Archives for September 2008
I conduct a great deal of online research for my job. I’ll find sites that spark ideas for posts, and locate information that I know will help our readers.
A little plugin for the Firefox browser called ScrapBook has significantly improved the way I conduct this research online.
First and foremost, ScrapBook allows me to easily bookmark a web page. This is just the beginning of the useful qualities of the program, however.
Once a page is bookmarked, I can highlight text, create sticky notes of ideas, erase content on the page that doesn’t interest me, and then capture my notes and changes for later reference. It’s an amazing plugin, and one I highly recommend. It completely gets rid of any need I might have to print web pages to write or take notes on them.
Check out this demonstration video to learn more about the wonders of ScrapBook.
Last fall, I posted about the new Eye-Fi memory card, which wirelessly uploads your photo files to your computer. Eye-Fi has now released a more powerful version called the Eye-Fi Explore and a lower priced Eye-Fi Home. Also included in the new lineup is the Eye-Fi Share, which can upload photos to the photo sharing website of your choice (like Flickr).
The Eye-Fi memory card has been out for less than a year and noticeable improvements have been made in that time. These new cards offer faster upload speeds, online sharing capabilities, and geotagging. I’m surprised that they didn’t increase the storage space, which is still at 2GB. It is only a matter of time before that is doubled or even tripled. And, for those who have a camera that uses Compact Flash cards rather than an SD card, you can use an adapter for use with the Eye-Fi SD cards.
Better Homes and Garden has some interesting ideas for small bathrooms. Among the many ideas is the hideaway sink (pictured). The sink pulls out of the wall only when needed. The ideas presented in the article can make your bathroom look and feel larger without having to knock out walls or add onto your home’s size.
I have yet to adjust to a smaller shared bathroom in our new home and many of these ideas struck a chord with me. There also is a great list of 22 bathroom storage ideas. Both of these features can give you ideas to keep your bathroom in order, while also making it more relaxing.
(via Apartment Therapy)
There’s nothing like entering a jam-packed freeway to add stress to your early morning. Catching a train is great — if you have one in your area. Although, even in places considered to have good public transportation (New York City, Paris, DC, San Francisco), the roads are still clogged with cars.
What can we do to take cars off the road and help unclog everyone’s commute? Private and public efforts are being made across the country to make our roads less cluttered spaces.
Last Thursday, I got the chance to talk to RideSpring founder, Paul McGrath. RideSpring is an online service that helps employees find ride share opportunities with other employees at the same company. We discussed McGrath’s journey from employee to entrepreneur, in his current pursuit to offer web-based alternative commute solutions.
He got the idea in the mid-1990s when he worked as an electrical engineer for a 200 person company in Scotts Valley, CA. He enjoyed an 8-mile bike ride up a narrow, snaky two-lane highway to and from work most days. On driving days, though, he wanted to ride share. “For the days I wasn’t biking,” says McGrath, “I thought it would be good to find a carpool partner.” Why not socialize with a co-worker during the ride and tread more lightly on the road and save a few dollars on fuel?
But, as many commuters know, finding a carpool buddy isn’t always easy. McGrath sought public carpoolings systems first. While he wouldn’t mind sharing his commute information within his company, he didn’t want to post it on public sites. “I looked for a product within companies but it didn’t exist.” This led him to search for (and eventually create) a solution.
He dove into market research and found that regional services attracted very few users, which dramatically limited good ride-matching opportunities. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, frought with highly congested highways, an organization called 511 exists for the public, but fewer than 1% of commuters have signed up for the system.
His research squashed a number of myths about commuters. “It’s a myth that people aren’t willing to leave their cars at home,” say McGrath.
What he discovered is “There’s a shortage of drivers willing to accept passengers, rather than the other way around.”
Another myth he his company is helping to debunk is the notion that carpooling doesn’t work. However, the US Census reports that carpooling for Americans remains the second most popular way to get to work. This is second only to driving alone to work.
After his data collecting, McGrath could see the need to develop an easy-to-use method for commuters.
McGrath wanted to get cars off the road and make commuting more enjoyable. With his technical background, he launched a web-based system through RideSpring targeted at companies of 500 people or more. When companies subscribe, co-workers can drive to the same company together. The RideSpring system searches possible ride matches through it’s web process that scans zip codes for people riding in their areas across the US.
The statistics are promising. Some of the companies that subscribe to RideSpring show a nearly 60% sign-up rate for the service. People are actually using it.
There are intrinsic rewards that come from finding an alternative commute. You get to do your part for the environment, have a good conversation with a coworker, or even get some important work done. With the US Census reporting that 77% of American commuters drive alone, many companies offer financial and other rewards to encourage people to free up road capacity and reduce CO2 omissions. This allows employers to contribute to the environment, reduce the need for new parking lots, and make their employees happier.
