Dropbox Review – How to Use Dropbox to Increase Your Productivity

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As a work at home parent, one of the struggles we all face is how to get this done, and cross things off our “to do” list when we aren't sitting at our desk, one of my favorite tools to help increase productivity is Dropbox . What is Dropbox and how do I use it to increase productivity?

Dropbox is an online file storage, or as the high tech buzzword crowds like to say, it's a “cloud storage” system for your files. You may be most familiar with this cloud computing concept from sites like Google Docs. The advantage of Dropbox over Google docs dropbox also acts like an online back system, it keeps copies of your files on local home/office computer and in syncs them across all your mobile devices and connected accounts, but we're getting ahead of our ourselves.

How to Download Dropbox

To get started with Dropbox you visit their website, create and download the application. In most cases it will create a file in your “my documents” or documents folder. It will also create a few subfolders, like “pictures” and “public”. Unless you have a good reason to want it somewhere else, I'd just leave the default installation settings as is.

Next you're going to need to install Dropbox on any remote devices you'll be using like mobile phone, tablet, computer at your second office, laptop/netbook you travel with. If you have a dedicated file server, I'd install it there too. Here's a list of links to the Dropbox apps.
Dropbox Apps

How to Share Files Using Dropbox

Once you have Dropbox installed, you'll want to test it to get a feel for how it works. Pick any document or start a new test document and copy/save the file into the Dropbox folder. It doesn't matter where this is, or what type of file, it's just so you get a feel for what's going on. Once you add the file you'll notice the little icon in your taskbar will animate and the file will start to upload to the Dropbox central location.

If you have Dropbox installed on a second computer, like file server or laptop, if those computers are on and connected to the internet the file will download and sync to each of those machines as well. Each time you save a file or update a file in the Dropbox folder, and you are connected to the internet, it will upload, distribute and sync across all of your computers/accounts, automatically. The one difference is your mobile devices. For smart phones and tablets, in most cases you will have to open the application for the files to sync.

Microsoft and Apple both have competing file syncing and cloud storage service, and I've tried them and to be honest they don't work as well and are a lot more painful to use. The Microsoft system doesn't work well across platforms. So if there will be some Windows, iOs Apple, Android or Blackberry, devices they just won't play nicely.

Apple's Mobile Me is ok if you are using iOs devices, but you have to actively upload files to Mobile me, and then download them on the device, and it doesn't work well if you aren't connected to the internet (like on an airplane).

Google docs has a similar issues, no internet access … no file access for you (said is my best Seinfeld Soup Nazi voice). Dropbox syncing happens in the background, without you needing to do anything. The one exception is if you want to work on files where you know you won't have internet access (like an airplane without wi-fi), in that case just activate it before you leave, give the files a chance to sync and you are all set.

How to Write Blog Posts using Dropbox

My Ipad Home Screen with Elements in the Taskbar

I'll admit in most cases and for most types of work I prefer working on my tablet over my laptop. In most cases I write 90% of my blog posts (including this one) on my iPad, and then upload it and do final editing on the laptop. Dropbox has teamed with a lot of mobile app applications, so you can access your Dropbox folders. There are lots of text editing programs and apps, I prefer Elements because it allows me to use TextExpander with my built in shortcuts (I'll talk about TextExpander in an upcoming post).

I write my posts in Elements wherever I am waiting for my kids to be finished at any of their activities, on the couch, on the patio, sitting poolside, ignoring my annoying family members at a holiday gathering (just kidding), on train to the city, or on a plane traveling. Once I open my laptop it turns on and automatically updates and syncs any changes I made, allowing me to paste it into WordPress or any other blogging platform.

How to Share Word files Using Dropbox

IMHO this is where Dropbox really shines over competing products like Google Docs, Mobile Me, and Windows Live. Use Microsoft Office, Apple iWork, or whatever software you prefer just save the file to the Dropbox folder as a “Microsoft Word” file (this usually means a “.doc” file type extension for you extra geeky types) and you're all set. Want to work on that Microsoft word file on your iPad while sitting poolside, open up your favorite app select the file from the Dropbox folder and you're all set to go. There are lots of apps that let you do it my favorite is Office2 HD. Another good choice is DocsToGo.

