Archives for Office Organization
If you have gadgets in your home or office, chances are that you have (at one point or another) encountered a tangle of cables and wires that were difficult to decipher. Sure, you can go wireless to avoid the problem altogether, but for those of you with wired devices, there are several products you can use to corral your cords. You can also use a desk that has special features to help you keep your cables from cluttering your space, like the Cable Guy Desk created by Ingland Designs (the same designer who made the Mealbox, dining table and chairs in a box).
Cable Guy Desk
At first glance, it’s not very obvious how this desk keeps your cables in order. Give it a closer look and you’ll notice the track for storing your cords inside the legs of the desk. There’s also human-shaped grommet on the surface of the table for your cables to drop through.
Image credits: Igland Design
You can get the desk in large sizes to accommodate several people. This can work well in a meeting room or if you need to share a desk with another person. You can also get the optional ball speakers (with accompanying grommets).
Image credit: Igland Design
The StudioDesk by Bluelounge (you might be familiar with another of their products, the Cable Drop) has a slot on one end for your cords to flow through as well as a hidden storage area that’s large enough to house power strips, USB hubs, external hard drives, and a MacMini server.
Image credits: Bluelounge
The StudioDesk comes in two sizes (standard and extra large) and doesn’t appear to have drawers or any other bells and whistles. It is, however, very easy to assemble. Simply add the legs once you receive it.
Image credit: Bluelounge
OneLessDesk, though it has a small footprint, this desk has two parts — an upper and lower deck — the latter of which can be used for your keyboard, laptop, or as a flat surface for writing. The upper deck can be used for storing your primary (or secondary) monitor or keeping the items you need to access on a regular basis.
Image credits: Heckler Design
It also has a rear-facing shelf for your peripherals or power strip. Adding labels or tags will help you figure out items match each cable. Though each desk has its own unique way handling cables, they all have a simple design that is intended to help you keep cords and wires from cluttering your desk.
Image credit: Heckler Design
“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” — Francis Bacon, Sr.
It’s no secret that writing things down is beneficial in several ways. A mind that’s not trying to remember tasks is better prepared for problem solving and focusing on the present. Good ideas are fleeting and need to be captured, irrespective of when they happen. It’s important to have written goals and lists that can remind you of what you need to do. There’s more, of course, but I’m going to address that last point.
I’ve been keeping a to-do list in my pocket for years. For most of that time, it was a simple list of things I needed to do. That’s great, but I found problems. Notably, I’d feel guilty about tasks I couldn’t complete because of my circumstance.
For example, I can’t make progress on “get pants hemmed at the tailor” while I’m stuck at my desk. I can’t pay the registration fee for the kids for soccer while I’m standing in line at the DMV. Likewise, I often don’t have the energy or time available for more demanding tasks when I’m reviewing my list at the end of the day.
Looking at items I couldn’t take acton on was stressful. It was time to re-think the simple to-do list. The following are several ways to sort, organize and prioritize the items on your to-do list for easy reference and guilt-free productivity on the go:
Sorting by context
Step one was to sort by context. I know a lot of people dislike this idea, but hear me out on this. At the top of my to-do list, I’ll put a heading like “@phone.” Beneath it I list tasks that require a phone call. Next, I’ll put “@errands” and “@computer”. Appropriate tasks are listed under each one. That way, when I’m at my desk with some free time, I can look at “@phone” or “@computer” and hammer out those tasks. I don’t even see items listed under “@errands”, so I don’t feel guilty about not making progress on them. (David Allen refers to these location-based lists often in his writing.)
Time and Energy Available
Of course, context isn’t the only way to decide what you can work on at any give time. It’s smart to also consider your time available and energy available. When your fresh first thing in the morning, tackle those jobs that require much physical and/or mental energy. Reserve something less taxing, like filing receipts, for the end of the day or after lunch when you might have a dip in focus. Likewise, I don’t always have the time to lay out the new flower bed. But a free Saturday afternoon lets me do just that.
A few weeks ago, I came across Word Notebooks. My notebook addiction is legendary, so I could not resist buying a pair. They’re similar in size and shape to the Field Notes brand notebooks that I love so much, but offer something different.
Each paperback notebook has a “use guide” that’s printed on the inside cover and in the margin of every page. You’ll find a small circle around an even smaller circle. The idea is to highlight the importance and completion state of each item with these circles. Here’s how it works.
- Color in the inner circle to identify an item as a bullet point
- Highlight the outer circle to identify something as important
- Put a single line trough both circles for items that are in progress
- Draw an “X” over items that are complete
It’s tidy and offers an at-a-glance overview of the status of your to-do list. Unlike the context system that I use or the energy-available strategy, the Word notebooks visually arrange action items by priority and state of completion. Pretty nice! Of course, you don’t have to buy a special notebook with pre-printed circles. You could roll your own solution.
