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You knew your tablet would be fun, but you also thought it be productive. If it feels like you were wrong about the second point, and wish you weren’t, it’s time to put some thought into tablet productivity.

Tablets can be fantastic consuming information and playing games – and sometimes seem to be designed specifically for that. But there’s no reason you can’t also use your tablet to get some work done.

Tablet productivity is a subject that fascinates us. MakeUseOf staffer Christian Cawley used nothing but a tablet for one week MakeUseOf Experiments: Going Tablet-Only For a Week & Staying Productive MakeUseOf Experiments: Going Tablet-Only For a Week & Staying Productive You took one look at the headline and thought "this guy is crazy", right? That's pretty much what I thought at first, but as the week progressed I found myself struggling with apps, multi-tasking and... Read More , just to see if he could do it. The results were mixed. I feel like using your tablet as a computer replacement isn’t a bad idea, but you can probably think of a few things your tablet does better than your computer. Figure out what those things are and you can use your “toy” productively. Let’s think about this, okay?

Find Specific Tablet Tasks

If your tablet feels like a toy it’s probably because you use it as one. You’ve filled it with games, and social media apps, and distractions. There’s nothing wrong with that: these apps are fun to use, easy to find, and work great with your tablet’s form factor.

But they’re not the only use for your tablet, which also offers productivity advantages. Think about it:

  • Your tablet turns on instantly, and applications load instantly.
  • Tablet apps are designed to be simple, focusing on doing one thing well. This means they’re relatively free of distractions (even if the device itself isn’t).
  • Browsing a large amount of information, quickly, is easy with the right apps and gestures.
  • Your tablet is very portable, and can be used just about anywhere.
  • Your tablet has an easy-to-use camera.

There are downsides too, of course: offline usage is sometimes a lot harder on a tablet. But if you think your tablet can’t be productive, you’re probably not thinking of these strengths while selecting which tasks would work well on the device.

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To get thinking, here are a few examples from my personal workflow:

  • Research: the browser on your tablet is fast, and loads quickly. Take advantage of it, and clipping apps like Evernote, to dig into any subject from the couch. The information will be waiting for you on your computer when it’s time to put it all together.
  • Reading: If you read the news regularly, the best apps for the job are tablet work wonderfully on your tablet. Most even work offline.
  • To-Do Lists: My personal tool of choice is HabitRPG, which turns productivity into a game HabitRPG Makes Improving Yourself Actually Addictive HabitRPG Makes Improving Yourself Actually Addictive Change your habits for the better by tying them into challenges in a role playing game. Level up for doing things you know you should and lose hit points for indulging in habits you know... Read More . But whatever your tool of choice, there’s something satisfying about physically tapping the checkmark.

This is just a few ideas: you’ll have your own. MakeUseOf editor Ryan Dube couldn’t find a single use for his tablet I Can't Find a Single Productive Use For My Tablet [Opinion] I Can't Find a Single Productive Use For My Tablet [Opinion] First off, I have to say that like most of you reading this, I love technology. I love it. I dream about it so much that I just had to write an article about where... Read More , but put some thought into it and found ways your tablet can boost your desktop computer at work Use Your Android Tablet To Boost Your Desktop Computer at Work Use Your Android Tablet To Boost Your Desktop Computer at Work Android tablets have a ton of potential, with the ability to use bluetooth, wi-fi, awesome cameras on the front and back, a keyboard and mouse, and a small form-factor that make it highly portable. In... Read More . His uses include keeping track of Google Analytics – a big part of his job – and scanning documents to PDF quickly.

The point is to find some tasks that work well on your tablet, then save those tasks for times when you’ll be near your tablet and not your computer. This can turn what would otherwise be downtime into productive time.

Once you’ve figured out which tasks will work well on your tablet, you need to find the right apps for the job. I recommend starting with out best of Android apps and best iPad apps lists.

Make Your Own Dashboard

Your tablet can be a great tool for quickly overviewing various pieces of information. Simon once outlined 3 iPad dashboard apps 3 Cool Dashboard Apps For Your iPad [iOS] 3 Cool Dashboard Apps For Your iPad [iOS] Despite the effort I put into keeping my Mac tidy, the thing that most helps me to quickly glean information from my computer is its clutter. Open up the lid and everything you could possibly... Read More , which show you an quick look at things like your email inbox or the weather. Here’s My Dashboard, for example:

These apps are customizable, and basically let you add a certain number of widgets. If there’s any information you like to constantly refer to during the day, dashboards can turn your tablet into a screen specifically for showing you those things.

But you don’t necessarily need to purchase an app for that. If you’re an Android user, the often overlooked widget function gives you an easy way to combine these three things into a single screen. Just find the widgets offered by your email, calendar and to-do apps of choice and drag them to a single screen:

tablet-producivity-widgets

Now you can use your computer to get things done and your tablet to track your progress. You can change this up, of course: maybe you don’t use a to-do list regularly. Other potentially useful widgets to use instead include the weather, Google Analytics, headlines, Twitter or stock prices – it all depends on what your do. Using your tablet to track information like this can be a great way to oversee a lot of data at a glance – just customize it to work for you.

