Investigator Productivity Ideas/Tips

Greetings. Figured this would be a good place to discuss tips, ideas, and lessons learned that can make life in the field less stressful if that’s possible. I’ll start with three:

  1. I put all of my appointments in Google Calendar. It provides a record of work done on any given day/time and from the app, you can call subject/source/record provider and get directions. Also comes in handy when you get RZ’d and must re-contact a source or record provider since there is no where in FWS to input phone information.

  2. I usually take my laptop with me when I go out in order to get a jump on typing if I have time between appointments. If time permits, I will either type in the car or go to the nearest Starbuck’s, Panera, cafe, or library. It helps make “typing days” less hectic if I can get at least half of a TESI/ESI ROI typed or most if not all source/record ROI’s done before I get home. I can only speak for myself but it’s really improved my production.

  3. There’s an iphone app called CamCard. It allows you to scan business cards into the app. Once scanned, you can pull up the card and call the record provider or whoever from within the app. So now you don’t have to haul around hundreds of business cards in your planner. The app is free. Costs 99 cents after 200 cards are scanned.

That’s all that I can think of now. What do you do?


I keep all of my planned appointments w/details in my Outlook calendar - this also helps the boss know where I am/will be. I also share that calendar with my coworkers.

I don’t take my laptop with me unless I am traveling away from home - i don’t want to lose it and I am lucky in my area that my appointments are good or when I shake the tree - I find enough to keep me busy between appointments. I know some of the senior contractors around here carry the laptop when they are outside our normal work area.

My biggest time saver is the habit each morning where I evaluate what items I have, when they are due, what I need to close cases, where are my appointments (if any), and then plan my day. 5-15 minutes each day and my work day is set. Of course I don’t do this if i have an early morning drive/appt/ESI but normally i have the time. I’ve tried to teach this to all my new investigators and they always say the same thing - “…don’t have the time to do that…”. Yet, I’ve blown production out of the water for over 13 years using this method - across the country and employers.


We use the web based version of outlook which is very sucky and is not as interactive as Google Calendar. We don’t do calendar sharing. I can see where that could be good and bad.

Sorry about that. I use the calendar for safety and scheduling. My coworkers, contract and federal, have asked me to drop a door hanger or knock on a door at times because they saw I was in a specific area.

I once found a GI that was surprised I knocked on the door for someone’s clearance. The agent that had tried calling the Source was a young female. I interviewed the Source and he asked me at the end of the interview why I was knocking on the door instead of the female investigator.

I replied that if he’d answered the phone, he’d met the nice investigator - not returning calls means the grumpy old guy knocks on your door. (not always true but I couldn’t resist). I had the item transferred to me for reporting.


Great ideas, but I got a question about not putting phone information into FWS. The contractor I work for requires us to send a case message in FWS on any Subject / Source that we interview and in the message has to include their phone number and other information. I thought his was a NBIB standard. We have specific guide that tells us all that is require in case messages. Do other contractor companies not require this?

Prior employer never did it, current one doesn’t. Feds I know don’t. Unless you mean for scheduling

That is a contractor specific process - NBIB agents and the contractors I worked for don’t do that.

I found in passing there are processes that a contracting company will push off to their employees as “being required by OPM”. The companies don’t realize that the different contractors and agents talk to each other and know that a lot of hoop jumping is because of company preference.


I have a comprehensive leads list I maintain and share with my coworkers. I don’t keep individual citizens, but I do have companies, points of contact, and any supervisors (and direct contact #) that have been there for a period of time.

Individual sources - i put their contact information in my notes and pull the notes only when I need that information.

@TESI case messages are required for all field work done but for my contractor, specifics such as including source’s phone in case message is not a requirement. That is a damn good idea though and I may start incorporating it but finding the info in Google calendar is easier than sifting through the case messages as some cases can have quite a few.

I work in a location where no one can have a cell phone so go to to find all my leads and pinpoint their location in the facility real-time. Without this service nothing would get accomplished because it’s just too difficult to find people when they can’t have their cell phones during the day.

Having said that, I work a strict 0600 to 1400 so I can make it home to get my kids off the school bus. So, I will schedule 2 ESIs and get two sources every day I’m in the field because I can’t be flexible in my schedule.

This system works like WD-40 until the 10 item expedite case gets scheduled and blows up a perfectly planned week. For some reason those subjects on those expedite cases are surprised to be getting an investigation and can’t seem make time for an interview. They then text three minutes before the ESI to say “ I don’t want the job anymore”. When that happens i go back to my guy and grab some sources to fill the empty time.

I feel like the best way to be organized in this job is to have a contingency plan, because people will flake you and things just don’t always go how they’re planned. I wake up everyday expecting the unexpected because otherwise I would want to quit.


