Stylish Office Accessories

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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!

Don't Put Off Shredding

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Here's chapter three of my new book. Every Wednesday there's a new chapter. You can read them here, or buy the ebook here.

Simple Way #3

Shred
Almost every day you get mail
that’s got sensitive information in it that should be shredded. Don’t
stack it up somewhere to shred later! Shred
it right away.
Otherwise, you end up with a shopping bag full
and the idea of sitting next to the shredder for an hour is not very
attractive (it’ll be too loud for you to watch TV at the same time).
Get a quality shredder (one that won’t jam or freak out over staples)
and put it where you usually sort mail and paper. Then you can shred as
you go.

What you shred depends on your personal comfort level. Some people like
to shred anything with their name and address on it, but that’s a lot
of work and will not do much to protect your identity. The important items to shred are
ones with your signature, social security number or any account number
(this includes credit card offers). Additionally, anything with legal
or medical information about you should be shredded.

Right now:
If you haven’t gone through today’s
mail, look at it now and see if you can find something that needs
shredding. Then shred it!

 

The Pile-Free Zone

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guard your desk spaceYears ago I had a client who was plagued by what she called CHS. That stands for Convenient Horizontal Surfaces. Whenever there was one, she found herself filling it up with something and then had to work to get it free again.

Your desk is a prime candidate for attracting piles, especially when there is empty space on it. It’s a conundrum; you want to have space to work at your desk, yet that empty space inevitably calls out to have paper piled on it.

To maintain your free space, try creating a DMZ for paper. In this demilitarized zone, you make a treaty with yourself not to allow pile attacks. They may occur elsewhere, but this spot is a pile-free zone (PFZ).

It’s helpful to mark your PFZ so you know where it begins and ends and can easily honor your self-created treaty. One way to enforce the PFZ is to use a desk blotter. These come in a variety of materials and sizes. Choose one that allows you enough space to work.

If you can’t find a big enough one, make your own. You could use a rectangle of contact paper or just make a shape with colored tape (it doesn’t have to be a rectangle!). Heck, you can even paint it right onto the desk.

What matters is that you define this spot as the PFZ. Inside the borders: no piles. Outside the borders, piles are allowed. Try to keep them in an in-box if you can.

 

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.

 

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!

What To Do with All Those Notes

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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 ;).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3HL4WEi6Yo?rel=0

Learning to See Clutter

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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.

How Do You Spend Your Time?

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Beach
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

Pay Your Bills

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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 😉

Which Papers Do You Need to Keep?

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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.