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COMMENTARY

Tips and tools to stay productive on the road Add to ...

Being productive outside of the office is critically important to small business owners. Today’s technologies make staying connected to the office, customers and suppliers all the more effective. Between your laptop, smartphone and tablet, you are not missing out on much besides a printer (and there are portable options available; I just have never seen anyone use one).

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With that said, I see a lot of room for improvement in the way small business owners maximize their contribution to the business when outside the office. I have some tools, tips and philosophies to help break out of the productivity trap that can sometimes ensnare small business owners when they are travelling locally or internationally.

When I am commuting to a local client’s office or heading to the airport to commence a 16-hour flight to Hong Kong, my first strategy is to figure out how to be productive in the car.

One tactic is to book conference calls for times when I know I will be on the road. My commute can be one to one and a half hours; these calls get work done and make the time and boring drive fly by. I schedule calls to contacts on the east coast during a morning drive and on the west coast during the drive back home.

If you are catching an early-morning flight and have no one in your network to call, consider listening to podcasts or business books on CD during your drive. They can offer a mini education or business self– improvement, help keep your mind sharp and make the time go quickly by.

Once you are at your destination, such as an airport, get comfy and pull out your laptop. In the absence of access to Wi-Fi, I create a hot spot from my iPhone so I can always connect. While a smart phone is capable of a lot of things, most owners don’t write detailed e-mails or review spreadsheets or documents on their phone. Pulling out a laptop is worth it, if even all you do is accomplish one task you would normally not have. I even do this when I am waiting for an oil change for my car or for my daughter to finish dance lessons.

If you are sitting in economy class on flights, like most of us are, you’ll find barely enough room for even a small laptop – especially if the person in front of you reclines their seat. This is when a tablet comes in handy. Most of my flights don’t offer in-flight Wi-Fi, so I miss my Internet connection. But I still use flight time for reading and editing, writing and listening to podcasts. (Okay, I admit it: Sometimes I just watch movies. It can’t be all work and no play.)

At hotels and other locations, free Wi-Fi is usually reliable; if not, I kick into my hot spot again. If you travel to the United States or internationally on a regular basis, I don’t need to tell you how expensive roaming charges can be for voice, text and especially data. I’ve had more four-figure mobile phone bills than I care to mention. Even though the major carriers in Canada offer roaming plans, they are expensive and not very robust. There’s nothing worse than roaming anxiety when you are trying to impress clients, visit suppliers and be as productive as you can be away from the office.

To overcome U.S. roaming costs, I am planning to try Roam Mobility Inc., a Vancouver-based company that offers phones, hotspot hardware or a U.S. SIM card for your unlocked smartphone, paired with cost-effective plans.

I rarely find I need to print anything in transit but, if I do, I normally ask for help from the company I am visiting or print at the hotel. I have, on occasion, had to print, sign and send back some documents while on the road; for those times, I’ve found a cool iPhone app called JotNot that turns your smartphone into a scanner. I take a picture of my signed document and it converts to a PDF, ready for sharing.

The last tool I depend on is a portable hard drive. I carry one with me that holds just about every document and e-mail I have saved over the past decade, and it still has room to spare. While I love DropBox and similar tools, a portable hard drive (which I have password-protected and encrypted, of course) is cheaper and doesn’t depend on an Internet connection.

The reason you are traveling is because you know that technology cannot replace the power of face-to-face interactions and being in the moment. Similarly, being away from the office can’t be replaced by a laptop and a few apps. Still, your business depends on you to contribute the most you can under all circumstances, so these tips and tools may help.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

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