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Put an Office in Your Pocket

Put an Office in Your Pocket
Put an Office in Your Pocket

    Just about everyone these days knows how useful a USB thumb drive can be for moving files from place to place. For people on the go, who may find themselves sing a variety of different computers, a thumb drive offers more than just portable storage. With very little work and no money aside from the original expense of the drive itself, you can easily turn a thumb drive into your primary workspace — complete with the software and settings, reference material, and documents you uses the most.

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    Here’s what you need to do:

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    • Buy a thumb drive. Or “pen drive” or “USB stick” or whatever you call it. You can also use one of those portable USB or firewire drives, though they’re more expensive and not quite as pocketable. Look for drives that are certified USB 2.0 (or “high speed”) with at least 2 GB of memory (they’re so cheap these days there’s no reason to buy smaller unless your budget is very tight). Stick to brands you know — the flash memory in “no-name” drives tends to be less quality-controlled, which could mean fewer read-write cycles. In short, they may not last as long.
    • Download and install the Portable Apps Suite. The Portable Apps Suite consists of several open source programs you already know and love, specially configured to run from a thumb drive without being installed on the host computer. The applications include: the entire OpenOffice.org suite (word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software), GAIM/Pidgin (IM software), Firefox (web browser), Thunderbird (email), Sunbird (calendar), ClamWin (anti-virus), and Sudoku (game). If you don’t need the entire OpenOffice.org suite, you can download the “Lite” version which replaces OOo with AbiWord, a simple word processor. It also includes a launcher program that offers access to all the programs and files on the thumb drive from the system tray when the drive is inserted.

      Insert your thumb drive and run the installer program, which will copy the files onto the thumb drive and create folders for documents, music, and apps. Once installed, you can easily delete programs you don’t use by opening the thumb drive program using Explorer and deleting them from the apps folder. There are also dozens of other programs available at the Portable Apps site that you can install if you need them; I added FileZilla (FTP client), GIMP (graphics editor), VLC (media player), and NVU (webpage editor) when I set mine up.

      (Note: alas, the Portable Apps Suite is PC-only, though I’m sure Mac-friendly equivalents are out there somewhere. If anyone has any pointers, feel free to leave a comment!)

    • Configure the applications. If you use any of these programs on a regular basis, you’ve probably got them set up just how you like them; the good news is, you can usually easily transfer your settings to the thumb drive version. For example, you can copy your Firefox profile from the “Documents and Settings” folder on your PC to the FirefoxPortable\Data\profile directory on the thumb drive; all your extensions, themes, and even saved passwords will be transferred. You can do the same thing with Thunderbird, which will also copy your accounts over. There are clear instructions under each application’s page on the Portable Apps site to tell you how to transfer your settings, where applicable.

      There are a few things to keep in mind, though. Since you likely keep your email on your own PC or on the web, make sure you check the option under each email account in Thunderbird to leave a copy on the server when you download email. In Firefox, you’ll want to turn off the disk cache to avoid excessive wear and tear on the thumb drive (instructions are on the site). You can install extensions on the thumb drive-based browser normally once you’re up and running. Once you have everything set up just the way you like it, you can use the software the same way you normally would — they are all feature-complete.

    • Add reference materials. You can install the free Sage Dictionary and Thesaurus by installing it on your PC and just copying the installed directory to your apps folder. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is available from Project Gutenberg. You can download a 2500-article extract from Wikipedia via BitTorrent and copy the files over (it’s around 700 MB, so only do this if you have a large thumb drive!).

      Don’t forget your own references: syllabi for classes, PDFs of research articles from J-Stor or elsewhere, lists of addresses, notes, your resume, whatever else you might need to access somewhat regularly.

    • Load your documents, music, and photos. Add whatever you’re currently working on, as well as some MP3s and photos you might like to look at from time to time. Since text documents are fairly small, a student should be able to keep an entire semester’s worth of work on their drive along with everything else. A business person should find room for months’ worth of work. The nice thing about keeping work on a thumb drive is it’s always available if you want to share your work with someone else — just plug it into their PC and launch the document (or copy it over).
    • Backup regularly! Use a program like SyncToy to backup the whole drive to a folder on your PC (or just drag and drop the files over). The downside of thumb drives is that they’re very small and get lost. Plus, they eventually wear out. Keep a recent backup on your main PC — backup daily if possible — and when you need a new drive, just copy the entire backup folder back onto the new thumb drive (no need to reinstall Portable Apps Suite).

    I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of LogMeIn’s free remote access service, and that is in fact what I use most of the time. However, using LogMeIn or Windows Remote Desktop or VNC requires leaving the server PC on all the time, and an always-on Internet connection, so these options won’t work for everyone. If you share a PC with other people, use dial-up Internet service, or are otherwise unable to use a remote access solution, a thumb drive-based virtual “office” makes a lot of sense. With the price of flash memory dropping almost constantly, it’s possible to keep almost everything important to you in your pocket at all times, ready to use at just about any PC you find yourself in front of.

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    Last Updated on March 30, 2020

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

    So, what to do in free time?

    Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

    Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

    1. Reading Files

    Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

    Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

    2. Clear out Inbox

    Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

    If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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    3. Phone Calls

    Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

    Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

    4. Make Money

    This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

    If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

    5. File

    No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

    But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

    Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

    6. Network

    Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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    7. Clear out Feeds

    If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

    8. Goal Time

    Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

    If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

    Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

    9. Update Finances

    Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

    Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

    10. Brainstorm Ideas

    Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

    11. Clear off Desk

    Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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    Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

    12. Exercise

    Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

    13. Take a Walk

    This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

    It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

    14. Follow up

    Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

    When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

    15. Meditate

    You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

    Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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    16. Research

    This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

    If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

    17. Outline

    Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

    18. Get Prepped

    Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

    You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

    19. Be Early

    Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

    Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

    20. Log

    If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

    Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

    More Inspirations on What To Do During Free Time

    Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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