Take remote control
Am I working, resting or playing? Working from a remote location on the internet isn't new, but recent innovations are making it possible to work more efficiently than ever - and even appear to be at work when you're really 'out of office'.
Used by 45 million PC and Mac users, and on Android, iPhone and BlackBerry smart phones, Dropbox allows users to upload - and share - up to 2GB of files per month. It rises to 100GB for US$19.99 per month.
For those heading off on a secret holiday, it's a virtual office that can be instantly accessed almost anywhere at any time. Dropbox also gets rid of that most hated, clumsy and time-consuming invention of the online age: the e-mail attachment.
A Dropbox folder is like any other on a desktop or laptop computer, but synchronises with a remote server when a web connection is established. Folders are then instantly accessible by anyone you invite to share them with.
'We use Dropbox a lot because it works so well for small teams,' says Stuart Miles, owner of tech website www.pocket-lint.com. 'We've got reporters at events taking photographs and collecting data that's almost instantly available to the rest of the team to work on and post to the website.'
Even better, Dropbox churns away in the background, so it works even if there's a weak web connection. For those who need to dip in and out of work while on holiday, it's ideal.
The key advantage of online storage, syncing and sharing is less e-mail; you never have to download or upload attachments, request documents, or ask for updates from people you regularly work with. You can see exactly what they're doing. With Google's raft of free online software, it's even possible to see a colleague's cursor move across a shared spreadsheet.
In short, you can get any necessary work done as long as you're within reach of the internet. 'Branding, legal, financial, invoicing, product development - everything is on the cloud so the office can travel where I choose,' says Kevin Fox, director of www.Lat56.com, which designs and sells innovative carry-on luggage.
'Other than handwritten notes and sketched design work, it is all on a cloud which all employees have access to. We can adjust the admin settings to give employees different levels of access.'
Fox has equipped his team with online devices that sync with the cloud, namely high-specification Lenovo ThinkPad X220 laptops and the new BlackBerry Bold, while the sales team uses iPads.
Access is everything, but self-defined boundaries are just as critical for mobile workers trying to maximise both productivity and free time. Disengaging from business and clients is what the holiday was invented for (Fox goes to Africa once a year, away from phones and Wi-fi), but technology can help here, too. Despite having a reputation for ruining vacations, a BlackBerry can just as easily safeguard against that. Decisive users can program it not to deliver messages between specific times. Anyone for tennis?
Playing virtual hide-and-seek by e-mail has also never been easier thanks to Boomerang, a plug-in for Gmail and Outlook that can 'bend' time. As well as sending e-mails off on their own vacation, scheduled to return at a pre-determined time, Boomerang also lets users fool the world into thinking people are at work when they're not. You can write an e-mail, then determine exactly what time it will be sent.
'Sometimes a remote worker is at a location in a different time zone from the rest of his team. So he can time the delivery so that messages will arrive at the time the rest of the team is in the office,' says Aye Moah, product chief at Baydin, which sells the Boomerang browser plug-in for US$49.99 per year.
I use Boomerang to appear to work to clients' schedules when I'm doing the opposite. If I'm asked to submit an article every day for a week, I'll write them all ahead of time and attach them to pre-written e-mails scheduled for slightly different times of the day. By the time the accounts team gets my pre-prepared invoice on Friday afternoon, I've been looking efficient for a whole week - and I've had a few days of recharging before my next self-defined bout of work.
Moah calls this pre-scheduling a 'better virtual presence'. It's a great way to meet deadlines and to make sure you don't hit them too early. It's particularly handy for those being paid by the hour.
There's nothing unfashionable about being ruthlessly efficient to earn yourself more leisure time.