How to Maximize Your Work Productivity on the Road
Heading on a business trip? To get work done, you're going to need more than your laptop, smartphone and tablet. Here's what else you need to bring to be as productive as possible.
By Paul Mah
A new role that requires traveling takes some getting used to, especially if you rarely leave the office. It suddenly becomes critical to squeeze in that bit of extra work while waiting for an airport transfer, relaxing at the hotel in the evenings, shuffling between meetings or even when waiting for clients to show up for those meetings.
With this in mind, here are several pointers to help maximize your productivity when traveling.
Internet Access On the Go: Watch Connections, Battery Life
In this age of Web services and access to instant information, the trickiest bit of a business trip is often getting Internet connectivity at unfamiliar or remote locations. While Wi-Fi hotspot access is generally great, it can sometimes be flaky due to congestion or misbehaving wireless access points in public locations.
When faced with an errant Wi-Fi hotspot, a good guideline is to devote no more than 10 minutes and one system restart to resolving the problem. Beyond that, changing venues or switching to a mobile hostpot is a more judicious use of time.
That said, mobile 3G or 4G mobile connectivity can offer comparable or even better Internet access speed than hotspots, depending on country and location. If anything, they also make a good fallback when hotspots can’t be found and can be used with a local prepaid data SIM card to avoid exorbitant mobile charges when traveling out of the country.
A USB mobile dongle or Mi-Fi router is typically used with prepaid data SIM cards, though users not keen to buy or pack additional gear can use the hotspot feature found in modern smartphones. Activating that feature does drain your smartphones quickly, though, so it may make sense to get a portable battery such as the compact Innergie PocketCell Duo. Another alternative: Use a tablet as a mobile hotspot with its screen switched off. Since tablets typically have larger battery capacity, this should yield several more hours of usage.
Whether using a mobile dongle, MiFi router or smartphone, remember that laptops can consume data at a prodigious rate. Be sure to periodically check that the Windows operating system or your apps are not attempting to perform large updates that can quickly exceed applicable data caps.
Back at the Hotel: DIY Wireless
Depending on the hotel, Internet may be delivered to rooms using a wired Ethernet port or Wi-Fi. Wireless offers convenience for laptop users, especially since many new Ultrabooks no longer come with an Ethernet port. Whether wired or wireless, a software utility such as Connectify Hotspot Lite can create a separate Wi-Fi network to deliver Internet access to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.
A travel router such as the Pepwave Surf On-The-Go offers another possible approach. This eliminates the need to restart Connectify each time you come back from a meeting, for example, and it’s not susceptible to any application or operating system-related problems.
Whatever your choice, taking a few minutes to set up a personal wireless connection can help you save a substantial amount on inflated roaming charges.
Powering Your Laptop: Get Another Battery
The inherent design of laptop batteries limits their longevity. The only real way to substantially increase runtime is to purchase a spare battery or third-party rechargeable power pack. A spare battery offers a simple approach to a power upgrade, though it can be a hassle to swap batteries and keep both charged. Plus, an increasing number of laptops no longer come with removable batteries.
Rechargeable power packs, on the other hand, tend to cost more than replacement batteries, though their use of interchangeable power tips means that can be a long-term investment used across laptop upgrades. One important note: In the unlikely event of a mishap in which a third-party battery damages your laptop, not all laptop manufacturers may will their warranty.
Surprisingly, given the limited charge of a typical laptop, power adapters are often bulky. The Kensington AbsolutePower charger, though, is slim for its power output and capable of simultaneously charging two other USB devices. For Mac users, the PlugBug by Twelve South attachment to the standard charger adds a 10W USB port capable of charging tablet devices. Both devices let users do away with packing a separate USB wall charger, too.
Despite computing’s move toward the touch interface, many of us remain more comfortable using an external mouse. Standard optical mice don’t track well on glossy tabletops, however—and it’s frustrating to pack a mouse and not be able to use it.
Hardware makers have circumvented this problem by creating mice that can track on reflective or transparent surfaces. This has led to developments such as Microsoft’s BlueTrack and Logitech’s Darkfield laser, which have been implemented on select mouse hardware. (Budget-conscious travelers loath to buy a new mouse can always bring a mouse pad along.)
Executives doing slideshow presentations will also appreciate a hardware presenter with a built-in laser pointer. Red is the de facto standard, though newer green lasers offer a superior range that can be seen on brightly lit displays.
Finally, a keyboard cover will protect against crumbs that are sure to accumulate when you’re working in a café and may even save the day against an accidental coffee spill.
Device Security: A Lock Is Not Enough
Nobody plans to lose a laptop, but many go missing every day—and the odds that it will happen to you only goes up the more you travel. Tools for tracking the location of a laptop are often of limited use, given how quickly stolen laptops are sold at locations far from where they were stolen. Remember, too, that there are many ways for a computer expert to eliminate operating system-level tracking utilities.
Given the cost of a laptop, and how easily one can be spirited away in mere moments, it makes sense to physically secure a laptop whenever possible. Most laptops support the Kensington lock—a small slot on the side&mdsash;that was specially designed to prevent laptops from being stolen. To secure a laptop, loop the lightweight reinforced cable portion of a Kensington lock around a fixture such as a table leg, then affix the lock. Most use keys, though some come with combination locks.
Kensington sells a range of laptop locks and has created SafeClick technology that attaches the lock in a single motion. Ultimately, though, the Kensington lock is meant as a deterrent against opportunistic thefts and is of little protection against a determined thief with some time alone with your laptop.
That’s why all data on a laptop should be properly encrypted with robust full disk encryption (FDE) technology such as Microsoft BitLocker. When properly configured with a strong password, FDE serve as a last line of defense against data leaks should a laptop end up in the wrong hands.
Laptop Bags: Consider Form, Function, Comfort and Where You’ll Be
Finally, you need an appropriate bag for transporting your laptop and various peripherals with you. Using a bag or case that’s designed to hold a laptop is essential, as it will offer built-in padding to protect against inadvertent knocks and drops. Look for an assortment of pouches and pockets for peripherals.
The most common and versatile option here is a laptop bag, which often comes with a detachable shoulder sling. These aren’t ideal for long treks through exhibition halls, though, and they may be a magnet for unwanted attention when traveling through unsavory neighborhoods. Backpacks designed for laptops are more comfortable and ideal for large conferences or events that require business wear. They don’t look as good together with a suit, though, so in that case a traditional laptop bag may be a better option.
Frequent air travelers will want a laptop bag with an airport-friendly design, which includes with a slip pocket for sliding a bag over a trolley handle. Easy access to a laptop is necessary, too, as security procedures at many airports require fliers to remove laptops and place them on a separate tray.
Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. Paul has worked a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul also enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices. You can reach Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.