Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

Out of the Office: Smartphone Apps for Busy Employees

Continuing the theme from my last post, let's take a look at things that can help you be more productive on the go.  

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As you may know from this blog, I'm a bit of a gadget addict and I try out a lot of new phones.  With each release of new lines of smartphones comes not only temptation, but also plenty of new or updated apps to help you stay or become more productive. The lines are blurring between personal and work devices, as companies decide to implement 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) policies. The need for BYOD polices only grows due to the fact that many of us are on the go and no longer sit at a desk nine hours a day. We need apps that keep us moving, whether we're on our computer in the office or our smartphone in another location.

One of the ones I've been considering is Blackberry - thanks to a friend of mine who's been showing off his new Blackberry Q10 with its excellent keyboard.  Although Blackberry is now targeting the main consumer audience with it's latest smartphones and OS system, Blackberry began as a phone targeted to business users so it seems appropriate to look at the best business apps currently available so you can keep your competitive edge no matter where you are.

Mobile Communication

In the car: If you are frequently on the road during your workday, you can safely deal with emails and text messages without needing to pull over with the free DriveSafely app. It reads you your emails and texts, and then lets you respond by voice giving you complete voice-controlled messaging and emailing.

At busy times: While you want to make sure you don't miss any wanted communication, it would be nice to be able to ignore annoying robo calls and unwanted text messages. AlertMatrix lets you assign priority tones to the people you want to hear from so you know exactly who is contacting you and can safely ignore non-priority contacts.

Restaurant conferences: Wanna go to lunch but still get all your work taken care of? Conduct conferences on the go with the free Panaton Conferencing app. It plays well with Salesforce.com, Plaxo, Outlook and Google and does not require that invitees have a PIN to participate.

Mobile Office

Expense reports: Keep on top of your expenses as you incur them and even export them to a spreadsheet with Exgis Expense Tracker.

No FedEx, no problem: No need to find a copy machine while you are out and about. Turn your Blackberry into a scanner for free with PDF Scanner, where you can convert paper, business cards, and documents into PDF documents and even send those documents to co-workers or your boss.

Computer at hand: If, in spite of turning your smartphone into a mobile office, you still need to access your computer, RDM+: Remote Desktop for Mobiles gives you full access.

Mobile personal assistant: Perfect for managing projects and employees on the go, Nice Office allows you to manage email, calendar, contacts and tasks. You can store documents online and send them to your customers or team members. Nice Office also includes some CRM functionality.

What about you?  Are you using the new Blackberry Q10 or Z10?  Do you have any killer productivity apps to share?  And how do you like the device so far?  I'm all ears.

Make your car more "hands-free friendly"

In my state, use of mobile devices is prohibited while driving, unless you're using them in a hands-free mode.  I've been doing that since it became a law but it was a bit of a pain sometimes because there was no good place to put my phone and it would slide around while I drove.

I looked around for a holder for mobile devices, but all the ones I found required drilling holes, sticking an adhesive disk on my dashboard, or sticking a suction cup to my window.  I didn't want to damage my car's interior, and those ones that stick to the window block my view and fall off at inconvenient times. 

Recently, I discovered a great solution for this problem: the Mountek nGroove Universal CD Slot Mount for Cell Phones and GPS Devices.

This is a well-built mount for your mobile devices, which fits in the CD slot in your car.  There is an adjustable "gripper" that you expand to grab the inside of the CD slot to hold the mount in place.  The device holder portion of the Mountek is adjustable to fit most mobile devices and hold them in place securely. 

I've been using this mount for a couple of months and it is great.  Not only does it keep my phone from sliding around, it also allows me to put my phone in a position where I can easily see the GPS guidance using Waze, Google Navigator, or other mapping software.

I don't use my CD player much in the car, but on the couple of occasions when I needed to, I just loosened the adjustment thumbscrew on the Mountek, took it off, added a CD, and remounted the Mountek. 

I'm very happy with the Mountek nGroove Universal CD Slot Mount for Cell Phones and GPS Devices- it seems very sturdy, meets my requirements, and doesn't damage the interior of my car. 

