The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past month, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.
When I travel (for work or pleasure) or have special projects, I almost always organize the corresponding paperwork in a three-ring binder. I like to have all of my necessary information in one storage system so I can grab it and go. I also usually have a scanned backup of the same data in Evernote or on Dropbox, but I see these digital copies as being useful only if something happens to my original binder. Usually I need physical copies of the papers I’m keeping, especially with projects, when the papers may be something I’m giving to clients or need to file with a legal entity.
Earlier this year, I was introduced to Staples’ new Better Binder system, and I’ve been using them ever since. I’ve taken them to a conference, on vacation, and am currently using one to store all the paperwork for our second adoption. When finished using the binder for one purpose, I’ve removed the FileRings and dropped them into my filing cabinet. They could also be useful for keeping yearly family or tax information or anything project where you’ll be actively using the paperwork for a period of time and then need to archive it when you’re finished with it.
In short, it is a three-ring binder whose FileRings spine pops out and allows you to file the contents of the binder directly into your filing cabinet. The binders themselves are reusable and additional removable FileRings are available for purchase. (They are currently in the $4 range for the replacement FileRings.)
Removing the FileRings is incredibly simple, especially after you see it done. Pull on the plastic pieces at the top and bottom of the FileRings spine to pop it out. You then push in the top and bottom plastic pieces to hang the FileRings in your filing cabinet. Inserting the FileRings is also simple — set them in place and then push in the top and bottom of the FileRings spine to secure them into the binder.
They also have available Better Dividers, which I really like. The tabs can be inserted on the top or the side of the divider, making them extremely versatile. There are times when having the tab at the top of my binder is helpful, especially when I only have a need for two or three divided sections.
The binder comes with a blank spine label you can tear off and easily slide into place, so you don’t have to cut up a sheet of paper to make one from scratch. The front panel of the binder also allows you to slip in a cover sheet of your own design.
Better Binders come in the traditional size (11” x 11-3/4”) for 8-12″ x 11″ sheets of paper. They’re available in 1″ (275 sheets of paper) for roughly $8, 1-1/2″ (400 sheets) for $9, 2″ (540 sheets) for $11, and 3″ (600 sheets) widths for $14. The binder comes with one removable FileRings spine, but additional FileRings must be purchased separately. Current colors are white, red, black, pink, orange, yellow, green, teal, blue, purple, dark teal, fuchsia, plum, olive, and multi-color combinations of some of these colors. I use the different binder colors to make it even more obvious which binder I need to take with me, in addition to the labeling I use on the binder.
Professional organizer Julie Bestry speaks from personal experience on how to organize medical billings and paperwork to avoid bankruptcy in her article “Don’t Let Hospital Billing Errors Bleed You Dry“:
Harvard University research indicates that approximately 62% of U.S. personal bankruptcies are caused by unaffordable medical bills. Given that, it’s vital to keep track of medical billing, particularly hospital billing, to make sure you are being charged a fair and accurate amount. In fact, some medical billing experts believe that up to 80% of all hospital and medical bills contain at least one error, underlining the importance of vigilance in scrutinizing your medical billing paperwork.
She discusses how to detect errors in your bills and also has a wonderful guide to how to organize this paperwork:
These five posts are a fantastic resource. Again, this is a time when I hope that you won’t ever have to use this information.
Reader Cody wrote to us a few weeks ago asking if we had any back-to-school advice for college students. Matt started our response to this question by addressing ways to organize a dorm room. Now, I’m going to discuss managing the constant flow of paperwork associated with college life.
My first piece of advice is to get your hands on Captio’s CollegeCase or a similar product. I wish I would have had something like this back in my undergraduate days. In times of emergencies, being this organized would have really helped. If you’re ever burglarized, in a car wreck, curious as to which cafeterias your meal plan includes, you can find all of these answers in one well-designed notebook.
Continue reading this post »
I’m a big fan of labels. Labels tell everyone where things belong. Labels indicate that only items of a certain type belong in a certain place. Labels help you remember where you put stuff.
