reduce paper

How to Make the Most of Holiday Time

The next six weeks will be filled with parties, concerts and events. Some of them are obligatory — you may not want to attend your office party but must show up with a smile on your face. But you may be looking forward to your child’s concert at school and annual soirees with friends. Many people consider this period of time at work to be unproductive. Between late-night parties, holiday lunches and gift-swapping in the office, most are not focusing as intently on the business. In fact, many business people consider this period of time to be pretty unproductive.

Unless you do not plan on showing up between Thanksgiving and New Years, there is still work that needs attending to although, admittedly, your work load may be lighter. Your firm’s 2015 business plans have been completed and are ready for action starting in January. With fewer of your colleagues in the office, there are fewer meetings, fewer reports due and fewer tasks that require your immediate attention. Clients may be on vacation or spending less time in the office so they may be less demanding.

You have a choice. You can “float” through this period and pay minimal attention to work or decide that you’ll use this down time productively. There are a host of opportunities available. It is just a matter of deciding if you want to take this course of action. Why not? Think of the projects that you have put off because you have not had the time. This is your chance to get to them. Some of these projects can help you reach your goals. By starting them now, you will likely have fewer interruptions and a greater chance to complete them than during the year when more urgent tasks and to-dos come up and derail you.

What are examples of projects that you may want to tackle now? How about researching an area that may prove profitable for your company? How about exploring new ideas? You have a list but you never have time to explore them. Or perhaps you want to learn a skill that will improve your performance at work such as the task feature in Microsoft Outlook or how to use Evernote. It is frustrating not to know these features but, without the time to explore the tasks function or how to navigate Evernote, you have had to make do. Here is the opportunity you have been waiting for all year. Taking a class at a school or an on-line video tutorial from a company such as Lynda.com requires time, energy and focus … and now you have it!

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this is a perfect time to get organized. If your office is piled high with paper, why not go through the stacks and decide if you can live without some of them. Most likely the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Our clients often print out duplicates of documents because they can not find it on their desk (even though they know it’s there somewhere). Their first response is to reprint it. Ask yourself if you need it or would be able to get it again. Probably not although there are still a few documents that we need to hold onto. Often there are legal papers such as contracts. If another person in the company issued the document, then it’s likely that person will have the original copy. If you need to keep a document, decide where its home should be — on your desk (if you are actively working on it), in a filing cabinet, on your computer as an electronic file?

Once the paper clutter is reined in, it’s time to focus on the electronic clutter which may be more serious than the paper clutter. If files are scattered about without any rhyme or reason, take time now to figure out where each document belongs. Once the new year begins, this project will unlikely take precedence over urgent ones.

While you are organizing your office, there may be other things that you can do to improve its functionality. What tools might make it easier to stay organized — a whiteboard for mapping, wall files that can keep your folders handy, a second monitor? You might take a look around the office for ideas or browse the The Container Store or an office supply store. You could even ask your colleagues what organizing tools they like the best.

Have I convinced you yet to take advantage of this holiday time to do something different and still stay productive? Without having to spend all of your time on urgent, important projects, you can focus on other areas in your work and professional life that are also meaningful.

 

Organize Your Electronic Files

How quickly can you find an electronic file? Are your files scattered throughout the computer in any number of places such as the hard drive, documents, the cloud or portable storage? Electronic folders that are not filed in their right locations can be just as messy and cluttered as paper folders.

So much of what we do today is electronic that we need a plan to organize electronic files similar to the way we organize paper files. While many offices still rely on paper to some extent, we are gradually moving away from paper to storing documents electronically which is a compelling reason to set up a system to organize electronic file folders.

There are numerous benefits of an organized electronic filing system. Here are some of the reasons to act now and get your computer files in order:

  • Saves you time when you can find what you need quickly and easily, even years later.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Helps you be more productive, and look more professional, especially when your boss needs a file now.
  • Keeps documents current because the system identifies which documents can be disposed of and when.
  • Saves physical storage space and money by reducing the number of filing cabinets and office floor space needed.
  • Uses your time more efficiently by reducing the time you, or an assistant, spends retrieving and re-filing physical records.

If you share files with others, here are some advantages to having organized file folders:

  • Team members can access shared folders and find what they need quickly, without interrupting anyone.
  • Document ownership is easy to determine.
  • Fewer copies of documents need to be printed as long as you, and the other team members, can access the document easily on line.
  • Less printing = less paper clutter.
  • It is easy to edit a document and share it with others.
  • New employees can be brought up to speed quickly.