The Dash/Plus System
My Internet buddy, author and all-around nice guy Patrick Rhone described a system that he devised for keeping careful track of the items on his to-do list. His system uses plusses, arrows, and geometric shapes to denote the status of an action item. It’s clear, simple, and doesn’t require a special notebook.
Now I’ll turn it over to you. Do you keep a plain list or have you adopted a system like these? Let me know in the comments.
Last week, I joined several hundred professional organizers in New Orleans for the Annual Conference and Organizing Exposition hosted by the National Association of Professional Organizers. In addition to the educational programming, one of the things I always look forward to is visiting the conference vendors who tend to debut their “latest and the greatest” organizing products — items that are new to their line or not yet on the market. In today’s post, I’m sharing the ones that caught my attention and that I think can help you stay organized at home. (Note: this is NOT a sponsored post and I haven’t received any payment from any of the manufacturers.)
I have to say that I was very impressed with the Staples Better® Binder with Removable FileRings™. Why would you want to remove the FileRings™? So that you can put the contents in archival storage when they are no longer needed on a daily basis. If you prefer filing physical papers (instead of digitizing them), this can be a great option for keeping important project documents or for storing business or household papers.
The spine of the file ring has a designated space for a label as well as extended ends that fit on the rails of most standard file drawers or boxes. Once you file the contents, you can replace the removable ring and reuse the binder. This means you’ll need less space since you’ll only purchase (and store) the FileRings™ (instead of storing several bulky binders). This one-inch binder holds up to 275 sheets of paper.
If you prefer to digitally store information and documents that you need for your home, you may be interested in HomeZada.com. It is technically not a product, but I found it so helpful that I had to include it. HomeZada is a web-based app that lets you manage your home’s product manuals, maintenance costs, and home improvement projects. For example, if you’re remodeling a room in your home, you can use HomeZada to track your budget, needed supplies, and specific purchases. HomeZada also provides you with a library of specific home maintenance tasks (you’ll get automatic reminders) and you can use it for multiple homes (rental property, vacation home). By keeping all your important documents and tasks in one location, you’ll always know where to go to find what you need and save a bit of time.
Another helpful feature is the ability to inventory the items in your home as well as the value of your belongings. In the event of an emergency (like a burglary, fire, natural disaster), having this information at your fingertips will be invaluable, especially when requested by your insurance company. Simply enter your address and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in your home, the app will assign typical spaces (family room, living room, office, etc.) and items to each room. You can revise the spaces and items to better match your home’s layout and then upload and tag photos of your things along with the approximate date of purchase.
When you think of Bankers Box®, you probably think about storing paper files, but the newest Bankers Box® is meant for storing clothing or other household items. The boxes are stackable and have a viewing window so you can easily see what’s inside. When the boxes are not in use, they can be folded and stored flat. And, unlike their office counterparts, these boxes have a more stylish design and come in three sizes (small, medium, and large). There’s also an underbed and ornament storage box.
Rubbermaid is known for great storage products (my personal favorite are the Easy Find Lids food storage set) and their new All Access™ storage containers are also stackable and have a clear viewing panel that acts as drop down door. That way, when the containers are stacked, you don’t have to remove the one on top to get to items in the bottom container. The All Access™ boxes can be used as a nightstand or side table and can store a number things like toys, craft supplies, laundry items, books, and more.
Several weeks ago, we were contacted by Staples about running a series of sponsored posts on their office products. Because Staples sells so many different products in their stores, we agreed, provided the arrangement would allow us to be free to review products we already use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Since both David and I purchased, have been using, and have even been recommending the Staples’ Arc Notebook system, we thought we would start there. So, the following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. These sponsored posts will be infrequent, and they will help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.
I’m a notebook junkie. I can’t resist buying them. Even as the guy with an iPhone and an iPad, I still love writing on paper. There’s a pocket-sized notebook in my pocket at all times and I keep a larger notebook on my desk. For years I’ve used Moleskines, but in February I purchased an Arc Notebook from Staples and I’m in love. It’s highly customizable, folds neatly in half, lays flat when open, looks great, and suits my needs wonderfully.
The Arc is similar to the Circa notebook system by Levenger, but much less expensive. (A basic leather Circa notebook for 5.5″ x 8.5″ paper is $80, and the same size basic leather Arc is $15.) It consists of various styles of paper (lined notebook, calendar, to-do, project manager, and more), pocket and divider inserts, and covers in poly, fabric, and leather that are bound together by a series of discs. The notebook also is available in two sizes — one for 8.5″ x 11″ paper and one for 5.5″ x 8.5″. An optional hole puncher lets you add your own papers to the system. In short, you can create a custom notebook with exactly the information and pages you want in exactly the amount and even order that you want. The line also includes adhesive notes, sheet protectors, page flags, business card holders, a built-in pen holder, and other accessories.
