The past several weeks with the coronavirus pandemic have been unprecedented. We are in an environment of fear, stress, uneasiness, and unknowns. While it will take time for us to work through these emotions, it is important that we also try to continue as normal in ways that we can control. Productivity expert Barbara Hemphill said, “Control the things you can, so you can cope with the things you can’t.” I think this is true now more than ever.
19 Productive Actions You Can Control
One byproduct of social distancing is that many of us have found ourselves with unexpected time on our hands – closings, cancelled events and appointments, reduction in travel time on planes, trains, and cars, and for some, an unfortunate reduction in customers or client work. Why not utilize this time for tasks or projects you have been putting off or just haven’t had the time to address? Take some control by working on things that will strengthen and grow your business, your career, and/or yourself, and create a solid base for “after the virus.”
Below I share a list of 19 productive actions you can take now, along with tips, resources, and recommended tools to assist with the task. Don’t be overwhelmed by the length of the list. Instead, choose a few of the highest priority items for you and/or your business and focus on taking action on those first.
At the end of the article, I provide a free download that will allow you to more easily prioritize each item and track your progress.
Organize Your Office Space and Information
1. Organize your office space
Whether you have a room devoted to work or space within another room, a clear, organized area can help improve focus and productivity. Clear off your floor, desk, and other surface areas. Toss, recycle, shred, or donate any unneeded items. Leave out only those items that add to your productivity, peace, or joy.
2. Clean out and organize your paper files
Divide your files into action (items you are working on now) and reference (items you are keeping for tax/legal reasons or future reference). Label files alphabetically (e.g. client files) or topically. If you have more than one file drawer full of paper, consider numerical labels and an online inventory of your paper files using the Paper Tiger filing system.
3. Set up a daily and/or monthly action file system
An action file system such as this one by Smead allows you to file papers or cards by day and/or month as reminders to complete a task or to be easy accessible when you need them. Keep the file system in a desktop file along with a few hanging files to hold quick reference papers.
4. Declutter and organize your digital files
Depending on your current structure and content, decluttering and organizing digital files can mean something different for everyone. Start with this checklist of things to think about when attacking your digital world and then develop your unique plan.
5. Set up your email for productivity
Like digital file management, email management can differ depending on the application you use (e.g. Outlook or Gmail), how much email you receive daily, and whether you use your email app for other productivity tasks such as calendar, tasks, and contacts. Check out this past blog post to help you get started with The Only 5 Email Folders You Really Need.
6. Go paperless
Moving towards a paperless environment requires a good scanner. My favorite scanner for moving those piles of paper, notes, and business cards to digital form is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It is the most expensive tool of all of the resources mentioned here, but well worth the cost if you work with a lot of paper, want to be more digital, and/or often work remotely.
|ScanSnap ix500||ScanSnap S1300i Portable
7. Manage your contacts
Whether this means scanning or entering business card information, cleaning out old contacts and updating current ones (I use the Duplicate Contacts app for Android and Apple phones – there are many others!), or setting up a full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) system, contact management is a great way to spend some unexpected downtime.
Get Clear on Your Goals
8. Determine your rocks (what is most important)
If it has been a while since you really stepped back to evaluate what is important to you in business and life, this is a great time to get re-centered and focused on what matters most. I am happy to share an exercise I use with individuals and groups for this reason, Big Rocks and Little Rocks: Priority Management Exercise.
9. Develop your 2020 goals
Once you know your “rocks,” you can work to develop your goals for the remainder of the year. I am confident life will get back to normal and when it does, what will you focus on for the remainder of the year? It’s okay if your goals aren’t perfect right now. Just get something on paper and then reevaluate once the pandemic has passed.
Analyze and Manage Your Time
10. Analyze your time management habits
When it comes to time management, have you ever wondered where you excel? And where you could improve? My favorite tool for surveying and analyzing time management habits is the Time Mastery Profile. After completing the Time Mastery Questionnaire, you are provided with a report showing your strengths and challenges. In addition, you receive a workbook providing tips and an action plan to improve your time management habits. The retail price of the profile and workbook is $48.00 but as an affiliate, I am offering it to you at a $10 discount for the next 3 months. Click below to receive the discount with payment via Paypal or credit card. The profile questionnaire will be sent to you within 24 hours of payment receipt.
