11 Productivity Tools for Road Warriors and Telecommuters


I love working from home.  I don’t miss the commute or the distractions from coworkers. It’s a pretty good gig.

But at least once a week, I take this show on the road. I have a meeting in town and then need to find a place to set up shop nearby afterward to get some work done.  While I considered renting some co-working space, I decided to go to public spaces instead. You could say I was too cheap to pay rent. But the numbers didn’t work for me.

What does work for me is free public wifi. I have some options around town that give me the ability to set up a mobile office. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough. Like other road warriors and telecommuters, I keep a few key productivity tools in my arsenal to get things done:

Location

I need a place that understands people like me are going to spend more time than money. This place is comfortable and offers ample power outlets.

I know the local joints and what they have to offer. If I’m out of my area, I look for McDonalds, Panera Bread or Starbucks.

I have a Starbucks card that gives me access to two free hours of wifi daily. But come July, that won’t be necessary. They will offer free wireless Internet.

If food or socializing isn’t so important, I like the large desks and quiet of the public library. Finding a power outlet may be a challenge though.

Laptop

You may prefer a netbook or very small laptop because of price and weight. I’m sticking with my 15-inch MacBook Pro. The screen and keyboard are big enough for me to work comfortably. The speed and memory don’t hold me back when I’m surfing the web, writing in Google Documents or watching videos. To be honest, I would prefer a 17-inch model but not enough to pay  the extra money. What I have is the right tool for my work.

You may not need it. But assess what you’re going to do on the road. If you’re not going to do more than check e-mail or some lightweight websites, go with as little as you can get.

Security

My laptop and browser are locked behind different passwords. If someone were to “find” it, they can’t have access to my information. I don’t do top secret work but clients should be able to trust me.

That’s also why my laptop is not my primary computer. Any sensitive work like banking or database maintenance is done at home. That data doesn’t move out of the house.

Also, there are some services that will help you recover your laptop if it’s stolen. Basically when someone uses your laptop to connect to the Internet, these services will find it and collect enough evidence to get the police involved.

Bookmark syncing

I primarily use a desktop machine in the home office. Two computers means two browsers and sets of bookmarks.  I use Xmarks – a Firefox extension – to sync my bookmarks and passwords between the two machines. It’s seamless and fast. Whatever passwords and bookmarks I save are accessible no matter where I am.

Foursquare account

Foursquare is a social network that lets you check-in at various venues and let your friends in the network know where you are. Yes it’s a bit self-indulgent. But when I check-in at a coffee place, the message goes out to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. It’s the equivalent of hanging a sign that says “The Blogger Is In.” This way people can find me if they want to talk. It’s part of the strategy to keeping in touch with my networks.

Clouds

I use Google Apps to handle e-mail and files. I can access my work from anywhere I can access the Internet. Otherwise I know I’m going to forget the thumb drive with the files I need some day. It’s all handy in the clouds.

  • TIP: If you’re worried about security, then make your own cloud. I have my own domain, and installed a secret WordPress blog on the site. No one knows where it and it’s not linked from anywhere. I use it as a notebook. If Google Docs are down, I use my secret blog as a word processor.

The same goes for e-mail. Web-based email services store your messages where you can always get to them. You have a lot of information stored in those messages. Make sure they’re where you can find them.

Smartphone

Of course I’m always reachable by cell phone. It’s a must have for anyone who works out of the “office.” But a smartphone adds a new layer of connectivity. A lot of times it’s easier to check e-mails on a mobile device than firing up a laptop.

Productivity apps such as task managers, calendars and time trackers are handier on a mobile device.

It’s also nice to have some games for diversions.

USB drive

Yes it’s handy to have your documents in the clouds. But sometimes someone wants to give you files directly from their computer. Having them use file sharing services (Or you may need to give them files and documents) may not work so well for them.

A password protected drive will accommodate most of your file transfer needs.

Dress code

“No shirts, no shoes, no service” sets the baseline. But if you want people around you to treat you like a professional, you have to dress the part.

Manners

You’re an adult so show some consideration. Keep your work area neat. Lower your volume on your computer and your voice when talking on the phone. Don’t take up more room than you need. Or hog bandwidth. This isn’t the time to download movies with Bittorrent.

Even if you don’t care about etiquette and don’t see a problem with being self-centered, remember that you are very visible. Your boorish  behavior can hurt your professional reputation.

A bag

We’ve got a lot listed here. But it’s physically not too much to fit into a professional computer tote or messenger bag. Be sure you have room for some a pens or pencil and a notebook. Sometimes you need to take notes old school.

And pick your bag like you would pick your wardrobe. It can round out the professional look and be very functional. Your mileage may vary.

This system works pretty well for me. The biggest downsize is that it’s hard to watch what I eat. Spending a few hours so close to tempting baked goods that are on most coffeehouse menus is tough. But I’m able to be reasonably productive and connect with people.

How productive are you when working with public wifi?


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Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site Expensiccino.com - a site about how top brands set their prices.

Discussion

  1. Rob Mason on the 25th June

    Useful write-up thanks. What about Gowalla as an alternative to Foursqare though?

  2. Josh R on the 25th June

    Disappointing article. This would’ve been a lot more helpful if you had been more specific.

  3. Ashley Hill on the 25th June

    I love working on the road…especially if it’s hot out and the place has great AC (don’t have AC at home yet!). I’m sometime more productive when I’m staying in a hotel, as I don’t have all the distractions from home, and I don’t know the area.

    While I have my own domain and numerous email accounts, I send everything through Google. I use Gmail on the laptop and the Blackberry app, as well as Calendar and contacts (everything is automagically synced with my phone/Google). Docs is also great for hosting files online for later use.

    I would love to get an office, but the truth is I have clients around the world, so it doesn’t make sense to get an office if no one would visit!

