Tips for Easier Living
Productivity Consulting and Leadership Coaching for business and nonprofits - get your most important work done. Collaborating with leaders and their teams to become more strategic, focused and productive. Leadership and Board Coaching, Strategic Planning Facilitation, Productivity Coaching and Consulting, Professional Speaker.
Productivity Coach, Productivity Consultant, Leadership Coach, Executive Coach, Business Consulting, personal productivity, time management, nonprofit, board coach, collaboration, strategic planning, facilitation, change management, leading productive teams, project planning, board development, volunteer engagement, association management, workplace productivity, executive director.
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Tips for Easier Living

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” 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 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.

 

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 commingled.  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 adviser what’s best for you).  Steve left last night at 7 pm.  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 son’s 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.)

Developing a habit is an important part of creating change, but an equally important aspect is creating a process.  And not just any process, a SIMPLE process.  For if I’ve learned anything working with my clients, I’ve learned “if it’s not simple, it’s too hard.”  Creating a simple process is perhaps the most crucial aspect of driving change.

What does creating a process look like?  If I asked you to write down the steps to do something you do every day you could.  Let’s take getting dressed each morning.  My system looks like this:  1. Take shower 2. Brush teeth 3. Put in contacts….. etc.  I do the same thing each morning.  I don’t need to think about it, I’ve done it so many times that it has become rote.

Everything that is done routinely needs a clearly thought out process.  Let’s apply this concept to staying on top of the papers in your office.  We start by breaking this into WHAT, HOW and WHEN.

“WHAT” is the goal: “round up the piles, papers and notes into a clearly prioritized task list in order to be able to focus on my most important work.”

“HOW” is the process:

  1. Gather all papers and notes that are laying around into one big pile
  2. Pick up the top item in the pile – ask: what needs to be done?
    1. If I need to put it away – put it away
    2. If I don’t need it – put it in the trash, recycle or shred zone
    3. If I need to give it to someone else – put it in a pile with their name on it
    4. If I need to take action on it – prioritize the action (critical, hot, sooner, later) on my task list and decide if I still need the paper (put it in the take action zone or throw away if I can)
  3. Pick up the next item and process
  4. Continue until I’ve cleared the pile
  5. Distribute sorted papers to their proper places
  6. Review my task list to ensure proper prioritization

“WHEN” is the frequency: “I will schedule 2 hours each week.”  Put it on your calendar.  If something comes up and you have to move it, that’s fine as long as you spend the 2 hours each week.  (Realistically, when you get started this can take 2 hours.  As time goes on it may take less than 1).

While this process may seem daunting, the more you work it, the easier it becomes.  By having the process written down it helps you to keep on track, and on task, until it becomes rote.

effective decision making

Being a solopreneur or telecommuter has many advantages. But there are also a few disadvantages.  One of them is that there is no one in the next office to bounce ideas off of. As the old saying goes “two heads are better than one.”  And the more I study group dynamics, the more I KNOW that many heads create best decisions.

But what happens when we are working alone? I see in many of my clients that making decisions often presents road blocks. From a productivity perspective, I don’t think that in this situation rushing to conclusion is the best solution.

To make a good decision, one should:

  1. Be clear about the problem and what you want to happen
  2. Gather facts – who, what, where, why, when, etc.
  3. Develop alternatives – brainstorm, discuss, debate
  4. Decide on the best solution – considering how it will affect other aspects of the business and analyzing consequences

1,2, and 4 we can do on our own. But who do we brainstorm with? Consider – a mastermind group, an accountability partner, a coach, a consultant, or colleagues from a professional association.  I depend on my NAPO colleagues most of the time.  When it’s a big decision I often consult an expert or coach.  Regardless, I know that ideas spark ideas, and for my decision making to be most effective I can’t do it alone.

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
  • Mom – is for my kids… (says…Love, Mom)

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.

Get a handle on your JOMTI.  On your what?

JOMTI – Just One More Thing-Itis!

You know that urge to squeeze one more thing in…and then it makes you late.  It makes you late for the holiday party, the concert, or puts you at the mall with only an hour left to shop.  It makes the traffic heavier, it makes the prices higher and it makes the blood pressure rise.

Now, what if instead of making that phone call, answering that email, or checking your phone one last time you left 5 minutes earlier.  I know, it’s hard to do.  But consider the benefit.  Ask yourself – it is worth it?  Even if it was an important task, ask yourself:

  • Can it wait?
  • What if I did it later?
  • What if I didn’t get to it at all?

The trade off for doing one less thing? MORE JOY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.

Wishing you a wonderfully joyful pre-holiday week.