How to Make an Effective List

TON
Ton of Shoulds

What I’m about to say is sacrilege.  It goes against every bit of advice today’s productivity experts lend.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot and am just going to put it out there…  Don’t write down every possible to-do or task you have to do.  I know, “if you don’t write it down then it is taking space in your head.”

The way I see it is that if you write everything down your endless lists become useless.  You have so much to do and so many possibilities.  To improve your quality of life I suggest you write down the to-dos that are important and just let the other stuff go.  Each time you think of something that could be done I want you to run it through the “Is this important” filter.

Deciding what’s important isn’t as easy as it sounds, but it’s not that hard either.  It just takes a bit of thought.

Getting clarity around your goals, dreams, values and needs makes it easier.  Read my blog post on 10 minute goal setting http://bit.ly/1vLUlOb or consider hiring a coach or doing some reading to help you determine what is “most important” for you.  Once you have some structure to “what is important” it will help you to cast off those time-sucking obligations and “shoulds” that weigh you down.

Only when you can focus your time, energy and financial resources on the things that help you live in the way you want to live will you truly be productive.  So this week, instead of putting everything on your list, ask yourself “what can I leaving off?”  A list of 5 important items is much more effective than an endless list of stuff.  Go ahead – defy the experts and leave I off.  I can’t wait to hear what will happen.

MY TOP 5 REASONS EVERNOTE IS MY NOTE TAKING TOOL OF CHOICE

Evernote Implementation Plan
Evernote Implementation Plan

The last six weeks have been crazy for me.  I’ve attended conferences, workshops, board meetings, college orientations, coaching sessions, mastermind groups, held client intakes and more.  The result of which, of course, are tons of notes.  But the good news?  I have no piles of papers. NONE! How did I do it?  I used Evernote for EVERYTHING.

I’ve written about Evernote before but I’ve been observing you users out there and know that many of you still haven’t taken the step to make Evernote your note taking tool of choice.  Here is why it works for me:

EVERNOTE Is Always with Me – regardless if I have my phone, my iPad or my laptop I have my (cloud based) EVERNOTE.

EVERNOTE is Easy – regardless if you have a Mac or PC, Android or iPhone (or other), Tablet or iPad, you can download Evernote for free. If I run out of storage space I can buy more, but I understand that takes a really long time.  I’ve been using Evernote for years, have over 350 notes (and some are very long notes) and have 80% of the free storage still available.

EVERNOTE is searchable – any word, any phrase, any letter combination.  Imagine having 500 notes and to find something all you have to do is type a word or phrase and it pops up instantly.  That is what Evernote does.

EVERNOTE is organizable – when I make my notes I make them work for me.  I can highlight, bold, and make different words different sizes, fonts and colors.  However my most favorite is the action box  that I can drop into my document whenever I want.

evernote box uncheckedI use it at the top of each note for actions I must take.  That way when I get home I know what I need to do. And what is coolest?  When I’ve completed the action I can check it off like this:

Start using evernote today

EVERNOTE is quickly retrievable – I can keep ongoing lists and add to them is a split second.

And my top favorite reason:  I HAVE NO PAPER PILES!

If you haven’t tried EVERNOTE yet, you should.  If you want help, call or email me to schedule an Evernote session (either live or via phone/Skype) and I can get you up to speed quickly.

The Holding Zone

The Holding  Zone
The Holding Zone

On the quest to minimize paper I will share with you a tip that helps me a lot.  I have a designated holding zone.  This is where I put things that I don’t need now, but am not quite ready to do something with or get rid of.

Remembering the proven statistic that 80-85% of all papers put into files are never referenced again it helps to explain the purpose of the Holding Zone.  Think of it as a step on the path to the recycle bin, but with the opportunity to retrieve it if need be.  When I do my weekly office organizing session I work to make all the paper go away.  But there are always a few things that I am not quite ready to toss and don’t want to put into my reference files or my action system.  My solution is to pop them right into my holding zone.

It is important to go through the holding zone ever 2 or 3 months to see what can be moved out (filed, recycled or act on) so this area remains functional, otherwise you’ll just end up with an out-of-control mess.  (To get into the habit, I recommend you calendar “process holding zone” every other month.)

The holding zone can be a file, a bin, a basket or a level of a letter tray.  I use a letter tray because that’s easy for me.  What kinds of things do I have in my holding zone? Here’s a sampling:

  • The certificate for the two hours of tech support I won at the silent auction
  • Notes from a project that I completed but want to keep around for a bit just in case
  • A sample of a marketing campaign from a local theater that I liked and might want to do something with
  • An idea for a product that I might want to do something with

Once again, remember that if the system isn’t easy, it’s too hard.  Find an out of the way yet accessible place and set up your holding zone today.

