Does a To-Do List Have to be a List?

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Most of us are way too busy to remember all that we need and want to get done. That means it’s important to use a tool of some kind to keep track of it all. The most common one is a to-do list.

What if you hate lists? What if the prospect of making a list fills you with terror? What if your list is so long that you want to go straight back to bed and forget about it?

The good news is, you can use other tools.

To get your list down to a manageable size, divide and rename it. If you have an aversion to doing that intimidating important thing on your list, use a little structured procrastination. If you just don’t want to write a list, draw it instead.

Alexia Petrakos of the Alternating Current wrote today about how to-do lists suck. She’s tried written lists six ways from Sunday and they just don’t work for her. Her solution is to make maps and pictures instead.

I like how she describes the activity of map making and how moving her hand, hearing the sound of the marker (and sometimes the scent), and looking at them on her wall all help her remember and keep track of what she’s doing.

Appealing to multiple senses and learning styles is super effective.

I get the same result from writing my lists over and over again. I’m visual but I’m also wordy. Once I’ve written something, I have a visual memory of where it is on the page and the words I used to describe the task. Sometimes I don’t even need to look at the list again because the act of writing cemented it in my mind.

I never get that sense when I make lists on my computer, so I don’t do that anymore.

If you hate lists, quit making them. Try drawing as Alexia does. Try mind mapping, a specific type of drawing with words and pictures. If a technique doesn’t work for you, dump it and go for another one.

Do you prefer drawing to writing? Have a to-do list horror story to share? Let me know in the comments!

Originally posted 2011-10-18 10:05:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

What To Do with All Those Notes

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

I wrote a post this morning on this topic but then I was feeling adventurous, so I made it into a video. It’s my first video blog post! Yay!

Remember that this is just the way I do things. It’s my system. My current system, that is. If you have ways of doing things that work, you have a system, and there’s no need to change it.

I like to write on paper. It helps me think better. But I also store notes in electronic form. It’s a hybrid system. A mongrel, perhaps. A mutt!

Mutts are strong and hardy. A mutt system is versatile and will come when you call it ;).


Originally posted 2013-01-26 02:33:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Stylish Office Accessories

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Stacking trays
I don’t focus on products much in this blog because I’m more interested in techniques and concepts, but every once in a while something catches my eye. Products that make sitting at your desk or filing more fun, or at least easier on the eyes, are always winners.

See Jane Work carries many lines of fun, modern and good looking office supplies. The site is oriented toward women, but they have lots of items that would appeal to anyone looking to spruce up their desk.

Says founder Holly Bohn, “There is only so much you can do with smoke-colored
plastic trays!” Mmmmm, lime green!

Learning to See Clutter

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Secret FilesSometimes my clients have trouble identifying what their clutter is. Here's a case in point. The desk and counters of Dave's office are piled fairly densely, making it hard for him to work. I select a pile at random and here's what happened.

Me: Dave, what's this pile?

Dave: Those are binders from our spring conference.

Me: Is there a reason you're keeping them?

Dave: That's our biggest conference of the year.

Me: Right, but do you need 14 copies?

Dave: Well, sometimes people ask me for them.

Me: Do you have it available electronically?

Dave: Oh, yes. It's on the website as a PDF.

Me: Would it be okay to direct people who want a copy to download the PDF?

Dave: Sure, I guess so.

Me: So do you still need all these copies?

Dave: We always keep copies. Every year.

Me: Is there some other purpose you'll be using them for?

Dave: Um, no. We just, uh, keep them. The extras.

Me: So when you go to create this year's binder, you won't refer to these?

Dave: No, I have all the files on my computer, the templates and stuff.

Me: What if you just keep one copy in your archive files? How would that be?

Dave: Yeah, I suppose one is enough.

Me: Where would be a logical place to keep it?

Dave (looking sheepish): Can't leave it on the counter, I guess?

