Do Multiple Devices Boost Your Productivity — or Your Overwhelm?

multiple-devices-boost-productivityHow many devices do you have? Does having multiple devices boost your productivity — or just add to the feeling of being overwhelmed? Reader A has an interesting question:

So I was wondering, how many pieces of technology do you and your readers have? I am increasingly getting overwhelmed by it all. I have a desktop both at home and at work of course, then an iPad, then a MacBook Air, then my personal iPhone, and my work iPhone!! Too much I am thinking. So, if you had to ditch one (or more than one), what would it be? I would think the home desktop; yet, it is a pain to connect remotely to my desktop at work from my laptop or others. What then?

Interrrrrresting question — I’ve talked about my being overwhelmed by information, but not about device overwhelm. I’m curious to hear what readers say here, but I may have some solutions for you to help prevent device overwhelm… (That said, if possible I would ditch one of your two iPhones if at all possible — but if you’ve maintained two for so long I’m guessing it’s because there is a valid reason for it, and of course work/life separation is important.)

There’s a lot of interesting reading about how having different devices can actually boost your productivity; as this Wired article describes, it helps you focus by associating certain tasks with certain screens. (Question for the hive: does anyone have a multiple-monitor setup? How do you like it?) Here’s how I use this method:

  • I use my desktop almost exclusively for daily blog stuff.
  • I use my laptop (which doesn’t do well without a power cord) as a standing workstation (I just set it on top of our credenza), usually when I’m opening a zillion bookmarks and shopping for TPS reports or the like.
  • I use my iPad for work email as well as for focused writing with my Bluetooth keyboard. (OK, I also use my iPad for fun web surfing while watching television.)
  • I still use my netbook for work whenever I travel. (It’s very clunky but gives me a PC experience.)
  • I’m pondering getting a Kindle because I’ve learned that I simply do not read books and other long-form things on my iPad but would like something to bring to my bedside table. (Although really, if I could find the cord for the Orbo my son hates I could use that as a Kindle!)

That said, I do depend on a few different services to keep everything aligned among my devices, and I highly recommend them if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • LastPass: I started using LastPass to share passwords with various people who work with me on the blog (Kate, my old tech guy, my new tech lady, my sometimes virtual assistant) and love it as an easy, secure way to store my passwords and log in easily from different devices. I’ve also got the app version on my iPhone and iPad, and it has come in handy for those few times I want/need to log in somewhere from my iPad without going to the computer. LastPass Premium (which lets you sync on your apps) is $12 a year.
  • Xmarks: I use this to keep my bookmarks synced among my different computers. I’m not a huge fan of it on my iPad, but then again, I’m also not a huge fan of opening 60 bookmark tabs at once on my iPad. Still, I think I do pay for Xmarks Premium, which is bundled with LastPass Premium for $20/yr.
  • Pocket: Whenever I see an article I like I just add it to my Pocket reading queue, which means my phone and iPad always have reading material on them.
  • Dropbox and Google DocsThis may or may not be secure enough for work-related stuff, but I use Dropbox all the time if I need a document to be readily accessible no matter where I am. I suppose I separate them like this: If it’s a picture or a PDF I’m more likely to throw it in Dropbox because it’s more easily deleted and I like to keep my Google Docs fairly lean and clean. If it’s something that I want to eventually finish with a full Microsoft program (Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) then I will move it around on Dropbox rather than going through Google Docs. But: if it’s a “living” document that is likely to live in the cloud and never be finished (such as our list of editorial ideas, or the Corporette tech changelog, or things like that) then into Google Docs it goes.
  • Remember the MilkI only use the free version of this (which allows you to sync only once every 24 hours between devices), but it works for me — I keep my to-do lists, various action items to remember, ideas for TPS and CB reports, and more on RTM. I use it mostly for blog-related stuff, but I have few separate lists for personal items.
  • Pinterest and Evernote: If I see a recipe I like, or an idea for a gift/activity/etc., or something similar, I throw it into my personal Pinterest account — because it’s cloud-based I know to look there first. I use Evernote the same way but for articles or ideas. (For example, I keep reading articles about bloggers starting online courses or the like; I throw all of those into Evernote so they’ll all be in one place if/when I finally decide to think about that.)
  • BFolders: It won’t sync on my iPad or iPhone (grumble), but I do use it to sync among my laptop, netbook, and PC — it’s where I keep all of my addresses, notes, ideas, and other stuff that I used to keep in my Palm Pilot (although the new Notes system in iOS 9 is getting much closer to something I like).

Readers, what are your thoughts: Do you like having multiple devices for productivity or work/life separation reasons? Or do you just feel overwhelmed by too many devices? What apps or services do you use to keep your devices aligned (or distinct!) with one another? 


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. Work laptop
    Home laptop
    iPad mini

    I don’t have my work email on my iPhone and am holding out on that for as long as I can.

  2. Work laptop
    Home laptop

    Husband’s work laptop
    Husband’s home laptop
    Husband’s iPad
    Husband’s iPhone

    Ultimately I think we are headed to only 1 iPad, but other than that no way to really further reduce. (We tried sharing a personal laptop and that went badly, even with an iPad in the mix).