 

Get on Top of Your Paper Piles

Paper Piles
Paper Piles

If you follow my blog or get my weekly tip you’ll know we’ve talked about the importance of scheduling time to go through your papers on a weekly basis.  Today I’ll share with you the most important tip to process your papers most effectively.

The Secret:  Each time you pick up a piece of paper during your paper processing session ask yourself:

How can I make this piece of paper go away?

Could you:

  • Put the contact information into your smartphone – you’ll be able to find it when you need it and you won’t have to keep the card or scrap of paper
  • Put the events on your calendar including details – you will know you have it scheduled and you won’t have to keep the flyer
  • Make an Evernote – if you have a note with something you need to remember – put it where you can find it.  As we talked about last week, EVERNOTE is a fabulous application that crosses platforms and can be accessed from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
  • Put a corresponding to-do on your task list and place the paper in your “working on now” pile
  • And then there is always file, shred, and recycle.

When you reduce the paper in your office your productivity soars.  The more paper you eliminate the easier each future weekly processing session becomes.  Remember to ALWAYS ask yourself “How can I make this piece of paper go away?”

How do you make your paper go away?  Please share @ http://www.ellenfaye.com/blog/.

 

Top Tips for Taming Tax Day

tax drawer
tax drawer

Once again Tax Day has come and gone.  For me it’s about 8 focused hours.  I sit down to prep, our CPA Steve appears at our door, we work together for a couple hours, he leaves…we are done!  We’ve had this routine for years.  Steve always chuckles and tells me I’m his most organized clients.  The secret – it’s not what I do that day, it’s the little things I do all year long.  Here are my top tips for taming tax day:

  1. The Annual Check Register – I don’t know many people that keep check registers these days.  Most everyone just counts on their on-line balance.  But I still do.  And I start a new register on January 1st each year.  That way, when it’s tax time I have many answers all in one place, my auto-pays, donation checks I may have missed, household expenses, medical bills – most of the things I pay by check I need when I pay my taxes.  On Tax Day I go through my register and it helps me to prepare my Medical, Donation and Household expense totals.
  2. Dedicated ONE Place for Tax Receipts – As you walk in the backdoor of my home I’ve created a command center.  It is the designated spot for mail, and each family member has a cubby.  There are also a couple of shelves for general use.  On one of those shelves I have a 3 drawer bin.  One of those drawers is labeled taxes.  During the course of the year any and everything I need for taxes goes in that drawer.  Goodwill receipts, on-line donation receipts, medical bill receipts, prescription receipts, and anything else relevant.  On January 1st I empty it out and put it in an envelope for totaling on tax day.
  3. Pull Records on January 1 (or 2) – Each year I start my records fresh on January 1st.  That way last year and this year are never comingled.  I put all of the prior year’s records into a Bankers Box that gets stored under my desk.  After Tax Day the box goes into storage in my basement.  I most comfortable keeping 7 years of boxes (ask your tax advisor what’s best for you).  Steve left last night at 7pm.  My box went to the basement as he walked out the door.  I pulled the box that was 8 years old and it will go off to my towns next free shredding day.
  4. Dedicate One Spot for Year End Tax Statements – Regardless of what it is, if we need it to do our taxes it goes in one spot.  That way we have everything we need when we need it.
  5. Tell your Teenagers What a W-2 is – This is the 2nd year in a row that we couldn’t finish our taxes 100%.  We were missing one thing.  Last year it was our older son’s W-2.  This year, our younger sons W-2.  If we don’t tell them what it is and that they need to give it to us we don’t have it.  Bummer.

(In New Jersey where I live the % deductible for medical is substantially less than the Federal %.  Ask your tax preparer about your states limit.  It is definitely worth it for me to track this.  It may or may not be or you.)

Top Tip for Today’s Tasks

Today's To-Do's
Today’s To-Dos
(note endless snow)

I’ve stumbled upon an awesome technique to get me through the day on those days that I have just too much to do and can’t figure out where to start or what to do first.  I write each task, to-do, and action step on an individual post it.  Then I arrange them in order of:

  • Do what’s most time sensitive first
  • Do what’s most important next
  • Do what has to come before something else before I can do the other thing

It does take a few minutes to write out the post-its, but it’s a very useful exercise.  By doing this I am:

  • Getting clear on today’s priorities
  • Narrowing my focus on the most important things
  • Letting go of those things on my list that really aren’t important.

