Declutter Your Reading List

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Originally posted 2010-11-10 15:55:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Cover design2 It's book chapter Wednesday. Here you go! Like it? You can buy the ebook here.

Simple Way #9

Reading List

Reading material constitutes a lot of the paper that people struggle with. If you get two daily newspapers, a few weekly magazines and 5-6 monthly publications, your reading pile gets high very quickly. Clipping articles for later is a good strategy, but it’s also time consuming and recommended only for important information you can’t get elsewhere or will use immediately.

Keep your paper stacks under control by making sure you allow time to read all that you subscribe to and when you can’t, that you get rid of back issues to make room for the new ones. This requires being honest about how much time you can and will devote to reading. Newspapers and news magazines should be the first to go because they become obsolete so quickly.

Right now:
If you still have yesterday’s newspaper or last week’s magazines, put them in the recycling now.

 

Learning to See Clutter

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Originally posted 2010-12-10 18:24:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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.

Pay Your Bills

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Originally posted 2012-02-16 14:10:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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.

Remember:

  • 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 ;)

Yes, You Need an In Box

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Originally posted 2008-03-24 11:42:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

What’s the quickest way to clear off your desk? Stuff everything into your in box. That’s where it should have gone first anyway.

Don’t fool yourself that having everything out where you can see it is helping you get things done faster. Stop setting things down on the counter, or the edge of the desk, or on top of the printer until you can get to them. Use one spot, your in box, to collect everything and then go through it every day, or more often if need be.

The beloved Wikipedia has an entry on David Allen that succinctly describes how to use an in box. I don’t think it’s verboten to put things back into the in box, however, if you aren’t ready to decide on them. Such a rule is likely to encourage you to make a separate pile and that would mess up the system. The point is that everything you need to do something about is in that box until you do something about it.

Here are some more in box benefits:

  • You know where things are. If there’s an important piece of paper you haven’t dealt with yet, it’s in there.
  • You desk will be free of clutter. If you routinely have non-paper items in transit on your desk, get a big enough in box to hold them (computer peripherals, books, stray socks, whatever)
  • You’ll be able to find things that often get hidden under the piles, such as your planner, address book and calculator.

Try it for a few weeks. You can start out with a cardboard paper box. Practice putting everything that’s on the desk and in your hands when you come in the door into the in box. When you sit at the desk, go through the box as described in the Allen article. Even if you don’t do this religiously, you’ll still gain the three benefits mentioned above.

Your in box need not be cheesy black plastic. The Container Store has a nice looking wooden box. This rattan basket is from Ikea. An in box need not come from an office supply store, but it needs to come from somewhere, so go get one!

Which Papers Do You Need to Keep?

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Originally posted 2008-07-18 09:49:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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. Extension.org 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.

Circa Notebook, you gorgeous thing!

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Originally posted 2008-08-22 09:51:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Now that I've got a bee in my bonnet about returning to a paper-based organizing system, I'm finding wonderful paper goods all over the place. Most of them I've never even heard of before (I did already know about the Moleskine cult, though). One stylish and eye-catching number is the Circa notebook from Levenger

The appeal to this system is that it's customizable, rearrangeable on the fly, very flexible and pretty nice eye candy too. I've ouched my fingers in three ring binders too often to put up with them anymore, and I never get good results trying to jam a torn-out sheet of spiral binder paper back into the binder.Notebook

The way the paper stays in is very clever and cool looking and tricky to describe. It was hard to see on the company website, but a post on Lifehacker has lots of close up pictures that really show how it works. Their high paper quality, among other things, makes them quite popular elsewhere on the Internet and many users have multiple books for different tasks.

I love the ease of reordering sheets in this binder. And adding complete new sections wherever you want! I wish I could see one in person but they seem to be available only through Levenger, which has no brick and mortar stores in my area. Still, paper is beckoning me…

Well loved notebook from waffler's photostream.

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

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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!

Snail Mail 101

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Ah, the plague of the daily mail. Kind of like death and taxes, it’s inevitable. Here’s what’s in your mailbox: stuff to

  • delegate
  • read
  • act on
  • file
  • trash

Let’s call it DRAFT for short.

Delegate
This is mail that you can fob off on someone else. If you’re married, you may decide one partner is responsible for paying the bills, so they go in that person’s in box (don’t have an inbox? Get one). Similarly, one of you may be responsible for social engagements and medical appointments.

If you have a business partner but not an office manager, divide up responsibilities. This really helps things not fall through the cracks. Especially things involving money.

Everyone needs an in box.

As above, each partner needs an inbox. When the question of “where did you put that ________?” the answer is always “In your in box.” Not “on your chair.” Not “somewhere on your desk.”

Read
Reading material includes magazines, newspapers, annual reports, tip sheets from the garden center and professional association bulletins. Keep it near where you read. Don’t read? Then stop subscribing to things.

If you don’t know where your “to reads” are, you can’t read them. Pick a spot, like a basket near your bed or a shelf in your living room, to stash it.

Don’t pick too many spots. You want to know where things are and you also need a reality check about how much there is to read. When it’s all in one place, you can clearly see that it’s not humanly possible to read all that stuff.