Purchase Time Mastery Profile – $38.00
11. Start using a daily time management tool
Now may also be the perfect time to review a few different time management tools to see what might work best once we get back to our hectic lives. I have tried many different paper planners, and the one I always come back to is The Planner Pad due to its funnel system and ability to brain dump tasks by category. A recent Today Show article shared 11 additional planners for your review.
Practice Risk Management
12. Back up your files
You have many options for backing up files, photos, email, and other digital information:
13. Evaluate your financial position
For businesses, utilize your current financial tool to review your actual results versus goals to date in 2020. How will this downtime impact your goals, if at all? If you are not using a financial tool, consider implementing one. Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero are popular options. (Before introducing a tool such as these, be sure to do a technology needs assessment to ensure you are choosing the right tool for your needs. Last month’s blog shares a list of things to consider when analyzing a new or improved technology tool.)
Individuals should also review the impact of the pandemic on their financial position and develop a resulting budget and plan for the rest of the year.
Work on Yourself
14. Learn or fine-tune a skill
Skillshare, is a great resource for videos and training resources for a variety of skills. And, the first 2 months are free! A quick search on YouTube or Google will provide many more options.
15. Read a book
While I’m sure you have your own list of “must-read books,” a few non-fiction books I recommend (depending on your need and interests) are:
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success
I have a long list of recommended fiction books as well. Let me know if you are interested, or share your favorites in the comments below.
16. Get/stay healthy (exercise, meditation, healthy eating)
Getting and/or staying healthy when stuck at home takes a little bit of work. Since my normal workout location is closed, I joined an on-demand site with videos of the classes I normally take and purchased an inexpensive weight set on Amazon.com. Many workout locations and online exercise sites are providing free challenges, workouts, and videos. In addition, you can find several meditation, yoga, and recipe or meal apps in your phone’s app store.
17. Spring clean your home
Okay, I know this isn’t really “working on yourself” but It is a great way to feel better about yourself and your environment, and a clean, clutter-free home can help you feel more productive in your home office. Here are a few Spring Cleaning Checklists to track your progress. I chose to use the third as I felt it was the most inclusive and I liked that it gave me space to add my own tasks.
The Happier Homemaker
Freebie Finding Mom
18. Send cards, texts, or emails
Make someone feel a little less lonely or just make someone smile with a note of thanks or encouragement.
19. Help others
Giving can be financial, but doesn’t have to be. Drop off needed supplies or other physical donations, safely volunteer your time if you are healthy and able, or donate blood. You might also share your expertise or knowledge to help others in areas of need during this time, as is my hope with this blog. Buzzfeed and PBS share lists of other ways to help during the pandemic.
Free Downloadable Checklist
I realize this is a long list! Not every item will apply or be important to every reader. In order to prioritize and track your unique action list, I am providing a free, downloadable checklist below. Be sure to refer back to this blog for the supporting resource links.
If you are in need of assistance, coaching, or support related to any of these tasks, please reach out via my contact page or by scheduling your free 30 minute productivity assessment. All of my work can be done virtually via phone or video call.
I wish all of you health, safety, love, and peace over the coming weeks and months. Spend time with family, call your friends, give back, focus on you, and control what you can.
Maybe you’ve wondered if the fancy stand-up desk your company purchased for your colleague is a waste of money and just the latest “shiny object.” Or perhaps you’ve considered one for your own office but aren’t really sure if the claims of increased health and productivity are true. A recent study from Texas A&M University found that employees who used sit-stand desks were 46% more productive than those at traditional desks. In addition, numerous research studies show that too much sitting can cause a decrease in overall health and productivity. Apparently this latest “shiny object” is here to stay. A team at Reviews.com recently tested 67 of the most popular standing desk models and found which ones lead in functionality and were most suitable for a variety of budgets, design aesthetics, and any workspace needs. In addition, they offer some helpful tips when looking for standing desks, outlining the important features, warranty options and how to properly use them.
Tips for Choosing a Desk
- Test the theory. To see if you like standing while you work, use your kitchen counter, your washing machine, or any other surface that’s ergonomically correct for your body. Chances are, you may even have a friend who uses a standing desk; see if you can use it for a couple hours before shelling out a few hundred to invest in your own.
- To start narrowing the pool, check out max height. Desks should accommodate a wide variety of body types, so make sure they can reach at least 48 inches, with a 20-inch sit-to-stand range, which is ergonomically okay for folks up to about 6 feet 7 inches.
