Top Apps for Road Warriors 2
My Top 8 Apps
(and why I couldn’t live without them!)
I’m on the road – again – but I’ve got my Top Apps with me. Well, actually I’m on a train. This time I’m on the airport express train from Hong Kong International Airport to Central station (the MTR which is fantastic – make sure you get an Octopus card!), from where it will be a short taxi ride to my hotel. At just under 30 minutes the train trip is long enough for some uninterrupted work, but I can’t access wi-fi, so instead I use the time to jot down ideas for new blog on my tablet. Or just rest my brain.
While some people might see my road-warrior existence as burdened by unproductive down-time (and to an extent this is unavoidably the case), I prefer to focus on the opportunity travel provides to prioritise my workload, especially by using technology smartly.
As I suggested in the first part of this article, we each have a unique workstyle, which influences our needs and preferences when we travel. But many elements (and frustrations!) of business travel are experienced by all of us, so I’d like to share with you my Top 8 Apps for staying productive on the road.
But before you read the list, you should ask yourself the following questions to help you decide which devices and Apps will work best for you.
Do you mostly travel domestically or internationally?
Many apps require internet access to function. If you travel internationally then data roaming costs might be a concern. If you travel to developing countries you might not even be able to rely on internet access.
Do you travel to places with a local company office?
If you have a local office you most probably have access to the company intranet and fileserver, as well as colleagues who can help you with any problems. If your hotel room is your office and home away from home, you need to be more independent and better prepared with backup options.
What devices do you have, and are they company-provided or personal (BYOD)?
If you work for a bank (or any global corporate), chances are you can’t even insert a USB-drive to your laptop, let alone download software or access file sharing sites. Your social media might also be blocked.
So, now you have examined your workstyle preferences, identified bad habits you would like to lose, and considered your business travel circumstances, you are ready to start researching and evaluating Apps that will help you be more productive. In no particular order, here are my Top 8 Apps, which have been used, abused, and customised over years of trial and error! I hope you find some of these tips useful.
I DO NOT ENDORSE ANY OF THE PRODUCTS OR TOP APPS HERE. I DO NOT GET PAID FOR THEM, BY THEM, OR OTHERWISE RECEIVE BENEFITS OF ANY KIND. THIS IS SOLELY MY PERSONAL OPINION AND I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE PERFORMANCE (OR NOT!) OF ANY OF THESE APPS OR VENDORS.
1. Evernote (Premium)
When they say “remember everything”, they mean it!
I store essential business and personal information in Evernote (password-protected and 2-Factor Authenticated), including tips such as the lowest cost phone/data plans for different countries, local company office dial-out codes for international calls, and notes & images from meetings on the road. Copy important emails and tweets to your notebooks, and make use of Webclipper, which has plugins for IE, Chrome and Firefox.
I confess I also store recipes, restaurant recommendations, and research for personal travel destinations in Evernote!
The PC/laptop version stores everything on your local drive, so you don’t need to be online to use it, only to sync it. Ensure all your Evernote notebooks are available off-line if you want to read them on your tablet or smartphone.
I use Evernote Premium because it’s the most comprehensive system for capturing, storing and searching every conceivable type of information and media from a huge range of sources. It’s much more than just a note-taking app and therefore superior to Microsoft OneNote or similar programs.
2. Dropbox (Professional)
What isn’t saved in Evernote is in Dropbox!
Dropbox makes saving email attachments from your phone or tablet for reading or editing later on (even on another device) super-easy.
Dropbox Professional is my preferred cloud file storage because it provides more gigs than even I can use, syncs almost instantly across all platforms, is well-integrated into many devices and Apps so uploading, attaching and accessing documents from anywhere is easy. Plus it is widely used so easy to share folders or individual documents with people.
I also have some of my favourite photos of family, friends, and travel adventures in Dropbox for when I miss home or need some inspiration!
3. Todoist (Premium)
I am a compulsive list-writer and derive great satisfaction from crossing things off!