Tips to organize your electronic filing system:

  1. Make sure that the electronic filing system meets the needs of the office, that all documents have a place in the system and that everyone understands and buys into the system.
  2. Create a flow chart (electronic or paper) showing the type of information that will be available and the departments or people needing access to specific files.
  3. Set up a system everyone will be comfortable with and will use.
  4. Mirror your paper folders using the same headings and topics as your paper system. The more similar the two systems, the better.
  5. Be consistent about naming conventions. Set up files, folders and subfolders that everyone will find meaningful and easy to understand.
  6. Limit the number of clicks to three: file, folder and subfolder. There is no need to go any deeper. Note: whatever filing name system you choose, it needs to match your needs and/or the group’s needs.
  7. Use a hierarchal system to organize files instead of a horizontal one. Group all projects and files relating to a particular project, person or thing together instead of using separate folders. For example, a hierarchy for a client file folder might look like this:
    • File: Clients
    • Folder: Individual Client Names
    • Subfolders: Descriptive topic names such as communication, contact information, taxes by year, etc.
  8. Follow file naming conventions including client account numbers and revision date. Use underscores, not spaces. For example, an individual client name may look like this: tomjones_3579_11-30-14. Keep file names under 27 characters, all lower case.
  9. Use the same format for dates. The key is to be consistent.
  10. Add as much information into the file name as possible so it will not be necessary to open it. Be descriptive. An example of a subfolder under communication might be: casesummary1114 (for November, 2014). Don’t just put in “letter.”
  11. If others also work on the document, add your initials at the end.
  12. Avoid abbreviations and codes that are not immediately obvious to everyone.
  13. Set up an index for quick reference, particularly if you use shortened versions of words such as DFT for draft or CTR for contract. Make sure that information is readily available to everyone with access to the file folders. If an abbreviation is not necessary, do not use it.
  14. Delete previous revisions once document is final.
  15. Create a records retention schedule based on function and date to ensure that outdated electronic documents are disposed of when they are no longer needed.
  16. Be ruthless about the documents you save. The more data on the computer the more difficult it is to find necessary documents.
  17. Move frequently-used files to the top of the file folder list by adding an “a” or ! (any symbol works) at the beginning of the file name.
  18. File as you go. Do not wait until you have a long list.
  19. Clean out your file folders at specific times (after a certain number, every Friday, etc.)
  20. Back up files regularly.

Is It Time To Declutter Your Desk? (Part 2)

In the last blog (http://www.itstimetogetorganized.com/what-does-not-belong-on-your-desk/) we explored why cluttered desks make it hard to focus on the task at hand and what you can do about it. When you have to push things aside to find a clear spot, you know it is time to tackle the desktop clutter. Statistics show that co-workers admit to being judgmental and assume that the owner of a messy desk is lazy. While we would not necessarily jump to that conclusion, that is the general feeling of the people with whom you work.

When clean space on the top of your desk is hard to come by, it may be time to take a look at the offenders — the items on your desk that are usurping valuable space. Unless they’re paying rent (which of course they are not) they belong somewhere else. It is your desk, isn’t it?

Before jumping into this project and bulldozing everything in sight on your desk, take a step back and decide what to do with these items. The “keep” items need a permanent home. (Your desk is their temporary home.) Moving everything to the right place requires thought ahead of time and a plan of action. You may decide to tackle this project on off-hours — later in the day or on a weekend — to minimize the interruptions that invariably come up. It will require focus.

Now that you have a better understanding of where items might be relocated, it is time to begin. We have already discussed tips in the previous blog on handling: Loose Papers, Post-It Notes, and Reading Materials. Now we will move on to other things you may find on your desk:

Project Files

  • Keep the current project on the desk top — Other on-going projects can be relocated to a nearby desk drawer or placed on the desk in a step (or tiered) organizing unit. As long as they are not in the way and do not throw you off track, both options are fine.

Meeting Notes

  • Decide where they should go. Most people have no idea what to do with them so they end up under piles in various corners of the desk. If they are no longer needed or are now in electronic form the answer is obvious. Consider adding them to the folder belonging to the specific project.
  • Create a folder and label it “meeting notes”. Now you will know where to look when you next need the information.
  • Scan them  to an electronic folder with a descriptive name and throw out the paper notes.

Business Cards

  • Gather them together and decide which ones to keep.
  • Add a few phrases on the back of these cards reminding you where you met, what the other person was wearing, what you discussed, or if there was any follow up. These clues will help you remember the discussion.
  • Place the cards in one location such as a small box. That is a far better solution than leaving them scattered all around your desk and credenza where they can be lost. When we work with clients, we find them on top of the desk and every other flat surface in the office plus thrown in drawers. Many people return from a networking event or meeting and do not know what to do with them.
  • Enter the cards into contacts. Include the notes you made on the back of the card. Microsoft Outlook and other CRMs include note sections where you can provide information about the person and the meeting. Use a scanner when there are a large number of business cards. It is a lot faster.

