Organization

5 Steps to Keep Piles from Preventing Productivity

Having stacks of paper on your desk can make you appear to be busy and have a big workload, but they can also cost you time and productivity by forcing you to sort through them every time you need to find something.  Yet we continue to let things pile up, along with our stress levels.

Has a coworker ever come to your desk when you were away, looking for something they knew you had but couldn’t find it?  You return to find them searching through your stacks and that feeling of panic increases as you worry about your piles getting disorganized.  Well there are a few simple steps you can take to get rid of the piles and stay organized and more productive.

  1. Get over the pile = productive mentality. We judge the busyness of others based on their desks.  The more you have piled on there, the busier you must be (although there is a point where they are seen as messy and too lazy to file anything).  It’s great to have a clean desk and you will actually be more productive and have less stress if everything is put in its correct place.  You will also be able to access paperwork much more easily if you know where it is.
  2. Have the resources.  It is hard to stay organized if you don’t have a system and a place for everything.  If you need to keep paperwork, make sure you have a place for it.  Make sure you have plenty of folders, file cabinets or banker’s boxes, and all the resources you need to get and stay organized.  Also important is a paper shredder and a garbage can.  Use file labels, alphabetizing and consistent file names to make filing as easy as possible for you.
  3. Have a schedule. Keep in mind your organization schedule does not and should not be the same for everything.  Some paperwork can be filed immediately while others are pending approvals or payments.  Just make sure you understand and keep to the different schedules.  It can also be very helpful to keep a “pending” area where this paperwork can be kept so you know exactly where to find it once you have what you need to file it.
  4. Go paperless. I am fortunate enough to have a great scanner to easily scan my paperwork to my email, so not only do I have a copy filed in my email, I have folders where I can easily virtually file my documents.  This makes it incredibly easy to find and file my paperwork without having to dig through folders.  I also have the ability to search using Google Desktop as well as store copies online using Google Documents or Dropbox.
  5. Stick to it. Once you’ve gotten rid of your piles and improved your organization, the hard part is over and all you need to do is to maintain it.  Whenever you see piles start to form, go through the paper and start filing.  You will notice a relief come over you as you put everything in its place.
Staying organized not only benefits you, it benefits those around you.  Several times, I have been able to assist coworkers because they have been unable to find paperwork or emails.  By staying organized, you are seen as being organized and reliable. 

What steps do you take to improve your organization?

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5 Ways to Simplify Common Responses Using Email Signatures

Generally when we think about email signatures, we think of our name, title and contact information.  How easy it is to click a button and have everything added to the bottom of our emails!  But email signatures can be used for much more than just basic contact information; they can be used to more efficiently send common responses.

There are some email messages I need to send out periodically, such as our ftp site log-in info, request forms, or form letters.  At one point in time, I had each saved to its own file in a different location and would have to track it down each time I needed to send it.

Then I got wise.

I opened my Outlook (my default work email program) and created a signature for each correspondence or request that I needed to send out on a regular basis.  That way, each time I need to send that request, everything is already written and in a convenient location so all I need to do is fill in any blanks.

Here are some examples:

  1. Forms: Periodically, I have to make a request to get products printed.  The printing department has a specific Excel form they like pasted into the body of the email.  So I copied the form, pasted it into the signature and added my contact info at the bottom.  This way, whenever I need to send the request, I just create a new email message, add my Print Request signature and fill in the blanks.
  2. Letters: If you receive requests on a regular basis that receive a somewhat generic response, why not save that response as a signature?  Perhaps you have a form that needs to be completed or specific information required; by using a form letter in your email signature, you have everything right there and can quickly respond.
  3. Directions: Perhaps you are in charge of providing driving directions to a location or website log-in information.  This can be typed each time, but save yourself the time by entering it as a signature.
  4. Requests: Maybe part of your job is sending out requests for invoices or other information.  By scripting a request letter and saving it as an email signature, you can quickly make your requests.
  5. Data Entry: If you receive requests for data or setup, the requester may often omit necessary information.  By saving a checklist of information as an email signature, you can send the checklist to the requester to allow him/her to ensure they have provided all the necessary information.