- Look for great warranties. A standing desk can be a major expense, especially for companies looking to furnish their offices — one desk is typically between $500 and $1,500, but a one-of-a-kind desk from Uplift’s Artisan series is nearly $4,000. So nix any that don’t offer a frame and electronics warranty of at least five years.
- Make sure the desks are easy to assemble. Factor in shipping: how quickly the desks arrive, and in how many boxes. Also research ease of assembly.
Using Your New Desk
Once you’ve chosen and assembled your standing desk, it’s important you are using it properly. Did you know there is a right way and a wrong way to use a standing desk? Ergonomics are key. The top of your monitor should be at or just below eye level (make sure your head isn’t angled down), and your eyes should be 20 to 28 inches from the screen. Keep your upper arms close to your body, your wrists straight, and your hands at or below wrist level. The table height of a standing desk should be at or slightly below elbow height — basically make a 90-degree angle with your elbow. Your head, neck, and torso should be in line, and your keyboard and mouse should be at the same level. Got that? If not, here’s a graphic that sums it all up, courtesy of CustomMade.
Remember to Move
There are downsides to sitting too long and also to standing too long. Purchasing a standing desk won’t solve these problems unless you remember to change your posture. From the words of Dr. Lucas Carr, an expert in physical activity promotion and sedentary behaviors, “Our bodies were designed to move periodically throughout the day. I advise people to stand up, stretch, and take a short walk (if possible) if you feel you’ve been sitting for too long.”
If you would like to learn more about which standing desks Reviews.com chose as their top picks check out the rest of their guide here.
Recently I decided it was about time to clean the crumbs from my computer keyboard and couldn’t believe the amount of dust and particles that shot out from under the keys. While carrying out this small task, I noticed my screen was embarrassingly spotted and smudged as well. This spurred me to do a little research into the appropriate cleaning and maintenance of these valuable tools we use for many hours on a daily basis. Follow this checklist to ensure your desktop computer and laptop are clean, allowing for a more sanitary work environment as well as a longer-lasting system.
What you need:
- Lint-free or microfiber cloths
- Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
- Distilled water
- Labels and zip-ties for cords
- Compressed air
1. Cord management. Before cleaning, all affected cords should be unplugged. As you unplug each one, dust or wipe it down with a microfiber cloth dampened with isopropyl rubbing alcohol if needed. Then, label the cord with label each cord with a labeler or peel-and stick-labels. Group labels together by location (e.g. all peripherals together) and use zip-ties to hold them together and keep them from getting tangled with others. Don’t group power cables with speaker wire. After the remaining steps are complete, you can then plug everything back in. Note: If you are not using a surge protector, this is a good time to purchase one. If lighting strikes it can cause an excess amount of electricity to reach your computer resulting in severe damage.
2. Clean your keyboard. First, hold the keyboard upside down over a sink or trash can and lightly hit the bottom to knock out larger crumbs and particles. Then, spray between the keys with a can of compressed air to get the remaining dust, crumbs and hairs. Finally, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip to clean grease off the surfaces and in between each key. (I even read that you can put your keyboard in the top rack of the dishwasher with any cords wrapped in a plastic bag, but I am not recommending this – try at your own risk.)
3. Clean your mouse. While you can dampen a lint-free cloth with rubbing alcohol to clean the outside of the mouse, be sure that cleaning solutions never come in contact with the optical sensor at the bottom of the mouse or the battery case (for wireless peripherals).
4. Clean your monitor. Wipe your screen gently with a microfiber cloth. If that doesn’t do enough, you can mix a solution using one-half 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and one-half distilled water. Or, you can purchase a screen cleaning spray or electronic cleaning wipes from any computer store or office supply retailer. DO NOT USE Windex or paper towels to clean LCD screens.
5. Keep it cool. A heated computer will run slower. There are two ways to keep a computer from overheating. First, make sure any vents are located away from objects that may block the flow of air. Second, keep the inner components free of dust, hair, carpet fibers and other materials. Regularly clean them with compressed air or a very lightly-powered vacuum (about the power of a leaf blower). You can even use something like the Metro Vacuum ED500 DataVac 500-Watt 0.75-HP Electric Duster 120-Volt, specially designed for electronic equipment. Be sure to hold the fan blades with your finger or a pencil so that it doesn’t spin while cleaning. Also, never use cleaners or other liquids on your computer components. (To open your computer’s hard-drive for cleaning, refer to the owner’s manual or online instructions).
Now that the outside of your computer is in tip-top shape, spend a little time cleaning the internal operational systems for even better performance.