The pages are cut so that you can slide them on and off of the disks easily, yet they remain securely intact while in place. There are so many options available, that each setup will be unique. With that in mind, here’s how I’ve set up my Arc.
The very first item in my Arc is the adhesive flags. I resisted using these for a long time, as I disliked the way they protruded from the edge of whatever they happened to be stuck to. However, I’ve grown to love them. Today I use them for quick reference to something that doesn’t warrant a whole tab divided separator.
Next is a flowchart that describes the basic of the Getting Things Done system I download from DIY Planner. It’s a super, at-a-glance reference that reminds me of the GTD process.
After that, I’ve got five pages I’ve printed from my calendar, Monday through Friday. I print one day at a time, so I can remove each as that day passes.
Several copies of David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner come next. This document has been one of my favorite tools for years. I use it to list the priority tasks I’ll complete in a given day, record how long each task takes, record what I’m doing from hour to hour and capture ideas, tasks and more that need processing at the end of the day. It’s invaluable. You can print the Emergent Task Planner from David’s site, or order a pre-printed pad from Amazon.
Next is a plastic tabbed divider. I’ve added a label marked “Notes” with my labeler. The divider precedes about 60 notebook-style pages. These are the heavy pages that came with my basic Arc and I use them for scribbling all manner of information.
Those are followed by another tabbed divider labeled “Projects” and half a dozen Task Project Trackers, again from David Seah. I use these to identify an open project, all the steps that are required before I can mark that project as “Done,” time how long each step takes and finally scribble related notes. I also could have purchased the project manager pages from Staples, which are similar, just not what I have been accustom to using.
And, that’s it. The hole puncher is an added expense ($40) but worth it if you want the benefits of creating your own custom setup.
For the last two months, I’ve challenged myself with the goal of walking every day. I’ve been spending more time with my treadmill and, as a result, I’ve also been doing quite a bit more reading on my iPad while I walk. I’m thrilled that I now have scheduled reading time and that I actually find interesting articles that help make the time pass relatively quickly. During one of my walking and reading sessions, I came across a blog post that asked if having a messy desk is such a terrible thing. My first thought, even before I read the post, was that I wouldn’t be as productive as I am if my desk were cluttered. In fact, I would probably feel compelled to organize it before I started working.
But, I also know that sometimes while I’m working, things can get a little, er, out of control. I like keeping my favorite pen, sticky notes, and notebook on my desk. And, I also have my water bottle and iPad. If there’s something that I don’t want to forget to do, it will probably be on my desk, too. The problem is that when there are too many things strewn about, it affects how well I can get things accomplished. But, if I had the Homework Desk, I might be able to have the best of both worlds — a clear desk and needed items within reach.
Have a look:
Image credit: Tomas Kral
This simple desk (aluminum placed between two slabs of wood) designed by Tomas Kral has no bells and whistles and no drawers. Instead, it has trench-like storage around it’s perimeter (Kral refers to it as a toolbox) to hold papers, pens, books, or documents that you need to have on hand. This leaves you with the entire expanse of the desk to do your work. The photo below shows a cable coming from the back of the desk, so it seems there may be built-in grommets.
Image credit: Thomas Kral
If you like this style but prefer having drawers, here’s a similar model, called my writing desk, designed by Inesa Malafej. It also has open slots on two corners for cables to run through.
Image credit: Design Boom
The drawers are slim but big enough to hold some essentials (like business cards, pens).
Image credit: Design Boom
This desk also has removable legs which would make moving it to a different location relatively easy. Of course, with both models, you’ll need to make sure you don’t clutter your table gutters with rubbish and items you don’t use.
Image credit: Design Boom
I had an amazing college gig. My job was to deliver papers and envelopes to medical offices around town. I’d show up at work and pick up a van full of deliveries, and, when the van was empty, my work was done. Afterward, I would return the van and go back to my apartment. Guess how many times I thought about delivering papers between drop-off and the next morning?
That was what David Allen would call a “widget-cranking job.” You show up to find a bunch of un-cranked widgets. Once they’re all cranked, you go home. The job description is cut and dry.
Today, my job is quite different. I write and edit articles. I produce one podcast and participate in another. I’m working on a book. I’ve also got the responsibilities of a husband, father, brother, and son. In comparison, my job requires more attention than driving a van around town while listening to music and drinking a soda.
A good number of jobs can be overwhelming. The good news is that any job can be a widget-cranking job. The trick is identifying the widgets and getting them in front of yourself in a timely manner and on a friendly, non-intimidating list.
How do you get almost any job into a widget-cranking job? Try these steps:
Identify the widgets
This is the most crucial and the most difficult step. It often takes more time and attention than you initially assume. I think a case study will be the best way to illustrate the process.
