No Luggage: How I Changed My Work Habits To Use Only A BlackBerry

I always planned that one of the main posts during No Luggage Week would have to cover how I altered my work habits to deal with not having a computer as my chief work device. But you know what? I really didn't have to make that many changes.When I told people about the No Luggage concept, there was widespread cynicism about whether it was possible to actually do all the regular work tasks a journalist has to perform using only a BlackBerry. Indeed, I think people were even more dismissive of that possibility than they were of my prospects of wearing the same outfit for a week and not looking and smelling like a hobo. (More on that another time.)

There's been a PC on my desk the whole time I've worked as a journalist, so I can understand the cynicism. But let's look at the key tasks I need to perform, and the app I need to perform them:

  • Tracking potential story ideas sent through email (built-in).
  • Tracking potential story ideas via Google Reader (browser).
  • Tracking developing story ideas off my list (Dropbox).
  • Meeting people and recording interviews (VR-Voice).
  • Writing and scheduling all those stories (MemoPad, WordPress).
  • Finding suitable illustrations for all those stories (camera, Screen Capture, Flickr via browser).
  • Talking to colleagues via email and phone (built-in).
  • Checking US stories from the feed and approving reader comments (WordPress).
  • Interacting on social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook).

There's nothing on that list that I can't do on my BlackBerry. There are tasks I do rather less regularly — video editing springs to mind — which would be trickier, but those really aren't something I have to do every day. And I can't test software on other platforms — Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, WP7 — but that's often the case when I'm on the road anyway, and it's not an issue many people would actually have to grapple with. The bottom line? Lifehacker has hit its usual marks — 34 local posts in four days so far this week — and I've been travelling only with a BlackBerry.

Adaptation principles

Clearly, working on a handheld device isn't identical to working on a notebook or desktop — even when the device has the rare combination of a keyboard, a pointing device and a touch screen. These are the shifts I've noticed and the techniques that have been most useful.

Typing speed is important, but not everything. I love the BlackBerry keyboard, and I'm still yet to encounter anything that matches it on a mobile device. But I don't kid myself: I can still type faster on the keyboard of more or less any computer (or netbook) out there.

So how do I deal with that? Rather than rapidly typing everything I think of and then editing it down, I run through everything in my head before my thumbs start flying. As with transcription, it's not how I normally work, but it works fairly well.

Mobile apps make life easier. Many of the tasks I perform regularly can be done in a browser-based environment, and BlackBerry OS 6 closely mimics the best-known desktop browsers. But the essential apps I installed work better, because they're designed to work on the platform.

Know the features of your device. If you've only got one device, you need to know every last feature, from fast text selection to how to quickly switch apps. Every keyboard shortcut and tweak you know can make a major difference.

For instance, one of the BlackBerry's most useful features for me is cross-app word substitution. I have a three-letter shortcut defined to type the HTML anchor tag, and that works in any app. Believe me, that saves a lot of time. Ditto using the shift key plus the pointer to select text. It's the cumulative effect of constantly using those options that makes the difference.

No device, no matter how smart, can do your job for you. Discipline and planning matter. I've spent a major chunk of this week on trains and planes, and that means having everything on schedule. Friday sees me hitting Perth, which adds even longer flights and a bigger time zone difference to the mix. But I know now that taking a PC out of the mix doesn't make that impossible. It can even be fun.

For the No Luggage experiment, Angus Kidman is doing his normal job while travelling Australia for a week with not much more than a BlackBerry. It might not work for everyone, but it definitely works for him.


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