Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mobile Worker's Checklist: Don't Forget Your 'Phone

Today I left my phone at home again and only discovered this 20 min before my flight was boarding for a 3-day work trip to Stockholm. Thankfully I had my iPad and computer, both with Skype; not the same as a telephone but would do in a pinch. However, that doesn't take away the fact that it will be extremely inconvenient at the conference I am going to, where I will be coordinating and working with a number of colleagues scattered around the venue on a joint workshop. I will feel completely foolish telling them that I forgot my phone - people will look at me incredulously.

Ok, so I'm not happy about this, well actually I am extremely annoyed with myself for walking out without my phone. This is not the first time in recent months that this has happened (at least only the second). So what can I do about this worrying trend (at least two data points into a trend)?

Recently I have joined the ranks of mobile workers everywhere. I took an interesting 18 month, 50% job with a global organization whose HQ is in London. On top of my other travel, weekly or biweekly trips to London now seeing me passing, two feet and two wheels, up to four times a week through Geneva airport.

In spite of the fact that I have lived over half my life without one, I feel amazingly lost and rather lonely without my phone. I'm sure I am the only person over 5 years old on this plane without one. Thankfully, by virtue of my age, I'm wearing a watch and don't rely on my phone for that ( see Sir Ken Robinson's interesting TEDtalk - Bring on the Learning Revolution -  about generational shifts in learning and watch wearing). A watch is another essential (for me) in a workshop setting.

Inspired by both Atul Gawande (Better and Checklist Manifesto - how checklists save lives) and David Allen (of GTD fame -checklists are blackbelt moves), I decided to make a Mobile Worker's Checklist.

Just a word about checklists here, you might be saying, "What? That's all, that's the answer? I make lists all the time."  But do you reuse them? That's the difference. You need to make a master list, update it until its perfect, and use it every time. Now that kind of  list takes a lot of things off your mind, and avoids foolish mistakes which you are bound to make as a mobile worker. Repetition and familiarity make you very cavalier with travel, but one really can't afford that. We might not be doctors or pilots, who also rely on checklists, but a mobile facilitator or trainer or co-worker without a phone can cause serious team communication problems too. So here's my checklist:

Mobile Worker's Checklist

1. Communication (this has to come first)
  • Phone with charger (USB and wall)
  • Plug adapter (international)
  • USB hub
  • Power bar (to plug in multiple devices when there is only one awkward socket behind the hotel bed)
  • iPad if one day trip with Bluetooth keyboard and charger
  • Laptop if multiple day trip with power and USB key with docs, your whole music repertoire and movies to watch when you're shattered
2. Travel
  • Keys (home and destination office)
  • Tickets with boarding passes printed
  • Passport
  • Airline cards and insurance card (international)
  • Oyster card (local travel pass)
  • Train pass (home country)
  • Currency and bank cards
  • Loyalty cards for destination Office city (from coffee to hotel)
  • Envelope to keep receipts labeled with trip date
3. If conducting a workshop
4. Clothes and toiletries
  • As needed
  • List of what has been left in destination office (eg sports clothes, toiletries, sweater) so you don't pack it again (and you will forget if you don't make this sub-list and keep taking the same stuff back)
  • Vitamins (because you are getting up at 4am and going to bed after midnight)
  5. Documents
  • GTD file (still on paper)
  • Agenda (can't let go of paper mirror of electronic)
  • Business cards (for both organizations)
An additional benefit of making such a checklist is seeing how many heavy things could be replaced with soft versions on a USB or external hard drive, or even better on the ' cloud'. For example, Dropbox can do away with the external hard drive (although you can't use Dropbox on the flight). Also, I leave my heavy laptop at home and only take my iPad and wireless Mac keyboard when I know I will be in meetings all day and will only need email. The iPad is great for filing on flights and syncs all that work once connected to the internet again.

With a new organization comes a new email account, folders, password etc. (I already had two-personal and company). Three separate gmail accounts is clunky to manage.  Not to mention the fact that people often use whatever email address pops up in their automatic address function, so the messages are often in the wrong accounts in terms of their folders. Add this to online/offline mobile working (planes, trains and automobiles) and you need a new email management system.

So I migrated my email (which was previously kept in outlook on my hard disk) to imap where I can see all three accounts and their folders in one view, and they are kept on the cloud. (I say "I" migrated it, but it was actually tech support from software-writing husband downstairs in office cave.)

For a mobile worker this system is good because your work, files, etc. need to both sync and be available from multiple machines: laptop, iPad, phone (if you remember it) and random dumb terminal.  You don't want to have to do anything twice, and you want to be able to access all your aliases, being able to send from all accounts and use different electronic signatures.

With this checklist I won't forget my phone, and everything else I forget will have a place to go - on the might take me a few iterations, but hopefully then will be foolproof.

(This is my checklist, what's on yours?)