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A Virtual File Cabinet
Your Desktop on Your Key chain/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/NOV08/images/TechYou

A handy little gadget helps this sales associate stay organized.

Trace Meek used to save practically every piece of paper that came across his desk. Week after week, old receipts, phone messages, mail and every newspaper and magazine article he found relevant to his real estate business would pile up. “I’d stack paper after paper until it was three inches deep,” says Meek, a sales associate with Century 21 Condon-Meek in Clearwater.

Then one day he attended a technology conference at his local Board and discovered something that could remedy his paper clutter: a USB flash drive.

“The [instructor] told us to walk up to a file cabinet, open a drawer and imagine that we could store all those files on something about the size of our thumb,” Meek says.

He went out and bought a SanDisk Cruzer Micro with 4GB of memory for less than $50. “It’s amazing that something so small can hold the contents of a four-drawer file cabinet on it. I’ve always used external storage devices like the Zip drive and the 3.5-inch disks, but you could never fit enough information on those.”

More compact than most portable storage devices, a flash drive—also known as a thumb or jump drive—is fast, durable and reliable (provided you don’t lose it). “I like this one because it fits on my key chain,” says Meek. I’ll probably upgrade to an 8GB drive eventually, which is about $60 to $80.”

Much to Meek’s surprise, his flash drive does a lot more than store data. Here are additional benefits:

1. Portable Office
“When you plug the thumb drive in and the icon pops up on your computer screen, you need to visualize an empty file cabinet,” says Meek. He designated one folder for real estate and then created subfiles for various categories, such as current listings, buyers and so forth. “Within those files are the names and contact information for each of those people. It’s like carrying a Rolodex with you wherever you go.”

2. Go Paperless
When Meek wants to save a copy of a paper document—whether a phone message, a receipt or an article—he scans it and saves it as an Adobe PDF on his flash drive.

“When I started scanning, I found so many things I was looking for,” says Meek. “I purged [everything] so I don’t have to worry about junking up my office with stacks of paper. It’s so much easier to find [a lost document] on a thumb drive as opposed to inside a box.”

If Meek comes across a newspaper article, a listing for a customer or anything else of interest on the Internet, he saves it as an Adobe PDF and moves it to his flash drive.

3. Easy Back-Up
Meek tries to back up the data on his flash drive at least once a week. “It’s a wonderful gadget until you drop it or get it wet. I run a free program called SyncToy [from Microsoft] that copies all the folders on my thumb drive to a specific folder on my desktop, so I never have to worry about losing important files.” 

4. Duplicate Your Workspace
Using a tool called MojoPac (mojopac.com), Meek can replicate his desktop environment on virtually any computer. To do this, he installed the program onto his flash drive and then uploaded all his applications, files and settings. “Every time I plug into a PC with Windows XP, MojoPac will pull up my own desktop screen with my files on it, including the Internet pages I like.”

When he’s done, he exits the program and unplugs his flash drive—leaving no trace of his work behind for unwanted eyes.  There is a free version (MojoPac Freedom), but he opted for MojoPac Deluxe (at $49.99 monthly).

5. Business on the Go
Thanks to his flash drive, Meek can do business from anywhere. He recalls the time he had to write an offer on a home but didn’t have any contracts with him. Luckily, he’d saved a copy to his flash drive. He opened it up and printed it out on his customer’s computer. “All the information I need to list or sell a property is on this gadget,” he says.

This column, designed to offer examples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices, won second place in the 2008 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association. Opinions expressed here don’t reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor® magazine or the Florida Association of Realtors®.