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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.

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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