOutliner, and jotted that down. Then, as it happened, we stayed more in the outliner -- because each item we'd think to add to the mind map needed a lot of detail, and it was easier to type in the outline.
So arguably on our way to creating tasks we could've done this on an iPad Air, like we would've done before. Start in MindNode, swap to OmniOutliner, maybe swap back, maybe not. Having the two, though, right in front of us all the time made our schizophrenic minds work both visually and in text. Then, with a swipe, we were able to keep the outline, open up a book in iBooks to consult something. Swipe and we've got the outline plus design app OmniGraffle, where we tried out how something might look.
On and on we went over several days, not writing a single To Do task and actually not doing any tasks, but forming an idea and pressing down on the details until we were ready. Then we swiped OmniOutliner over to full screen, worked through the mass of notes we'd created, and selected the actual tasks we'd decided we needed to do. Copied that, opened our To Do app OmniFocus in the other half of the screen, and pasted all the tasks in.
Doubtlessly we'd have got there without the iPad Pro, but picture us entirely absorbed in the job instead of thinking what app to switch to next. Most of our tasks in life and work come from other people, and we just need to capture them before we can get them done, but here the iPad Pro helped us fashion a whole project.
About that capture
Pasting tasks into OmniFocus is an OmniFocus feature, not an iPad Pro one, and actually we'd have enjoyed a tiny bit more help from the Apple device there. Pasting a lot of tasks into OmniFocus at once means going to that app's inbox, pressing and holding on the bar at the top, and then tapping the Paste button. That's fine, but it would've been a little handier to be able to press the Paste button that is on the iPad Pro's on-screen keyboard.
When we work with the iPad Pro in a Logitech Create keyboard case, OmniFocus supports the Mac-style Command-V for paste too, and that would've been handier still, but doesn't work in this situation. Though if you have any external keyboard connected, press and hold the Command key, and you'll see a huge number of keyboard shortcuts that have been added for iOS 9 and the iPad Pro in the Omni Group's apps.
Initially, we practically disregarded the iPad Pro for capture: the part of David Allen's Getting Things Done where you just write down everything you need to do. When you're first starting, that's like a giant mass dump of information, thoughts, worries, hopes and concerns: every one of which we could've typed into any app we liked. Once you've done that, and are working through actually doing tasks, though, capture becomes how you add anything new that comes up -- and this is where we thought the iPad Pro failed.
It's just too big to get out while you're driving, for instance. You're not going to pause while walking and pull it out of your bag either. We had a train ride where we were so jostled together that we could barely get out our Apple Watches -- though at the next station, enough people left that we could work on our iPhones. Then at the next, enough got off that we could switch to our iPad Air. At the third station, we could get our our iPad Pro.
At the fourth station, the entire carriage watched to see what we'd do. We got off.
In practice, we now rarely turn to our iPad Air: even though this is much bigger, the iPad Pro is sufficiently light and it is so fast that we do now automatically turn to it. Which means we do have it beside us a lot, if it's not the very machine we're working on, so we do capture many tasks by typing directly into it.
Other times, we will regularly ask our Apple Watches to remind us of something, and know that as soon as we've said it, that task is on our iPad Pro. It's also on all our other devices, but it's become handiest on the Pro because of how quickly we can later deal with certain types of those tasks. For instance, we've had problems with expense-tracking apps, and got into the habit of just telling our Apple Watches to remind us that we spent this or that on some job or other. It's handy at that point, just lift your Watch and speak, but it became a chore to process it all at the other end -- until the iPad Pro.
On our iPhones and iPad Airs, we'd see that reminder pop up in our To Do list, and to be honest we'd either leave it there forever or we'd figure, what the hell, it was only a coffee. Only when we were very good, or very poor, did we read that task, open up our Numbers spreadsheet, add the details, and go back to mark it as done.
Yet on the iPad Pro, that's exactly what we do. OmniFocus's inbox on one side, Numbers on the other. We fly through those expenses entries, and in moments we've moved these scraps of information to where we need them. It is unquestionably faster, but what's key is that it feels faster still: we don't have that cognitive break as we think about swapping to another app and back, we don't have that we're-getting-old feeling as we immediately forget a number we just saw right there. Now it's really right there, in front of us, and it's dealt with.
Processing is all about this taking of tasks you've captured and at least working out what you're going to do with them. If it's something absurdly simple -- like we paid how much for Starbucks? -- then that's not even really a task, we just take that note and it's done. Most of the time, most of the tasks we capture during the day are like clues to bigger jobs.
"Chase Burt about that wrench," for instance, might be important, but it's a rubbish task even if you only know one Burt. You need to think about it, but that's the point of processing: get that task out of your head when it occurs to you on your way back from lunch, then process it later. We do only know one Burt, we're not ever going to forget him since that thing by the place where we went that time -- but what we don't happen to have at our fingertips is when we loaned him the wrench. So, processing at the iPad Pro, we can have our To Do list with that task up on the left, we can open Mail and see when we last asked him about it.
If it were something more elaborate, or if we'd realized how long he'd keep the thing, we might've made a calendar entry, and now we could check that without leaving our To Do app. Perhaps before we could phone him, he drops by with the wrench, and the other wrench we'd forgotten about: we could now open Day One next to the task, and make an entry for this Dear Diary moment.
