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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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    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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