  4. David Chao on the 25th June

    I work at client sites a couple days of week. I don’t have a home office anymore but an office in a building. I gained weight by meeting people at Panerra in the morning, Starbucks in the afternoon etc. Unfortunately, I feel guilty about the luxury(?) of having an office outside the home because I am so rarely here. With kids home for summer, working at home is just not always a viable option.

  5. Rob on the 25th June

    I jump in and out of my home office for a break in working where you live. You’re certainly doing it right! Google apps, bookmark syncing (Chrome has this built in, and Safari uses Apple’s MobileMe service for this) and location are all really important. I put a lot of emphasis on the bag as well, I try not to take up a ton of space so easy access is important. The “Cloud” world, I would REALLY stress linking up with Google Apps, even if you use your own companies e-mail, this is still a possibility. It doesn’t take long to link up your services with Google Apps, or you could use the dynamite web app and software Dropbox for immediate seamless file syncing. One last tool I always forget but helps so much, bring a wireless or small wired mouse!

  6. Jae Xavier on the 25th June

    tethering a cell phone to your laptop rocks also. like elvis.

  7. aphrodaisy on the 26th June

    nice, i’ve not yet had the opportunity to make use of your tips, but now, especially with the ipad… i shall be on the move a lot more. and yes, gotta love the 15″ MacbookPro. :p

    • Mike Vardy on the 26th June

      I, too, have a 15″ MacBook Pro and have just added an iPad to my “gadget collection.” The iPad is great for pretty much everything if you are willing to grab the Bluetooth keyboard (for those longer writing binges) and have the apps either installed or available in “the cloud.” When I need Scrivener or another native app, I bring along the MacBook Pro. I’ve got one of those Dodocases for my iPad so it looks like a Moleskine…elegant, portable and deceiving! I’ve fully integrated my productivity app of choice on the iPad and am quite happy using that device as often as I can.

      At least until the iPhone comes to Canada! :)

      Thanks for reading – feedback and comments are very important to us so keep it coming!

  8. Jennifer Price on the 27th June

    Good Article. I work from various locations: home, one of our several offices, airports, coffee shops, etc. I like hotel lobbies too – they usually have free wifi, coffee and outlets.

    A particular challenge I have is lugging around all of my cables and cords – laptop power, iphone power, an ethernet cable, iphone cordless charger which needs its own special cord to recharge, etc. Not to mention batteries, USB, slide remote, tylenol, USB modem, wirless mouse…

  9. Carl Natale on the 28th June

    I’m genuinely sorry Josh. What kind of information would you like to see more of?

  10. Becky Blanton on the 28th June

    Fantastic article! And VERY helpful. I hadn’t thought about the bookmarking or secret blog idea. Nice.

    I know a lot of people love the coffee shops and restaurants – but I literally live and work in my 75 Chevy van when I’m not at my office. I work from the road about six months out of the year. I found the best offices are hospitals. Most, if not all cafeterias in hospitals make awesome offices – lots of tables to spread out on, and best of all, they offer secure ethernet ports alongside their electrical outlets in addition to wifi. If you need the security of a hardline you can get it there. Check with the help desk if they password protect their ethernet connections. I’ve only found one place where I had to do that to get on the network. Hospital cafeterias are open to the public. You don’t have to know someone or be in the hospital to come in, buy a cup of coffee or lunch and sit down to browse the net. They are open 24 hours a day – even if they don’t serve food at all hours you can always get vending machine stuff, coffee and soda. You can also usually access wifi in the parking lot if you need to check something and don’t have a smart-phone or don’t want to go inside.

    Public libraries are my second favorite. Also lots of tables, it’s quiet, and I’m surrounded by resource materials and the chairs are way more comfortable. The restrooms are clean. There is usually a snack machine or soda machine in the larger facilities. And – people expect you to stay for long periods of time. Most public or state universities also sell library cards – so the public can check out books and use the facilities as well. But you don’t have to buy a card to use the facility. University libraries ROCK. Parking sucks, but you can’t beat the access, the quiet and the atmosphere.

    Many government buildings have public areas where you can set up shop too. Since many rooms – particularly around courthouses etc. are used by attorneys and paralegals doing research, in a pinch you can plunk down, use the wifi and work away unmolested or hassled.

    Broadband to go is perfect for wifi deadspots. You pay $10 to $60 a month depending on what you use. No contracts. Pay as you go. And, if you don’t plan to be on the road that much one month, just pay $10, not $60. This allows you to work from your car (I have a van with a desk in the back) if the weather is good, or from a park or somewhere in the great outdoors if you’re so inclined.

  11. Carl Natale on the 29th June

    Holy cow, Becky. These suggestions rock. Thank you so much for sharing the info.

  12. Becky Blanton on the 29th June

    You’re welcome. Just returning the favor – Your SITE rocks! I get a lot out of it! Glad I could pass on a tidbit or two myself!

  13. Justin on the 14th July

    Great article. I always feel more productive when I work out of the office. There are a lot less distractions for me.

  14. Jeff on the 30th December

    1.mypc.com.forget the usb’s and clouds, connect to your main back at home base and keep it in one local. Back it all up in the cloud. By the way I can access via any pc.
    2. small laptop. i us a 13.3 inch toshiba portege/ i5. Netbooks are a liitle too small for some mobil work and pads and slates are useless for any meaningful work. Keyboards are a must.
    3. mobil 4g wifi. i us sprints overdrive. i can open my lap top , access the net via sprint 4g and connect to my main from most us cities and the areas within.

    I need to be mobil 75% of the time. I have many periods between calls. I do my work during those periods using the tools above. Done right, I pack more into two days of work then many mobis in a week.

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      Pooja
      Editor

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