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14 Web Apps for Your Portable Office

14 Web Apps for Your Portable Office

Briefcase

    Last week we talked about setting up your flash drive so that you had a “portable office” of sorts wherever you go. This week we’ll take it a step further and look at the web apps you can use: all you’ll need to ensure is that the computer you’re “borrowing” has a good browser installed.

    In recent times, people have become less and less fearful of putting their data in the hands of a third party, which was previously the main obstacle preventing web apps from taking off (as well, of course, connection speeds). Though those who claim it’s never a good idea to upload your data to a third-party, web-based app are going overboard, you do need to be careful. It’s not only important to always keep a local backup of your data; it’s important to read the terms of use on any of the following sites before uploading your intellectual property.

    That said, web apps can make you truly mobile. It will no longer matter if you forget to bring your flash drive with you. We’ve got a list of the very best that you should know about if you want to have a truly “portable” office.

    Online Office Suites

    Office suites are the nerve center of the office (funny that) whether it’s a portable one or the one tethered to a desk and a floor. There are two particularly popular office suites that are web-based, both of which have zillions of zealous fans.

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    Google Apps offers email, documents, spreadsheets, notebooks, and more, attached to your own domain name. There are also personal versions if you don’t own a domain, such as Gmail and Google Docs.

    Zoho is much like Google Apps, though many proponents say it has a far richer feature set than Google. Features aside, the range of apps is far more diverse – it has offerings for invoicing, databases, project management and even a wiki.

    Organization

    It goes without saying that we at Lifehack are obsessed with organizing, so these are some of our favorite web apps–you should get obsessed too, since working on the move can mean being disorganized for many workers. Take a look at these:

    Backpack offers project management capabilities, as well as task management and note-taking.

    Evernote offers a cross-platform desktop and web-based app for taking notes, which you can tag, share and sync between all of your devices. It can even make the text of an image searchable – great for taking a snapshot of the whiteboard at the end of each meeting.

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    Remember The Milk is a fantastic task management web app. It’s got all the power you’ll need to make your task management system work in a web-based setting, with a fantastic blog and team behind it making it better all the time. Check out this post if you want to improve your Remember The Milk setup.

    Business

    Managing your invoicing and your money is a painful necessity for not just freelancers and web workers, but practically everyone (well, perhaps not invoicing, but money in general). There are some great web apps that make these tasks easier.

    Blinksale is a fantastic invoicing web app, starting with a free option and scaling up depending on how much you need to use it. Highly recommended.

    PayPal is a must for any web-worker. I, for one, get paid by PayPal down to the last cent of my pay as a freelance writer – you just can’t get by without a PayPal account these days unless you shun the internet all together. If you don’t want to fork out for Blinksale, PayPal’s invoicing is pretty good, although it doesn’t let you apply a discount to the invoice, which is often annoying as it means (gasp) manual calculations!

    Harvest is a web app for time-tracking, making it easier to calculate your fees and write up an invoice (with invoicing built in, if you find it easier to track time and invoice from the same app).

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    Communication

    Basecamp is a web app that endeavors to improve your project communication and collaboration, allowing you to make to-do lists, share files, track time (as part of a team, rather than for freelance invoicing purposes), and schedule milestones.

    Campfire is another one from the makers of Basecamp that we here at Lifehack use for collaborative meetings. Imagine the chat rooms that typified the net in the nineties, repurposed to accommodate business and creative meetings

    Meebo is handy if you need to chat with clients, colleagues or business partners while out and about on AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk or MSN instant messaging networks and you don’t want to download anything. It’s a web-based client to handle them all.

    Diversions

    C’mon, everyone needs a diversion once in a while! It’s part of what keeps us productive. There’s no point trying to be productive at all if we don’t have a little time to unwind in between bursts of hard work. It is actually a proven scientific fact that all work and no play makes for zero productivity in your day, though I am going to whistle innocently for repeating this claim even though I can’t seem to re-find the article where I read this.

    Twitter makes for a good diversion since it’s not intrusive, so you can have some social fun while not allowing the application to take over in such a distracting way as instant messaging. It still can get distracting, but there’s an order of magnitude between Twitter and something that beeps and flashes like MSN or Skype.

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    I was recently surprised to find that Shockwave is still around–I used it for diversions probably around a decade ago and thought it had since disappeared. It hasn’t, and currently has some excellent word games that can both “warm up” my mind when I’m having trouble getting in the writing mood, and cool it down after too many hours spent typing (thanks to Gina-Marie for this one).

    YouTube is a site you already knew about, but when it comes to taking a break, nothing beats a surf around this site. Especially if you want a totally passive break, as both Twitter and Shockwave require a certain level of interaction.

    So there you have it: the most useful web apps for running your office away from the office. I could have given you some mega, massive resource list that listed every web app in the world, but there are plenty of those out there just a Google away. This article gives you the essentials that sometimes get lost in bigger lists. Enjoy, and do add your own essentials in the comments!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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