How to Share Powerpoint Files Using Dropbox

As a conference speaker, like you I have my presentations written weeks in advance, and never wait till the last minute (snicker). But sometimes late breaking news occurs and you need to make a last minute edit on the plane trip to the show, or maybe you just want to review your presentation. I keep a separate folder in my Dropbox folder for all my presentations, using Office2 HD I can edit directly on my iPad, on the plane, in the hotel room, wherever, and my updated file syncs next time I turn on my iPad and have internet access.

If you like working on your laptop as long as you save your files in Powerpoint format (that's a “.ppt” file type for you geeky types playing along at home), you won't have any problems. I have Mobile me and iWork Keynote, but never use them the keynote file type or Mobile Me, Dropbox is a much more painless solution.

How to Share Excel Files Using Dropbox

Sharing files with Excel is the same process as Word and Powerpoint files mentioned above. Just save them in Excel format (“.xls” file type) in the Dropbox folder and you are all set. You can actually edit excel files on an iPad using Office2 HD, but I really don't recommend it for anything more than minor edits. Spreadsheets are one of the few things that you really need full sized keyboard to work on efficiently.

Dropbox for Business and Dropbox Security

One of the major criticisms of cloud storage and cloud backups is file security. To be honest these are legitimate concerns. Unless you save your files to the “public” folder all of your files/folders are protected behind a username and password. You can create and share specific files and folders with other people to make co-working, or virtual corporations work easier and smoother, and Dropbox recently added a “team account” level if this is matches your work needs. Dropbox has had a few minor security breaches, which they have worked quickly to resolve, and internally they do take security seriously.

So you have to look at your contracts, how sensitive your data is, and your personal comfort level. If something did accidentally get exposed or hacked, decide how comfortable you are with that, and reach your own conclusion if it's right for you. For low level security items like next weeks blog post, and conference presentations … don't sweat the small stuff it's not worth it, Dropbox is perfect and makes it much easier for you to work on the go.

Dropbox Pricing, is Dropbox Free

Dropbox has a basic level account that contains 2GB of storage and is free, so it's very easy to get started and give it a try. They also offer a referral program, so if you sign up using my Dropbox link (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), we both get an extra 500MB of free storage.

There is a cap on how much free storage you can get so don't plan on uploading 10 years of powerpoint presentations along with your entire MP3 collection, just keep the files you need and are currently working on. If you find you do need more storage, you can upgrade your plan, the next level offers 50 GB is $9.99 a month, pretty reasonable if you ask me.

I've been using Dropbox for about 2 years, have never had any problems with it. Now that I travel and do more work on my iPad than my laptop, Dropbox is an essential tool in my workflow and how I get things done. If you aren't already using Dropbox I suggest you give it a try.

photo credit: BigStockPhoto/stefanolunardi

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About the Author - Michael Gray

Michael Gray is the founder and President of Atlas Web Service, and has over 10 years experience in website development and internet marketing. He has worked as in house marketer, and as an SEO consultant helping companies with search engine optimization strategies for both eCommerce and informational websites. Michael has been a speaker at many SEO conferences including Pubcon, SMX, Search Engine Strategies and Affiliate Summit.He publishes controversial industry thoughts and observations on his SEO blog. You can connect with Michael on his Twitter, Facebook or his Google+ profile.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Loretta April 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I love Dropbox! It simplified a lot of my online work. I use it in my transcription business to receive audios from clients and it makes things drag and drop easy for them instead of having to wait around on uploads in Basecamp or having to worry about bounced emails with attachments.


Aaron McNeil April 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I’m going to have to take a 2nd look at it. I email way too many files to employees and my wife.


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