An effective mobile office is essential for productive traveling designers. There are plenty of reasons why you need a mobile office: besides introducing more traveling into your life, you have easier mobility with your design work, increase your focus, get more quality work done, and simplify and enjoy your life more as a result of it all.
But there are no doubt problems that come up while using a mobile office: distractions, finding good places to work, no internet access when you need it, and so forth. How do you avoid these issues? Well, today’s your lucky day, because this article covers how to overcome common mobile office problems.
This article will cover the following:
- Providing you with some solutions to common mobile office problems
- Recommend the best gear and share a personal mobile office example
- Offering 3 ways to start using your mobile office (including comfortable remote working locations)
Keep reading to find out how to tackle common mobile office problems, get some of the best mobile office gear, and start using your mobile office in fun, comfortable, and productive ways.
Solutions to Common Mobile Office Problems
1. Noise while talking to clients
You’re trying to have a professional conversation with a client. But the loud background music at the cafe, or people talking next to you, or cars honking and whizzing by on the street – all can make it annoying and pretty difficult. So what’s a mobile worker to do?
Here’s a not-so-secret tip: libraries.
Libraries are gold mines for quiet environments. And they’re everywhere, from the most bustling cities to the rural towns.
If you need to talk on the phone or have a video chat with your laptop or mobile device, simply talk somewhere outside the library (the wifi connection will still be active outside). Almost all libraries have a quiet environment around them – even in cities. This is because libraries are usually located on a quieter block, and there’s little development right next to it. Some libraries even have a garden-like area.
But what if you’re not working at a library? Plan your calls in advance so you go to the library when you need to have one. Now granted, this is an extra step, but it’s not that big of a hassle – you’re moving about with your mobile office anyway. And it’s much better than stepping outside of the cafe onto a busy street.
But remember that most of the time you’re spending working on your laptop, so it’s not like you’ll need to do this all the time. And if you need to constantly make and receive calls that require absolute silence, you’re probably not the type for a mobile office anyway.
Note: if libraries aren’t your thing, another option (albeit paid) is co-working spaces. More on that below.
2. Slow or no internet access
It happens: you have a critical task that requires the internet, but the connection is being slooooowwwww. How do you avoid risking time-sensitive tasks that rely on a fast internet connection?
Plan your internet to-do tasks in advance. Take care of them in batches when you do have good internet access. These tasks can be things like research, gathering online materials, downloading and/or uploading of files, and accessing a website via ftp.
For your actual working files, use Dropbox that will sync your computer’s files with others’ computers (such as your clients or partners). This way, you can work on the new files while offline, and next time you connect Dropbox will automatically update the others with the new files.
If constant communication is a necessity for you, consider using a dedicated mail app (such as Thunderbird, Outlook, Apple’s Mail app, or the countless other free and paid ones). Like with Dropbox, the mail app will sync your email inbox to your computer. So when you’re offline, you can still read and reply to emails. Then next time you’re online, it will send them on their merry way as well as download any new emails.
3. Short battery life
Ah, that annoying laptop battery. You’re in the creative zone, absolutely rocking it… and then the “low battery” message pops up, and your laptop goes to sleep soon after. It never, ever lasts long enough. So how to squeeze the maximum amount of working time from it?
- Dim the screen to lowest possible brightness where you can still comfortably work
- Turn off your laptop’s wifi adapter when not in use
- Switch to battery savings (or “energy saver“) mode
And now a not-so-obvious tip: listen to music on your mp3 player, not laptop.
Continuous music playing drains your laptop’s battery life big time. Not as much as watching a video, but it’s still a constant sipping of the battery juice. So instead of using iTunes or whatever on your laptop, listen to tunes on a dedicated portable music player that has plenty of battery instead. If your phone’s battery life is too short (most are, since they’re like mini computers), consider getting an affordable small mp3 player.
The Best Mobile Office Gear List
Unlike most gear lists, you won’t be overloaded with choices. This list is purposefully short. You get only the small handful of best selections here.
I’ve personally tested different earphones and backpacks during real mobile office usage (as well as tried carrying different laptops around), so this isn’t some lame regurgitation of some website’s list.
Forehead-slapping obviousness here: the thinner and lighter, and longer the battery life, the better.
The popular choice is a 13-inch Macbook/Pro/Air or a Windows/Linux machine in the thin and light category (13-inch, 3.5 pounds or lighter, 1 inch thin or thinner). Toshiba and Asus make affordable ones with long battery life. Depending on when you read this article, there’ll no doubt be some hotter and sexier machines out.
Also, people love to hate on the Macbook Air, but it’s undeniably a great choice for a full-powered laptop that’s thinner and lighter than anything in its class, with an even smaller 11.6-inch option for ultra-mobility. Again, depending on when you read this, it’ll hopefully be even better.
I can’t personally vouch for this, but I’ve seen people in cafes rocking a tablet like an iPad (doing honest-to-goodness writing and coding), so you can consider going this route instead. If you can do all your work on one, then why not? This category of work devices is part of the exciting future, so why not embrace it if your work allows.
Ultimate Ears SuperFi Studio in-ear earphones: comfort, fidelity, noise-reduction, affordability.
Forget every other in-ear earphones you’ve seen. The only ones you need to get are the Ultimate Ears SuperFi 3 Studio earbuds. It’s what I use. But when I got them they were called the SuperFi 5 Studio and cost more. Lucky you, getting ‘em for cheaper.
Why are the UE SuperFi in-ear earphones so good? Because they have incredible audio fidelity, noise-reduction, and comfort at less than half the price of comparable models from top brands. Similar Sennheiser and Shure models cost over $200-300.
