The Remote Worker’s MacBook Survival Guide
So you spend most of your time keeping the local coffee shops in business, liaising with clients you’ve never met face-to-face and hunting for spare power outlets. You couldn’t imagine doing your job without your Mac, but maybe you’re not quite running at maximum efficiency.
Relax, I’ve spent the last 5 years in a coffee shop and they’re only just starting to look at me like I’ve outstayed my welcome. Here’s what all those long blacks have taught me.
Conserve Your Battery
Despite the new MacBook packing a nine-hour battery life , you still shouldn’t leave home without a charger. Not all cafés and public Wi-Fi spaces have power sockets, so conserving your available power is key if you want a productive day.
You can isolate power-hungry apps quickly in OS X Yosemite and El Capitan by clicking on the power/battery icon in your menu bar while your Mac isn’t plugged in. You can also see an energy consumption breakdown for currently-running processes using Activity Monitor (found in your Mac’s Utilities folder, or called up using Spotlight ).
Head to the Energy tab and arrange by Energy Impact to see what’s using the most power right now, or by Avg Energy Impact to get an idea of the most power-hungry apps installed on your machine. You should try to avoid or limit your use of these apps while running on battery power.
Browsers are arguably the most energy-intensive common app, and closing unnecessary tabs can help. Killing unnecessary applications running in the background is also a good idea, but if you still find your battery won’t last the day, here are a few other things you can try:
- Turn off OS X’s visual effects under System Preferences > Accessibility and uncheck Reduce Transparency. You won’t get pretty bleed-through colours any more, but it could make a difference on certain machines.
- Turn off the automatic downloading of updates under System Preferences > App Store. This essentially limits background activity, and you will still be prompted to update as normal.
- Disable unnecessary location service privileges under System Preferences > Security & Privacy. Anything that doesn’t depend on a location fix can be disabled.
- Turn down your screen and keyboard backlight brightness using the function keys. You may need to seek shade but it’ll be worth it.
Finally, if you’re still using too much battery then you might want to consider that your power demands outweigh the energy supplied by your battery. In this case you’ll probably want to take a look at third party accessories that extend your MacBook’s battery life .
Control Your Data
Free public Wi-Fi is a marvellous thing, but it’s often unreliable. Whenever you find yourself with limited connectivity, your smartphone data plan should be able to bridge the gap (take a look at some of the best US data-oriented plans ). The only problem is, your Mac treats your smartphone the same way it treats your home router: updates start downloading, cloud services begin syncing and browser tabs (like Facebook) start haemorrhaging data.
A simple $7 app called TripMode can rectify this. It creates a whitelist of applications that are allowed to access the Internet when you’re connected via personal hotspot. It only works for device-to-device connections, and it even kicks in automatically when you connect. As soon as you connect to a regular Wi-Fi network, your apps function as normal again.
TripMode comes with a full 7-day free trial, and as anyone who has ever wiped out their allotted data by accidentally updating iTunes over 4G will tell you, $7 is a very reasonable price for the full version.
Protect Your Privacy
As much as we love free public Internet, there are a number of dangers associated with using a public hotspot. Without encryption, everything transmitted is essentially public: every website you visit and all details you enter (including payment details and login credentials) could potentially be viewed by someone who knows what they’re doing.
Certain hotspots can be hijacked also, including coffee shops and other small businesses. In these cases the exploits are specifically designed to steal your credentials, often by using a DNS-based attack to manipulate the web pages you see.
You can overcome this by encrypting traffic using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN works like a tunnel, with encryption at either end to obscure the information transmitted within. Even if you’re using a public network that’s been set up specifically to steal your traffic, the traffic is encrypted and can’t be viewed without being decrypted first.
Free VPNs should be treated with caution — earlier this year region-specific content unblocker Hola was found to be a botnet , selling bandwidth to the highest bidder and using infected computers to conduct distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. It’s often said that if you’re not paying for a service then you are the product, so consider picking from the MakeUseOf list of best VPNs instead .
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use VPN client for OS X, I’d recommend the free and open source Tunnelblick (pictured above).
Track Your Hours
Whether you’re moving from one coffee shop to another or grabbing an hour of work on the couch in the evening, if you’re a contracted worker there’s a chance you’ll lose track of what you’ve done, and short change yourself or spend too much time on tasks that won’t reward you on payday.
Whether you’re invoicing a client for the number of hours worked or you’re still working out where your time is going in the day, tracking your hours is the first step to a more productive you.
There are no shortage of tools for the job, starting at the premium end with solutions like On The Job ($39.99) and Harvest ($12 per month for up to three users) to the cheaper Klok ($19.99) and Cashboard ($10). If you’re looking for a free tool there’s always SlimTimer, but be aware most of the best tools are premium solutions designed to “pay for themselves” through regular usage.
Remember Your Colleagues
Just because your colleagues aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean communication has to cease. While your organisation may have its own chat or conferencing solutions , sometimes all you need to do is send a quick instant message.
Fortunately OS X comes with its own app called Messages which allows you to send texts via your iPhone and use iMessage to chat with other OS X and iOS users. You can also set up iMessage to work flawlessly with the Facebook and Google Hangouts chat protocols , which is especially handy if you get distracted by your inbox or cat pictures when all you want to do is send a message.
For all your other chat needs you should look to Adium, one of the Mac’s finest examples of open source software . This app has been around since the hazy days of MSN Messenger, and it maintains compatibility with just about every platform including: AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Twitter, Google Hangouts, Facebook, Jabber, IRC and Bonjour, among others.
What Have You Learned?
If you’ve spent a few years as a remote worker, you’ve probably learned many of these lessons the hard way. You’ve probably also got a word of advice for the rest of us — and we’d love to hear what you’ve learned.
Did you ditch your office for a café? Tell us all about it in the comments!
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