The information we can choose to read each day is growing at an enormous rate due to the availability of digital information. Taking into account email messages and attachments, online articles and stories, information shared via networks and cloud systems, and the vast array of social media options, we can spend our entire day in reading mode. In last month’s article, I discussed tips and tools for managing your reading materials that are in paper form. This month, I promised to focus on ideas for managing your electronic reading information.
Steps for management of digital reading:
1. Acknowledge that you can’t read everything. Unsubscribe from email lists that don’t provide you value. Delete information that doesn’t apply to your personal or professional vision and goals. The more you can declutter, keeping only that which applies to your current values and goals, the less stress and overwhelm you will feel.
2. Categorize your information by type.
- Is it necessary for a current project or training need (active reading)?
- Are you keeping it for a future project or “just in case” you may need it (reference reading)?
- Is it leisure reading, or perhaps a quick read that will either be deleted or stored as reference once you are finished (for example, an email newsletter)?
3. Determine how and where you will store your information. This should depend on the type of reading as determined above. For example, email newsletters might be stored in a “To Read” folder, or you might save them to your hard drive or an online system such as Evernote, Dropbox or iPEP(the system I personally use, which allows me to forward emails and attachments directly to my iPEP online workspaces). If a message or attachment is related to a current or future project, consider attaching it to your task or reminder system so it is available when and where you need it.
4. Regardless of where you store your electronic reading, it should be organized in a logical way that allows for easy retrieval. Using good titles, tags and keywords will enhance your ability to search for information. And, if your digital reading is stored in OCR (optical character resolution) format, your search program can search content within the document as well. Programs such as Adobe Acrobat Standard or Pro allow you to scan and convert documents to OCR format.
Once you have decluttered, defined and categorized your digital reading materials, and you have developed a basic organizational structure for storage and retrieval, you can begin to enhance your structure with helpful add-ins and applications. One of my favorites is Pocket, a free application for desktop and mobiles devices that allows you to save articles, videos, etc. in your electronic “pocket.” If it’s in your Pocket, you can view it later on any of your mobile devices, with or without an internet connection. Instead of using those free minutes to surf Facebook, catch up on some reading! A helpful tool for email newsletters is Unroll.me, which is offered for Gmail and Yahoo email users. Unroll.me allows you to roll subscription emails into a daily digest. You can then review them at one time instead of being distracted by several throughout the day.
I’d love to hear what reading tools and apps you love to use! Please share your favorites on our Facebook page.
One of the most popular questions I get from clients and workshop attendees is how to handle the plethora of “things to read” we receive on a daily basis. This could include magazines, articles, books, email newsletters, internet-based information, or educational materials received from conferences or workshops. We collect these materials for many reasons, including:
• For research
• To stay current
• Skills Development
• Idea Generation
• Project/client-related reading.
As someone who loves to read for business and pleasure, and strives to stay on top of the latest news, tools and information in my industry, I have also struggled with how to manage all of the related information. The next two Simpler Times will share techniques for dealing with this often overwhelming piece of information management. This month I will discuss general tips for managing your reading materials and share tools specifically for paper information. Next month, I will focus on tips and tools for reading information that is in electronic form.
Steps for management of reading and educational materials:
1. Gather all of your materials in one place, or make a list if that is not feasible. Sort by priority and context. For example, is it leisure reading? Is it strictly educational? Is it related to a current project? Or is it related to a project you would like to do in the future?
2. Acknowledge that you can’t read everything. Unsubscribe from magazines and newsletters that don’t provide you value. Delete or recycle information that doesn’t apply to your personal or professional vision and goals. Consider selling books at a resale store such as Half-Price Books or on www.Amazon.com. The more you can declutter your reading materals, keeping only those that apply to your current values and goals, the less stress and overwhelm you will feel.
3. Determine how and where you will store your information.
- Books and binders should be stored on a bookcase in a format that works best for you. Perhaps this is by reading type, or alphabetically. You might have a different location for books that are current reading or those you plan to read within the next 30 days.
- Magazines can be stored in magazine files on a bookcase or within a hanging filing system if they are not too large. These may also be stored by type or alphabetically. Those relating to a specific project might be stored with that project file. Magazines that are kept for leisure reading can be stored in basket or bin near where they will be read, maintaining a limit on how full that container will get before older ones are recycled or perhaps passed along to someone else. Also, consider tearing out the specific article you need and recycle the rest of the magazine.