Mail

  • Confine incoming mail to a box that sits on the corner of your desk. Without a home for mail, it will end up strangling your desk (and maybe you, too).

Items To Take Home

  • Designate a place somewhere else other than the top of your desk for your keys, wallet, smart phone, articles to read, documents, a briefcase and/or a purse. These types of items belong in a desk drawer or in a filing cabinet where they are out-of-sight and safe.

 Personal Items

  • Clients typically want to know what is acceptable. Of course, a photo or two is a nice addition to your desk and helps you remember why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening.  We recommend displaying a few special pictures — that’s all.
  • Take away most, if not all, decorative items that sit on your desk. Donate or take home most knick knacks, especially if they have no meaning and you do not remember where they originally came from.
  • Rotate your personal items regularly to keep your desk looking fresh and interesting.

Cords and Electronic Devices

  • Designate an out-of-the-way spot so they do not need to be continually shifted about while you are working. Also, it will be easier to remember your cell phone or tablet when you leave the office if they are in the same location every time.

Printers and Scanners

  • Find a spot off your desk, if possible, for your scanner and printer. Or, at the very least, relocate them to a corner of your desk. These items are often big and bulky and take up valuable desk space. Just be sure they are handy to reach.

Supplies

  • Extra pens, pencils and notepads are annoying if it is necessary to move them from spot to spot every time more desk room is needed. Instead, stash them in a drawer, move them to a supply cabinet or give them away if you are unlikely to use them.Many organizations or schools can always use these types of supplies and are grateful. And, yes, they are a tax deduction.

Cleaning Supplies

  • While essential for keeping a desk clean, storing unattractive bottles and cans on top of your desk is not a pretty sight. Find someplace else.

Binders

  • As much as we find binders very handy, they take up a lot of room on a desk. Move them to a bookcase or arrange them on a shelf above your desk, if you have one.

Bonus Tip: Take a few minutes before you leave at the end of the day to clear off your desk and make it presentable. When you walk into the office the next day, you will be able to find what you need and can get down to work right away. There will be no down time and you will be off to a good start of the day. How nice!

 

 

 

 

 

What Does NOT Belong On Your Desk?

Often items strewn on your desk get in the way, literally and figuratively.  Many items do not belong on your most valuable piece of real estate. You probably have no idea how they got there in the first place. Papers, business cards, file folders, coffee cups and an assortment of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. When it is hard to focus, it is hard to achieve your personal best. Clutter and extraneous items take you off course and reduces efficiency.

Another reason to clear the desktop clutter? Research shows that 57% of supervisors, co-workers, and clients pass judgment on how dirty or clean people keep their workspaces. They are often “appalled” by how messy the office is and consider them lazy. As good as your work product is a messy desk leaves a poor impression. (Note: survey by staffing firm Adecco) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/03/27/the-dangers-of-a-messy-desk/

Below is a step-by-step plan for a functional desktop that will help you stay productive throughout the day.

Prepare for your desk clean-up ahead of time.  

1. Choose a date and enter it into your planner.

2. Decide where items should be relocated. One of the reasons we end up with so much on our desk is that they have no home. A lot of things currently on your desk may end up in the trash so begin thinking about homes for magazines, project folders, meeting notes, business cards, personal items and extra supplies, to name a few.

3. Secure a large trash bag.

Now the day has arrived for you to begin. 

Gather like items together. A quick sort will identify the contents on the top of your desk. It is a lot easier to make decisions once you have divided everything into broad groups. Below are the types of items that you may possibly encounter while de-cluttering this valuable space:

Loose Papers

  • Decide what to toss and what to keep by glancing quickly at each document. If you stop to read each one, it will slow you down and can easily get you off track.
  • Divide the “keep” papers into two piles: active and reference. Place active documents into a file folder with similar items and keep in easy reach either on the desktop in an organizing unit that has “steps or tiers” or a close by desk drawer right next to you. Because you may not go to reference materials as often, they can be kept farther away such as across the room.

Scanning

  • Store documents electronically instead of keeping paper. First, however, devise a plan for the location of electronic files. The last thing you want to happen is to lose an important document because it was misfiled. Also, do not forget to backup.
  • Toss or shred the paper documents once a copy resides on your computer and the original is no longer needed.