Get a Keyboard

This is a serious productivity boost: get a keyboard for your tablet. If you can touch-type, this is practically essential. Many have mastered the art of typing on their tablets, but for serious work (work that requires typing, at least) a dedicated keyboard is going to make everything easier. Having a keyboard removes one of the key downsides of a tablet: the inability to type quickly and comfortably.

Not only will you be able to type faster, but more of the text you’re working on will be visible as you do so (no on-screen keyboard taking up half the screen). A keyboard won’t turn your tablet, with its tablet operating system, into a full-fledged desktop. What it will do, however, is make it comfortable to write and edit long documents.

Don’t Mix Work And Distractions

It’s become a truism: computers are for creating things, tablets are for consumption. If you find this true for you, don’t worry: it’s still possible for your tablet to be productive. Just realize that it’s a device you use for fun, then take advantage of that to better separate your break time from when you should be focusing.

If you use the Pomodoro Technique to keep focus (and really, you should be Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More ) consider separating your “focused” time and your “break” time by using different devices for each. Pomodoro, in essence, means working for 25 minutes without distraction, then taking a five minute break. After four full work periods, you take a longer break.

Work on your computer for 25 minutes, then get up for your five minute break, taking your tablet along. Browse your Twitter or Facebook feeds, standing, then get back to your computer when it’s time to get to work. You could even block time-wasting websites on your computer How to Really Block Time-Wasting Websites How to Really Block Time-Wasting Websites Finding yourself unproductive because of distracting sites? Block them. No, seriously: block them. If you've got work to get done, and you can't focus because the Internet is too fascinating, make it impossible for your... Read More if you want, helping to force you to not user your computer for anything distracting.

Separating your “work” device from your “play” one makes the work/break paradigm easier to self-enforce.

Tablets As Tools

The point of this article isn’t to justify your tablet purchase, or to decry their usefulness as productive machines. Both devices have merits, and it’s up to you to sort out what works best for your workflow.

Our very own Mihir Patkar compared high-end tablets to cheap laptops Which Is Best for Productivity: A High-End Tablet Or a Cheap Laptop? Which Is Best for Productivity: A High-End Tablet Or a Cheap Laptop? How does a cheap laptop compare to an expensive tablet when it comes to actually working on a daily basis? Read More for productivity, and found tablets wanting. The comments claimed he didn’t go far enough, that tablets were obviously useless.

What I’d like to hear, though, is ways all of you have found to use your tablet productively. Fill us in in the comments, okay?

  1. John
    January 21, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Three weeks into the new college term, all the new students went out to buy a case, a keyboard etc to turn their shiny new tablets into laptops. Come presentation time they all had trouble getting from (micro) HDMI to ye old 15 pin VGA D plug on every college projector. The wise old staff all hump round trusty old HPs, Toshibas and Sony Viao laptops .... Apple invented the touch screen tablet for folk to buy another Apple product on top of their ipod, iphone and Mac Book. The Android spin off market is just the same. You still need a phone and a laptop and a tablet. Some of us poor video editors also need a twin screen i7 monster PC for work as well. I do like the idea of walking / standing and tabletting between PC workstation stints. I suppose I'm lucky, my video edit PC isn't even on the network unless I need an update.

  2. Ewe
    January 21, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I've found a couple of ways to actually USE my tablet to DO things rather than to consume things (read, play games, listen to stuff). Not so much work-related productivity, but useful nevertheless. I do stretching exercises that require me to change positions every 30 seconds. A lovely app called Insight Timer (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.spotlightsix.zentimerlite2) uses beautiful Tibetan singing bowl sounds to mark intervals of time that you define. It is good for meditation, too. And I turned my old Kindle tablet into a clock radio at night. Since it recharges every night anyway, at least now it is working while recharging. The free app My Alarm Clock (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.apalon.myclockfree) allows me to display time and weather info, set a morning alarm that will wake me to music, and set a sleep timer that plays music while I fall asleep.

  3. Ernie
    January 21, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Your recommendation about Evernote clipping is interesting. I can't live without it on a PC or laptop, but on my tablet it is almost useless. I can send a web page to Evernote, thereby recording the URL in a note, and I can put a tag on it, but I've never been able to figure out how to "clip" in the usual sense. If you've got a way to do that, I'd sure like to know how.

  4. dragonmouth
    January 21, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    First we have to define what we mean by productivity. If we mean get online, process some emails, do some light wordprocessing, do some research, then even a smartphone will suffice. If we mean use many of the MS Office features, do web design or other forms of programming, then a tablet is woefully inadequate. Useful tasks can be found for the tablet to do, mostly as a mobile extension of a laptop.

    Once you start adding a peripherals (k/b, mouse, etc) to make your stand-alone tablet "more productive", an laptop becomes a better choice. It already has the peripherals built in. It has way more storage available, and more ports. Most importantly, it has more horsepower so that you can use a full-blown O/S and applications rather than those designed for toys and smartphones. The only advantages a tablet has over a laptop are weight and batteries last longer.