Next week, I’ll produce another episode of my podcast, Home Work. There’s a lot to be done each week, like think of a topic, communicate that idea to my co-host, conduct research once a topic has been agreed upon, share notes, confirm sponsorship details, ensure that my software and hardware works, and so on. It’s easy to look at that and think, “Where do I begin?”
To find the answer, I ask myself this question: “If I had nothing else to do in the world but work on the podcast, absolutely nothing at all, what could I do right now to make progress on it?” And by do I mean a concrete, observable action. Let’s say my answer comes back, “brainstorm topic ideas.” OK, great. What do I need to do that? Well, a piece of paper and a pencil.
OK, but bah! My beloved brainstorming notebook is out of scratch paper. I guess I need to get more. So, the next step on the project Produce the Podcast is “drive to Staples and buy my favorite notebook paper.”
That’s a widget. “Think of a good topic” is hard. “Buy paper” is easy.
From there, I continue to my next step, which is “brainstorm ideas.” Then, I identify two or three good ones for the podcast. Next, I need to “share list of good ideas with my co-host.” All of these actions are easily-cranked widgets. Put them on a list and you’re good to go.
To-do management apps
All you need to crank these widgets is a simple list. High-powered project management software is overkill here. Below are several examples of simple and effective task management applications that might work for you.
- Remember the Milk. This handy little app is available for the iPhone and Android phones. It works with Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, and has a nice web interface. It’s been around for a few years and works quite well.
- Todo List. Todo List can be used entirely browser-based so it will work with just about any smartphone and any computer. You’ll also find apps for Android, the iPhone, Windows Phone, and the Mac OS. It features handy color coding and nearly infinite list sizes, so go nuts.
- TeuxDeux. This app lets you sort tasks by day and can be used in a browser. An iPhone app is also available. This one is very nice-looking in addition to being useful.
- To.DO. This a solution I’ve only recently started playing with. It’s available for Android, the iPhone, and Chrome. The Chrome browser plug-in is very nice. It syncs automatically with the smartphone apps and reminds you of what needs to be done.
- Astrid. Astrid takes your to-do list a step further and makes it easy to share task lists with co-workers, family, and friends. It’s available for the iPhone and Android.
Once you are clear as to what steps to take, work through your list of simple to-do items. As long as you stay current with your concrete actions, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. You can free your mind to think about non-work things during non-work time.
I’ve been working from my home office exclusively since 2009. In those four years, I’ve learned a lot about managing home and work life, staying productive while cozy at home, avoiding distractions, and more. Based on these experiences, the following are my ten tips that keep my work on track when I’m at home.
Before I delve into my list, I should define “home worker.” It certainly includes telecommuters, freelancers, and those running a business from home, but that is not where the definition ends. Anyone who runs a household definitely works from home. Also, the number of people who spend 9–5 in an office, school, or at an off-site job, but then take additional tasks home to work on, is increasing. When I was young, I knew one family who had an “office” in their home, and I thought it was the oddest thing. Today, it’s pretty much the norm.
Now that we’ve got that sorted, on with the tips.
- Define a workspace. You needn’t have a dedicated room to be a productive home worker. A corner of the kitchen, back porch, or garage will do, as long as it accommodates the tools and space you need. I have an IKEA desk in my bedroom that is my office. Occasionally, I want a change of scenery, so I’ll move my laptop to another part of the house. Other times I’m forced out entirely, which brings me to …
- Have an emergency backup office. There will be times when the power is out or your internet connection is down. Or, perhaps, a construction crew is working on The World’s Loudest Project right outside your window. When this happens, you’ll need a backup site to go to. My default remote office is the public library. It’s clean, well-lit, quiet, and has free Wi-Fi. The employees don’t care how long I stay and there are electrical outlets everywhere. Good thing I travel light.
- Define a lightweight office-to-go. Figure out the bare minimum of tools you can get away with and remain productive. Something you can fling into a bag and go. Will your computer do? An iPad? A camera? Figuring this out ahead of time will save you a lot of aggravation when you need to vacate your home office pronto.
- Make your home office efficient but also pleasing. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your office, so make it a pleasant place to be. I have LEGO projects on my desk, Star Wars toys, and a pencil holder that my daughter made for me. Since I am at home, I need not comply to corporate decorating policies, and neither do you. Find things that you love and make you feel good and add a little style to your space.
- Adopt a system you trust. Unless you’re in business with your spouse, partner, or housemate, you likely don’t live with a co-worker or superior. That means that you are both the worker and the supervisor. Conquer the latter role by devising a system you trust. I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done system and, in effect, that system is my supervisor. Trust is the critical factor here, as that’s the only way your brain will stop nagging about all of your undone tasks.