Review: Focused Space Incubator Backpack

I recently started using "The Incubator" backpack by Focused Space, and I really like it. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite laptop / travel backpacks so far (and I've used quite a few).

Looks and comfort

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This definitely feels like a high-end backpack, with quality on par with Tumi, Briggs & Riley, and other high-end backpacks and I think it is reasonably priced considering the quality.

 The Incubator backpack has a trendy design that looks business-oriented enough that you can take it to any meeting, but trendy enough that you can use it for non-business use.  It is very sturdy and the fit & finish is exceptional.  It is also pretty light, so it doesn't make things too heavy on its own and it keeps a fairly slim profile so it fits under the seat easily.

The straps are very adjustable, comfortable (memory foam), and have a sternum strap to keep it in place for longer walks or hikes.  I'm a pretty tall person and this fits me well (many business backpacks have dinky straps that don't work for me)  and it will also adjust down for the typically-sized person.

There is a handle on top so you can carry this backpack (the handle is a tad small, but works fine).  There are also a lot of small loops on the top and on the straps that you can use to attach things to the pack ( the hoops are handy - I use one of these loops with a small "Bandits" bungee cord to hold the bag on my roller bag when I'm walking through airports).

Pockets galore

One of the things I like best is that there are a lot of pockets in this backpack.  I have a lot of gadgets, charing cables, and small odds & ends, and this bag has enough small pockets inside to create a "place for everything" kind of organization system.

There are also two large zippered compartments on the fron for keys, breath mints, your phone, hard drives, and other things you may need to access quickly. 

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For larger electronic devices, the main compartment features a laptop / notebook pocket with a very soft lining, which will hold a 15" or smaller device comfortably.  There is also a smaller, dedicated pocket intended for iPads or other tablets. 

There are smaller side compartments you can use for storage (I keep my backup hard drive in one, and my business card wallet in the other). 

There is a small pocket on the front that you can use for things like glasses (it's plush-lined), or earbuds (my preferred use for this pocket) to allow easy access.  

There is an additional, larger pocket at the top of the back panel that is hidden and can be a good "stash" pocket for ID's, passports, thumb drives, an MP3 player or other larger, special items. You can see it in the picture on the right, at the very top of the back of the bag, just underneath the top part of the shoulder straps.

Good organization, nice amount of space

These pockets make it easy to organize the small stuff, and leave a nice amount of room for everything else.  There is plenty of room for files and a couple of books, noise canceling headphones in a case, etc.

Speaking of folders, check out my earlier article on how to create backpack folders, which I created for my previous backpack.   They work great in this one, as well.

In spite of the large amount of space, this backpack doesn't balloon up like others I've had - which I consider to be a plus.  This backpack still stays snug and streamlined looking even when it's full, which makes it easy for air travel. 

Awesome, but not perfect

As I mentioned, this is my favorite backpack so far but it still has a few things that get in the way of perfection:

  • I mentioned that this backpack is snug.  If you are used to over-stuffing a backpack, you can't get away with that on this one - it doesn't stretch a lot.
  • While it isn't an issue for me, I now a lot of people who carry water bottles with them when they travel, and this bag doesn't really have a suitable external pocket for that.  If you have a water bottle with a clip / carabiner on it, you could clip it to the outside of the bag, but there isn't a water bottle pocket. 

The bottom line 

In summary, the Focused Space Incubator backpack is an impressive, business friendly backpack with strong organization, good protection for your gadgets, and a very comfortable travel companion.

8+ Practical Tips for Avoiding Pickpockets

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A week or so back, I was in Amsterdam and my phone was stolen from my pocket on the street.  I'm usually very cautious, wary, etc. when I'm in an area known for pickpockets, but I let me guard down for a few minutes and paid the price. 

With that in mind, here are some good general tips to protect yourself from pickpockets. 