Post-It Notes

  • Stash these bits of information into electronic software such as on-line post-it notes, One-Note, EverNote, or even the computer desktop.
  • Or store the information in a binder in an easy-to-reach location.

Reading Materials

  • Relocate them. Magazines and newspapers on top of the desk rob you of valuable real estate. It is unlikely that you are going to read a magazine as soon as it arrives. Look around your office. How about moving them to the credenza or the top of a filing cabinet?
  • Decide how long to keep them. Once six months have passed, recycle them, even if you have not yet read them.
  • Unsubscribe to the magazines that you hardly glance at. Be honest with yourself and let go of unread magazines that take up valuable space.
  • Read a magazine at lunch or while waiting for an appointment. Before leaving on a plane trip, I stuff my briefcase with unread magazines. Out they go as soon as I read them; no magazines make the return trip.
  • Tear Out Articles – The fastest way to go through a magazine is to glance at the table of contents and decide if there are any compelling articles. Rip them out and toss the magazine.
  • Pass them along to doctors’ offices, the Y, hospitals and places where others can enjoy them.
  • Recycle whenever possible.

Be on the lookout for the next blog. We will continue the discussion on what does NOT belong on your desk. We will cover:

Project Files … Meeting Notes … Business Cards … Mail … Items To Take Home … Personal Items … Miscellaneous Items … Electronic Devices … Supplies … Cleaning Supplies … Books and Binders.

Isn’t it amazing what your desk can hold?

Computer Screens: The Bigger The Better?

Computer Screen

With less paper in the office, many of us find that we do a lot of reading and work on our computers. Do larger screens or several monitors make it any easier? The consensus seems to be “yes”.  Once you try two monitors, there’s no going back, according to Dave Kinsey, president of Total Networks.  Several studies show that, with two monitors, tasks are completed more quickly with fewer errors compared to using one monitor. How nice to have several screens open at one time without having to switch back and forth!

If two monitors are great, why not five or six? Kinsey cites a paperless law office that does just this. The six monitors are open to calendars, email, the company’s practice management program, documents, a screen for another application and the two end screens in landscape which are perfect for spreadsheets. The monitors cover a lot of screen real estate. When you can read  two documents side by side, the need to print out or keep paper is almost completely eliminated.

While I was mulling over the idea of how many monitors would fit on my desk, I came upon an article posted in The Lawyerist suggesting one BIG screen. Todd Hendrickson posits in his article “In a Paperless Office, A Bigger Monitor is Better” that a jumbo monitor (27” or larger) is better than multi-monitors if you spend most of your time reading and writing. The key advantage? You can see several full-page desktop views with minimal scrolling.  All it takes is a few keyboard shortcuts. In essence, it can do the same thing as multi-monitors and still leave room on your desk. For more details, check out http://lawyerist.com/in-a-paperless-office-a-bigger-monitor-is-better/.

How many monitors do you use?

What’s On The Top Of Your Desk?

images[10]We all know that feeling — the times when nothing can stop you from reaching your maximum efficiency. Ideas come to you quickly and projects get done. By organizing your desk, you will know where everything is. It will save you time and energy. In the March 27, 2012 article from Forbes Magazine, author Jenna Goudreau talks about “The Dangers Of A Messy Desk.”

Keep only the essentials on the top of your desk within arm’s reach to help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day. Other items scattered on your work space can get in the way, literally and figuratively. Papers, business cards, coffee cups and dozens of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. And when it is hard to focus, it’s much more difficult to achieve your personal best.

In any discussion of desk surfaces, clients typically inquire about their personal items such as framed photos and other decorative objects. Our recommendation: limit personal items to two or three things that remind you why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening. Rotate these items regularly to keep things fresh and interesting.

Schedule time in your planner to organize your desk. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

Clean Up Your Workspace in 2013!

Did you know that January 9 is Clean Up Your WorkSpace Day? It’s that important and crucial for your success that a special day has been designated. And it is at the beginning of the new year. As productivity specialists, we highly endorse sprucing up your workspace. It will help you be more organized and efficient in 2013.

Try this tip: Limit the items on the top of your desk to phone, computer, current projects, office supplies and planner.

These items are all essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day.

These five work tools will help you concentrate on the task at hand and help improve your productivity.

Your Planner: This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check your planner at least once or twice a day, if not more. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all meetings, contacts and tasks in one place and handy.

Your Computer: Are you able to find the electronic document you need immediately? From personal experience, we can vouch that a task takes a lot longer when you spend the first half hour (or hour) searching for a file folder.

Organizing your computer file folders now — in the beginning of 2013 — is well worth it.

