11 Creative and free ways to declutter your office, and work from anywhere.
By Brad Beckstrom
I’ve always admired digital nomads. Those folks who can work from anywhere. They can get stuff done in a noisy seaside café in or a mountain cabin with no Internet access. They are extremely mobile, in fact, many of them can stay mobile all the time. The ability to travel light and run a small business or creative endeavor from a laptop takes less wizardry than you may think. You don’t have to be a vagabond or a digital nomad to benefit from the technology that is making this more possible than ever before.
So, for those of you who have not gotten the secret memo, you can work from anywhere, skip the commute and simplify your work environment to the point where you can grab it and go. All of the technology I am recommending here, I’ve used for years and believe it’s more secure than most office environments.
All of the applications are cloud-based, backed up, and protected by two step verification (defined below). They will all work on a Mac, PC, tablet, or smartphone and automatically sync n save. The setup also allows you to work with clients and other folks who still work with ancient versions of Microsoft Word, request that things be faxed or snail mailed (like certain Fortune 500 healthcare, banking and insurance providers), or try to move large video files and presentations around by email.
So, here’s the setup I recommend for anyone who’d like to work remotely. It will work well even if you never travel. It will allow you to go paperless, reduce your office footprint, and simplify your work environment. Most of the software listed below is free or free with very reasonable rates on cloud storage.
- A Mac. I’ve used the same laptop for five years. I’ve upgraded the RAM on my 2010 MacBook Pro to keep up with modern software and newer operating systems that seem to be released every six months. I generally stay one cycle behind the current operating system. So, for instance, if Apple is releasing OSX 10.10, I’ll stay on 10.9 until the next release 10.11 etc. is announced, then upgrade. This allows everything to run smoothly as other providers upgrade for the latest OS while fixing bugs for the next one.
- Evernote – it’s a repository for everything from business cards to meeting notes, creative idea capture, snippets from emails or webpages I need to review later. When I come across anything I’d like to save online I use the Evernote Web clipper available free on most browsers. I can also snap a photo with my iPhone and turn it into a PDF or a contact. Evernote will automatically sync your phone your laptop and your tablet. You can attach any of the saved items to a to do list or a reminder. It’s also all backed up to Evernote online so you can share secure links or wipe your phone and computer and everything you’ve created will still be there.
- I use Google Drive with the Chrome Browser to create documents, spreadsheets, quick presentations. Apple also includes a solid suite of free software with their operating system. For more complex presentations, I use Keynote. Both of these options are free, which is fantastic, because I believe they’re both easier to use and have better features than the paid options from Microsoft and others. You can also automatically import spreadsheets and Word docs that others send you and convert them all even faster than opening up Word,Excel or Powerpoint. No upfront or monthly fee for these either. Google has the best interface I’ve seen for tracking changes and collaborating on documents.
- For accounting, I like Freshbooks for estimates and proposals and Less Accounting for bookkeeping. Both of these are fast, streamlined, and available online or via app anywhere. I found them easier to use than QuickBooks, Peachtree, or any of the other accounting systems I’ve used over the years. You can also add your accountant or other users easily.
- For personal accounting and expense tracking, I use Personal Capital which is a free Encrypted online software for investment tracking and personal expenses. It automatically imports and categorizes all spending and investing by category.
- Dropbox – I back up all of my important documents and photos using Dropbox. Dropbox not only provides you with a secured copy of your documents in a cloud, they are easy to access via apps or your browser. You also have access to these documents on your computer and can easily share links to large files.
- Two-step verification. If you want to add a layer of security like I do, to any of these cloud-based applications, you can simply turn on two-step verification which will ask you to enter a randomly generated code from your cell phone if you ever need to log into these platforms from the road or from another computer. You can turn two-step on any of the sites like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, I use it for all of them. Search for two-step when you setup your account.
- Gmail – It’s great and it’s free. Google has state-of-the-art spam killers and you can use your own web address. Gmail works well with Google calendar for quickly adding events. You can set up Gmail so that you can access it from an app on your computer Instead of using a browser to review email, I highly recommend AirMail.It’s a modern fast email system that plays nicely with Google unlike slow, buggy offerings from Apple and Microsoft.
- FileThis is an important tool for the paper free office. Just opt in anyone who sends you statements in the mail or annoying email links. All of my invoices/statements from credit card companies, internet and mobile phone providers, insurance companies automatically are imported by file this and placed into Evernote so they are easily searchable. Need to know what you paid for something last year? Just type in a few letters and the statement will appear in Evernote with the item highlighted. Pretty amazing and free.
- Unroll.me This is the killer tool for cleaning up your inbox. Allows you to quickly unsubscribe from multiple newsletters and also rolls up all of the not-so-important ones you would like to see into a daily summary so you can quickly scan them versus getting 25 separate emails etc.
- 1password Well, I’ve listed a bunch of cloud-based software and one thing they all have in common, including every service you deal with online, is a username and password. If you want an added level of security, I recommend using the 1password app versus saving your passwords in web browsers. 1password gives you encrypted access to all of your passwords from any phone tablet or computer.
So, there you have it. Even with a five-year-old laptop, I can tell you this set up is more secure, faster, and easier to maintain than 99% of the corporate laptops maintained at high tech companies. There’s a reason why many of these companies are switching to these same platforms and ditching their antique paid software and custom platforms. Once you decide to free yourself from the corporate IT guy, it’ll be nice to know that there are thousands of engineers who keep all of this great software running and up-to-date 24/7.