Useful Hints:

  • I’m loving these new 2×2 post-its
  • Post so you can see from your desk
  • Use a marker so you can read it from your desk
  • Color code if it makes you happy
  • If you have a lot of the same task to do, (phone calls, invites, notes to send) break it out in smaller groups (a few at a time – with each batch getting it’s own post-it) so it’s not so overwhelming.

The Best Part:

  • Taking down each post-it feels so good
  • You have a visual picture to get you through the day
  • At the end of the day when there is only a few post-its left you feel so good

And as much as I love my technology, sometimes low-tech is the best way to fly.  Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Set Yourself Up for a Smooth 2014

2013 Records
2013 Records

There is no better time than this week to set up your paper systems for 2014. Here is what I do:

  • I start with an empty Bankers Box
  • I pull out all my household financials (bills paid, bank statements, etc.) for 2013 and put them on one side of the box
  • I pull all my (personal) receipts from 2013 and put them in a gallon zip lock bag marking it with Personal Receipts 2013 with a black sharpie and toss those in the box
  • I take out my 2013 business records and put them on the other side of the box.
  • I take all the papers out of my 2013 taxes bin and put them in a 10 x 13 envelope, marking it “For 2013 tax prep” – I lay this envelope on top of the other stuff in the box
  • I put the lid on the box marking it “2013 Financial Records – shred in 2020” (7 years plus one for good measure)
  • The box then goes under my desk until my 2013 taxes are filed.
  • After my taxes are filed, the box goes to the basement for storage, pulling the “Shred in 2014” box.

This simple perpetual process keeps everything in order with minimal effort. If I drop the ball and don’t pull 2013 out now then I end up mixing 2013 with 2014 and I’ve just made myself a lot more work. If I take the time to do this now, my systems are in place and I’ve set myself up for a smooth 2014.

Ode to a Suit – Letting Go Is Hard

waiting for pick up
waiting for pick up

I spent some time in our storage room on Sunday getting rid of stuff.  My business wardrobe from the ’80’s is now sitting on the front stoop waiting for pick up from the Vietnam Vets (www.ScheduleAPickUp.com).

Sunday morning I wasn’t aware that those suits were even in my home.  Today I’m sad.  It is the end of an era (NO ELLEN – that era was over long ago – no respectable women feels like they have to dress like a man today).   But, I’m highly confident that tomorrow I will have forgotten that those suits have moved storage locations.   I have a picture of my favorite navy suit – I wore it for a photo shoot for a hotel I managed – it’s in the brochure.  That’s much better.

Goodbye skis I bought before Alex was born (soon to be 21), I’m sure you’re not safe anymore.  Pack ‘N Play that I kept in case someone needed one…I suspect your not safe anymore either – but I’ll leave that up to the experts to decide.  So long work bins I’ve evolved out of…it’s time for you all to go back to the universe and to someone who can really use you.

Ellen Delap (www.professional-organizer.com) posted a great Psychology Today article earlier this week about what happens to the brain when we let go of something.  Letting go activates the part of the brain that is tied to identity…like you are giving away a part of yourself.  Author Kelly McGonigal Ph.D. talks about how to strengthen your willpower and separate. (And for my NAPO colleagues – it’s very cool that both experts sited in this article were our keynote speakers at NAPO2013).

Interesting…I already feel better with my stuff out of the house – but it did sting for a second.

Perfectly Productive Product – Incipio Stowaway®

Incipio STOWAWAY
Incipio STOWAWAY

Every once in a while I come across a product that is perfect.

I’ve been carrying the Incipio STOWAWAY® for about the past 6 months. I have had more people comment and get excited about this phone case than anything I’ve owned (that I can remember.) Practically everyone who sees it asks about it and says they want one.

This is a wallet case for my iPhone that holds 3 credit cards (Business Credit Card, Family Credit Card, and Personal Credit Card). It does add a bit of thickness to the case, but that doesn’t bother me. I typically carry my cell phone in my jeans back pocket or in my handbag. The thickness doesn’t affect either of these situations. It is great to have what I need when I need it.

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If You Can’t Remember – It Isn’t a Memento

Memento? Probably not!
Memento? Probably not!

The definition of memento is “an object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person or event.”

An important aspect of getting organized is streamlining your things – removing the things that don’t matter so you can focus on and enjoy the things that do matter. Time and time again I see clients put inanimate objects ahead of their own well-being, desiring to hold on to something, when in fact, it takes away from their quality of life.

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