This is all great stuff! It’s definitely what I’ve been looking for to help me out in the field. I begin employment next Friday so being prior law enforcement, I’m looking for every tidbit of help that will make me more successful in this career. Thanks to everyone and keep it coming if you’re so inclined!!

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The advice I give all investigators is to get organized.

You want to know your cases and what it will take to close your case. What areas are they? Is there something due next week in the same place I am working this week?

Don’t depend just on appointments. This is something investigators argue about but I rarely make an appointment more than 24 hours out unless the Source has a position normally requiring an appointment (ie. have a secretary, or their day consists of appointments) or for the Subject interview. I’ve found across the country that American are terrible about keeping appointments unless the appointment is that day or the next day. When you make appointments more than a day out, call that Source before going.

Learn your craft. Read the handbooks, talk to experienced investigators, develop a favorite five you can call for general knowledge or “what would you do” questions. Down load and read, when appropriate, the Adjudicators desktop reference put out by DSS. This is an excellent (but very long) resource for understanding what the adjudicator needs to know - and why.

Get in the mindset that each case is a real person. As you have read on these and other blogs, Subjects are real people who are anxious to work. This motivates me to get off my rump and knock on doors, get that last Source, and type out my case.

Don’t be timid. Call the Source for leads. Leave that door hanger. Tell folks what you are doing. You really do have an important job, federal or contractor, that impacts the nation on a daily basis. Be confident in your work and self.

Finally, try to like people. we Americans are a funny people. Try to find something amusing (but don’t make fun of Subjects or Sources in public) every day. Some Subjects i remember best were because they were amusing (good and bad) to me. Don’t let the wonks and naysayers grind you down (paraphrase from an old saying).


Are you a fed or contractor?

Thanks for that real truth. As I enter this field, I will do one thing that I have always done in the past. Run from the Bitter Betty’s and disgruntled employees. They bring nothing constructive nor helpful to my universe so I choose not to be around them. I received the same advice when I got married…only hang out with truly happy couples. It makes a difference. I do realize that venting is a normal and healthy occurrence however the jaded people are who I run from.

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if it matters, I’ve been both a contractor and a fed. The advice is the same for both.


@backgdinvestigator Well let me ask you this… Which side of the spectrum do you think is better? Contractor company, Self Employed Contractor or Fed?

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That is a hard one. The contractor side was really good, different contracts, good pay when you are with a good company, but I was forced to switch (I was part of the USIS implosion) and my next employer really had field leader problems. I was going to become an independent, but my situation is different than most (retired pay, didn’t need benefits, and no debts) but then a Fed position opened up and I applied. Even with the pay cut, working as a Fed has been great - similar to working with USIS when it was in the good days. I am exceeding production standards (and get attaboys vs what have you done for us this week) and doing very well.

There are a lot rules on both sides but nothing that really makes one side better than the other. I like the Fed focus on investigating for cases that expand. I never have to fight with deadlines as long as I am exceeding production metrics.

Contractors have more freedom with vehicle use, overtime, and daily work schedules than the Feds. There are two contracting companies I could work for and would’ve if I had not jumped to the Fed side.

One day I will retire from being a full-time Fed and will probably be a part-time independent until I give it for forever.


@Mwhite you have the right idea, take in the good and ignore the bad. You’ll know who’s squared away and who’s not. The job is what you make it. Time management will be key. As far as which side of the spectrum is better, in my opinion, I would say the Fed side for a few reasons. You’ll get a lot of mixed opinions and form your own once you start talking to Fed investigators you meet and get to know. Here are mine:

  1. It’s a federal position. I have 10 years of prior military service that I could buy back.

  2. More pay on the long end. Some investigators have been doing this long enough to where they could not take the initial cut in pay for GS7 rate. I’ve only been doing this for two years.

The guy who trained me when I first started has since gotten picked up on the fed side and I know a few of the NBIB guys/gals in my area. All I can is that it seems as if the case load is not as heavy, re-opens are not as numerous. I may be wrong, but, I don’t think the federal investigators have fully taken on tiered case types yet. Those T3’s can be a mess!

I am in no way complaining as I interviewed for a position in my area last month :slight_smile:

But…back to the tips. Anymore tips?

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I spent time as a contractor and then became a fed. I prefer being a fed for several reasons.

  1. The government vehicle.
  2. No shareholders.
  3. Less time spent doing admin tasks.
  4. Reporting seems to make more sense and reopens are less frequent.
  5. Dedicated office space on base.
  6. The reviewers seem happy too (residual effect).

I’m fortunate that I have a wonderful SAC and I work on a sweet spot. I was never unhappy as a contractor, but I had limited earning potential due to the type of output they require in order to make the good money.

FYI- Feds definitely work tiered cases (yes those sucky T3).


Dedicated office… mmmmm…