There are many different types of labels that can be used and each type has advantages and disadvantages. The following are things to consider when choosing labels for your next organizing project.
Permanent or Removable
Permanent labels are intended for one time use. Peeling off a permanent label will generally destroy the label or the object to which it is attached, or both. Address labels on paper envelopes are a good example of permanent labels.
Removable labels are made with a special adhesive that, rather than sticking to the surface of the object, sticks to the label, and leaves the surface clean. Removable labels do not damage the object to which they are attached and can often be re-used. Post-It Notes are a good example of removable labels.
The object to which a label is attached and the conditions in which it is used can influence whether or not the label is permanent or not. For example, an address label that is designed to be permanently attached to a paper envelope may be easily removed from a plastic bin. It may not even stick to the plastic bin if the conditions are cold or damp. Sometimes removable labels may end up permanently adhered to surfaces if they are left on for a long time or exposed to excessive heat or pressure.
Always evaluate the type of material that you need to adhere the label to prior to purchasing the labels. Consider how long the label will be left in place and what the storage conditions will be.
Handwritten or Computer Printed
If you’ve got terrible handwriting, it may be better to use a computer or label maker to create labels because then everyone can read it. However, it takes time to make labels on a computer but it is easy to print many copies of the same label. Some labels are meant to be only for laser printers and some for only inkjet printers so always confirm that you’ve got the right labels for your printer. Some types of printer ink runs in damp conditions or fades in bright light. In these harsh conditions, it may be better to use a plasticized label.
Label makers print clear, easy-to-read labels that can be used in a variety of conditions. However, they tend to be limited in the sizes and colours of labels. Most label makers do not have a wide variety of fonts.
If the label is permanent on the container but the contents change, dry erase or chalkboard labels might be the best to use for your needs. They are a good choice if you are creative and enjoy making handwritten labels. An alternative is the Identa-label system. It is comprised of transparent plastic pockets that hold index cards. You can use a computer to print the index cards or they can be hand written.
While copper labels would look lovely in the garden, they would not be appropriate in a home with small children or pets. Labels can be detached and chewed on or swallowed. Some types of key ring labels may contain parts that could injure children and animals, too. Tag labels with string can be wound around tiny fingers and paws and cause injury.
Colours and Sizes
Once you have taken the above information into consideration, the colour and sizes of labels seems to be limited only by your imagination.
Full page stickers allow you to print your own design or create multiple stickers of any shape, size, or colour.
Tamper-evident hologram warranty void stickers can be placed on bins or boxes to ensure they have not been tampered with. This would be ideal for valuable items sent via mail or courier service. They could also be placed on boxes of paperwork containing sensitive information during a move or in a storage facility.
Iron-on name-tags for clothing are great for identifying children’s clothing for school and camp but they can also be used for labeling the tablecloths you take to the family potluck dinners.
You can purchase pre-printed magnetic labels for toolboxes or create your own with dry-erase magnetic tape. Speaking of toolboxes, “Eye-Saver” big typeface socket labels have imperial and metric stickers in different colours so it is easy to tell which sockets are which.
TrueBlock labels completely hide everything they cover. They are great if you like to reuse shipping and file storage boxes. When you need to get people’s attention, high visibility labels would work well. If you need to see the label in the dark, Epson makes glow-in-the-dark labels for its label makers. You can write on glow in the dark tape to make your own labels.
Plant pot labels can be used to tell your house sitter how and when to water your plants during your vacation.
For holiday parties, reusable cup labels allow each child to have his or her own cup. If all goes as planned, there won’t be any sharing of germs. Adding allergy information to the cup label is a good idea, too. For the grown-ups, there are wine glass labels.
Labels are a wonderful thing, but when they have to be removed, label sticker remover comes in handy.
This is part two of a two-part series on this topic.
It’s exciting to move into a new home and have a crew unload and unpack your household goods. As far as employment perks go, it’s a very nice perk. If you want to make settling into your home even easier, keep some of these tips in mind.
As with any move, plan to arrive a day or two before your household goods. Complete the deal with the real estate agents and lawyers, and clean the house if required. It is much easier to clean an empty house.