McGrath summarizes RideSpring’s services by saying: “What we deliver is effectiveness. We show companies our proven approach to get people signed up. We make it fun and easy to use and employees will actually use it.”
What do you do to unclog your commute? Does your company offer incentives to commuters who carpool or use public transportation? If your company had (has) more than 500 employees, would you consider using a program like RideSpring? Why or why not? Do any of our readers already use this or a similar service?
- Acquiring and purging moving boxes
When you move you usually spend a bunch of time tracking down boxes to transport all of your stuff.
- Sleek way to hide kitty litter box
The Kitty Washroom is certainly an uncluttered kitty potty solution.
- An argument against table cloths
If you’re worried about your dining room table getting damaged by heavy objects, a flimsy layer of cotton isn’t going to protect the wood.
- Unitasker Wednesday: The SnacDaddy
With the SnacDaddy, you pick up one of 15 wings, dip it in the sauce, eat the wing, move the sauce, put the bone in the sauce hole, and then replace the sauce. It’s so easy!
- Review: Tiny Living in NYC
Tiny Living in NYC has ideas and products to maximize your minimal space.
- What to do with your old cell phone
You can get rid of your old cell phone clutter and do something good in the process.
- Reader suggestion: Install a soap dispenser in your sink
A permanent soap dispenser next to your faucet can alleviate unattractive bottles on your kitchen counter.
- Workspace of the Week: Student studio in NYC
This week’s Workspace of the Week is Powkang’s student studio in NYC. She lives in her workspace.
Last Wednesday, I was in a foul mood. If you knew me in the world beyond your computer screen, you would know that I am normally an upbeat person. I usually have a smile on my face or am lost in thought, but it’s rare for me to be snippy with people and angry. But on Wednesday, I was fuming most of the day and wanted to crush things like Hal did in season four, episode four of Malcolm in the Middle.
Nothing in particular set off my frustration, it was just a bad day. We all have them, and last Wednesday was my turn. When I woke up on Thursday morning, I was back to normal and the foul mood was behind me.
What’s so great about being focused and productive? When you work hard at being focused and productive, then it’s easier to feel okay about having FUN! So I got to thinking about what fun stuff I like to do in the evenings. What are your guilty pleasures?
Reading these words hit me like a brick. I have been working very long hours recently, been extremely productive, and I have done nothing that could be considered FUN. Was my awful mood on Wednesday a result of not taking any time to experience the benefits of my hard work? I think it was.
I immediately looked at my Upcoming Events folder and found three things I’ve been wanting to do. I made the necessary calls for these events, and now I have scheduled fun on my calendar. At Unclutterer we talk about keeping clutter out of our lives and having an organized home and office for the purpose of freeing time and energy for a remarkable life. I lost sight of the life part, and that is a bad idea.
How about you? Are you reaping the rewards of your productivity and hard work? Or are you just putting in effort and reaping none of the benefits?
For the past nine months I’ve been conducting a one-question Internet survey about what blocks people’s goal success. The question I have asked people is: What is the single, biggest obstacle to achieving your goals? The responses have been intriguing.
“Lack of Organization/Too Much Clutter” made it to the Top 5 on the list and it continues to rank as the #5 obstacle to goal success.
Speaking of goals, the National Association of Professional Organizers reports that getting organized also made it to one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions this year. In early 2008, the President of the organization, Standolyn Robertson, said: “Getting organized is one of the top 5 New Year’s resolutions.”
If getting organized makes it to your list of resolutions in 2009, it could lead to a positive ripple effect. Because, when people clear out clutter, it paves the way for other goals too.
Why does clutter get in the way of goals?
When there’s clutter on our desks and we have to step over the jackets, the laptop case and shoes strewn about the hallway, it’s harder to think and we forget things.
How can you remember a priority project when it’s buried beneath a paper pile as high as your office chair?
For me, an organized workspace (and house for that matter) sharpens how I think and gives me a motivational lift. It’s about progress, not perfection, by the way.
For example, when the surfaces of my workspace are clutter free–yet I still have the tools at hand that I need–I power through things faster, have increased focus, and I feel better at the end of the day. That’s because productivity equals satisfaction. I like to work hard on my priorities.
When things are in the way–mentally or physically–we get slowed down, distracted and derailed. It’s no fun at year’s end to open a mysterious word document that reminds you that you were going to drop 10 pounds and you haven’t made it to the gym all year.
Here are four tips to clear out clutter so that you can remove at least one obstacle to goal success.
Assess the space you want to organize, whether it’s your cubicle, garage or kitchen. Take five minutes to picture what you’d like the space to look like. Do you envision a transformation or just a few tweaks?
