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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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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