Designate a special spot for incoming paperwork and mail so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of boxes and wrappings. Ideally, you should have a small portable filing box to keep the papers organized. You could store the box in your car during the move-in or designate a special spot in your new home. Make everyone aware of the location of the box and encourage everyone to put important papers in that box.
Set up disposal systems. Place a garbage bin in every room in a spot as close as possible to where the garbage bin will permanently live in that room. If garbage bins are not available, use Painter’s Tape to attach a garbage bag to the wall.
Decide where you would like to place the big pieces of furniture such as beds and sofas. You only want to move the heavy items once. There are some online tools you can use to easily plan and design your space: Icovia Room Planner and Roomsketcher.
When the unloading crew arrives, show them around the house and let them know where the furniture should be placed. Placing signs on the doors of the room with a sketch of the furniture layout will help the crew know where to put the furniture. (Again, Painter’s Tape is good for this task.)
Watch as the crew opens truck doors and examine the load to see if it shifted in transit. If so, take photos so you can include them if you decide to make a claim for damages.
The unloading crew will provide a list of tag numbers as all of the items were tagged prior to loading onto the truck. As each item, box or piece of furniture leaves the truck, cross off the tag number. Note beside the tag number if a box is damaged (scuffed, dented, torn or crushed). Sometimes tags fall off the item or get stuck to the wrappings so an item may be missing its tag. On a separate sheet of paper or the back of the list, write down the piece of furniture or the size of the box. At the end of the unloading session, crosscheck the “no tag” items with your tag list. You should find that all the tag numbers are crossed off. Note in detail any items that are missing.
Unpacking generally takes place the following day. However if you do not have much stuff, it may take place the same day. Most unpacking services are “flat surface” unpacks. This means the unpacking crew will unpack the boxes and place the contents on any flat surfaces (including the floor). Normally the crew will not place items on shelving units or in cupboards in case the shelving unit tips over or the shelves break. If that happens, your items may not be covered by insurance.
It is helpful if you can work side-by side with the unpacking crew and place items in their “homes” after the crew member places them on the flat surfaces. This is important in the kitchen where there are usually more dishes than counter space.
As the crew is unpacking, note any broken or damaged items. Take pictures.
One other tip: Unfold and lay flat all of the packing paper prior to it being removed from your property to ensure that all small items are taken out, such as the lid from the sugar bowl or the remote control for the TV.
Once the crew has departed with the boxes and packing material, you’ll be able to enjoy setting up and organising your new home.
This is part one of a two-part series on this topic.
Like many people, I had moved houses several times with the help of family, friends, pizza and beer. I prepared, planned, organised and the move went smoothly. After I married my husband and he was transferred for his job, we were entitled to full-service moves (pack, load, ship, unload, unpack) by professional moving companies. In our 22 years of marriage, we have moved 8 times with professional moving companies. On our very first move, I learned hard and fast that there are different things to take into consideration when working with a professional moving company than when doing it on your own.
First of all, declutter and organise as much as you can prior to the moving date. The moving company will base the estimated cost of the move on the weight and volume of your goods and effects. The less you have, the less the move will cost. The cost of moving household goods is approximately $6-$12 per kilogram ($3-$5 per pound) for a full-service move. The less you have, the less it will cost not only in shipping fees but in the time it takes to pack and unpack these items.
Prepare a home inventory. This is essential for your insurance purposes as well as any loss or damage claims you may wish to file with the moving company after your move. Although a list of goods is sufficient, having pictures of all your items is beneficial in case you need to prove that an item was in good condition prior to the move.
Ensure you understand the moving company’s policies regarding claims. Prior to the move, mark the claim deadline in your agenda at least one week before the claim needs to be submitted. This will allow you to gather your documentation for the claim and submit it on time.
Decide what to do with items that the moving company will not ship. Because of transportation safety regulations, flammables (matches, solvents), explosives (fertilizer, aerosol cans), corrosives, (bleach, drain cleaner), cannot be shipped. If the move takes place in the winter, the moving company may refuse to take any liquids (including canned food) because these items can freeze and burst. You may wish to transport these items in your own vehicle or leave them with friends and family. If you throw away any hazardous material prior to moving, please respect the environment and use a designated municipal disposal facility.