    • Justin P
      January 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Yeah, I still feel a laptop is better for productivity – for me. Plenty of people disagree, and workflow is a very personal thing. This article is meant for people who have a tablet and wish they could use it for more productive work.

  5. Tom S
    January 21, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I wish I could remember exactly who it was, but about a year ago, a "respected" blogger, supposedly very knowledgeable in computer circles, had a column saying that tablets were useless for any kind of real work, and at best, were a passing fad.
    Maybe the reason I can't find the column is that he isn't working anywhere any more

    • Justin P
      January 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      I'd assume you're talking about me, but you used the word "respected" and said knowledgable, so it can't be me. I'm neither of those things.

      http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/4-reasons-glad-netbook-tablet-opinion/

      And in any case, I never called tablets useless, or a fad: I said I was glad I didn't buy one. I still haven't: mine was given to me. I've found ways to use it for work, but I certainly don't need it.

  6. likefunbutnot
    January 20, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    A "work" tablet is a couple different things:

    It's a portable workspace viewer

    For this to work properly, you need some system for accessing the same files on your PC that you do on your device. Depending on your needs, this could mean moving your "work" document storage to cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Skydrive or OwnCloud. There may be some adjustment needed to make this functional, such as a workgroup-style shared Cloud storage service like SkyDrive Pro or Dropbox for Business, and obviously that's going to depend a great deal on your employer's view on cloud-based data storage, but keeping documents someplace where mobile devices can see them is one of the keys to making a tablet a productivity device.

    Your Tablet NEEDS a way to open the documents you make and use. Google Drive/Docs will natively open many formats. Android Users can get tools like QuickOffice or Polaris Office as well. iFruit people also have common document opening tools and as far as I know every Windows RT device comes with MS Office anyway. For that matter, anyone who doesn't have an iPad can use Office 365 - full-blown Office 2013 - for $60/year.

    If your documents aren't in a mobile-friendly format (e.g. CAD, video production), then no, the mobile device probably isn't going to be terribly helpful, but on the other hand you probably also don't have a great need for mobility if that's the case.

    You'll probably need to figure out some kind of printing solution. Google Cloud Print runs on just about everything (except Surface RT, which actually handles printing pretty well all on its own).

    If all of those things are present, you're going to have the ability to at least VIEW or preview work in progress when you're away from your desk.

    Your mobile device is also made to keep you in touch with others.

    Some newer Android tablets and all Windows tablets support multi-user functionality. You can easily configure a work-specific user account if you'd rather not mix personal and work data. All mobile devices DO support adding multiple user accounts for E-mail, Calendar and Contact info, but for my work-provided devices I prefer to segregate personal from professional settings.

    Mail/Calendar/Contact Sync are going to be organization-dependent. Some devices work better with some services than others. Google Apps works great with everything, and most devices can talk Exchange ActiveSync natively, but you may have to roll your own solution if you're using some random POP3 Email Server and keeping your calendar and contact info in a PC-based client like Outlook. I usually find that it's easier to transition someone to Gmail or Outlook.com so that data can more easily be synchronized than it is to hunt down some random collection of third-party apps for keeping web data in line with a local copy.

    My mobile devices also have an app-ified version of my business VoIP service. I can actually make calls from my business line from Android and iOS devices including tablets. I'm not sure how readily available that service is among business VoIP services, but it certainly helps me.

    Your Mobile Device is a really good data terminal

    Tablets have up-to-date, modern web browsers. They have relatively high-resolution screens. They're all relatively secure from malware and easily locked down. All of those things mean that a tablet makes a great system for collecting and entering data. This may or may not be a normal part of your professional life, but it's undeniably part of normal business activity.

  7. Oswaldo Bellido
    January 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I use my laptop to read and edit drawing files at my desk, and I use a tablet to view on site, the PDF files I generate from the drawings.

  8. Shawn
    January 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I have a 10.1' Galaxy Tab 2; I added a $33.00 keyboard to that had a mousepad and now I hardly take my laptop anywhere.
    I think the big difference between the two:
    - Laptops are generally for being stationary
    - Tablets do better when moving a lot.

  9. Michael Stringer
    January 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    I've moved from my company supplied laptop and started using a high end tablet (Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 editon) for its replacement. I can remote to my old laptop, or to the hosted company desktop the provide for an computing tasks that require Windows and access to documents.

    I have edited with Polaris Office 5 directly, but full blown Office 2013 is still the standard for creating.

    I have a bluetooth keyboard and mouse (Logitech Tablet Keyboard and Microsoft Wedge mouse), but there's a bug in Android 4.3.1 around multiple input bluetooth devices, so I'm using the pen as a viable mouse.

    Overall, the fact my laptop bag is now 10x12x5 and weighs in at less than 2 lbs is by far the best change. With remote capability to my old laptop and company desktop, I've able to work with little to no loss in functionality, but the application set on my Android-based tablet would get me around 75% of my functionality. Oddly enough, the mail application is the largest disappointment. I need full formatting capability that Outlook comes with standard.

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