10 ways to stay productive when you can't get an Internet connection

When you're stuck offline for a while, you can still get things done. Here are 10 suggestions for keeping busy until you can get back online.

Recently, I heard someone at a technology conference say that as Americans, we enjoy ubiquitous Internet connectivity. Although that statement might be true for some, I find that there are a lot of times when I have to do without Internet access. I live in a rural part of the south, and some days it seems as if my Internet connection goes down every time that the wind blows.

I also travel almost constantly, and I've discovered that although most airports (and some airlines) provide Wi-Fi, there are still some places where you simply can't get online.

This article lists 10 ways of staying productive when you just can't seem to connect to the Internet. Keep in mind that most of the items on the list are geared toward specific situations. For example, some are appropriate only for unscheduled outages, while others will work only if you plan ahead.

1: Use Windows offline folders

When I'm traveling, I can't always depend on being able to access the files on the servers at my office. That being the case, I take advantage of the Windows offline files feature. It allows you to mark folders on network drives as available for offline use. The contents of the folders are then cached to the laptop's hard drive. This way, I can always access my files, regardless of whether I am connected to my network.

2: Print what you'll need

Earlier this year, a friend wrote a book and the publisher asked me if I would help out with the technical editing. Unfortunately, there was a really tight turn-around time, and I had to fly to London the next day. My first instinct was to copy the manuscript to my laptop so that I could review the book while I was on the plane, but I knew that my laptop battery would never hold out long enough to get the job done. Since I knew I was going to be offline and without AC power for the duration of the flight — and since I really needed to get the review done — I printed a copy of the manuscript and worked from paper. Granted, it wasn't the most elegant solution to the problem, but it worked and I met my deadline.

3: Find another way to get online

There are some situations when you just can't get online. For instance, if you're at 35,000 feet and the airline doesn't offer Wi-Fi, you're pretty much stuck. However, if you're at home or at the office and the Internet goes down, the most sensible solution might be to find another connection. When my Internet service goes down and I have a lot to get done, I usually end up working from my cell phone or finding a coffee shop that offers Wi-Fi.

4: Take care of other neglected tasks

I'm not always in the middle of a critical, deadline-driven project when my Internet service drops offline. So it doesn't always make sense to pack up all of my stuff and go heading off to the nearest coffee shop. If I'm not super busy, I often try to use the outage as an excuse to get some neglected chores taken care of. For example, I might clean my desk or work on my latest travel expense report.

5: Take the Internet offline with you

A few months ago, I was asked to write an article that compared a hand full of competing products. I was traveling at the time, and I knew that I couldn't depend on having reliable Internet service. I had worked with the products enough that I knew what I wanted to say. But I needed some basic information off the vendor's Web sites, such as pricing and system requirements. Thankfully, Internet Explorer can make Web page contents available offline. I simply cached the pages I needed before I left home so that I had them at my disposal while I was on the go.

6: Answer emails

Another thing I do when I have no Internet access is answer email messages. While this might seem counterintuitive, it actually works well. Microsoft Outlook caches Exchange Server mailboxes in an .OST file. This means that Outlook can display your email messages, contacts, tasks, and calendar, even if it can't connect to Exchange. This caching makes it possible to reply to email messages even without Internet connectivity. Of course, your replies are not actually sent until a connection to the mail server can be established.

7: Have an impromptu staff meeting

If you work in an office environment and your Internet service goes offline, one way to remain productive is to have an impromptu IT staff meeting. The outage may give you time to brainstorm, catch up on the status of various projects, and discuss issues that might ordinarily have been neglected.

8: Return phone calls

At the end of the day, I usually have a number of phone calls to return. And because my phone system is not based on VoIP, I can use the time that would otherwise have been wasted during an Internet outage to work through my call backlog.

9: Catch up on your reading

Sometimes, the unavailability of Internet service can be a blessing. The lack of connectivity gives you the opportunity to do things you might otherwise neglect. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I had to fly out to the west coast and I knew I probably wouldn't have Internet access on the flight. I took the opportunity to read a SQL Server book I hadn't had a chance to look at.

10: Give your brain a break

The idea of taking a brain break probably seems really out of place, especially since this article is all about staying productive when no Internet service is available. I can't speak for anyone else, but taking a short break often improves my productivity. And what better time to take a break than when your ISP is having an outage?

Other tips?

How do you spend your time when you can't get online? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.


Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

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