NOTE: Transporting alcohol, tobacco and firearms across state, provincial or international borders may require special documentation. Contact the appropriate government departments prior to moving these items.
If your household goods are clean, dry and in their proper place in your home prior to packing, they will be very close to their proper place in the unpacking phase. A little extra cleaning and organising in advance will save time and energy in your new home.
Although most moving companies are very good, occasionally something gets packed that should NOT be packed so empty all of the garbage pails before the packing crew arrives. Wash and sanitize your garbage cans so they arrive fresh and clean in your new home.
Keep your wallet, purse, valuables, and important paperwork locked in your car during the packing process, but, if you need to, designate a bathroom as a “Do Not Pack” area. This will make sure that essential extra roll of toilet paper won’t be packed.
When the packing crew arrives, introduce yourself and give them a tour of the house. Point out any fragile or oddly shaped items that require special care. Let the crew know that you are available to answer any questions.
Before your goods are loaded onto the moving van, politely ask if you can look inside the cargo area. You may not be able to enter the cargo area because of liability reasons but look inside if possible. If you notice any stains, greasy spots or holes in the walls or roof of the cargo area, politely point them out to the driver. Contact the moving company if you are concerned about possible damage to your household goods.
ANOTHER NOTE: During the loading day, never leave an open moving van or house unattended. A member of the loading crew or one of your friends/family members should be in the house and truck at all times. Passers-by can easily walk away with a box or two!
Before the truck rolls away, do a final walk through of your home. Verify that all the closets and cupboards are empty, especially on the highest and lowest shelves. Check behind doors too! Exchange contact information with the driver. Ask when he/she expects to be arriving at the destination and what route he/she expects to be travelling.
Say your final good-byes to your home and as you drive away you can look forward to your next adventure in a new and organised home.
- Managing active files and papers
Even in the digital age, many people can work with active files and papers. Here are some suggestions for dealing with this mass of paperwork.
- Spring is here and cleaning is in the air
Around 1:15 this morning, those of us in the northern hemisphere officially started spring. The local weathermen explained to me as I sipped my coffee that because this is a leap year, spring showed up on the calendar a day early. If spring sprung up on you and took you by surprise, the following 10 tasks are what I consider to be the most valuable spring cleaning activities. These are the Firsts, the things to get to before the other activities.
- Ask Unclutterer: Simple baby-proofing solutions
What is a good computer set-up that can also be locked away to keep little fingers away from the keyboard, mouse, and tower? We’re looking for something relatively inexpensive, but we haven’t found a good solution that would also fit in a living room, since our computer/monitor also functions as our TV/DVD player. Any suggestions?
Quick Note: We are updating the Unclutterer Forum with a new and exciting system. Sorry for the disruption. Wonderful changes are on the way. Stay tuned!
- Project Basement: Day 3
Except for a couple hours this morning pulling out the washer and dryer, sweeping the floor where they had been, and doing a general cleanup in the laundry area of the basement, I’ve been sorting, scanning, and recycling a couple hundred pounds of paperwork. Watch out, basement clutter!
- Ask Unclutterer: Food storage containers
Reader Carla asks for a recommendation on the best type of food storage container that won’t clutter up her mother’s cabinets.
- Using a three-folder system to keep e-mail under control
Checking, reading, processing, replying to, and stressing out about e-mail can all be sources of clutter in our lives. And, according to a recent Fast Company article written by Gina Trapani titled “Work Smart: Conquering Your Email Inbox,” it might be taking up half of our workweek.
- Multifunctional printers
If you have a home office and space is rather limited for all of your peripherals, you may want to look into multifunctional printers.
Being organized can help in many areas of your home and work life. Most people tend to find things more easily and quickly when organized, worry less about maintaining their stuff when they’re uncluttered, and may find their days more stress-free than when they were disorganized and cluttered. Some popular rules of thumb (have a place for everything, label your containers) can and do work well for most of us. There are times, however, when organizing advice may not make sense for you.
