Signals matter: How to read on vacation

Vacations are coming. I’ve been working like a madman for months so I should take a break. And I will, if not for me then for my family. But I know that there will be moments, possibly even hours, when my mind will turn back to things I’m working on. There will also be moments, possibly even hours, when my time is my own (e.g. middle of the night, everyone else is sleeping, I am not; or, everyone else is reading their novels). For that reason, I’ll be bringing some work-related things on my trips.

The question is how to do this? If I bring my laptop then the temptation to work too much will be great. I’ll want to write. I’ll want to blog. I’ll be distracted by my Google Reader RSS feeds. Plus, every time I open it, for any reason, there could be justified rolling of eyes from family members. The time away from work isn’t just for me. So, no laptop. Not only would it tempt me to do too much it will look like work even if I’m reading a novel in PDF form (it could happen).

Appearances matter. Apparently it can spoil other people’s moods if they think I’m working too much on vacation. My definition of too much and theirs may not be the same. My goal is to keep it confined to moments when my time really is my own and to keep it to reading only (marginal note taking is OK). In truth, I don’t expect to do very much of it. But I want to be prepared just in case. (Sometimes I’m up all night.) If I’m fully distracted by other things and sleeping well I won’t miss not doing any work related reading.

My solution had been (and likely will be) to bring a bunch of paper. When other folks crack open their novels or are otherwise doing their own thing, I can pull out a paper and read it. It almost looks like reading a magazine or a book, though not quite. That is, it just about appears to be vacation behavior even though it is work related. It would be fun for me and borderline acceptable behavior in appearance. Almost perfect!

I just printed what I want to bring and it is a lot of paper. I’m really embarrassed about having printed it all. Normally it would have resided on my laptop, and I’d have saved a tree or two.

Maybe it is time for an e-reader? If one or another of them can accept PDF, PowerPoint, and Word files then it would solve my problem. It would look exactly like I’m reading a novel in electronic form and wouldn’t require the lugging of all that paper.

Whether an e-reader is the solution depends on what it can take as input. I’ve put the question to co-blogger Ian and he wrote me:

It is easy to get PDFs on your iPad and there is an app called iAnnotate that will let you mark them them up like paper. Reading and marking up PDFs is one of the main reasons I got the iPad. Before the iPad came out, I bought a Kindle DX and returned it when I discovered it had no means of annotating PDFs beyond bookmarking. The iPad is really the killer device for going completely paperless.

OK then. I want one. If my family knows I’ll use it to read work-related material instead of novels on vacation, will they buy one for me? What if it has the ability to access the web? Does that make it too much like a laptop for vacation use?

Sometimes less is more.

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