Productivity on the road

I am waiting for a flight to Geneva. For a guy that works in an unexciting cubicle, I seem to travel a lot. As Europe is the fourth continent which I am visiting this year. (More about this very exciting trip once I am back) The thing with travelling is that I will be away from my development desktop, amongst other things of course. As I work a day job and can only do my trading analysis and quant development work between the hours that I can squeeze in every day, every free minute is precious. One productivity habit that I adapted from frequent travelling is that I have a portable workflow system implemented. For the sake of completeness by stating the obvious, there are three keys to being productive while on the road.

  1. Exploiting downtime.
  2. Being prepared.
  3. Planning ahead.

Being productive doesn't mean that I coup myself up in a hotel room to work. Enjoying a foreign city and absorbing a different culture help enhance my personal experience in the long run. Being productive means exploiting down-times. The times waiting at an airport (like now), stuck in a plane, the wee hours of the morning when you couldn't sleep because of jet-lag, etc. Being prepared means have your work ready and available. There are three free software/services that I can't live without these days. They are Dropbox, Subversion, and SSH.

  • Dropbox is a web-based file hosting and synchronizing service. Basically, after installing the Dropbox software, anything you put in your "My Dropbox" directory in your computer will be mirrored on their online server. Then you can install the Dropbox software in a second computer and choose to link your private dataset with this second computer. Thus the "My Dropbox" directory will be synchronized in real-time between these two (or more) computers and an online version. All your most important files will be up-to-date and available to you anywhere. No more need for USB drives.
  • A software version control system to keep track and backup my source code revisions. I use Apache Subversion in particular. You can use Subversion to archive any file other than source code. For example, you can use it to keep track of revisions and branches to your presentation slides. [Assembla offers a free 2GB online private repository][] so that you can access it from anywhere and save the hassle of rolling your own repository server.
  • Secure Shell (SSH) is not a service like the other two but a network protocol. It is not as easy to setup so I'll leave it to Google. I use it to securely and remotely access my main computer's file system or the desktop when necessary. A simpler alternative to SSH is to use LogMeIn, a remote desktop service.

Note that some of these links are affiliate programs. But I just use their free services, so I am only recommending you do that too. These tools not only help me stay productive while away, they also ease the trouble of using more than one computers between my office, my home desktop, and my wife's laptop. Together they create a true virtual development environment. While mobile and cloud computing technologies are certainly useful, nothing beats old fashioned planning and organizing. Plan ahead, prepare your work, and have them available with you wherever you are. A lot can be done with plain pen and paper.