  3. Me:
    Work laptop – typically carry home just in case, but don’t use that often.
    Home laptop – use for browsing news, blogs etc over coffee in the mornings.
    iPad – use while lounging on sofa at night.
    Kindle – keep next to bed for reading at night.
    Work iPhone
    Home iPhone

    The two phones part is by far the most annoying, but my office requires the separation, so there you have it.

    Work laptop – typically carry home just in case, but don’t use that often.
    Home laptop – use for browsing news, blogs etc over coffee in the mornings.
    Kindle – keep next to bed for reading at night.
    Samsung smartphone (shared home/work) – also use like I use my iPad in the evenings.

  4. Sydney Bristow :

    Home desktop
    Work Blackberry

    I think it works well for me. I use my desktop if I’m trying to get serious stuff done at home and use my iPad for basically everything else. My desktop has a really big screen so I can easily do my work that requires multiple windows be open to constantly refer back and forth to.

    As someone who reads emails from companies involved in litigation, I urge everyone to not combine devices. You would not believe some of the very personal stuff I’ve read at work. On that note, try not to use your work email for personal stuff either if you don’t want someone to see it down the line.

    • Work email :

      Literally zero people in my personal life have my work email address. Including my spouse (I mean, I’m sure they could guess it, [email protected], but still…). Why mix?

      • Many companies are now prohibiting access to personal email accounts on work networks. Yes, you can still check your personal email on your phone, but if you are working 12+ hours for weeks at a time sometimes you need to write a long personal email at work.

        • Work email :

          I have known more than one person who has received a personal email that was sent to a former employee, no longer with the company, whose email is automatically routed to the successor-in-the-role instead of being sent back to the sender (although I do think they get an auto-response as well). Embarrassing for everyone involved.

  5. I have a dual monitor set-up at work and love it. Email can stay up on one screen, my work on the other. Also, vry useful for drafting and researching to be able to drag things from one document into another.
    Home laptop (shared), his and hers for work laptops, iPads, iPhones. Chrome syncs well across the laptops.

    • Oh, yes, we have a spare monitor at home, too, that either of us can plug into our laptops for the dual-screen home advantage.

    • heatherskib :

      Double Monitor here, too. I read a lot of policies and contracts, so I have a wide screen turned portrait and a standard with landscape set up. Honestly because I do a lot of combining two or more documents, I would love to have a third monitor….

  6. Anonymous :

    Work laptop (stays docked, it’s way too big for me to ever take home and remoting in with it is just as inconvenient as it is on my personal laptop, so there’s no incentive to lug it around)

    Macbook Air for home laptop

    If I had to drop one, I’d get rid of the iPad. It’s less portable than my MBA and I still get annoyed with the reduced functionality of a mobile browser or apps compared to regular websites (and in any event, the iPad adds no value on those over my phone, which is plenty big enough). The iPad is basically only used for streaming live sports onto my TV with Chromecast, and I’m sure there would be cheaper options for doing this if the iPad ever stopped working.

  7. Diana Barry :

    Work desktop
    Home laptop – apple – mostly for work and photo work/dropbox/etc
    Chromebook – for web surfing/shopping/kid stuff
    Ipad – also use it for kindle
    Iphone (6) – I have my work email app on the phone. Some people at my work have a work-provided phone, but I use mine mostly for kid pics, so didn’t want the work phone.

  8. Chicago Bean Accounter :

    My Devices:
    Work Desktop (dual monitor)
    Home Laptop
    Home iPad
    Personal iPhone
    Kindle Paperwhite

    Live-with Boyfriend’s devices:
    too many to name – he’s a programmer and techaholic

    To be honest, now that I have an iPad, I rarely use my laptop anymore. If I needed to work from home, I would use my boyfriend’s home desktop due to the monitor size and the number pad on the keyboard (vital to my productivity as an accountant!). I also haven’t picked up the Kindle since I downloaded the Kindle app to my iPad for a recent vacation to lighten my carry on. I also will hold out as long as possible on getting my work email on my personal phone.

  9. heatherskib :

    I have a work desktop and a personal laptop, iphone and ipad. Even traveling I’d rather use my laptop than the work laptops which are heavy, bulky and require a ton of set up prior to use. I just save everything work related on a flash drive and not to my personal hard drive on my computer.

  10. Meg Murry :

    Work desktop
    Work laptop
    personal netbook (that I almost never turn on now that I have work laptop)

    home desktop (that is 95% husband’s, I only use it to do a quick one-off search or print one page here or there, he uses it to work from home)
    husband’s netbook
    husband’s work iPad
    Husband’s smartphone

    Ancient laptop we let kids use for games
    Kid’s tablet (that I use after he goes to bed)
    2 old smartphones we let kids play games on, use as a camera, watch youtube on and use as a Roku remote
    1TB Seagate networked hard drive
    Approximately 75,000 flash drives

    For me, the key is using the cloud wherever possible/appropriate and using our networked hard drive, and otherwise having certain tasks for certain things like Kat mentioned. For instance, I only do my bank balancing/budgeting/etc on my personal laptop – the files are all backed up on the network drive in case I need them, but it’s easiest to not have to go download the files for everything.