That doesn’t mean you should give up on your goal of uncluttering and streamlining your most used spaces. But, it does mean looking at things a little differently and considering whether or not that organizing advice is …
There are several organizing rules of thumb that can become mantras to help you stay motivated to maintain order in your space. The key to using these rules with success is making sure they aren’t so rigid that they become a source of stress for you. If the principle you’re attempting to use is too rigid, you will not only become frustrated, but you’ll also refrain from using it and still not be able to control the build-up of clutter.
Try this instead: Adjust the rule so the core tenet remains the same, but tweak it so it suits your personality and lifestyle. For instance, some people drop everything (shoes, bags, mail) at the main entryway and create clutter (or block the pathway). You can still “drop” your stuff at the door without creating clutter.
- Instead of taking your things to an entirely different room (or a spot much farther away from the door), install hooks on the wall nearest the doorway or inside the closest closet for your bags and jackets.
- Keep a basket at the entryway to collect mail and paperwork.
By flexing the organizing principle, you’ll still reap the benefits without making drastic changes that are too difficult to consistently maintain.
Any process that is complex, even ones that help you to streamline and become more efficient, will be difficult to maintain. Having multiple steps, particularly ones that need to be done in a specific order, can take longer (and, at times, require more brain power). This is perhaps the reason why some of us dislike doing laundry (raising my hand). There are several things that you need to do before you’re actually finished, and then in a few days you have to do it all over again.
Try this instead: Keep it simple. Processes with fewer than three steps are usually easier to manage and don’t take as much time to complete. As you consider which organizing principles to use, also think about how you can re-design them to suit your needs.
For example, to maintain your closet, you can:
- Group your clothing by type or in sets
- Group your clothing by color
- Hang your clothing by sleeve (or hem) length
- Take a picture of pieces you like to wear together (inlcuding accessories)
- Use garment dividers
- Label shelves
- Turn hangers backward each time you remove clothing to wear
- Store your shoes in clear shoe boxes
- Add a photo of each pair of shoes to the outside of each shoe box
- Keep a donation bin on the closet floor
Each of these steps is very helpful, but you may not be able to keep up with all of them consistently. Instead, select the things you know you can do easily and routinely, and gradually add (or swap out) other techniques as necessary.
As you test out your next organizing strategy, remember that it needs to fit you and the way you think. If it has too many moving parts and isn’t flexible enough to suit your lifestyle, don’t be afraid to make a few changes.
Is paper causing you stress? Are you noticing piles at every turn? Paper clutter can be a thorn in your side, but there are things you can do straight away — yes, right now — to banish the paper monster (or at least put it in its proper place). Along with previous tips we’ve shared, here are six more things you can do immediately to keep paper clutter to a minimum.
Make sense of your greeting card collection
Greeting cards (and other types of stationery) are a great way to keep in touch with the people we care about and to celebrate special moments with them. But, what happens when you buy a card for someone and then can’t find it? Oftentimes, these cards co-mingle with documents in paper piles, making them difficult to find. Instead, store blank cards separately from your other paperwork in a specific spot, folder, or something like a card organizer.
- Use a greeting card organizer to categorize/store blank (not sent) cards.
- Only keep cards you’ve received that have high sentimental value in an archival box or card book. If the cards aren’t particularly special, snap a picture and recycle them.
Shred credit card offers
Unwanted credit card offers can fill your mailbox and increase your mail processing time. If you receive a large number offers, this can be very frustrating. Unless you plan to apply for the credit card, remove the offers from among the mail you need to read/act on and shred them immediately (or put them in your shred bin to destroy later). Be sure keep them out of your recycling bin to reduce your risk of identity theft.
- Sign up for OptOutPrescreen to stop receiving preapproved credit card offers in the mail.
- To cancel all mailings from members of the Direct Marketing Association, remove yourself from their mailing lists through DMAchoice.org. (Note: Both of these steps, however, will not stop mailings from financial services companies you use.)
