Do you have a project to do, but don’t know where to start? Most of us don’t have access to complex project management software, nor do we want to make the time investment to learn to use it. I’ve developed a simple project planning process that yields many of the same results without the learning curve.
1. Get a stack of Post-its
2. Write down each task associated with the project. Don’t worry about writing them in any order, just write as fast as the ideas come to you. Be sure to use a new post it for each individual task.
3. Put the post-its in order. Consider – what has to come before another step, what would be the most logical way to do the work, if there is any significant wait time, and what would be best for you? During this process you may think of extra steps. Create a post-it for those steps and insert them into the process.
4. Assign a length of time it will take to complete that step to each post-it – it could be 15 minutes, an hour or a week.
5. If you have a deadline, start with the last post-it and write the deadline on that post-it, then using the time projection, working from the last post-it forward, date each post-it with the day it is due. If you can’t make the deadline as projected, better to see that now and make adjustments from the beginning. If there is no forced deadline, start on the first post-it and assign due dates accordingly.
6. If there is more than one person working on the project identify whose responsibility each specific task is (note on post-it)
7. Transfer the post-it information (in order) to a project planning grid:
Project: Blog Schedule
Time needed to complete
Who is responsible
1. Identify frequency of blog posts, # of blog posts needed
2. Brainstorm possible blog topics
3. Select the best 26 topics
4. Group topics in logical flow
Planning the project is critical to completion. Try this for your next project and let us know how it goes.
Paper overwhelm is one of the most commonly voiced productivity concerns I hear. There is just too much. There are many was of managing paper but today we are going to focus on printing less. The best thing you can do is think before you print.
Thinking before printing not only helps the environment but helps you be more productive by reducing the quantity of stuff you have to plow through to find the stuff that matters most. What can you do instead of printing?
Emails: Learn to use the search function. All email programs today have excellent search functions. While my preference is to file emails logically, even if you leave them all in your inbox you can still search for what you need when you need it. It is actually easier to find a specific email on your computer than in various unfiled piles in your office.
Articles: If you haven’t yet downloaded Evernote do so today. It’s free and crosses platforms – that means you can use it on your phone, tablet, and Mac/PC. Evernote also has a fabulous search function so you can find what you are looking for in a heartbeat. You can copy and paste the article into Evernote, you can save links in Evernote, and you can clip pictures into Evernote. It’s much more efficient to find what you are looking for in Evernote than in the various piles in your office
Drafts: Do you need to print and keep every draft of a project you are working on? If in fact you need to print, only keep the most current or two most current. Printing and keeping multiple copies of the same thing is both confusing and wasteful.
Productivity Guru David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule is simple – If you can do it in two minutes or less do it now. It’s a great concept for helping you move through the backlog of paper, tasks to-do and sticky notes laying around. Basically, his premise is that it’s going to take the same amount of time to put it on your to-do list or into your task management system then it will take to do it, so just stop and get it done. I do like this tactic and employ it often as I do my weekly review (next week I’ll explain how I manage this process), however don’t take “two-minutes” literally: Here are some variations to consider:
“Hold” time doesn’t count: If there are calls you need to make that require you to wait on hold, but the conversation will only take a few minutes, make it now. Put the phone on speaker and continue on with your processing. This is actually a great use of time – processing paper is comprised of micro-decisions and stopping to take the call won’t require much re-ramp-up time.
3 or 4 or maybe even 5 minutes is OK: Remember, the concept is that it will take more time to anchor it to a future action than it will to do the task. The number of minutes is much less significant than the concept. Empower yourself to use your best judgment.
OMG: When you find something that it critical and you just have to do it now (and this does happen) it is ok to stop and do it ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO FINISH THE WEEKLY REVIEW. I believe that investing in this hour or two weekly is the one most important thing you can do to improve your productivity. Taking the time to organize papers prevents you from finding OMG’s and is really the only thing short of a full time administrative assistant that can help you get your most important work done.
JUST Don’t Do It: I have yet to meet a client (or colleague for that matter) that can do everything. EVERYTHING CAN’T BE IMPORTANT. As you are evaluating next steps (do it now, put it on my list, etc.) consider “not doing it at all” as a very viable option. If you are spending your time doing less important work at the expense of the most important work you are making a poor leadership decision. Ask yourself – “What would happen if I just didn’t do it?”
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.
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?
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?”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Imagine 1000 sticky notes that are organized and available at the click of a mouse. Meet Evernote. Evernote is a cloud based application that can be accessed from just about anywhere – your PC, your Mac, your iPhone, your iPad and/or your Android phone. And it’s FREE! Go to www.evernote.com and download it. Play with it. Basically, all you need to know to get started is that you make a note – give it a title and Evernote saves it. Then when you want to find it you can search on any word in the note and it will pull it up for you. Later, when you get more comfortable with it, you can take pictures into your notes, cut and paste links and photos into your notes, and even do voice to text input. Here are some ideas about how I use mine:
Favorite lists: books to read, restaurants to go to (each city has its own note), wines to try, nail polish colors I like
Many people use their email signature as a way to communicate credentials, contact information and marketing links. Sometimes people include an inspirational message. These are all great uses…but there is more you can do.
Most email programs provide an option for multiple signatures. Some people use this feature to change between business and personal signatures. This of course is helpful. But imagine the possibilities if you used these signatures to communicate information you use all the time.
The best way for me to explain this is to share what I do. If I find that I’m sending the same information in emails over and over again, it is worthwhile to turn it into a signature (I actually put the body of the letter into the signature.) Then when I need to send that email, all I need to do is change to that particular signature, add the salutation (Dear Jane), make a few personalization tweaks, and hit send.
Here are the signatures I use:
Coaching – is used when replying to a client interested in coaching
Ellen – is for when I just want my name
Ellen Faye Organization – is my full blown signature with all the bells and whistles
Ellen Personal – is for personal correspondence with my home phone #, etc.
Ellen Short – is essential information used for business
ePub – is used to thank people for signing up for my weekly tip
Mom – is for my kids… (says…Love, Mom)
New Organizer – is for inquiries about becoming a Professional Organizer
Yahoo Invite – as Yahoo Group coordinator for my local NAPO chapter, I use this to invite new chapter members to join the Yahoo Group.
This super useful tool saves me a great deal of time. Check out the signatures feature in your email program to see how you can benefit. Questions – post them as a comment on my blog and I’ll get back to you right away.
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.
The goal of getting organized is not to be perfect; it’s to make life easier. Do you want to get your mail under control? File your paperwork? Find your summer shoes? Once I give clients permission to not be perfect their progress takes off. Ask yourself – “what is good enough?” Good enough doesn’t have to mean Pinterest perfect visuals or complex systems.
It’s always best to begin with the end in mind. If your goal is to be able to find things when you need them than that’s the type of system you should create – Consider: Continue reading »