Create a Big Goal
The big goal represents your organizing ideal. For the garage, maybe that means hiring a custom closet company to build storage shelving and hooks to hang tools. Consider the benefits: peace of mind and clarity.
Do the Tough Thing First
Spot the thing that you dread most. When you look at the file cabinet in the garage bursting with 15 years of taxes, tackle it. Doing the hardest thing first will build momentum and inspire you to move on to more uncluttering.
Set a Small Goal, Too
You’ve made progress by facing the tough thing first. Do another small goal immediately. For instance, sort through two boxes or put all gardening equipment in one area.
Team up with one or more person to help make the process fun. With focus and dedication, all 4 steps are do-able.
Taking a moment to step back will give you a snapshot of what you want before you start. From there, you’ll have the ingredients for your first big goal. Doing the tough thing first allows you to get going fast and sets the stage for overcoming resistance of the things you don’t want to do. Keep going with a series of small goals. As you make progress, you’ll be more organized, and you’ll have more clarity and confidence to maintain your organized life.
What strategies have you used to set and achieve your uncluttering goals?
This week’s Workspace of the Week is PHOTOinformal’s custom home office:
I chose this week’s Workspace of the Week because of its feeling of tranquility. The desk was made by PHOTOinformal’s husband out of birch plywood with a maple trim and to her specifications. All books, supplies, and even the printer have a home in this office. Additionally, baskets and stacked suitcases (under the desk) provide contained storage. The floor is tiled and the office is separated from the rest of the room with the placement of a throw rug. There is a place for everything, and everything is in its place.
Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.
Camping gear, bicycles, gardening supplies, lawn maintenance equipment, tools, automobile care products, and recycling bins are common goods found in garages across America in addition to automobiles. If the garage is well organized, it’s a lot easier to get the car into the space. But, for many residents, the garage is so haphazardly thrown together that a home’s garage includes everything except a car.
As the weather cools in the northern hemisphere, bringing your car into the garage is a more attractive idea than it was in warmer weather. The threat of early mornings spent scraping ice off of your windshield can be a great motivator to finally getting your garage into tip-top condition.
If you’re looking to improve the level of organization in your garage, you might want to check out the following storage solutions. Their prices vary, but all will help you to get your garage organized. A simple Google search with the phrase “garage organizing” will also yield many local companies that specialize in systems to tidy your space. The pictures are also great inspiration for how you can create your own systems for your garage if you aren’t interested in purchasing an out-of-the-box solution.
And if you missed it when it ran, be sure to check out our recent post on steps to take to organize your garage. Good luck!
In the spirit of the baby toy alternative articles we’ve written in the past, Simple Mom has a great list of cheap and free toys for your toddler. It’s easy to forget about the simple and classic toys for our children. Toys with a lot of bells and whistles seem to replace the simpler toys because they are perceived to be better somehow. This list is a nice reminder that a child’s imagination can create entertaining fun with just about any object. From the list:
1. Egg cartons. They make great caterpillars, they’re good storage containers for little treasures found on walks, and they can even become airline seats for little animal toys.
5. Dried beans or rice. It’s fun to pour into bowls and cups of different sizes, and it’s a good sensory exercise. Sand works well, too.
7. Washed out empty food containers. My daughter loves to play kitchen, and she’s stocked with some of our empty syrup, ketchup, and dressing bottles. No need to buy a child-size version of the same plastic thing.
We do have the miniature versions of food products. The variety pack of just about every Kraft food imaginable was a gift and those tiny replicas turn up just about everywhere around the house. The regular size hand-me-downs would be easier to clean up and keep in order.
We also use egg cartons as a way to keep the finger paints in a confined space while our daughter creates her next masterpiece. The paint inevitably ends up all over the place, but the egg carton is a great way to bring a bit of organization to the painting chaos.
Say goodbye to the dreaded vapors (syn-propanethial-S-oxide) that make your eyes water when you are cutting onions. The first time I encountered this phenomenon was as a small child watching my grandmother work in her kitchen. She was tearing up and I asked her why she was crying. She explained the reason behind her onion tears and I learned a valuable lesson. That lesson? Always wear protective goggles while cutting onions.
Yes, my grandmother could have avoided the toll onions took on her tear ducts by investing in some Onion Goggles, but I’m pretty sure these are fairly new, so she never had a chance to use them. Poor grammy. Fortunately for you, now you have the chance to overcome this obstacle in onion slicing. Don’t let your eyes tear up uncontrollably again! Take control of the situation and slip on some Onion Goggles.
Thanks to reader Katy for bringing this unitasker to our attention.
**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.
- Hoarding danger in Massachusetts
Boston University and Smith College researchers create evaluation to determine if someone is a hoarder.
- Cable clutter
Here’s a quick Unclutterer video tip to help you tackle cable clutter under a media center. All it takes is a simple multi-hook rack and a little imagination.