Me: Well, you probably won't need it anytime soon and you don't want it to get buried under a pile. How about filing it with other documents from the spring conference?

Dave (relieved): Oh, yeah. That makes sense.


This is the source of a lot of desk clutter; papers that were important last week or five months ago, but aren't now. They need to be tossed out or filed away. Paper like this very quickly becomes part of the backdrop in your office. Because it started out being important, you forget to question its presence.

Start questioning. Leave the room and come back in. Investigate the first pile you see. Does it have a compelling reason to be there; i.e. it's important to your current work? If not, is it worth keeping at all? Be ruthless, especially if you have electronic copies.

Originally posted 2012-09-28 15:36:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

How Do You Spend Your Time?

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

For clients with time management troubles, I have recommended occasionally that they keep track of what they do all day. It may be startling to find out exactly how much time you spend cruising around the internet or caught up in cross currents of email, but the idea isn't to make you feel bad. The idea is to find out what you're actually doing with your time so that you can change it effectively.

Keeping track can be as simple as having a pad ready to jot down notes at timed intervals. David Seah has an elegant, easy to use version that shows time graphically since you fill in a bubble for each time increment. You can see it immediately; the more bubbles, the more time spent. His tool, the Emergent Task Timer, is available as a free PDF download on his site (which has tons of great productivity information, too).

Benefits of time tracking:

  • Find out what you're doing when you're wasting time
  • Find out how long you spend working on specific tasks; makes it easier to plan for them in the future
  • Get an idea of when your high and low productivity times are during the day
  • Discern patterns to tasks that you can use to your advantage. Email flurries at certain times of day can mean that others are most easily contacted then, for example
  • Find patterns of work time followed by down time. You may find that some aspects of your work need more downtown to recover from
  • Make sure you're taking productive, refreshing downtime; don't count more email checking as an actual break

A key to getting the most out of tracking your time is to do it now, or starting tomorrow morning. Don't wait for a less stressful week, or one with more interesting things going on. Print out enough sheets for the rest of the week and just get started. There won't be a better time.

"Time Disappears" from jtravism's photostream

Originally posted 2008-09-09 16:25:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Pay Your Bills

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Next week is National Pay Your Bills Week. Isn’t that exciting? Okay, so it’s not. It’s important though. Like filing, death, taxes and going to the dentist, bill paying is a must.

How could it be easier?

Use online banking. I believe this is a very safe way to pay, despite recent alarms. You have to do your part to make it safe, however.


  • Don’t click on links from bank emails! Just don’t ever do it. Many intelligent people have been scammed this way. Go to your bank website, log in and check for messages.
  • Check that the website address starts with https instead of just http. The “s” means the site uses encryption. Windows users will see a closed padlock indicating encryption at the bottom right of their screens.
  • Create passwords using letters and numbers, not common words. Here’s a post I wrote about how to make good passwords. Keep them safe! I record mine using hints only as described in the post.
  • Change your passwords regularly, at least twice a year.

Even if you don’t want to bank online, you can save trees and reduce clutter by getting your bills electronically. And don’t print them out! I do recommend downloading the PDF version if you want to keep a record. Sometimes your bills are only on the website for a few years and you may have to pay a fee to recover old ones.

Schedule days every month to pay bills and put them in your datebook. I use email reminders in iCal to pay my bills twice a month. Choose dates that allow for online processing or mail delivery so your payments aren’t late.

What’s to be gained by doing this?

  • Freedom from worrying about what is due when, and paying bills multiple times per month.
  • No more late fees!
  • Spending less time on a task you don’t really like anyway 😉

Originally posted 2015-10-13 21:42:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Which Papers Do You Need to Keep?

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Retention schedules come in many flavors. I’ve rounded up a few here. These lists are all for home record keeping, which are harder to find online than business retention schedules.File cabinet

Caveat: always consult your accountant, tax preparer or lawyer if you’re in doubt. This is one area where it’s actually better to keep something than toss it if you’re unsure.

