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Organize Your Mobile Office

You might just improve your bottom line

Let's face it: the briefcases and car trunks of some road warriors are a movable mess. Such disorganization can hurt productivity, efficiency, and ultimately profitability.

If you're among the traveled and untidy — or just determined not to join their company — consider these guidelines.

Know why

"Never leave on a business trip without first clearly defining your goals," says organization expert Maria Gracia. Knowing your goals will help you decide exactly what files and supplies to bring, and which ones to leave behind. Use a checklist to avoid over– or under–packing, says Gracia, and refer to the same list to pack when you return to avoid leaving something behind.

Advanded planning will also help you determine whether a trip is truly necessary — or when it could be combined with a later trip. To stay on–task while on the move, write down your objectives (on a notepad or handheld) and refer to them throughout your trip.

Curb chaos in the car

Sales representatives spend an estimated 7.5 days per year rooting through the trunks of their cars looking for samples or important documents?1 To keep wasteful searches to a minimum, consider the following:

  • Store important files in a portable file box. Make sure it accommodates hanging file folders. Keep it in the back seat (or the trunk) and place a towel beneath it to prevent it from sliding.
  • Keep a storage crate. If you travel by car often, put the items you repeatedly need (such as product samples and non–perishable snacks) in a collapsible crate and put it in the trunk.
  • Hang out. Store maps and business cards in a pocket organizer that hangs over the back of your car seat.
  • Hold the phone. Use a cell phone holder or a hands–free phone.
  • Emergency care. Be sure to keep a small first–aid kit in the trunk. Also pack an emergency kit that contains a flashlight, blanket, energy bars, jumper cables, tools to change a tire, and a raincoat.

Break bad briefcase habits

Rather than jam everything into it, organize your papers in pocket folders and keep them in a three–ring binder or expandable file holder. Put your pens, calculator, erasers and other small items in a small, transparent pouch.

To carry

Since airline companies can lose luggage, you should always have a carry–on bag with essentials. In addition to important documents and electronics, include underwear and a few light outfits.

Within this carry–on bag, have a small bag that is prepacked with essentials. Fill it with toothpaste, cosmetics, medication, deodorant, hairspray, razors, etc., and keep them separate from the toiletries you use at home. Whenever you leave, your personal essentials will be ready.

Another essential item to carry with you is a "To be read" expandable folder that contains document you can read while waiting in line or in between appointments. This will always give you something productive to do.

Bring essential electronics

But don't make your fate totally dependent on them! In case something goes wrong with your laptop, or your storage disk or CD is damaged, have a hard copy back up of your presentation (or other important documents) with you.

Essentials electronics Why you need them
Laptop To store important documents and to do work during down time.
Handheld (PDA) Let's you do all the organizing, and, in some models, much of the Word and Excel work you usually do on a laptop.
CD–Rs, Zips, or diskettes Store redundant copies of your important work on portable storage media.
Travel alarm Use the hotel’s room clock, or wake–up call, as a back up.
Cell phone (including charger) Choose a hands–free phone and a cigarette–lighter charger if you'll be driving.
Portable surge protector Protects your laptop against data loss.
Voice recorder For dictation, and recording new ideas. Some handhelds (PDAs) and digital cameras now come with voice recorders.

Make contact, double up

In addition to confirming appointments with clients, ask about presentation rooms and (if applicable) materials you should bring, such as a multimedia projector, extra USB cables (for hooking up to printers and other office machines), or even a portable printer. Also find out if the hotel has a fax/copier and Internet access (either broadband or an additional phone–line connection).

If possible, visit more than one client in the same trip. This can save you big on travel expenses.

Ask your own question

If you have a question about organizing your mobile — or stationary — office, ask our Organization Expert.


1From "Mobile Office Tips" by George Phirippidis.

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