In the bag: Briefcase essentials say a lot about today's workers

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2007

Today, busy workers stuff just about everything into their business bags. So much so, in fact, it's practically impossible to stay organized. That's why we've compiled a list of briefcase must-haves to help tame the disorderly beast that is your traveling office.

1. PDA or Smartphone

Portable digital assistants offer the same features as laptop computers but are much lighter and easier to handle. E-mail, contacts and schedulers are typically standard fare with these gadgets. Some double as cell phones and even have the option of installing often-used software, such as Microsoft Excel.

2. Cell phone and charger

If your PDA doesn't have the benefit of a cellular phone, bringing one along with you is a definite must. Workers who are prone to forgetfulness may resolve to keep this important item in their briefcases at all times. But what's the use of a cell phone if its battery isn't charged? Carrying a charger with you - one that can be plugged into a car outlet is ideal - could prevent an unwanted loss in communication. Additionally, all-in-one chargers that can accommodate both a cell phone and a PDA will save on space.

3. Notebook and pen

Even with all the gadgets available these days, nothing quite compares to the tried-and-true use of pen and paper.

"Use the technique researchers use when they make field notes," suggests Jeanne Hurlbert, co-owner and manager of Optinet Resources, a consulting company based in Baton Rouge, La. "As soon as you're away from the meeting - in your car in the parking lot, for example - jot down key information about individuals while it's fresh in your mind. You can transfer the information to your computer or PDA later."

4. Admin/In-case-of-emergency kit

This kit is designed to mimic the little office necessities that can easily be forgotten. Items include paperclips, Post-Its, highlighter, and any other items you use on a regular basis.

"I travel about 50 percent of the time across the United States to see clients, and I'm terrible at remembering," says Kevin Berchelmann, an independent management consultant. "I tend to have better luck 'pre-positioning' myself - to steal a logistics term."

While these items don't have to be in kit-form, it's wise to keep a few tissues, hand sanitizer, pre-moistened wipes and even a mini stain remover, such a Tide to Go pen, for sudden spills before a big meeting.

Other must-haves should include an extra pair of pantyhose or socks, mints, a miniature lint roller, spare lipstick, water and a granola bar just in case.

5. Business cards and work examples

Business cards are a must in any briefcase, especially if you're constantly on the go, but your work can say more about you. Career author Karen Salmansohn says you never know when the opportunity to share your work with key players will arise. "I always carry copies of my books with me to give out in case I meet a celebrity or important corporate contact," she says.

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