Posted: Tue 14th May 2013
After nearly two years as a freelance writer and editor working almost exclusively from my home office, I've recently started venturing to other locations to co-work with colleagues and work more closely with clients,Â _writes Simon (left)._Â Â Like so many other mobile workers in our increasingly 'agile' economy, I've had to give some serious thought to the kit that I take with me, from hardware to software, and even the bag that I carry it in.
This has meant investing in some new gear and researching software that best enables me to do my job on the fly. I've spent a few pounds to set myself up -Â Â but to me it's worth it, because my bag and what's in it is likely to be my office for years to come. It's certainly cheaper than leasing premises... Here's a guide to my office-in-a-bag, which I reckon is fairly typical of other agile workers like me. If you're also mobile, please do tell me about your 'office' in the comments section below.
I have two bags, which I use for slightly different purposes. The first is a leather Targus laptop bag that I picked up for just Â£10 in new condition in a local charity shop about a year ago. It has a carry handle and a shoulder strap and looks very smart and businessy. But after just a few weeks of working 'out', my aching shoulder told me that I needed a bag with better support and, ideally, a lighter machine. On top of this, I'm a keen cyclist and not averse to turning up at client meetings by bike. So a cycling-friendly laptop bag was also very important to me.
I settled on the best I could find - aÂ Rapha backpackÂ for Â£125. It's not cheap for a rucksack, but it's completely fit-for-purpose, extremely well made and I know from previous Rapha purchases that it'll last for years. The backpack has very good support with two across the body straps, a padded pocket that can take a 15-inch laptop, a pull-out reflective rain cover and it'sÂ compact but expandable so I can also carry a change of clothes and a camera, too.
The 'agile' workplace is really contained within the devices that we work on and I now have three: an Acer Aspire laptop for heavy-duty work; an iPad with full-sized bluetooth keyboard for light work on the fly; and a Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone. What this means, of course, is that I'm using three different operating systems - Windows 7 (laptop), IOS (iPad) and Android (smartphone). In theory, synching across the three could be problematic, but my key apps work across all three devices and the wonders of cloud computing have kept me in business so far. The Acer Aspire laptop is now much more of a home-based machine which comes out with me only rarely. It does any heavy duty or particularly technical work (such as the final formatting of blog posts), which I'll tend to save for a quick burst at home in the evenings. I bought the laptop from a friend 18 months ago as an as-new device for Â£300.
TheÂ iPadÂ is my new favourite toy and I love it to bits because it's so light, portable and fun to use. With the full-sized Bluetooth keyboard it's also fine as a writing device (I'm using it to write this post, for example). Yes, there are some shortcomings (eg, I can't put our Mailchimp newsletter together with the iPad), but its addition to my roster of devices and the need to have everything working together has got me really focused on productivity and organisation. It's transforming the way I work.
I bought the iPad with protective case and full-sized keyboard from my colleague San for Â£350 a month ago. I also got myself a Bamboo stylus for scrawling notes, which cost a further Â£25. The Samsung Galaxy SII isÂ trim, stylish and efficient -Â plus it's got a decent camera. I use it for emails, texts, a bit of photography, social media updates and accessing my main productivity software (Dropbox, Evernote, TeuxDeux). It also acts as a wireless hotspot if I find myself without a wifi connection for the iPad. The phone was free; my contract is Â£25 a month. In addition to the above, I have a Canon 450D digital SLR camera. I'm a keen photographer and often supply images with my work, so I need a good camera with a selection of lenses to enable pictures of different types in different conditions. It's not quite professional quality, but it's pretty close and it cost me just Â£300 as-new from CameraworldÂ in London. Of my extra lenses, one was a gift, the other cost Â£80. I've also bought an adaptorthat enables me to download images straight into the iPad. Cost: Â£10.
This is where it gets challenging. There's so much software out there, promising all kinds of productivity gains. Which do you go for? My main criteria were:
tried and tested
accessible in the cloud
capable of synching across three devices and three different operating platforms.
