10 ways to tune up your mobile office

If you're an on-the-go IT pro, your mobile office could be slowing you down. Here are 10 simple tips to help make your workday more efficient.

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If you are an IT consultant or you do any work on the road, you know the importance of an efficient mobile office. Whether it's your car, truck, van, or mobile home, your business life on the road depends on how well you manage that office.

Unfortunately, a lot of us don't put much time into improving the situation. The workday is already busy enough. Taking time out to make improvements that don't help pay the bills doesn't make sense....

Or does it?

In actuality, improving your mobile office does help you pay the bills. And there are several easy things you can do to accomplish this.

1: File those papers

Even though you've tried to go paperless, you probably still deal with a bit of paperwork. Whether it be invoices, client contracts, maps, documentation, notes... you've got paperwork and it can easily make a mess of your mobile office. Instead of allowing it to clutter up an already cramped space, purchase a portable folder box or some other means with which to stow away the paperwork. Not only does this help get rid of clutter, it will prevent you from losing those contracts that have yet to make their way to digital form.

2: Use a mobile invoicing system

Most likely you already have the platform to help make your mobile office infinitely easier. Why not take advantage of that and install an invoicing system? By doing this, you don't have to scratch notes down and then hope those notes make it to your home office so you can enter time into your desktop invoicing system. One of my favorite apps is Invoice2Go. It offers everything you require in a portable invoicing system. No longer will you need to rush to the home office to input your billing and invoicing needs--it's all there, at your fingertips.

3: Use a time-tracking app

Speaking of useful apps, there might well be instances when you must track your time--maybe to show a client the time spent on a job or for transportation records. Whatever the reason, you need something for solid, verifiable time-tracking. Thankfully, there are plenty of apps for that purpose as well. My favorite is Jiffy - Time tracker. It does an outstanding job of presenting your logged time in beautiful, easy-to-read graphs. With the help of Jiffy, you won't lose track of time and you won't have to plod through paperwork or guess at how much time you spent on a job site.

4: Tame your chargers

Every single mobile worker has to charge devices, whether it's your phone, your laptop, your printer, or that job-specific piece of technology that requires a proprietary charging cable. As a result, you wind up with a snake-cage of cables on the floor of your mobile office--which translates into time wasted and headaches compounded. Don't let this happen to you. You've been an IT pro for years, you know how to manage cables. Spend a little extra time and manage the cables that help power your mobile office.

5: Mount your devices

I don't mean permanently affix your devices to various and sundry surfaces of your car/truck/van. I'm suggesting that you purchase mounts to hold your devices in place while you drive (or are parked working). This does a number of things. Most important, it prevents you from grabbing that smartphone while you drive and working with it en route. Don't be that person. As an added bonus, your gear will stay in place when you take tight corners or slam on your brakes, and it will help keep things nice and tidy.

6: Use the cloud

The last thing you want to do at the end of the day is transfer a bunch of files from your mobile device to home storage. This takes time, and in worst-case scenarios, you could lose data. Instead, use the cloud (Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud, Dropbox, SpiderOak, OwnCloud... whichever). This will ensure that your files are synced to any device you have connected to that account and make it easy to back up that data.

7: Clean it up

I can't tell you how many times I've had to travel with people in their mobile office... only to find it a disaster. It wasn't just clutter, it was trash. Stacks of coffee and soda cups, crumpled up paper, a never-ending tangle of Cat5... anything and everything that screamed I'M A BUSY IT PRO AND DON'T HAVE TIME TO BE NEAT AND TIDY! But all that clutter costs you time. And what happens when, on the off chance, you have to transport a client? They might take one look at that chaos and wonder if it's time to look into a new IT consultant.

8: Use a calendar

If you're not already, make use of a cloud-based calendar like Google Calendar, Zoho Calendar, Office 365, or any other option. But don't just use it to book your client time. Book your drive time, your lunch break, your start and finish time, your quick breaks (which you should try to take), and whatever else affects your daily grind that won't find its way onto your time-tracker app. The more you organize, the more efficient you'll work. That regularity of schedule will eventually bubble to the surface and will go a long, long way toward ensuring you stay focused and get the required work done. Also, if you have to move an appointment, make sure that move is reflected in the calendar.

9: Minimize your technology footprint

How many devices do you carry with you in your mobile office? Examine each for what it offers the tasks at hand. Can you streamline that tech into one simple device? Can you get rid of the device you use for mobile payment and replace it with the likes of Square on a tablet or phone? The less you have to carry, the more efficient you can be. You can also scale down your printer--or offer email receipts to avoid having to lug around a printer at all. Of course, this doesn't apply to technology you must have, such as network scanners and standard tools.

10: Ritualize your beginning and end of day

Much goes into the start and finish of a day for the mobile worker, and it can be easy to forget something key (like your tablet or coffee). To avoid this, develop a ritual for starting your mobile day. The same goes for the end of day. Make a habit of doing the same things every day--invoicing, closing trouble tickets, and clocking yourself out (an important ritual that keeps you from feeling like you are "always on").

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Other tips?

Your mobile office doesn't have to be a chaos-driven machine of inefficiency. With just a little bit of effort, you can make that on-the-go experience simple and effective.

What have you done to simplify your mobile office?