I like Todoist because it syncs across all my devices and also has a Microsoft Office Outlook™ plug-in, so even when you are tempted to bury yourself in your inbox, you can’t avoid seeing your to-do list. The same plug-in also allows you to save an email as a task – no more scores of red flags forgotten at the bottom of your inbox!
Todoist provides more of the features I need than most of its competitors, such as a variety of different reminder channels (including free push reminders to your smartphone), the ability to create projects and sub-tasks, and customisable task filters.
Best of all, it retains completed tasks as strike-throughs – perfect for those of us who are goal-oriented!
4. Google Maps
“Star” everything and save maps for offline use!
In addition to being a compulsive list-writer, I am also ever-so-slightly obsessive about documenting where I have been, from 4WD-journeys across the Tibetan Plateau, boating down the Hunza River in Pakistan, to that great little hole-in-the-wall restaurant near a client in Hong Kong!
Warning – as I mentioned in the first part of my Top Apps series, Google Maps are generally not China-friendly. You’ll want to download all your maps (to street level) before you arrive in China.
Google Maps covers more of the world than most of its competitors and is gradually building a more comprehensive “search for x nearby” database, which I have used on many early morning walks from my hotel to the office in search of decent coffee!
I still find plain old Skype the most widely used and reliable platform for chatting with my partner, family, and friends. After a long day on the road there is nothing better than a 10 minute video Skype with someone you love. For business calls I’ve also installed WebEx, GoToMeeting and Skype for Business (was Microsoft Lync) on all my devices.
It’s still a bit of an average offering and highly susceptible to freezing or dropping out if you don’t have enough bandwidth, but at least it’s relatively stable as long as you work with version 12 or below.
A few weeks ago in Shanghai I was working late at night in my hotel room on final edits to a conference presentation (for the next morning!) and had problems with the linked images in the file. I pinged my collaborator from our marketing team on WeChat for help.
After a few texts and sharing a moving image of my laptop screen, my colleague voice-recorded some instructions, which solved some of the issues but not all. So then she suggested video. I was initially reluctant (not looking my perfectly-groomed self as seen in the office), but as she was wearing pink pyjamas I didn’t feel I could justify my vanity! As it turned out we used the video to share step by step actions on my laptop which helped us eventually fix 100% of the issues.
WeChat is very similar to WhatsApp – both are media-rich one-to-one and one-to-many communication Apps for your phone.
Do you hate documenting expenses for reimbursement or reconciliation against your charge card? So do I.
The reason I like this app is that its intuitive, can be customised to recognise frequent vendors or expenses, and you can photograph or scan receipts directly into a report.
The downside of Expensify and most similar apps is that they don’t naturally interface with corporate financial management programs, so you might not be able to avoid some data entry in lodging your expense claims. However, Expensify’s reporting function makes it easy to reconcile total charges against a trip, project or timeframe.
8. TypeMail or CloudMagic Email
If you are like me you have multiple email accounts. I like to have one email app on all my devices that allows me to access Outlook Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail, iCloud/yMail, and other domain-name accounts online and offline.
TypeMail has loads of features that allow you to customise most settings for each email account individually, and switch easily between unified or individual account views. Sub-folders can be set up for each email, but only sync for push accounts, and it allows you to use clusters and conversations to view and manage groups of emails. Unlike many email apps, TypeMail also supports Google and Outlook Exchange calendars. The downside is that there is no web-based version for laptops (as with most email apps) and no text formatting (yet) when writing emails.
CloudMagic is similar although with less flexibility to customise general and individual account settings, and doesn’t support the creation of subfolders. However its still the only email App I’ve found with built in links to save emails to Evernote, Todoist and Pocket.
These are my favourite Top Apps for Road Warriors, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s important to consider the circumstances in which you travel, and tailor your Apps for your productivity and workstyle accordingly.
There are many other productivity-enhancing Apps such as IFTT (If This Then That) which you can use to automate repetitive tasks (for example cross-posting or uploading to different social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter) using “recipes” you can download or develop yourself. If you have other great Apps for working on the road, please use the comment box below to share them with us.
Safe travels friends!