- Reader suggestions: More ways to cure cable clutter
Great suggestions from readers on how to contain the cable clutter that plagues all of us.
Business travel seems to be one enormous headache, with the long security lines, the new fees for luggage, and the unrelenting crush of people on cramped airplanes. But perhaps the worst aspect of business travel is what happens after your return to the office: the dreaded expense report.
As an independent consultant, I don’t have to file expense reports for all business travel. I do have to consolidate expenses to invoice my clients, however, which accounts for more than half of my travel. Over the years, I have developed certain techniques to decrease the pain of gathering expenses after the fact. For example, at the time that I book travel, I capture the charges and put them in my invoice tool of choice, Blinksale. Still, this only works for the big ticket items, and the majority of my expenses can’t be captured this way, like meals, taxis, and hotel charges.
I have looked at various tools that work with scanners, such as Neat Receipts but my experience suggests that they are too error prone and fussy, and that particular solution is Windows/Vista only. I have a five megapixel camera in my cell phone and a scanner, so capturing copies of the actual receipts is easy. I can snap pictures of receipts while on the road, and throw away the originals. But the process of entering in the expenses is still a manual one, and I am sure that I miss expenses every once in a while.
I recently came across a new service that could really end run this whole process. Expensify.com takes a completely novel approach to automating expense reporting. You sign up with the service and provide your credit card information. They send you a brand new Visa debit card, which you then use for all your expenses that you’d like to automatically track. They pass through the charges to your original card, so you can continue to earn points. But Expensify captures the expenses and accumulates them at their website, so you can go there and turn them into an expense report with a few clicks. You can also attach images of receipts to expense reports after emailing them to Expensify where they automatically put them in your account for you.
Here’s a screenshot of a bunch of expenses:
And once they are associated with an expense report:
The business model is simple: Expensify charges 3% of the funds that you pass through the card. This may seem a bit steep — $30 on a $1000 business trip — until you consider what the hour you might otherwise spend fooling with a spreadsheet is actually worth to you. My bet is that to the people most likely to file expense reports — serious road warriors — the $30 will look like pocket change. They also allow you to enter expenses into your account manually, so I am likely to continue my practice of putting the big charges directly on my regular card — airfare, for example, or the base room charges for hotel reservations — and capture that at the time I make the reservations. But now, when I am in New York, London, or Copenhagen, I will simply charge everything else — meals, taxis, and additional hotel charges — on my Expensify card, and snap pictures of the receipts.
Expensify offers some additional benefits that make it even more attractive. You can forward the expense report electronically, and the recipient can pay directly by credit card. Expensify will credit the money to your original card. This could save me weeks of wait time, since my clients often cut a check or set up a bank transfer. In either case, I might be waiting weeks.
There is a short delay when you sign up, since it takes a week or so for the new credit card to make its way through the mail. I can’t wait for mine to arrive.
As of 9:00 a.m. eastern time, the Expensify site seems to be down. It says that it is down for maintenance, but hopefully it gets back up before the end of the day so all of you can check it out for yourself.
Reader Kathryn sent us the following tip to avoid sponge confusion:
In our household, we discovered a trick: the Good Clean sponge [for dishes] is used as-is, straight out of the package. When it gets downgraded to the Wiping Sponge [for kitchen counters and the table], we cut one of the corners off. When the sponge gets downgraded again to a Skunging Sponge [the dregs of cleaning], we cut another corner off. This way, each sponge is easily identifiable by its shape. People who have more than 3 life cycles for their sponges could adapt this by cutting off additional corners as the sponge continues to move down the ranks.
This is a simple tip that makes sponge identification obvious to all of the people in a house. A pair of kitchen shears would easily tackle the cutting job, too. Thanks, Kathryn, for the great tip!
What simple tricks do you use in the kitchen to make your time there easier and more streamlined? Share your insights in the comments.
If you are tired of receiving magazine subscriptions in the mail, but still enjoy reading them, you may want to check out Coverleaf. Coverleaf is a way to read magazines online and forgo the hard copy altogether. From their site:
Coverleaf.com is a service that provides digital editions of many of your favorite magazines allowing you to conveniently read your magazine anywhere with Internet access. No software downloads are required. If you are a current print edition subscriber, you can access your magazines for free by verifying your subscription. You can also browse the selection of magazines on coverleaf.com and look inside any issue for a free preview. If you opt to register on coverleaf.com, you can clip, save and share pages from any issue. Coverleaf is provided by Texterity, a leading provider of digital publishing services, in partnership with leading publishing and fulfillment companies.
You also can purchase digital copies of a single issues for $0.99. The current selection offered by Coverleaf is pretty limited at the moment, but we hope to see their selection expand. They offer an Unclutterer favorite, ReadyMade, for $0.99 per digital issue.