Hold on to your children’s frame-worthy artwork
Children’s artwork can be difficult to trash or recycle. The artwork provides wonderful memories and, if your child is particularly creative, you may have a large collection of their work. When that volume outgrows your display areas (like the front of your fridge), you could find them scattered about your home. Consider creating a display wall or mount two or three frames that will hold the most prized pieces (and rotate in newer work). You can also turn the artwork into interesting things like placemats, postage stamps (Zazzle.com or PictureItPostage.com), photo books, or a stuffed toy. Not sure which ones to keep/display? Choose the artwork that is most meaningful to you, or if your child is old enough, allow him to pick the ones he loves.
- Select a display area for your child’s masterpieces.
- Keep all artwork that you still need to decide on in one location.
- Take pictures of the artwork you like but don’t want to keep/display and give the originals to a grandparent or friend.
Cut back on your coupons
Couponing is very popular these days and can be very helpful when used for items that you use frequently. Like other paper that you get on a regular basis, they can get out of hand and get lost in the paper mess. Cull your coupon collection by removing those that have expired and keep only the ones for products/services you use often.
- Keep coupons in a coupon holder, plastic envelope, or binder.
- Sign up for digital coupons that can be scanned from your smart phone (or that are attached to your store loyalty card).
Be selective about the magazines you’ll keep
Why are magazines so difficult to purge? Perhaps it’s because their covers promise fascinating stories and lifehacks that can streamline the busiest of households? It’s no wonder they end up in almost every room in your home, infiltrate your bags, make their way to your car, and even find a long-term spot in your office. Somehow, they seem to compel us to keep them well beyond their usefulness. Do your best to get rid of them before the new one arrives in 30 days. Instead, use the table of contents or the cover stories to decide which pages you’ll keep and scan for future use. And, remember that you’re likely to find the same content online as many publishers create e-versions of their articles.
- Donate magazines to doctor’s offices, senior or community centers, art teachers, or your local library if the magazine is extremely popular or very rare/expensive.
- Cancel your subscriptions and only purchase the issues you need or save the online version.
- Create specific (paper or electronic) folders for each page you keep (“patio project,” “decorating ideas,” “healthy eating,” etc.).
Recycle old shopping lists, task lists, and other handwritten notes
Do you like jotting down notes or your to do’s on slips of paper? Writing task lists can help you organize, prioritize, and focus on your to-do items. They can also get mixed in with other types of papers and disappear rather quickly. This means you’ll probably spend too much time looking for that phone number you wrote down, the paper with the things you needed to pick up at the grocery store, or the sticky note with the name of that app you wanted to download. Keep your notes and lists in a spot where you’ll remember where you put them and can easily access them, and, once you’re finished with them, recycle or shred them if they contain sensitive information.
- Write task and grocery lists in a notebook instead of on scraps of paper.
- Take a picture of your note or list and upload it to Evernote.
- If your notebook is not accessible, use your smart phone to record a voice memo instead.
Let go of conference materials and brochures
If you attend conferences, you will invariably get reading materials from the conference organizers, from the sessions you attend, and from the vendors you meet. And, if you’re like many people, though you may be interested in reviewing everything once you get home, you probably forget about it. To avoid conference paper pile ups, schedule an hour on your daily calendar the day you return home or the next day to go through all your conference materials.
- Bookmark the sites of vendors you’re interested in researching further.
- Recycle flyers and other unwanted conference brochures.
- Scan pages you want to keep from the program book or session notes (or simply keep the CD, if one is offered).
Reader Rachel submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I know you are huge fan of David Allen and after years of “almost” using his GTD system I finally bought the book [Getting Things Done] and am working my way through it. As I prepare for my two day “gather, process and route,” I find myself with some clutter related questions. First some background points:
1. My husband is in the army, so i like to keep everything as modular and portable as possible, 2. I am currently prepping for a move, so I am currently in down-size mode, and 3. I love using my computer.
Okay, now for my questions: David talks a lot about the proper supplies and having a general reference file. I’m kind of resistant to the idea of investing in paper file folders and filing cabinets when there is so much technology and digital recording available that doesn’t take up near the amount of space. What have you found to be the best capture system for your files? Digital or old school?
