Ask LH: How Can I Organise Myself When Work Blocks All The Good Apps?

Ask LH: How Can I Organise Myself When Work Blocks All The Good Apps?

Hi Lifehacker, I love the ideas you have presented for using Evernote and other programs to stay organised. However, I work in Defence and many websites are blocked here for security reasons. Dropbox and Evernote are the main killers for me. Do you have any ideas for staying organised between work and home life when tools like those are not available? Currently I email myself things I want to remember. Thanks, Organising Optimist

Locked keyboard picture from Shutterstock

Dear OO,

One possible solution is to move these apps over to your smartphone, as 3G access is unlikely to be blocked in your workplace. Dropbox and Evernote are both available on Android, iOS and Windows Phone, so this shouldn’t be an issue regardless of which mobile platform you use. When combined with email, it should be easy enough to transfer files/ideas to and from your work computer.

If you’d prefer not to churn through your phone’s data, you can often find portable, self-contained versions of apps which you can drop onto a USB key and run without installing anything on your work computer. (DropboxPortableAHK, for example, is a portable version of Dropbox that comes with Auto Hotkey included.)

For a more old school approach, you could try making notes in a paper notebook and schedule five minutes a day to transfer all the details. Otherwise, you might be able to pick up some tips from our guide on how to be productive in an overly secured workplace.

Finally, it might also be worth having a chat to your IT department about the issue. If you can convince them it’s hampering productivity they may be able to provide you with a virtual drive for non-sanctioned software installations and downloads.

If our readers have any alternative suggestions — particularly for Defense environments — do let OO know in the comments section below.


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  • HA! Good luck.
    I can’t even charge my phone through the USB of a DRN computer. Use your own laptop/tablet/phone over a 3g internet connection.

    • Simply being “portable” doesn’t mean it will run and/or work.

      I would hope if corporate security policy says that certain apps or types of apps can’t be used, it is enforced by a method that is actually effective.

  • Wouldn’t recommend portable apps as a solution.. “Hey you seem to be using an application that we don’t allow, oh but that’s ok its running from a USB drive, which you probably brought from home and shouldn’t really be plugging in eitherrr.. wait.. what..”

    In pretty much any organization of scale, you agree to certain terms that ensure your access to all systems within the organization. This means if you breach policy, you can effectively lose your job..

    Quite often policies like this exist because within such system is no method for them to control the distribution of quite probably confidential data (even if you don’t realise it). For example, if someone uses evernote for all their work, and then leaves or is terminated – they have no way of reclaiming such documents.

    Not that official methods are quite often any better… but still, they are entitled to try. A business is a trust relationship, get on board or perhaps find a more suitable employer who does give you such freedom 🙂

  • Portable apps are a big no-no, and USB drives won’t even function. Virtual drives aren’t going to happen either. If you work on a site that allows phones that is your best bet, otherwise you are stuck.

  • If you are going to approach your IT group as one possible solution that Lifehacker suggested, I suggest you bring them a Security Solution like that is a Privacy, Security and Collaboration layer on top of Dropbox.

    Try it out, it is free for consumers.

    If you need help with your IT department, drop me an email [email protected].

    I hope this helps.


  • Depending on what they do at Defence, mobile apps might not really be a good solution as in some areas you are required to surrender your phone. Also agree with portable apps being a big no no. At the company I work at you aren’t allowed to copy data on to a stick unless it’s encrypted which can have some incompatibilities at home (ie, our software doesn’t work on OSX).

    My advise, do your own personal management on your own devices. If you find that you are using these tools for work related things, submit a business case and have it reviewed, but be prepared for resistance. Most workplaces do offer you what you need to do your job and anything blocked is blocked for a reason. Go through the proper channels to have sites unblocked or apps approved, you would be surprised what you can get done when you ask nicely and have a good reason to support the application.

  • We have the same problem at my employer. The imperfect option I found is getting the most out the productivity applications installed on my office desktop … and then using their sanctioned VPN solution to access it and the network remotely.

    It has many limitations, but at least I can access all my files/tasks/calendar/email/etc anywhere.

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