Matt and I are moving, again. In the last five years we’ve moved more than five times. All this nomadry has helped me develop some strategies for being productive despite displacement, living out of boxes, suitcases, and under immense amounts of stress. In fact, at a conference for literary translators last year I was invited to be on a panel in which several extremely busy, multi-tasking translators shared their tips for building a routine that allows them to be productive. My contribution (as the youngest person on the panel, and the only one without a tenure-track position at a university) was to talk about how to create a portable work-space that allows you to work where-ever and (vitally) whenever you have the time. I talked about web-based computing, file storage, dictionaries and language resources. I talked about tricks for creating the right amount of isolation and privacy when working in a public space. I talked about developing a routine when you can’t have an actual routine. I talked about making sure to get up and move around, and interact with other people at least once a day, something that many non-tenured academics and freelancers forget, and something I believe is vitally important to productivity and happiness.

But I have to say the best investment I’ve ever made into my own productivity and sense of ability to keep working at what matters to me, no matter the state of our living arrangements, was made two weeks ago for my birthday.

I had saved up for and got for myself a cellular data-enabled iPad mini, with Logitech keyboard case, and a very nice pair of Bose collapsable headphones. The whole set-up weighs less than 3 lbs and fits easily into my small army-navy standby bag.

It’s not a desktop replacement. It’s not a laptop replacement. I can’t do photo editing or book design and layout on it. I can’t edit the pages of my online literary journal on it. I can’t even really edit spreadsheets on it to keep track of my freelance billable hours. But I can do just about everything I want to do when I’m commuting, traveling, or sitting at a cafe (with or without wireless).

For example, I did all of my class prep this week on it (it helps that my class is using a blog as its primary means of turning in work, and its no accident that it’s a wordpress.com blog, because their iPad app is pretty awesome). And because a water main burst yesterday in Boston and all the classroom buildings were closed for the first 2 hours of my 3 hour class, I relied entirely on the iPad and its cellular data to run our digital-driven class. It was because I had my iPad we were able to take our class outside and follow the rough outline and notes I’d scheduled for us.

And not just for teaching and class prep. This week I’ve done my daily research and writing using the iPad, because while I write by hand on paper, I still need to have access to some of my favorite writing tools: google books and the OED.

Having the headphones means that I’ve been working happily (reading for class) in a relatively busy coffee shop that’s playing music I normally couldn’t tune out well enough to focus on my reading. The Bose aren’t noise-cancelling, but they’re such good headphones that they really do reduce enough of the background noise to focus on what I’m listening to. Which in my case is Max Richter’s Memoryhouse, one of my favorite albums to do just about anything to.

I’m not sharing all of this to brag, but to encourage anyone on the fence about investing in good headphones, and perhaps an iPad or iPad mini, to do so. Especially if, like me, you find yourself moving around a lot, not always sure when or where you’ll have a chance to get some work done, but you want to be ready to grab those moments when they come.