Here’s a simple one from an accounting website. Here’s one from North Dakota State University that has good tips on why to keep records and how to do it. offers a fairly long one complete with the reason to keep each document.

Quick Tip: Whenever you open a folder to file something, take a moment to glance through it and see if there’s anything you can get rid of. If you’re filing in reverse chronological order (newest items in the front; I recommend this method), look in the back of the folder first for potential shredder fodder.

Repurposed file cabinet courtesy of ARTS’ photostream.

Originally posted 2012-03-08 00:58:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Organizing Business Cards: Scan 'em

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Lots of folks want to go paperless but they feel frustrated because the scanners they already have don't make good enough scans. I've recommended the Fujitsu ScanSnap in the past as a good all-around scanner, but apparently it doesn't do that well with business cards.

It's annoying to have to buy a tool that only does one thing, but for business card scanning, the CardScan is the one to have. Networking maven Valerie Gonyea uses it for her oceans of cards and praises its accuracy. So, if business cards are piling up around you, give it a try.

Originally posted 2009-02-06 16:49:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Don't Just *Open* Your Mail

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Does this happen to you? You get home from work and you’re looking forward to relaxing, having a nice dinner, maybe going out. But you really want to get that mail out of the way so it doesn’t pile up on the kitchen counter. So you stand there and open everything. You dutifully toss the junk mail into the recycling along with any other mail you know you’re not interested in.

But there are a few things that are important; a few bills, a flyer about an event you might want to go to, an insurance company question, etc. So you stack those pieces, feeling good that it’s a much smaller stack than it was, and dump it on your desk. For later. Maybe tomorrow night. Or Saturday. Now you can enjoy your evening!

Come Saturday, or a week from Saturday, you’re faced with a pile of mail on your desk that you should do something about. You’ll need to sort through it again and figure out what’s needed in each case. Then you have to do it! After 15 minutes, you’re sick of the mail and you go off to do your Saturday errands.

So there are a few problems here:

  • Not sorting the mail completely right away
  • Not allowing for enough time to really handle the mail

There are numerous ways to sort your mail: a container with vertical slots and stacking trays are two time honored tools. Julie Bonner has a very detailed description of setting up a mail center with a file crate and folders on her Declutter It! blog.

After you get rid of junk mail, sort the rest by what kind of action you need to take. Bills are one category, reading material is another, purchases or opportunities you want to consider is another, items that require a response from you is another, etc. The categories you choose will depend on what kind of mail you get.

There will be items you need to shred too. I recommend having your shredder in the spot where you sort mail and shredding as you go. Most shredders accommodate only a few sheets at a time, so if you let it pile up you’ll be standing there patiently (or not) feeding it for a loooong time.

Once the mail is sorted into logical categories, you can go off and enjoy your evening, knowing that when you do sit down to deal with the mail, you’ll know exactly what to do. In the next post, I’ll talk about that part. So get your station set up and then come back and read!

Originally posted 2015-12-18 22:31:20. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Shredding Scissors

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Shredding-Scissors-SC112- I saw these at a store today and did a double take. I've never heard of shredding scissors but I think they're a great idea. Many of my clients stockpile their shredding until it gets to be a huge pile that they then don't have time to shred. Even when I get them to station the shredder right where they sort mail and paper, they still don't use it all the time. In fact, a lot of them would just as soon tear up paper than feed it through the shredder.

I'm going to start recommending these shears. I can see one really helpful application for them and that's to shred just the personal information on a piece of paper, or the address label on a magazine. Credit card applications, for example, don't need to be completely shredded. You just need to get rid of the identifying information by using the scissors to snip up that little section.

These shears do straight cut only, so they aren't as good for entire sheet shredding as cross-cut shredders because theoretically the strips can be reassembled. However, if you're trying to make some paper fringe to decorate your tiki hut or sushi plate, that feature comes in handy!

Originally posted 2009-06-09 17:33:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter