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.


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

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!


Shredding Scissors

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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!

Organizing Business Cards: Scan 'em

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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.

How Do You Spend Your Time?

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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

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 Just *Open* Your Mail

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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!