Best Practices

I think it is important to include your contact information in your email signature.  Have you ever tried to get in contact with someone you email regularly only to realize you can’t find their phone number when you want to give them a call?  By automatically including your contact information at the bottom of your email, you allow your contacts to have multiple ways of contacting you.

A couple things to keep in mind are:

  • Keep it short.  There are no rules stating your signature must be all vertical so try putting your info horizontally, divided with a | (pipe) or other basic punctuation point.  That way, if there is a long chain, your paragraph of contact info is shortened to a sentence. i.e. Your Name | Your Title | Your Company | (800) 555-1234 | Fax: (123) 555-1234 | you@youremail.com
  • Keep it simple.  I used to think it was so clever when people had cute little phone and fax icons, however you’re better off just spelling out fax, etc; so others can quickly find what they are looking for.  The last thing you want is for your contact to feel dumb because s/he can’t figure out which little icon represents a fax machine.
  • Keep it plain.  Not everyone has html emails enabled so all those links and images that might look great to some can look terrible to others.  A link reading “Like us on Facebook!” may look fun to someone viewing an html email, but may appear very bossy to someone viewing in plain text.  Signature images can also show up as attachments and confuse your recipient.
  • Mind formatting changes. It’s okay to send generic letters, however if you make some changes and notice the font or color change, make sure you go back to make sure everything is uniform.  Recipients can accept receiving form letters, but do your best to make it look like it isn’t one.

Do you have creative ways of using email signatures?  How do you automate responses and save time with email?

My “Man V. Food” Method to Getting Re-Organized Using Outlook Tasks

My mother once told me my biggest strength was my organizational skills. I must admit, when I put the effort into it, I am an incredible organizer. I love having everything in its particular place, paperwork filed, bills paid, laundry sorted and things very tidy. It just makes me feel better.

However, lately, I’ve fallen out of it with travel and my husband getting in an auto accident, which resulted in a mound of paperwork that has been consuming my evenings. When I fall out of my organization, I start to panic and I can end of focusing on being overwhelmed with tasks rather than completing them.

This does no one any good.

My position at work is an interesting one. This is my sixth year and my third position at this company so I’ve accumulated a lot of responsibilities. There are things I really have no business doing, but ultimately, I am the one most suited to do the task. I have one manager, but also report to other managers and receive multiple requests from all departments each day. Organizing my work can be quite daunting, but is incredibly necessary if I want to succeed.

I am never without my trusty notepad. My current one was started almost a year ago and tracks all requests, phone messages, ideas, you name it. The problem is when my tasks increase, it can get difficult to get a good view of what I really need to accomplish unless it is nicely summarized in an orderly fashion for me. Sound familiar?

THE METHOD

So what’s a good way to get started? Tackling all tasks at once is too overwhelming. Think of any of the Man Versus Food episodes when Adam Richman has several pounds of food to eat; he always starts with a game plan of the most efficient way to eat the food.

Think of your to-do list just like Adam thinks of his eating contests:

  • What is the goal?
  • What is the time limit?
  • What can be done in quick nibbles?
  • What is going to require a bunch of steady bites?
  • What can be cut into smaller pieces to finish bit by bit?

Viewing your workload in the Man V Food method makes tasks easier to accomplish because you can view each task as a bite of your work meal.

ORGANIZATIONAL PROGRAMS

There are tons of task management websites and software available, but sometimes, it feels like that’s an extra task in itself. I started with a free account with ToDoist.com and I was pleased with the initial features. However, to really get what I wanted out of it would cost $29 a year which is very reasonable, but I decided I would stick to my Outlook Tasks instead.

If you’ve ever used your tasks function in Outlook, you may remember how annoying it can be. Tons of red items popping up, reminders you keep having to dismiss, followed by canning the whole thing and ending up a dis-organized mess again. But, when used correctly, Outlook tasks can be a great tool.