I would like to start by saying that you’re right in pointing out that I have enormous respect for David Allen. He is able to communicate his ideas about information organizing and productivity better than anyone else writing on these subjects today. This art of communication is a true talent and it is rare. Most importantly it is extremely helpful for those of us looking for guidance and sanity as we work and live. If anyone reading this hasn’t read his books, I strongly recommend them.
That being said (i.e. I’ll stop being an exhuberent fangirl for a moment), I don’t use the GTD system exactly as he prescribes. It’s not that I think his system is flawed or bad or wrong; it just doesn’t completely work for me and my preferences. And, at least in my personal experience, I’ve found that this is the case for most GTD enthusiasts. We gobble up all we can from his advice and then put our spin on it so it will be something we benefit from and use over the longterm.
If you’re like me, a good amount of the information you collect likely comes to you already in digital form or can easily be scanned and/or digitized (images, emails, PDFs, calendar appointments, etc.). To take these out of a digital form during the processing and organizing phases would be a waste of time and resources, and Allen doesn’t advocate you print these out, either. The most important thing to do is to capture this information in a way so you can reliably process, review, and do all the things you need to do to get things done.
I use a couple plugins for my Mac-based email program Mail that are created by the company InDev: Act-On (which let lets you apply rules to incoming messages) and MailTags (which color codes emails with tags). These are nice for adapting GTD processing and organizing actions, as well as helping to creation action items. Even if you didn’t use the GTD system, these are great plug-ins for email management. I incorporate these plugins to work with my personal email filing system, which I’ve outlined in detail in Unclutter Your Life in One Week. In short, I use Archive, Project Folders, and Read Me folders. The Archive folder is where all messages go after I schedule the work on my calendar or in my project management system. The Project Folders are where I stash project-related information until I can move the email to the Archive folder (e.g. where I put Ask Unclutterer emails until I review them and decide which one I will select for the week’s column). And the Read Me folder is for long emails or emails containing links to articles, typically sent from friends or family, that don’t require immediate attention and that I can read in full the next time I’m standing in a line or waiting on hold. Once I read the Read Me emails, they are moved to the Archive folder.
People who use Outlook as their email client might benefit from a GTD-themed add-in from NetCentrics. And, if you’re a Gmail user, I’ve heard good things about using the ActiveInbox plug-in. (A good ActiveInbox tutorial can be found in the article “ActiveInbox Turns Your Gmail Labels Into an Effective GTD System” on Lifehacker.)
As far as my personal to-do list (action items) and calendar, I do keep these in paper form. I like the physical actions of writing and greatly enjoy crossing things off lists. For the past six months, I’ve been using an Arc customizable notebook from Staples for the list and calendar. I’ve tried to do it all digitally, but I always seem to come back to the paper items for these two things. Comfort is a powerful creature. For work, I keep everything in Basecamp so everyone on staff and our clients can see important dates, to-do items, as well as communicate with each other. It’s ridiculously simple to use, which oddly is why some people don’t like to use it. There are hundreds of digital to-do list and calendar programs on the market and a few are probably already installed on your computer — just find one you love and will use and review.
In regards to other digital paperwork (the general reference stuff), I have set up my Evernote account to mirror the GTD workflow. Everything digital is dumped into it and it syncs with all my handheld devices and can be accessed anywhere in the world there is an internet connection. I also back it up to my desktop and back my laptop up to an external hard drive and again to Backblaze (I’m a wee bit maniacal about backing up my data). I save all my documents locally in a document management program (DevonThink), which I’ve discussed recently in “What tools should I use to digitize my paper piles.” If Evernote and DevonThink aren’t your style, check out OmniFocus for Mac and I know many of our readers use OneNote who have the MicroSoft Office Suite (be sure to check out the free, downloadable templates from MicroSoft to save yourself time).
Thank you, Rachel, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help you in your pursuit to get things done and adopting Allen’s GTD system for your digital needs. Also be sure to check the comments for even more advice from our readers. I know we have numerous GTD enthusiasts who read the site and are active in our comments section.
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