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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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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