- Articles and newsletters should be stored in a hanging filing system. There are 3 basic types of reading information kept in the form of newsletters and articles. (1) Those that are kept for leisure reading might be stored in a “To Read” file. The file can then be reviewed when you know you will have some time — for instance, on a plane trip or heading to an appointment where you may be kept waiting. (2) Articles or newsletters that are time sensitive should be stored in a location that will ensure they are read as needed. You might use a tickler file system and file the article in the appropriate date’s folder. (3) Articles related to a specific project – either current or future – should be stored in that project’s file. This “Just in Time” reading isn’t necessary until it is time! Filing it away in the appropriate location will help ensure it is not forgotten and that it will be there when needed.
4. Do you fear putting your reading materials away because you are afraid they will be forgotten? A great way to address this is to index your files and information. Indexing will ensure you can find what you need, when you need it. For this, you can use a basic Excel spreadsheet, an indexing program such as Taming the Paper Tiger or an file storage and collaboration system such as iPEP. The benefit of the last two programs are that you are able to coordinate your paper reading with your electronic files. I will cover this more in next month’s newsletter. If you would like a copy of an Excel template for indexing your information, please email me directly. In addition to an indexing system for finding your reference materials, it is important to schedule any specific tasks related to reading in your task management system. Reading related to current projects or goals should be scheduled for the appropriate date. Reading related to future projects or “someday maybe” projects can be kept on separate task lists.
5. Maintain your new system for managing reading information by setting retention dates for all information types. Determine how long the materials should be kept and stick to your plan. Periodically review your vision and objectives and make sure your “to read” list continues to fit with current goals.
Take some time over the next couple weeks to develop a system and process for your paper reading materials. You might also consider scanning much of your paper reading information to an electronic format. Or if is already in digital form, consider whether you really need to print it. And, watch for next month’s blog to learn some fun and valuable tools for managing your digital reading information.
Last week, I found myself channel-surfing at my local gym to find the right motivational show to watch while I worked out on the elliptical machine. You may be surprised to hear that I stopped on a news story describing the inner workings of Amazon.com’s fulfillment centers (of which there are currently 80 around the world with the largest, in Phoenix, the size of 28 football fields). While you wouldn’t normally think this type of entertainment would keep someone going as they work through various levels of interval training, something the reporter said kept me listening. He said Amazon doesn’t care where its employees store the thousands of merchandise items that are put away each day. In fact, Amazon expects its workers to store things where they fit best. So if that means a box of golf balls is located next to a can of hair spray, so be it.
So how do Amazon’s Fulfillment Associates quickly find the Floating Bubbles Light-up Pen you just ordered for your child’s Christmas stocking? They use a computer system, scanners, and a set of bar codes, one on the product and one on the shelf, to inventory and index each individual item. Shelves do not need be labeled and re-labeled as products come and go. In other words, even though inventory is constantly changing, the storage system remains static. Think of the time and money Amazon saves with this system.
Now let’s take this down to a smaller scale – your own company’s warehouse or storage area, its central library, your own personal library, or your office files. Amazon’s system of static labeling and electronic indexing can apply to all of these environments. With an inventory model like this, it doesn’t matter where items are stored as long as they are labeled and tagged appropriately in an electronic indexing system. One quick search will point you in the right direction in seconds.
As an example, let’s discuss how to apply this to your paper files. First, label each file with a number (e.g. Reference 1, Reference 2, etc.). Then, use one of the following systems to index these files according to the title and contents.
- A basic Excel Spreadsheet with columns for the file number, category (if applicable), title and keywords or descriptions of contents of the file. In addition, you may customize the Excel workbook further by having separate worksheets for different information types (Action, Reference, Books, Binders, CD’s, etc.). Excel’s search feature allows you to quickly find information by title or keyword.
- Take your indexing system a step further by using a software program built specifically for paper filing and office inventory, such as Taming the Paper Tiger Software.
- An additional option for indexing of paper and other information is iPEP (interactive-Productive Environment Platform). In this cloud-based system, you can not only inventory your physical information but also store your electronic files, email, links, photos and other digital information.
Note: To learn more about each of the systems described or to learn if any of them is right for your needs, please contact Lori at Life Made Simple.
While your indexing system may not tell you exactly which path to walk to retrieve your items in the most efficient way, as Amazon’s does, it will go a long way towards creating an organized and productive environment where you can be comfortable knowing you will find what you need when you need it.