    And +1000 for LastPass. I keep every single thing there. All my passwords. All my random info (frequent flier member number, serial numbers for software and appliances, everything).

    The other key is that every single one of those items has a home, and there is a charging cable at that home (we bought second chargers for things that travel frequently, like my work laptop). We use a small kid’s table and some old inbox/paper trays and a file sorter to corral all the devices, and everyone in my house knows that if they can’t find the iPad/Kindle/tablet/old phone/whatever to look there first, because I probably stuck it there so it didn’t get sat on.

    How many of these things are you carrying back and forth? I only carry my phone and Kindle, because they fit in my purse, and the work laptop only comes home maybe 2x a week.

    BTW, Kat, get a Kindle (e-reader, not tablet) if you like reading real books. It is soooo much easier on your eyes than reading off a tablet.

    For the OP – do you need to be connected to your work via the desktop all the time you are working? Or can you just connect via the desktop, download the files onto a flash drive and then work on them from your laptop and upload them back when done? Or same with the laptop – download the files directly there and then move on?

    One thing to consider doing if you want to free up space and never sit at your desk with monitor on it is to do what my BIL did. He turned his desktop into basically just a server, got a Bluetooth keyboard with touchpad for it and hooked it up to the living room tv, and it just lives on the floor in the corner of the room. If he needs something from that machine, he can get it from the living room couch and transfer it from the computer to his laptop via flash drive (or home networking, or email it from the desktop to google and download from teh laptop). It might be worth considering if you are happy working off your laptop 95% of the time.

    • Wow, I thought I had alot of devises, but not compared to you! FOOEY!

      I have an Iphone
      an Ipad
      an Ipod (just for music)
      a Macbook Air
      and a Kindel

      I use Icloud to synk all but the Kindel and it works out b/c my wireless ROOTER connect’s all of them at home. At work I have a littel trouble b/c the rooter does not recognize the Ipad, but that is not that bad. It’s better that I keep the teck guy away from the IPAD b/c he has VERY GREAZY fingers and it’s hard to wash that greaze off the screen. FOOEY!

      But I love TECK devices b/c they make me alot more productive. YAY!!!!!

  11. Work laptop (which I wish oh wish were smaller), which I don’t generally do ANY personal browsing on. Home laptop, iPad I mostly use while work traveling (which I do a lot of) for personal websites/email/FB. iPhone with work email on it–I thought I wouldn’t like this but it’s so much easier than remembering/carrying/charging two phones. Especially once I found the easy way to leave my work calendar on but email off, when on vacation. And lastly a kindle–I am a bookworm and it’s much easier to carry around than the iPad, and also much easier to focus just on reading.

    The home laptop is getting old but I’m torn on how to replace it–the iPad isn’t a sufficient replacement but it seems silly to have an iPad and a MacBook Air…but do I need a fancier laptop? No.

  12. Wildkitten :

    Work desktop – double monitor.
    Home Laptop
    Work Smartphone, Home Smartphone
    Kindle (for books), Kindle Fire (for video)
    Levenger Circa

  13. Work Laptop
    Work iPhone
    Personal tablet w/keyboard
    Personal iPhone
    Mini laptop with Linux that I don’t use anymore

    I’ll never combine phones and while I do some personal things on my work laptop, I don’t always bring it home with me so the tablet stays. I prefer the Nook to the tablet to read on. I think this is a reasonable amount of devices for one person.

  14. Little Red :

    – work laptop (an unspectacular HP)
    – personal laptop (a year old 15″ MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display)
    – personal cellphone (an almost six year old Windows Phone)
    – Nook Glowlight 1.0

    I try to keep work and personal stuff separate even if I tend to surf online while at work.

  15. Work laptop
    Home laptop
    Kindle Paperwhite

    I leave the work laptop docked and vpn into it from my home laptop. I carry the droid and kindle with me everywhere. The kindle is my baby.

  16. For those of us who are working on making sense of our devices and how best to use them together, thank you for starting this conversation.

    For anyone thinking it’s too late to post – I will be checking back for ideas and how these things are used together. For some devices, I feel as wobbly as the training wheels being just off the bike.

    Love the focus-by-device concept for streamlining. More tips please!

  17. Work: PC desktop w/3 screens
    Would never give the monitors up, I always have Bloomberg, FactSet, Excel, Outlook, etc… going simultaneously.

    Home: Apple ecosystem because of the easy ability to sync.
    MacBook Pro
    iPad mini w/Kindle app
    iPhone (personal, but also gets work email/calendar since I find that handy when travelling)

  18. Work laptop/tablet (surface pro)
    IPhone with both work and personal email
    Kindle fire
    Home desktop (ancient and mostly used for word processing/games by kids)
    Husband has lap top and smartphone
    High School aged son has lap top, IPhone, Samsung tablet
    2 Middle school kids each have IPhone and Kindle Fire

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