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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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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