  1. Be an informed visitor.  You can usually find out if the city you're going to is known for pickpockets with a quick search of the internet. Searching for "pickpockets <city name>" will usually let you know pretty quickly.  I already knew Amsterdam was known for pickpockets, since I used to live in The Netherlands.  Other cities that are infamous for this are Rome, Barcelona, Prague, Madrid, Paris, and Florence.
  2. When you go out, only take what you need.  Leave your passport, spare credit cards, and other belongings in the hotel safe.  I usually only take some cash, and an "emergency" credit card with me and lock the rest away (along with my iPad, computer, camera, etc.)
  3.  Put the things you do take with you in a front pocket or a hidden pocket.  It is much harder to get things out of your front pocket without you noticing.  Also, if you just have the cards and some cash in your front pocket, it is much less conspicuous.
  4. Avoid walking into or through crowds.  This one can be a challenge sometimes, but avoid crowds where you can - inside a crowd, people can rub up against you easily, and you can't tell what they are doing.
  5.  Try to blend in.  Pickpockets are on the lookout for people who look like they are lost, unfamiliar with the area, etc. so avoid looking at maps, wandering around in a confused or disoriented way, or other things that would indicate you are a tourist.  This includes trying to dress in a way that is consistent with the locals, if at all possible.
  6. Don't talk to strangers.  If someone approaches you to engage with you, be very wary - they may be trying to distract you so that an accomplice can grab your goodies while you aren't paying attention.
  7. Consider carrying a "decoy wallet."  I have a friend who carries an old wallet in his back pocket with some old hotel room keys (they look kind of like credit cards) and a few $1 bills in it.  He keeps this in his back pocket as bait for a pickpocket, and follows the guidelines above.  I don't know if it works or not, but it seems like a plausible idea.
  8. Know what you have, and have a backup if you can.  Make sure you have an accurate inventory of what you've taken with you, even if you plan to lock it in your room safe.   I have scans of the front and back of my credit cards, my passport, and my drivers license in an encrypted file on cloud storage (I use 1Password for this) so I can get to it from anywhere.  This tells me what I've lost, what number to call, and provides me with a "punch list" of the things to cancel or have replaced in the event they get stolen.

    Along these lines, also make sure you have information on whatever electronics you're carrying - serial number, make & model, IMEI number if it's a phone, etc.  It is also a good idea to permanently mark your gadgets with your name if you're comfortable with doing that.

OK, OK...I knew all of this.  So what did I do wrong?  In hindsight, I violated rules 3, 5 and 6.  

  • I violated rule 3 by letting my guard down and putting my phone in my outside jacket pocket for easier access.  
  • I violated rule 5 by looking at my phone periodically to make sure I was on the right street using Google maps.  This probably made me stand out as a tourist. 
  • I violated rule 6 by talking with someone who was asking me a bunch of questions, and I foolishly engaged with him (he turned out to have a couple of nearby accomplices that I didn't notice at first and who were smooth enough that I didn't think of them til later).

Rule 3 is probably what did me in, though.  Had I kept my phone in my right front pocket (as I usually do), I don't think they'd have gotten it without me noticing.  As it was, they got my phone, which I noticed about 5 minutes later but they were long gone by then.

By the way, as soon as I got to my hotel I called AT&T and reported the phone stolen and they blacklisted it on their network and disabled my account.  I'm sure glad my phone was locked with a password and had a short auto-lock timeout!

I'm also glad it wasn't my passport or anything else essential.  That reminds me - if you carry your phone with you, make sure you have copies of all your vital information from the phone, so you can re-provision it when you're done.  For iPhones, this means backing up regularly to iCloud or your computer; for Android phones, this means ensuring you're syncing with Google regularly, or using one of the many backup apps available in the Google Play store.

What about you?  Any tips to add or pickpocket stories to share? 

Pack a sport coat, suit coat, or blazer without wrinkling

Last week, I shared some of my tips for packing without wrinkling.  I mentioned the Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Folders that I love, and stated you can use them for dress shirts, pants, and jackets.  That is true, but I stopped using them for jackets in favor of another method.

You see, I am tall, and have wide shoulders, so my jackets didn't fit inside the Pack-It folders very well.  I now use the method shown in the video below.

This method works very well and I use it all the time.  When you arrive at your hotel, simply unfold and hang the jacket in your closet, and it will look great the next morning.

This method has another advantage - if you decide you want to toss your jacket into your suitcase (to be more comfortable on the plane, for example), you simply fold it like this, open your suitcase, put the jacket inside on top of your other clothes, and carefully zip the suitcase shut.  Very simple.