This is what I've settled on for now: Microsoft Word: I've always had Windows machines (until the iPad) and Word is the standard format in my industry, so this one is non-negotiable. MS Office came ready installed on my laptop -Â but, as you'll see, it's not as transferable as I'd like. **Quickoffice Pro:**Â Quickoffice Pro is rated as the best iPad app for creating and opening Office documents. It synchs with the leading cloud storage apps, costs a whopping Â£13.99 and it's ok. That's all I can say about it really, unless I'm not using it right; it enables me to write, but it's very light on features, and I can only have one document open at a time, which is a limitation to me. The way to use this, it seems, is to write the copy on the iPad when out, then format it on the laptop at home. Not ideal, but a workable solution until I find something better. I'd appreciate your suggestions.
I've been using Dropbox for two years now and can't function without it. It's straightforward, simple, integrates well with whatever device you're using and it does the job well. I've qualified for extra storage in the free version, but I'm thinking of going paid for, so I can access my (thousands of) photographs from my iPad, too.
TeuxDeux: I really like TeuxDeux. It's a clean and simple calendar-based to-do list appÂ and the best I've personally found. I've been using it for about a year now and it's always open in my laptop browser. I'm also using it in my phone browser and there's an unofficial iPad app for Â£1.99. Anything I add to my lists of jobs automatically synchs across my devices, so I always know where I am. Very useful.
**Evernote:**Â I'm new to Evernote, though I've been aware of it for a while. On buying the iPad, I realised I also needed to freshen up my approach to my various projects,Â particularly around how and where I store my thoughts, ideas and inspirations. Having them all in one place within an organised folder structure is working for me so far. Evernote enable you to write text notes, store files, clip web pages and images and even record voice notes (in the Premium version - Â£4 a month). I use the browser version on the laptop and apps on my iPad and phone.
**Basecamp:**Â If you're involved in projects with others, Basecamp is a very good project management tool. We use it at Enterprise Nation to keep us in one place virtually and it means I can keep track of projects, jobs and deadlines, as well as access files and documents related to the project. It'll also integrate with list management software, so can also become a bit of a control centre for various aspects of the projects you run. I've only used the browser version so far, so have no idea whether any apps are available.
**Wordpress:**Â WordpressÂ is a fantastic website building tool and I can't recommend it highly enough for adaptability, ease of use and the control it gives you over the content of your website. The Wordpress editor works excellently in a browser and we do really quite complex things with it at Enterprise Nation. Unfortunately, there isn't an app that will replicate the power of the software on tablets. Sure, you can make quick posts, but it tends to break down when it comes to sophisticated formatting.
I'm currently trying outÂ BlogPad Pro, which is pretty good, but I still have to complete my formatting on the laptop (and I'm finding with this post, for example, that my headings aren't working properly). Pixlr: Pixlr is an incredibly good free, browser based photo editor. It's the nearest thing you'll find to Photoshop on the web and it requires no download. Unless you're basically a professional photographer/designer or a high-level amateur, I wouldn't bother with anything else. I've been using it for about three years now and it's excellent. The Pixlr Express iPad app, however, is less so. It's very well-featured and easy to use, but the image quality seems to suffer on saving. I'm finding the simple, free Photoshop Express app more useful on my travels. It's clean, streamlined and good quality. Compfight: Compfight is another of those really useful discoveries. It's a free picture library that enables you to search Flickr for images with Creative Commons licences, and use them (NB, use Creative Commons Commercial searches for your business website). Though the images may well be of lesser quality than the professional images in a traditional picture library, they can give your site a feeling of quirky and lively authenticity. Having said, that we're about to start using iStock Photo, so I'm happy to report back on that soon.
That's about it for my day-to-day working. I also use FreeAgent for my accounts and I'm going to try out Â Worksnug, to find new places to work from when I'm out and about. I'd love to know what's in your office-in-a-bag. Please do let me know in the comments below. A proviso: Â I've written above about a couple of brands with whom Enterprise Nation has a working relationship, through our Club or through affiliate deals. I'd just to make it clear that I'm not recommending these brands because of that; we've built relationships with them precisely because they're the brands that we -Â and many other small businesses -Â use and like.
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