The rule is that when the basket or shelf is full, you have to get rid of the older publications. Grab a handful from the bottom of the stack and recycle them. Just do it. I know they have fascinating and important information in them, but you don’t have time to read them and keep up with what came in today.

Information is only useful when you can get at it.

An article buried in a months-old magazine is not accessible to you and therefore irrelevant. Just having all that information is not the same as being able to use it. If you can’t use it, it’s just like not having it at all.

Act On
This category includes bills, medical forms to file, an insurance or telephone plan to compare with what you have now, information about a product you intend to buy and a list of activities put on by a group you belong to. Put in your in box anything that requires you to take some action, whether it’s filling out a form, making a call or adding activities to your calendar.

Avoid decisions you don’t really need to make.

Do you really need to get a better phone plan, or would it just be a nice idea to know what’s out there? If it’s the second one, when are you going to take the time to compare plans?

File
Be careful about filing too much. Most people’s file cabinets are neglected paper graveyards. Paper goes in and promptly gets forgotten about and never looked at again.

Things you are keeping that you don’t need to:

  • receipts that are not for tax purposes or under-warranty purchases
  • ATM slips
  • old catalogs
  • paid bills*
  • manuals and documentation for stuff you no longer own; electric toothbrush, car, medical insurance plan

Keep files you refer to near your desk. Get a tray to store file-ables until you’re ready to file them. Files you need to maintain for legal reasons (tax returns, legal documents) are archives and should be kept in a less accessible spot, like the attic or the top shelf in the closet.

Trash
A lot of your mail shouldn’t even come into the house. Your first pass at mail sorting is to weed out the junk mail and recycle or shred it. No brainer recycling: product and service solicitations you’re not interested in, announcements for things you don’t care about, invitations from groups you aren’t joining.

To cut down on unwanted mail, register with the Direct Marketing Association (you can stop junk email here too). Get off catalog lists here.

Whether you shred or not is up to you. Some people don’t want to toss out magazines with their address labels on them. The rule of thumb is to shred anything with personal information such as account numbers, medical and employment info, ATM slips and travel itineraries. Also shred credit card applications.

Shred every day.

It’s boring and tedious and if you let it pile up, you’ll put it off forever (unless you have a six year old; they love to make a racket with the shredder). Also, if you only shred a few things a day, you won’t jam or overheat the thing.

Start Today
Don’t worry about last week’s mail. It’s getting older by the second and, unless it’s a bill, it doesn’t need your immediate attention. Develop your new mail system with today’s mail and you’ll keep on top of things.

Quick Start

  1. Get an inbox
  2. Designate a reading stash spot
  3. Have a tray for to-be-filed documents
  4. Sort your mail over the recycling bin
  5. Shred as you go
  6. Sign up for electronic bills and statements
  7. Get off junk mail lists

*I heartily recommend receiving and paying bills online. You can download PDF copies and keep them on your computer. Pay them through the biller’s website or your bank’s website; both services are generally free. Go even further and sign up for automatic monthly payments for your bills. Then you don’t have to deal with the bill at all.

Warm and cozy piles

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What’s in that pile? Paper, sure, but also bits of your psyche.

Identities that you aspire to. Ones that you want to let go of. Ones that keep following you anyway. There are bits that make you feel guilty or scared or intimidated or just tired. Also; wishes, dreams, hopes and big plans for the future. Powerful paper.

I know I give a lot of advice about piles that doesn’t address this issue at all. So, let me rectify that. When clients ask me how long it will take to organize their office, I say that it depends a lot on how fast they make decisions. Making decisions about paper is the most time consuming simply because a 1/2 inch pile can harbor 40 different decisions to be made.

Decision making is time consuming because of all that stuff in the first paragraph. There’s a layer of pile junk that can be skimmed right off, but the rest needs more attention, more thought, more compassion and sometimes more forgiveness.

I got some inspiration for dealing with my own piles reading Havi’s post about Depiling. If I think of my piles as being warm, cozy nooks for the paper to nap in till I’m ready for it, I feel much more kindhearted toward them, and toward myself.

Don't Sort Things Unless Absolutely Necessary

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Cover design2 Here's Chapter 6 of my book. Not exactly keeping to the Every Wednesday plan. I may have to spend some time automating this procedure (make it happen automagically!). You can read right now, or buy the ebook here. Note: if you're going to read right now, why not take the action step too? Just sayin'.

Simple Way #6

Avoid Sorting


Don’t sort paper unnecessarily. For instance, If you do not claim bills on your taxes, don’t waste time filing them into separate folders for electricity, phone, garbage, etc. In the unlikely event you need to look at an old bill, you’ll have to thumb through a large bill folder. But that will take you less time than filing each one individually every month.

When you do need to look at those old bills, you’ll know where to go; that one folder. As soon as you finish paying bills, file them. When people have a folder for each company, they often put off the filing and stack them somewhere for later, which means they often can’t find them when they need them.


Right now:

Label a new folder “Paid Bills.” Find those unsorted, paid statements on your desk and put them in there.