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Building a Portable Office

Trying to cram your office into your briefcase? Get it right from the get-go before you get up and go. By Helen Thompson

By Helen Thompson

If you travel a lot, having a desk to spread things out on is a luxury you seldom enjoy. And even if you make it to your office every day, once you’re on the road, how do you stay anchored? Stephanie Winston, bestselling author of The Organized Executive, spends a lot of time on the road. The key to being organized on the go, she says, is to start before you leave your office.

If you already have overflowing piles on your desk, they’ll migrate right into your briefcase, says Winston, who is Office Depot’s organizing advisor. The first hurdle is to lay a solid foundation for being organized at your office; then you can build an efficient portable office.

1. Deal with your clutter. Don’t let the piles in your office intimidate you. “Clutter simply represents decisions you haven’t made yet,” says Winston. “Fortunately, there are only four decisions: toss, refer, act and file.” You can think of this as Winston’s “TRAF” system (see box).

2. Use your planner, not your memory. Everyone has planners, it seems, but most people don’t use them effectively. “You know that awful feeling of ‘Oh my gosh, was I supposed to call Joe on Thursday?’” says Winston. “Whether you use a digital or paper-based planner, your productivity will skyrocket if, as soon as you have that thought or make that appointment, you immediately enter it into your planner.”

Winston’s “TRAF” System

Toss: Trash it, recycle it, shred it or donate it—if you don’t need to keep it, get rid of it.

Refer: If it needs someone else’s attention, pass it along.

Act: It’s not getting done any faster sitting in the “eventually” pile. Get it done.

File: OK, so you need to keep it and can’t pass it along to someone else? File it. Use folders with big tabs so you can label them clearly.

3. Choose the right bag. Whether you choose a briefcase, satchel, messenger bag or rolling computer case, this is going to be your portable office. Looks aren’t everything—make sure it’s durable and functional. A bag with slots is perfect if you’re going on a multiple-destination trip. “If you put your materials for the first leg of your trip in the first slot of the bag, and the second leg in the second slot, and so on, you’re instantly organized,” says Winston.

4. Don’t forget office supplies. Bring the tools you need rather than counting on finding them at your destination. Paper clips, pens, a small notebook, some sticky notes, a portable stapler and extra file folders are all good to have. You can keep your travel tote stocked with an inventory of these items and a checklist to help you remember what to replenish.

5. Empty your bag when you get back. Aside from supplies you want to keep packed for every trip, your bag is not a permanent storage facility, Winston notes. “As soon as you’re back, you need to take the materials out of your briefcase and ‘TRAF’ them,” she says.

6. Cut back on paper. Winston has a theory that we’re keeping chiropractors in business with all the lugging we do. When you can, forego the paper for a USB drive. You can put hundreds of documents on one of these inch-long gizmos, and they are more affordable than ever. To avoid losing your drive, attach it to the key loop in your bag.


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