Here are some features I really like:

  • Status: You can update the status of each task as a reminder. Waiting on an answer from someone? Simply update the status and set a reminder to follow up.
  • Send Status Report: Maybe you have a list of tasks required by one person. You can create a task for the list to keep tabs on everything required, format using bullet points, highlighting, whatever you want, then set a reminder to send them an update at a specified time. Simply click on Send Status Report and send them an update in one easy email.
  • Assign Task: Maybe you need others to complete tasks for you. Just enter the details in a new task and send to the recipient. Set reminders for them and request to be notified when the task is marked as complete. Set recurrence for recurring tasks.
  • A LOAD of sorting options: Outlook provides multiple options to customize the view exactly how you want it. I like having a preview window below so I can see the details of each task, sort each task by due date, separate them by how soon each is due and have status showing.

PHYSICAL ORGANIZATION

Your desk might be covered in stacks of paperwork as well, adding to the stress of your workload, but this is manageable as well.  Sort paperwork into sections as applicable and stay on top of filing when tasks are completed.

Here’s what works for me:

  • To be handled/current projects: this is a place for anything I’m currently working on that I might need quick access to.
  • Waiting: this is where I put paperwork that is pending approval or a response from someone.
  • To be filed: this is where I put paperwork when it is completed.  Set aside a time each day or week to file this paperwork so it doesn’t pile up.

By getting yourself organized better, you will be able to accomplish tasks more efficiently and completely and show off your competence to complete whatever comes your way.

How do you stay on top of all your tasks?

Staying Organized in Photoshop

If you’ve ever had to work with a Photoshop file someone else created, you may notice they have a much different way of organizing the layers than you do. If you have to make multiple changes, you may find their organization or lack thereof can really delay your progress.

Don’t be that person.

Working with layers can be great, but it can also be maddening, especially if you’re working with several layers. The good news is that Photoshop offers some great ways to stay organized so you can work efficiently. The two best organizational tools for me are layer names and grouping layers.

Take the time to label your layers. Chances are, you’re not going to remember what Shape 3 copy 5 is offhand, so labeling it “footer blue box” will ensure you don’t confuse it with “header red box”. If you’re like me, you create duplicate layers while working, then delete unneeded copies when you are complete. Labeling can also help remind you which layers to keep and which to delete. Sometimes I’ll even name a layer “footer blue box delete” so it’s there if I need it while I’m working, but I remember to delete it at the end since it is unnecessary.

Group layers. Maybe you didn’t feel up to committing to putting layers in a group, but it is an incredible time saver! Say you have an information box consisting of a headline, text, 2 photos, 2 photo captions, a bounding box and 2 photocorrection layers—that’s 9 layers that you probably won’t need to mess with much once you have completed them and 9 layers you are likely to have to move multiple times across your document. By grouping layers, you preserve the location of each facet and can easily minimize and mazimize the layers for editing. You can add or remove layers by dragging and dropping and by highlighting the group layer, you can move all at once.

I usually start by creating the first couple layers of the group, highlight the layers I want grouped, then click ctrl + G to group them. If I have one of the grouped layers highlighted, the next layer I add automatically gets added to the group, which makes it very easy to add to the group.

Another way this comes in handy is with my templates. If I am creating multiple designs on the same background or product, I can leave the constant layer ungrouped, then create new groups for each different design. This keeps a consistent look and makes it incredibly easy to create multiple designs in a short time frame.

Ungrouping layers is just as easy as grouping: click on the group and press Shift + crtl + G or just right click on the group and select Ungroup Layers.

Lastly, before I got into grouping, I always made a point of organizing my layers by where they appeared on my document. Header items were at the top of the layer list and footer items were at the bottom. This way, if I want to make a change, I know approximately where I can find the layer on my list.

By staying organized in Photoshop, you not only save yourself time, but if you need to send that file on to someone else, they can quickly pick up where you left making you more of a pleasure to work with.