PIs are spending more time behind the desk, taking advantage of today’s myriad of digital tools for tracking down both people and information. This type of online work can be incredibly efficient and effective, but it also requires the right attitude toward digital research. For those private investigators who want to improve their online skills or make their time in front of a screen more effective, we’re going over some of the best habits and practices to adopt.

1. Keep Work Devices Separate

Whether you are working on your smartphone, computer, or other device, keep it separate from your personal devices whenever possible. Part of the reason is basic data security: Housing sensitive work data (especially data that can involve the personal lives of other people) on a personal device can make it more accessible to others, and may increase the risk of exposure during a malware attack or hacking attempt – or if a personal device is lost. A separate business device helps secure access to that data, while allowing for additional encryptions and login options for an extra layer of privacy.

There’s another good reason to keep online work on another device as well. PI’s often have to juggle a variety of different logins to social media platforms, various email addresses, messaging apps, and more. It’s not usually advisable to use personal logins for these purposes, and you don’t want your personal data on a platform to accidentally start syncing up or automatically logging in for your professional investigation.

2. Remove Distractions While Working

This is an age-old best practice that’s more valuable than ever today. When you sit down for an online session, take a minute to prepare. Limit who has the ability to call or text you, and if possible, turn off your phone notifications for a while. Clear your desk of paperwork that’s not related to the job at hand (and generally keep it as clear as possible while you are working). If there are any side tasks you have in mind at the office, from logging a report to watering the plants, take care of it before you start so you can stay entirely focused on the job at hand.

3. Adopt a Cross-Platform Note Taking App

A compatible note-taking app like Evernote is an incredibly valuable tool for private investigators doing online research. It’s a quick way to make a note of anything important found or create a list of points to follow up on later. Popular note apps are compatible across any device and can automatically sync to all your devices, so you share whatever content you create. These apps can also help save valuable data you may have found, like screenshots of conversations or emails you may want to save twice over for security. They can also be hubs for information collected during interviews, allowing you to quickly compare reports to what you are finding online. With so many possibilities, one of these apps should be a tool in your kit.

4. Have a List of Your Preferred Online Research Services

PIs quickly adopt a list of services they can search depending on the jobs they most frequently do. This is a great way to first start out online research, especially if you are looking for a particular person or set of data. Your own preferred list of services will vary: From the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to the Federal Inmate Locator, there are a number of subscriptions that may be useful for you. Run down this list when beginning your research to see what information the combined services can come up with. This will often provide useful starting places for deeper research or important references later on.

5. Schedule Some Important Breaks

Breaks from online work are important for both your mind and body. Every 30 minutes or so, it’s a good idea to get up, stretch, maybe take a lap around the building. If you have trouble doing this, try setting reminders for yourself or timers on your phone so you don’t forget. Clearing your mind this way will improve your research skills, too.

6. Always Keep Your Software Updated

This may seem like a minor habit, but it’s surprisingly important when it comes to your online efficiency and security. Keeping your apps and operating system updated will help improve online speeds, provide access to the newest tools, and make sure that any security vulnerabilities are patched to reduce the chances of data theft.

7. Understand Metadata and How It Can Be Used

Metadata is everywhere, and it’s one of an investigator’s best friends during online research. Geotags are a great example: Looking up the EXIF metadata for a picture can often provide location data that shows the GPS coordinates for where that picture was taken, valuable proof of a location. Other types of metadata can be leveraged to quickly search through a website, conduct reverse image tacking, search for files on servers, and much more!

Yield Better Results

Steps like these can help your online work sessions yield better results, but it’s still just the beginning. If you feel like it’s time to brush up your online skills, computer forensic classes are an excellent place to begin. Take a look at local colleges to see if they offer computer forensics, or search for a high-quality program online!