Why are Ultimate Ears earbuds priced so low? Because you’ve likely never heard of Ultimate Ears. They’re in the pro recording business, making in-ear earphones for musicians. Mick Jagger and Bono rock custom-made UE earbuds on stage. Prosumer models are almost like a hobby side-business for Ultimate Ears. So since they don’t need to spend much time or money marketing their prosumer line, they can sell them for cheaper. It’s the same reason store-brand food costs more than name-brand of the same quality.
Alright, but why should you still spend this much on freakin’ earbuds? 3 reasons:
- audio quality
- and actually saving money down the line
Wait, you’ll save money getting these? That’s right. See, what’s really important is the actual UE earbuds disconnect from the cord. So when the wires inevitably wear out, you don’t have to throw the earbuds away – you simply get a low-priced replacement cord and you’re good to go. This is why I don’t recommend the budget in-ear earbuds, even by Ultimate Ears, Sennheiser, Shure, and Sony: not only will the audio quality and isolation will be lower, and you’ll have to buy new ones every year or so when the thin, frail wires wear out.
Okay, we’ve been going on about in-ear earphones for a while now. But that’s because earphones are an essential but under-appreciated piece of gear, so it deserves greater attention.
You probably listen to music almost all the time while working – it’s energizing, after all. So you might as well invest a little more to get high-quality earphones that you’ll use every day. If you’re coming from the regular headphones or earbuds, you’ll fall in love with music all over again – that’s not hyperbole, it’s a serious transformative experience. But besides that, good in-ear earphones also greatly reduce outside noise, so you can be more focused while working. Plus, that noise-reduction comes in handy during flights or something when the person sitting next to you decides to snore loudly.
If you can’t afford the Ultimate Ears SuperFi Studio earphones right now, save up while sticking to whatever earbuds you currently have. Seriously, it’s worth it to get high-quality in-ear earphones.
Patagonia Yerba backpack: small, roomy, and even somewhat professional-looking.
You want a bag that not only is comfortable (you’re going to be carrying it around a lot), but you also want it to look good and professional. I use and highly recommend the black Patagonia Yerba Pack 22L.
The Yerba holds a slim 22 liters of stuff, which is large enough for your mobile office, sweaters, food, and then some, but still small enough to be fairly flush with your back (no more looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame) and not weigh you down. It has a lot of gadget and office-specific pockets, a generous padded laptop pocket, 2 discreet water bottle holders (rare in small professional-focused bags), and none of the crazy extra straps and buckles you find with most backpacks.
If you absolutely need another choice, consider a laptop or messenger bag from Booq. I haven’t personally used them, but Booq have basically become one of the top dogs for mobile creative workers and laptop warriors, so I thought I’d share.
An Example Mobile Office
My humble mobile office, on which I make electronic music, write, design, and build my business:
- Laptop + power adapter
- Ultimate Ears SuperFi Studio in-ear earphones
- Accessories: phone, music player, notepad
- An optional bonus item for publicly rocking out: Logitech USB-powered speakers (plenty of bass, no external power needed)
My mobile office easily fits in the Patagonia Yerba 22L backpack with plenty of room for a sweater, food, and whatever else. In fact, I’m a pretty light traveller with few things, so all of my possessions can fit in this sucker.
3 Ways to Start Using Your Mobile Office
1. Work while you commute
During a train ride, waiting at the train station, while on a flight, waiting at the airport terminal. Basically, whenever you have to move around, regardless of it’s 30 minutes or 3 hours, you can get some work done during those times. That’s less work you’ll have to do later. No surprises but worth mentioning just in case.
What’s nice is almost all long-distance trains have comfortable seats and power outlets, and more and more airplanes are offering power outlets/wifi. Some shorter-distance commuter trains also have power outlets.
2. Escape distractions or get change of scenery
Some obvious choices are coffee shops and cafe. You get a change of scenery, and if people-watching or dynamic environments are your thing, then you can’t ask for more.
To escape distractions, get some peace and quiet, and really focus on a task, pop into the local library. Without needing to buy a drink or pay a fee, you get free wifi, your own booth with a power outlet, drinking water fountains, and clean bathrooms.
If you want comfortable remote working locations, try hitting up the local co-working space. It’s shared working environments that are popping up in more and more cities around the world. You pay a low monthly fee (some offer single day/week passes) and you get to comfortably and quietly work in a cool designer-friendly space with other like-minded creative types. You can have access to the kitchen, complimentary drinks, bathroom, and hangout areas. And you get to be around, chat with, and possibly collaborate with other doers of great work.
3. The adventurous one: find an awe-inspiring location
This is the optional but sexiest option: work in some awe-inspiring location that you’d normally wouldn’t work in. It can be out on a cool street at a outdoors cafe, at a boardwalk overlooking the ocean, on a balcony or patio overlooking gorgeous nature, near the top floor of a skyscraper, whatever.
Direct sunlight and glare is a problem, so either be inside with a window giving you a view or have a roof or table umbrella for shade.
You won’t work at these locations every day of course. But for occasional experiences, they’re the ones you’ll remember most. Plus, these are the ones you’ll have the biggest bragging rights to – for example, I made an electronic tune on a balcony while overlooking a gorgeous sunset over the Caribbean ocean. After all, your life is there to enjoy and have fun.
Overcome Common Mobile Office Problems
Now that you know how to avoid common mobile office problems and which is the best gear for your mobile office, get out there and start putting your effective office to good use.
What’s your favorite pieces of mobile office gear? What coolest, most inspiring places have you’ve done great work at? Share your mobile office setup and experiences in the comments section below.