- Don’t be too informal. This one applies mostly to those who are earning their living from home. Since you are in the house, it’s easy to adopt a casual attitude about your day. In my experience, adding a bit of formality helps draw a line between work time and leisure time. I always shower, shave and put on nice clothes. I make a cup of tea and begin the day in the same routine one might in a traditional office. When I’m done with work for the day, I turn my computer off, kick off my shoes and join the family downstairs. That routine also helps me feel like I’m truly “off the clock” when the workday ends.
- Get your own inbox. This simple tip has vastly improved my marriage. My wife and I shared an “inbox” (an end table by the front door) for years and it made both of us crazy. My stuff mingled with hers, she liked to store things one way and I another. Now, I have an inbox on my desk and she has one on the end table. I process my inbox items on my schedule and according to my system, and my wife does the same her own way. I cannot recommend splitting this up strongly enough if you live with other people.
- Take Breaks.I alternate between work time and break time all day. A great Mac app called Breaktime lets me alternate between 25-minute work times and 5-minute breaks all day. This practice helps me maintain a productive streak and is also a luxury I wouldn’t have in an office.
- Take advantage of working from home. You work at home and that means you’re at home! Take advantage of this opportunity that many aren’t able to experience. Sit on the porch, eat lunch in your own kitchen, and never miss an event at your kid’s school.
- Be flexible. This lesson was the hardest for me to learn. I’d make a plan for my day, only to see it fall apart thanks to a sick kid, malfunctioning computer, flooding basement, and more. Understand this might happen, and don’t get too stressed when it does. Try again tomorrow.
The personal computer industry supposedly went “wireless” several years ago. But you’d never know it by looking at the back of most desks. It seems like the convenience of every Wi-Fi enabled laptop, smartphone and printer is offset by a corresponding cable or wire elsewhere in the office. That’s not counting old cables that are no longer in use due to age, condition or obsolescence. If you’ve got a drawer full of cables, or if you’ve ever played “unplug it to see what turns off,” this post is for you. I’ll tell you how to organize the cables you use and store those you don’t, plus a few cool tips and tricks.
Step one: know your cables
There are a huge number of cables available. Each performs its own job, though there is some overlap. Here, I’ve presented some of the most common household cables. This is by no means exhaustive, but should cover most of what you have at home. Learning to identify them on sight will help you find what you need more quickly, and will make storage easier, as I’ll explain later. Pictured above are:
- USB to mini USB You’ll notice one end is a flat rectangle shape and the other is a small trapezoid shape. These are often used with digital cameras and often short, in the 1–3 foot range.
- FireWire 800 These feature a squared-off end with a plastic “bit” in the center. FireWire 800 cables are typically used on high-end external hard drives and some video equipment. They transfer large files between machines and drives quickly.
- Standard USB One end features a flat rectangle and the other a square with once side slightly rounded. Many printers uses these cables, as well as some external hard drives.
- FireWire 400 Which, is also called “1394 cable” in some circles. Also used for storage peripherals like hard drives and some older video cameras. Transfer speed is slightly slower than that of its sibling FireWire 800.
- DVI These cables end with a wide terminator with many pins and two screws to hold it in place. You’ll find that many computer monitors and projectors use these. Length can vary greatly, but most are around 3 feet long.
The following are less common than the others, but still popular enough that many of you may have them.
- Apple 30-pin connector These are used with many of Apple’s mobile products including the iPhone (models other than the iPhone 5), iPad (except the iPad mini and 4th generation iPad) and iPod touch (older models). Apple has recently replaced them, as you’ll see, but there are still millions in circulation.
- Thunderbolt These are pretty much exclusive to Apple right now, but those who’ve bought an iMac or MacBook Pro recently could have use for a Thunderbolt cable. They connect very high-speed external drives to a computer.
- Lightning Apple replaced the 30-pin connector cable with the Lightning cable. It can be identified by the tiny little “nubbin” end. It’s small, thin and, unlike the old connector, doesn’t care if you put it in upside-down or not. The iPhone 5, iPad mini, newest iPad and latest iPod touch use the Lightning connector.
- HDMI Used with your HD television, some displays and the Apple TV. Easily recognized by the roughly trapezoidal shape on each end.
Now that we’ve got the cables identified, let’s look at a few ways to keep all of these things organized.
Call me picky, but a rat’s nest of unwieldy cables just makes my skin crawl. A beautiful workspace can be marred by a collection of cables flopping all over the place. Fortunately, solutions are plentiful and easy to come by.
- Cable management I use the Galant Cable Manager from IKEA. It screws to the underside of my desk and I run everything through it. That keeps the cables from hanging down and looking ugly (not to mention attracting the pets). Here’s a great idea from Michael Desmond at About.com. He ran several cables and an adapter into a nice-looking storage box, using standard office clips to keep the cables out of each other’s way. The box looks good and eliminates a mess on the floor. Speaking of binder clips, you can clip the large variety right to your desk to hold cables at the ready. Ingenious (and cheap!)
- Identification I love to label my cables. You can use color-coded twist-ties, bits of ribbon or even yard-sale tags. But I like Mark Brothers Cable Labels (pictured above). Aside from being cute, each features a spot that you can write on. That way, you know exactly where each one goes and what it powers. If they’re too cutesy for your taste, consider the Kableflags DIY variety. Much more utilitarian. Finally, consider color-coded tape. One piece on the device end, another down at the socket.
First, a quick rule: if it’s obsolete, worn or from a product you no longer own or use, throw it out! Unless you’re running a cable museum, or have a soft spot for wayward, abandoned wires, let them go. Remember: stuff that sits around serving no purpose is clutter. That SCSI cable from 1993 definitely counts.
I sort my cables by type into clear plastic bins. I use my label maker to create stickers that say “USB” or “Audio” and affix one to each bin. Before a cable enters the bin, I wrap it up with a rubber band. Now, I know what’s in each bin by reading the label and I can see how many of each type I have by peering through the clear bin. There’s no need to pull each out and open it to see inside the box.
When you wrap your cables up for storage, let each end stick out just a bit. That way, if you need it in the future for a job that doesn’t require its full length, you can access either end without pulling the whole thing apart.
I’m going suggest something that sounds pro-clutter, but I assure you it’s not. If you travel often, buy doubles of some of your cables. For instance, when I worked in an office I had an iPhone cable and wall charger that lived at my desk. Yes, that meant I had two to take care of but it also meant I could keep my phone charged during the day without having to remember to bring one cable back and forth. I did the same with the charger cable for my laptop.
When buying cables, skip the big box stores. You’ll typically find much better prices on sites like Amazon and Monoprice.com. I recently needed an DVI-to-HDMI adapter cable. A local big box electronics store wanted $50 for one. I found another online for under $3. It works perfectly.
Cool Tips and Tricks
OK, now for the fun stuff.
- The Cable Turtle is very cute and keeps a variety of cables tidy.
- Learn how to braid an extension cord. Technically it’s not a cable, but this is a fantastic trick. I store all of my extension cords this way.
- Likewise, there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap a video cable. Over/under is the right way.
- Instructables has posted a tutorial for inexpensive, under-desk cable management.
A few weeks ago, a reader asked me if I still stand by the information in our extremely popular 2007 series “Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter” and the three other articles in the paper-begone series. Basically, he wanted to know if I would write the series the same way now that I did then.
Would the fundamental premise of the articles be the same today as it was then? Yes. Would a few specific details change? Definitely.
The most obvious thing I would change is the equipment used to scan and shred the papers we don’t need to retain in physical form. I still love the Fujitsu ScanSnap, but the technology referenced in the article is now about six years old. The ScanSnap line has come a long way since then. Also, I’ve come to adore shredders on wheels because they can be moved around a room to wherever you need them.
The latest model in the ScanSnap desktop line is the iX500 and it’s an impressive machine. I’ve been test driving one the past two weeks (thank you, ScanSnap!) and it’s amazing — it doesn’t require a desktop computer to launch, it will scan straight to a mobile device or an online storage location over Wifi (so I can save straight to Dropbox), it’s noticeably faster than the S1500M model we own, and I’ve been able to customize it to send scans automatically to whatever program I want, so items like photographs now import straight into iPhoto. I won’t upgrade permanently from the S1500M we already have, but if we didn’t have a scanner I would save up for this one. If you’re in the market for one, the list price is $495. They’re expensive, but they’re really nice. (Full iX500 product details.)
As far as shredders go, I’d recommend the Fellowes PowerShred 79Ci now. The thing is a monster at chewing up stuff you want to shred. And, as I referenced earlier, it’s on wheels, which makes it convenient to use and store. It’s also expensive, but the thing will last you a decade or more if you treat it well. Our PowerShred PS-77Cs is still rocking after seven years of service, and we use it daily. Unlike less expensive shredders, the PowerShred line is built to last.
The list of things to shred and not to shred is still accurate, though a lot of people greatly dislike my advice to destroy old passports. I probably should have written more clearly about waiting to shred the old passport until after you get a new one. Submitting your old one does speed up the renewal process. However, once you get the old one back, if you don’t need it for any legal reason, it’s safe to shred (just be sure to pop out the RFID chip first). My last passport, though used many times, didn’t even have a single stamp in it because so many countries have stopped stamping and my old visa had to be relinquished when I left the country that required me to have the visa. If you want to keep old passports, especially if they have stamps in them, do it but please keep it in a safe or safe-deposit box so it doesn’t end up in the hands of identity thieves.
I still use DevonThink to organize my digital documents and FreedomFiler for my paper files (though, I’ve added a ridiculous number of my own files to the FreedomFiler system in the past six years that resemble what I discuss in my book). Those two products have suited me well all this time.
Even with all of these products and systems, paper continues to be something we have to deal with daily in our home. We’ve unsubscribed from as much junk mail as possible, yet we still get some from businesses and services we use. The shredder, trash can, and recycling bin by our main entrance are essential in dealing with the junk immediately and not letting it come deep inside the house. But, the stuff we let in voluntarily — the bank statements, the receipts, the pay stubs, the contracts — still feels overwhelming at times. We’ve gone so far as to unsubscribe from all print magazines and now subscribe to these publications digitally over Zinio. The only way we’ve been able to keep from being overwhelmed by paper is to clear our desks each day as part of our end-of-day work routines. All papers filed, junk shred, receipts reconciled, documents scanned, etc. It only takes five or ten minutes, but it’s still a chore. I’m looking forward to the day when I only have to spend five or ten minutes a week (or less) dealing with paper clutter.
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He was highly organized and prioritized his tasks and responsibilities while serving as president, a five-star general, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and supreme commander of NATO. Eisenhower devised an effective system that’s simple enough to be executed with a pencil and a piece of paper and effective enough to, well, run the free world. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix.
Why use it?
First and foremost, it answers the question, “What should I do now?” There have been times when I’ve sat at my desk with an overwhelming list of projects and to-do items. They all seem important in those first few moments, and it’s often hard to be objective enough to identify what is urgent and what isn’t. The Eisenhower Matrix formalizes that process.
The Matrix also forces you to carefully consider potential projects. Is it life-sustaining work that will pay the bills or something that might be fun (and devour billable hours)? Alternatively, will this new opportunity or idea rejuvenate your productive, creative self, or lead you down a rabbit hole of avoidance? In other words, you get an answer to the question: “Is this worth doing?”
Finally, when you’ve got your tasks written down and plugged into the matrix, it’s very easy to identify urgent tasks at a glance. As the president often said:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Here’s How it Works.
So what is it? The Eisenhower Matrix categorizes tasks across a 2×2 matrix. The categories are:
- Important and urgent. Tasks in this category are both urgent and time sensitive. They must be completed as soon as possible. Examples might include a report due within the next 48 hours or last-minute tax preparations. This is the stuff that keeps food on the table and a roof over your head.
- Important and not urgent. These tasks are to be handled immediately after those in quadrant number one. They’re less time sensitive, but you should be prepared to complete them after any crises in quadrant one have been solved. Examples include long-term financial planning and physical exercise.
- Not important but urgent. It’s odd to consider something that’s unimportant to be urgent, but this happens more than you might think. Administrative tasks are a good example of items that fall into this category. You might not want to file your reports with your boss each Friday and it’s even okay if you miss a few each year, but today is Friday and you should get the report done by the end of the day.
- Unimportant and not urgent. I reserve this area for tasks that aren’t related to work and don’t affect my income. I need to get them done, but there’s no time-crunch in place. Scheduling an oil change for the car is a good example.
Keep Track of it All
Now that you’ve decided what goes where, it’s time to keep track of it all. You’re in luck because it couldn’t be simpler. A 3×5 index card (I love 3×5 index cards) is perfect! Just draw the four lines and add the day’s tasks.
Notebooks are great, too, for keeping track of your Matrix. I’m a fan of Field Notes Brand, but really anything will do.
If you’re tech-savvy, there are a couple applications you can employ. There’s one called, appropriately, Eisenhower. It’s totally free and runs in almost any web browser, so it doesn’t matter if you use a Mac or a PC. The makers of Eisenhower have also released a companion iPhone app ($2.99).
Priority Matrix is another software solution that’s available for Windows, Mac, iPhone and iPad. I’ve been using it with success this winter. It’s really nice to glance down at my index card and know what must be done and when.
I recently wrote a post about effective inbox management that came down to this: use as many inboxes as you need and can check reliably, and no more. One reader, “Erika in VA,” left a comment requesting more information on how I used index cards to capture information for my physical inboxes:
Loved the post, but could you explain what you normally write on the 3×5 cards? My typical physical in-box item is paper, so I’m having a hard time imagining how I might use 3×5 cards to help process “stuff.” Thanks!
Paper is Technology
Even as a technology-savvy person, I love paper and use it daily. In my experience, nothing is more flexible. Paper is pure potential. You can jot down a shopping list or solve a complex financial crisis with a pencil. In fact, paper is an example of technology, it’s “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry. Or machinery and equipment developed from such scientific knowledge.”
I’ve been using index cards for years. There’s always a stack on my desk. I use them for several purposes, but most frequently to capture ideas, tasks, reminders, figures and so on for later reference. Here’s how and why I love using index cards.
How many times have you said, “I’ve got to remember to …”? When I have those thoughts, I know that if I don’t write them down right then and there, I’ll forget them. I must capture this “stuff.” I use the term capture to mean to create a record of that idea, thought, or bit of information that I know I’ll review later. That last bit is crucially important.
When I’m away from my desk I’ll use a notebook and pen to capture stuff. I like Fieldnotes Brand notebooks and the Fisher Space Pen, but really anything you like will do. When I’m in the car, I use my iPhone and record voice memos with Apple’s Siri.
But when I’m at my desk, it’s all about the index cards.
There’s a simple inbox on my desk that I bought at Staples. It contains a stack of unused index cards, plus any that I’ve written on during the day. When I’m working and I think of something that I want to capture, I grab a blank card and write a few words down. Just enough to trigger my memory later. For example, there’s a card in my inbox as I write this that says, “Make ‘Tally’ next week’s app.” I know that means I must review an app called “Tally” for next week.
When I’m done writing, I toss the card back into the inbox. The whole capture process takes just a few seconds, and that’s important. The more time I spend off task, the harder it will be to get back on task. Since I can jot something down in just a few seconds, I can return to whatever I was doing prior to making that note easily.
At the end of the day, I process the index card notes I’ve made. This is simple to do. Just pick up each card, read it and decide:
- What is it?
- What must be done (if anything)?
The first question typically has three possible answers:
- An action step. Something that must be done, either by me or by someone else.
- Reference material. This is information that doesn’t require action but could be useful in the future. Move it to your long-term storage solution.
- Date- or time-specific to-do item, or what I’d call a “reminder.” Add to your calendar.
That’s it. I move through each card in turn, following these steps. It’s pretty simple, but there is one important rule: go in order. It’s tempting to pass over a card that’s boring or seemingly too-much-to-think-about-right-now. If you put it back once, unprocessed, you’re likely to pass over it a second time. And a third. So, you are not allowed to put a card back and you may not alter the order.
A Matter of Trust
Earlier I mentioned that I know I’ll review my index cards at the end of the day. In other words, I trust my system. This is critically important. When my brain knows, “Yeah, he’ll look at this later. I trust him,” it stops pestering me. Imagine that you promise yourself, “I”m going to clean the basement.” Every time you walk past that basement door, your brain says, ”We ought to be cleaning the basement, you know.“ But if you make an appointment to clean the basement on Saturday at 10:00 a.m., your brain will give you a pass. “She’s put it on the calendar. We’re good.” I know in my bones that I’ll review my index cards, so no more remembering to change the furnace filter when I’m driving on Rte. 3 and can’t do a thing about it.
That’s my index card system: capture, review, do. Nice and simple. It’s quick, I trust it, and it works. I hope this answers your question, Erika!
One way to beat stress is to regularly take time off from work, but returning to work after your vacation can often have the exact opposite effect — it can be a source of stress. How do you pick up where you left off so you can hit the ground running? With a bit of planning, you can actually come back ready to work and ease back into your typical routine without feeling discombobulated and anxious.
Add an extra day
If you’ve ever found yourself wishing for an additional day of vacation so you could recover from the days you spent away from work, it’s not a bad idea. Schedule your return home a day earlier so you have an extra day to the end of your vacation, which you can use to catch up on emails, get reacquainted with projects, and get settled in at home. Knowing what to expect before you head back to work the next day will give you a preview of what your week will be like as well as the opportunity to put some plans in place.
You might also want to think about adding an extra day before you leave to clean up at home (empty the garbage, wash the dishes, turn on the Roomba) or even get your clothing ready for the morning you’ll be returning to the office. That way, you won’t even need to think about these tasks when you get back.
Put your desk in order before you leave
Clearing your desk, putting away files, and leaving your office or cubicle in an organized state before you leave helps you in several ways. First, you won’t have to clean up when you get back so you can start working straight away (less time cleaning means more time being productive). And, not only will it be a welcome sight, but you will likely have a better chance of getting stuff done.
Schedule meetings several days after you get back
Before you leave, you’ll probably need to add meetings to your calendar. Be realistic about how much time you’ll have to prepare for those meetings, particularly if you need to share a report or take on the role of facilitator. Consider postponing meetings three to five days after returning (or longer, if possible).
Stay away from extra tasks
You’ll also want to refrain from participating in activities that were not planned prior to you leaving. Unless they are urgent and require your focus, unplanned tasks can increase your work load and be overwhelming. Instead, focus on your most important projects and then, as you get back in the swing of things, you can gradually add more to your plate.
Delegate some tasks
Before you leave, hand off a few or your to-dos to a colleague to manage while you’re away. That way, you don’t come back to a long laundry list of tasks and you can keep some of your projects moving along in your absence. At the very least, brief a colleague on where to find things in your office so he or she can locate them quickly while you’re gone and won’t have to call you while you’re spending time with family or sipping a fancy drink on a beach.