Your Active Projects: What are you working on today? Reserve your desk surface for projects and tasks that represent today’s priority items. Projects and tasks that will be priorities at a later date can be kept in your working files drawer or a step-up file folder.

Your Phone: Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages. Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.

If the caller is someone whom you will need to call again, record their information in your contact list. So long back-of-envelope!

Supplies: If you have to shove aside stationery, envelopes and boxes of business cards to reclaim your work surface, it may be time to rethink what you need at hand. Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet.

Take a look at your own desktop tools. Are they going to help you stay the course?

By following these tips, 2013 will be off to a great start!

 

Close Out The Year: Try This Checklist

  • Start gathering your papers and electronic files needed for taxes. Yes, now. Credit card and bank statements, receipts, anything you will need to take to your accountant. And, speaking of your accountant …
  • Meet with your accountant to review your situation and determine what, if any, actions to take before the official close of the year.
  • Pay outstanding invoices and avoid back dating checks in January.
  • Decide if money owed you now should be paid this year or in January. There may be advantages to moving the revenue into the following year.
  • Archive 2012 email. If your inbox is filled to the brim, here’s your opportunity to reduce your email volume. And compressed email takes up less space. It’s a win-win.

Maintain Your Organizing

If you have recently organized your office, you know the type of work it takes to accomplish this feat. Are congratulations in order? Most definitely yes! And what a wonderful feeling! At long last you can put your hands on a document quickly without wasting time searching. The clutter is gone, old files have gone to storage, current files are in a nearby drawer, binders on the credenza are labeled and the sole project on your desk is the one you are working on currently.

And here’s another plus: You can invite clients and co-workers without feeling embarrassed by the appearance of your space. The message is loud and clear that your office is totally functional and you are in control.

Now can you cross that project off of your list? Well, yes, but not the part about maintaining the organization. Just because your office is in ship shade at the moment and you are able to be highly efficient, does not mean that the organization will stay that way on its own. Some people forget about the effort needed to keep your space clear. If you let it go, your office will be back to square one in no time at all. It will be messy and cluttered and will require all of your energy to navigate — energy you would prefer to put toward your job.

What can you do to ensure that your office stays tidy and neat? Try these tips:

  1. Designate a time — daily or weekly — to put everything back in its place. You may need to spend 15 minutes at the end of the day or an hour every Friday afternoon. Then add it to your calendar and be sure and do it.
  2. Decide your tolerance level, that is, at what point do you stop to sort, file and make decisions on papers that have no home. Maybe it is when the inbox is full.
  3. Ask a co-worker to “shadow” you while you get your office back to its organized state. His/her presence in the room is sufficient reason for you to stay motivated until your work space in back in working order.
  4. Change organizational systems that are not working instead of struggling with them. Sometimes a system needs revamping even though you were sure it would work when you set it up. A perfect example is a tickler system. Your colleague raved about how well it works but not for you. You are clearly disappointed in the way it performs. Instead of giving up and leaving the papers scattered about, try a different filing system. Keep trying different until you get to one you like and know you will use.

These tips will go a long way toward maintaining your hard-earned organization. True, they will require effort but the benefits in productivity are well worth it. You’ll feel less stress because you are free to focus on your tasks.

There is good news, however: It’s a lot easier to maintain systems and processes once they are established. It will take a lot less time to keep on top of papers, files and anything else that lands on your desk from here on in.

 

 

 

How To Reduce Unwanted Mail

I don’t know about you, but I dislike the piles of junk mail that show up in my mailbox unsolicited. I sift through the junk immediately keeping my eye out for important pieces of mail, hoping I do not overlook something important. Before even stepping into my house, I typically fling into the trash:

  • —  Magazines and catalogs I have no intention of reading.
    —  Coupon flyers I have no intention of cashing.
    —  Special offers from local retailers, land companies, real estate firms, etc. I have no intention of using.

Would you like to reduce the pounds of junk mail that weigh you down? Would you like to open your mail box and find only first class mail?

Below are opt-out websites that will help make this happen.

1)   www.directmail.com — there is no cost to take you off lists.

2)  www.dmachoice.org — choose particular companies in the following four categories from which you still want to receive mail; eliminate the rest for five years or permanently.

  • Catalogs
  • Credit Offers
  • Magazine subscriptions, newsletters, periodicals, promotional mailings
  • Other Mail Offers such as: donation requests, bank offers and retail promotions

3)  www.OptOutPrescreen.com — the official consumer credit reporting industry website for consumers to opt in or opt out of credit or insurance offers for five years or permanently.

It will only take 15 minutes. Do it today. Go on the websites to minimize the amount of unwanted mail. You’ll love opening
your
mailbox.