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Create Your Portable Office with a Flash Drive

Create Your Portable Office with a Flash Drive

USB Flash Drive

    Portability is one of the many joys of modern computing technology. If you look back not so long ago in the history of the personal computer, the thought of lugging a laptop to Starbucks was unthinkable. Not just because the cheap buggers didn’t have wifi in the 90s, but because a laptop back then was probably bigger than your desktop today.

    As a nerdy kid, I still remember my dad bringing home the Mac Portable. I marveled at its form then, but there have been a few minor advances in technology here and there and now the Mac Portable has earned its nickname as the Mac Luggable. Imagine taking that thing to tackle some work at Starbucks.

    So, now that we’ve taken a little trip down memory lane it’s pretty easy to appreciate the options we have when it comes to working on the move—let’s take a look at some of the software that allows us to truly work from anywhere, whether the “portable office” includes your laptop or just some computer we’ve accosted at say, a relative’s place while supposedly on holiday. To achieve this mythical feat, we’ll be using…

    Portable USB Apps

    If you haven’t bought a USB flash drive yet, go and get one. You don’t have to use it for storage at all—I use a trusty external hard drive for that, but portable apps are the one thing that makes having a USB drive truly handy. No matter where you are, no matter whose computer you’re hijacking, you can plug it in and use a bunch of the best applications around without having to download and install them.

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    Office Software

    OpenOffice is a fantastic free alternative to Microsoft Office, and I sure as hell haven’t come across a version of Microsoft Office that is sold for flash drives. There’s a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation designer and a database app—plus more. Everything you need to replace Office on the road, and it even opens Microsoft files. Get it for Windows and Mac.

    Communication

    Thunderbird is the not-quite-as-famous and somewhat-jealous sibling of Firefox, but despite its feelings of inadequacy it makes a great email app. It’s simple, yet has the power of any good desktop mail client. There’s a portable version for both Windows and Mac.

    Skype is a great communication tool, especially if you’ve put your phone bill on a diet. It does text communication well, though it is really renowned for its voice capabilities. I haven’t come across a way to get a portable OS X version, but with some tinkering you can make it portable for Windows—instructions here.

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    For instant messaging, Pidgin can take care of pretty much any popular network. It was, in a former life, known as Gaim, the open source instant messenger. You can grab it for Windows. For Mac OS X, the equally versatile Adium is available as a portable app.

    Internet Browsing

    Presumably there’s a browser on the computer you’ve accosted, but don’t take the chance of having to bear with Internet Explorer. Or perhaps you want your bookmarks and various other settings with you. Either way, Firefox is available for both Windows and Mac, and is probably one of the most frequently used of all the portable apps.

    If only they had a Flock portable app.

    Organization Tools

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    Sunbird, another sibling to Firefox, is a calendar program with task management capabilities. It’s even less famous than Thunderbird, but it’s good software as usual from Mozilla. Grab a copy for Windows or Mac. The organization arena of the portable apps world is one I find sorely lacking, and I wouldn’t mind playing with a GTD app for flash drives.

    Multimedia

    Audacity is a great, lightweight audio editor. I suppose most people don’t need an audio editor on the road, but as a recording musician this app has saved my butt a few times. If you do podcasting from strange places—a travel podcast, for instance—then it’s worth keeping this around. Get it for Windows or Mac.

    VLC is a video player that is a true lifesaver. I haven’t thrown a video at it that it couldn’t play, and chances are high that a randomly accosted computer isn’t packed to the brim with codecs. It’s also available on both Windows and Mac.

    Secure Your Flash Drive

    If you’re going to do any serious work with a flash drive setup, you’ll undoubtedly have information stored on there that you don’t want getting out. Whether it’s your address book, email, or files for a client project, you need to ensure that the drive is going to be secure. The easiest way to do this is with a password.

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    Here’s one method to do it with TrueCrypt. If you don’t want to download more software, here’s another method for Mac users using Disk Utility.

    Remember, good solid password creation techniques are essential. Never use your middle name, your kid’s names, birthdays or your favorite band. Passwords that are a combination of numbers and letters work best, especially if you can do it in a way that’s easy for you to remember but not for anybody else. For instance, you could use tyti8mcp08 and memorize it as the year that I ate microwaved chocolate pudding, 2008. I bet you nobody will ever guess that one.

    If you can’t manage to memorize a password, you might just want to plonk down for a flash drive that has a fingerprint reader, though I imagine you’ll spend more time showing off to your friends than working with one of these monsters.

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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 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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