More often, we're in email. Whatever you do, it involves other people, and the odds are high that this means it involves email. When you've got a list of half-thought out tasks in your To Do app's inbox, you will find that many of them are emails, and you can just race through writing them. See the task, write the email, mark the task as done. As this happens to make up a giant part of our day, we can spend hours with a To Do app on one side, Mail on the other.
However, it's when we've got much more involved tasks to process that the iPad Pro feels like it changes. Say the task we speak into our Apple Watch is something like "Reply to X with dates and a proposal." That's when processing takes longer than darting off an email, and this is where we deeply enjoy having the iPad Pro. Forget all this business of having two apps open at once, just swat one away and, in our case, make OmniFocus full screen.
Do see our earlier features about this for details of exactly what we do in OmniFocus (or that you can do in Things, Todoist or similar) but with the iPad Pro, you feel like you're reaching into your To Do list. It feels the way you do kneading bread: the screen is so big that you've got both hands in there, tapping on a project list, swiping something over here, typing this over there.
Truly, we've sometimes amassed so many tasks during a day that you could go pale, but we can then happily -- actually happily --spend a couple of hours inside our To Do list this way. Preferably, we spend a lot of that time doing tasks, but even massaging them into projects, assessing how much we can do on a day, thinking about who we should hire or delegate something to -- it all feels active and engaged with our To Do list, instead of hiding away from it.
That deep immersion where you are absorbed in your list and are clearing through the tasks like nobody's business is meant to happen when you start the last of Getting Things Done's three elements. The Review is where, in an ideal world, you take yourself off to a quiet corner and read over every single task in every single group or project you've got. Read the lot, tick off the ones you've done, add new ones that occur to you, realize that you're not going to do X and that you've lost interest in Y, so you delete them both.
The purpose of Review is to apply our talent for doing things and assessing tasks. Do that now, do Review regularly, and when it's done, you can clear your head and forget everything. Forget the lot until your To Do app nudges you, or you come to the next Review.
Hand on heart, we could not tell you one single difference that doing an OmniFocus review on the iPad Pro makes, but it is different. Where it's often felt like kneading bread, during the review it's more like spreading everything out on the table in front of you. Seeing the bigger picture on the bigger screen. It's another reason our iPad Air is now being used less than we expected, and why we're increasingly willing to get out this huge and expensive new iPad in restaurants.
Having said that
This has been a rather unqualified hymn of praise to the iPad Pro, and it's because we like it so much that we're doing this addition to our GTD series from last year. There are some qualifications to make, though, and if none of them are substantial, they do add up. Since a lot of what we enjoy with the iPad Pro is subjective and often quite nebulous, it's fair that some of what we don't enjoy is the same.
Take the keyboard. We do use the Logitech Create keyboard, we do use a Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard. We also use a Logitech K380 and we've tried Apple's last-generation wireless keyboard, as we've irrevocably moved to the new Magic Keyboard. All of them are fine, all are even very good at times, but it is now solely when we use an external keyboard that we become aware of the size of this iPad.
When it's in the Logitech Create case, for instance, it feels less like an iPad and more like a windbreaker. When we use any of the other keyboards, we have to prop up the iPad Pro somewhere -- or use a case like the DODOcase for iPad Pro -- and that keeps the screen a little away from us. Consequently, we tend to just use the onscreen keyboard, even when that obviously obscures a huge amount of the screen.
It's just too handy having it on our knees, it's just too much a part of the kneading feeling when our hands are on the glass, and if we don't sound like we're complaining about this, we're not. Not this part. The kneading and the knees, that's good. It's that of course it is harder to type on the glass than on an external, physical keyboard. That's to be expected, and not only are we used to it from all iPads, but it has never stopped us writing thousands of words this way. Plus, the on-screen keyboard on the iPad Pro is unquestionably the best virtual one we've ever used: it is full-size, or near enough that it feels as if it is. Having the number keys on a row instead of requiring us to press a button first is superb -- once we train our fingers to remember it.
Yet we make more mistakes on the virtual keyboard, and some of them aren't necessary. It's designed to be as close to identical with an iMac's physical keyboard as possible, but look at that caps lock key. It's in the right place, but press it and nothing happens. To get caps lock on, you have to double-tap the shift key. Then we are forever tapping that globe-key, the keyboard-switching one, instead of that shift key.
For some reason that we can't figure out nor reliably reproduce, we can press the left shift key and, say, the 9 and get a 9, instead of the ( we should get. Do the same with the right shift key, and it works. That's got to be down to our fingers missing something, but it's frustrating, especially as failing to get the ( can leave the shift key switched on, so you're getting characters you don't expect.
Also, we happen to like using iPads in portrait or vertical. It just feels right: books and magazines feel like books and magazines. Yet the iPad Pro was designed, we feel, for landscape or horizontal work. All the split-screen stuff works in portrait, but looks ugly, like it's contorted to fit the smaller width. Also as light as the iPad Pro is, holding it vertically gets your hands tired far faster -- and it's also the only other time you will be reminded how massive this screen is.
That massive screen is really the only difference in the iPad Pro that has an impact on productivity and Getting Things Done. We have edited podcasts on it, where the better speakers were a boon, but we've yet to do a complete show with it. So it's the screen and how it changes the way you interact with the iPad that makes the difference, that makes it immersive.
It's enough. We've previously recommended Apple gear for GTD and we still do -- we just now recommend the iPad Pro most of all.
-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher)