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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.

About

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.

15 comments
myangeldust
myangeldust

This must've made the NSA's job that more easy. Get people's personal data from Facebook, grab card numbers and passwords from Starbuck Wi-Fi networks, and learn everyone's deep secrets from their files on the cloud. Damn, made it all too easy didn't you, er... WE? We made it too easy.

myangeldust
myangeldust

...for saying, "Dude, EVERYTHING is on the INTERNET!" Then convincing you that local programs and big hard drives full of files was so old skool, uncool. And that running only web-apps and using cloud storage was "the FUTURE!" Your IT told you so. At least you have Solitaire installed. Play 'til 9PM. Then go to the hotel bar, order up an Old Fashioned, and pull off a one-night stand (sans wingman, if you gots the stuff). Networking the fun way. Now that's [re-]productive!

Winlinuser
Winlinuser

Looks like there may be a lot of "alternative" work undertaken once the internet dependent Office 13 kicks in :-D

daarka
daarka

Spend some time doing housekeeping. Defrag that hard drive. Look for and emilnate duplicate files (I am not the only one with dupes, right?) Write that document that is waiting for your time. Dig out those pdf files you saved in the 'future reading' folder. This just common sense. The simplest answer may be the hardest to see.

jmbrasfield
jmbrasfield

Are you serious? We have REDUCED ourselves down to "I can't get connected and I can't get up". Really? Seriously? Without the internet, life is over as we know it. Are we as a society that addicted to constant connectivity? Not only is all are stuff in THE CLOUD, now we are also. I wish it would rain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

about 25% of the time for research and checking mail, as I use Libre Office and do most of my writing in Libre Office while off line. Most of the recreation I do on the computer is to watch DVD's and play games on the PC itself (not on-line ones). I even do that horrid, most evil and demon thing known as 'take a walk' from time to time.

VMillan
VMillan

Great article, Brien. I like to have things ready for times when internet is not possible (no wifi or no 3G... sometimes happen). But instead of printing them in paper, I print them as a PDF file (PDFCreator), so I can take'em everywhere with me. I also like to write my blog articles during those periods. Using a tool as Windows Live Writer for later upload to my website. Cheers!

tooblessedtofail
tooblessedtofail

Yes when i am not online, I take a walk, stretch a little and maybe even use the opportunity to catch up on the social side of things-the human factor. Talk to human beings not just machines all the time and talk to them about the non-techy or job related part of their lives too. That's my take! Cheers

Deb Taylor
Deb Taylor

I'm sure lots of people found the workaround tips in Brien's post helpful. I think that the most neglected items, printing stuff on plain old paper for efficiency; digging in to the lonely task of cleaning my desk, in boxes, or figuring out how much the SISPA meeting really ran up in expenses is likely under-played and under-valued, in our always-online business climate. Once the report is printed, I can visually identify my desk surface, and the expenses are in to our overworked office manager, then I'm going to take Brien's give your brain a rest tip straight to the top of my to-do list. After this one call, and a check of my phone tethered email.

elroys2
elroys2

I love answering emails when my internet connection is out and make phone calls if necessary. I work from home but I'm not afraid if there's an internet outage because I'm using a software (Time Doctor) that can track my billable time even on offline situation. So it does some sort of monitoring, recording my time and all activities going on in my computer - very helpful anyway.

tony
tony

Like Exchange, the PC version caches information offline. But also you can use it on some smartphones and tablets, and if you are using the cloud storage, it will sync back up when you have connectivity. Actually it also serves as a solution to (5) above - when on the pages you want to use the info from, right click in IE and "Send to OneNote"

tim.clarke
tim.clarke

But it's a pity the article is so Microsoft-centric, my Ubuntu laptop does all that too, let's not be fan-boys, Brien ;)

myangeldust
myangeldust

Wow! Linux users' insecurities now cover other people's personal experiences. "Oh, wait, you drive too? Well, I use Ubuntu AND own a car, sooo... waddaya think about that?! Gawd! I hate micro$oft sooo much!!" I read these comments just to see how far up the Linux kids' self-inflicted atomic wedgies go.

rodscher
rodscher

True enough, tim.clark -- this is definitely a pretty Microsoft-centric piece. Then again, the article is about how the author stays productive. These are the tools he happens to use; I'm pretty sure that the rest of us can figure out how to apply his advice to our own situations.