As a CEO and the mother of two small, chatty children, plane time is productive time. With no internet, kids or teammates to interrupt me, I get more done in-transit to speaking gigs than I typically do on the ground. So you can imagine my shock and horror when I heard that US Homeland Security is considering banning laptops on flights to and from the U.S.
After the initial panic, I reached out to my friend and professional speaker colleague, Beth Ziesenis, technologist and professional nerd at Your Nerdy Best Friend, for her hacks on staying productive at 32,000 feet.
Her solution? Your smartphone. And a few extra tools.
"A phone is never going to replace a laptop," Ziesenis explains. "Some software is simply too heavy to handle, or it's not compatible with a mobile device. For example, if you're a graphic designer, it's going to be almost impossible to be editing in Photoshop without your laptop."
She recommends sticking to simple tasks like responding to emails, planning schedules and typing documents on a phone. "It ain't perfect," Ziesenis says, "but it clears some work off your plate, so you can focus on the bigger stuff later."
Here are Beth's best tips and tools to work around the laptop and tablet ban.
Get a bigger phone
If you're going to be doing this on a regular basis, you want a screen you don't have to strain to see. You're also going to want a lot of storage so you can work with downloaded files that you store locally. And you want to make sure it has a pretty fast processor (a phone released in the last 12 months).
Get a Bluetooth keyboard
You'd lose your mind trying to work for five hours on your phone if you didn't have an external keyboard -- and, more importantly, the right keyboard. Beth tried out different sizes, shapes, configurations and features and settled on the iClever full size keyboard.
What she liked about it: It mimics a regular keyboard in size and you can set it up to configure with whatever you use: Mac, Windows or Android. Several of the keyboards could do this, and it's handy to have the same shortcuts and keys." Another thing I like about this keyboard is that it has a light-up background so I can see it in a dark cabin. It also connects instantly and reliably to my phone -- all I have to do is open it."
But it wasn't perfect.
"It doesn't have a battery life indicator, so it's hard to tell if it needs charging. It clicks (personal pet peeve). And, I don't know if it's just the one I got, but the P key seems to take extra effort. I keep writing "hone" instead of "phone."
The biggest drawback though is that the keyboard doesn't work in every program -- including the iPhone search feature. It also has different capabilities in different apps.
Get a phone stand
"Think about how much space it needs on your tray. You want as small of a footprint as possible so everything will fit," Beth says, having purchased and tried several variations.
"Many folks have phone cases that have a built in stand function and those can be nice. My favourite is the PopSocket, which seemed like a novelty item but ended up being more practical than the sturdy aluminum stand I tried or this goofy one (that took up way too much room."
Buy a strong external power supply
Since you're now asking for a whole lot more than Friends reruns and Beyoncé's latest hits from your phone, you'll want to make sure to have some extra juice in case your seat doesn't come with a charger.
Beth recommends the Anker charger (13000mAh). "Get a high-power one with two or more charging ports so you can simultaneously charge your keyboard and phone. If you're lucky enough to have a plug at your seat, you can plug your charger into the outlet so it continues to charge even as it charges your other devices."
Because you won't have the luxury of having all your usual apps and documents at your fingertips the way you would with a laptop, you'll have to make sure to use apps that sync across devices and also allow offline work.
Beth is a huge Microsoft Apps fan. "Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps have almost every single feature that the software programs do. You can format, add pictures, apply themes, add headers/footers, create tables and much more. It takes a little more patience because you have to choose the options from drop down menus and scroll more than you have to in the full versions. But I'm really impressed -- and they're free! But to get the full functionality, I highly recommend an Office 365 subscription."
For those of us who are Mac users, syncing with cloud-based apps like Evernote or Dropbox (for files and documents, including images), the Keynote app (for presentations) and Asana for productivity and coordinating with teams would work. There are certain limitations because you'd be working offline and you'd have to sync your devices to save your work once you get to an internet connection.
Protect your laptop
Having your delicate office away from the office flung around by overworked airport staff doesn't exactly inspire zen thinking. So Beth recommends you set your mind at ease with a Pelican hard case. That way, there will at least be something to sync to once you're in your hotel room.
What are your thoughts on not being allowed to fly with your laptop? And do you have any suggestions for tools or hacks business travelers can use to beat the ban?