Brought To You By Emily Parks
Productivity Consultant at Organize For Success, LLC...
Helping You Make Every Minute Matter!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Power of One

As Three Dog Night explains in the lyrics of their 1969 hit, one can be the loneliest number. Sometimes, there is power in the masses, meaning a group makes more impact that just one; however, when it comes to certain organizing tools, one can be a very powerful number. It can be very important to "practice the power of one". Here are a few examples:

- One Calendar... Whether it's paper or electronic, a single planner enables tracking all commitments (personal and professional) in one place, making it less likely that appointments will be forgotten or that you will double-book yourself.

- One To-Do List... Are you jotting down reminders on multiple sheets of paper, in various different notebooks or via sticky notes posted all around your office? If so, how many of those actually get completed?!? Keeping all the action items needing your attention in one place makes it more likely they'll get completed and aids in prioritizing.

- One "Data Dump"... Our brains get filled with more and more information each day; keeping them in one place ensures meeting notes, ideas, phone messages, inspirations and the like are not lost and are easily accessible, regardless of whether that one place is the paper option of a spiral notebook or an electronic option, like Evernote or OneNote.

- One Address Book... For contacts' names, phone numbers, emails and snail mail addresses as well as any notes related to that connection, keeping everyone's information centralized within one system makes it easier to keep contacts' data up-to-date and to access those details quickly whenever they are needed.

Are any of these areas in which you can streamline? And, if you have ideas for other items that are more powerful when you have just one of them, please share those in the Comments section below.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Totally Terrific Tech Tools

When it comes to computers and what goes with them, I help clients tame technological needs daily, speaking Mac and PC as well as iPhone, Blackberry, Android and much more, but the available options are virtually endless for electronic tools that make life easier and help obtain optimum performance day-to-day. Here are just a few that I find most helpful:

- Customer Relationship Management Tool... While there are tons of options, like SalesForce, ACT!, Zoho, GoldMine and Kyliptix's KiBS, I find that BatchBook provides the best option for the most different industries, allowing you to create and sync contacts, invoices, eBlasts and communication logs online.

- Electronic Password Keeper... When not using a printed list, I prefer RoboForm for storing my online usernames and associated passwords, but other great options are Password Safe, SplashID and KeePass.

- Online Backup Service... To automatically backup everything on my computer with a service that encrypts my files during backup and storage, I rely on Mozy, but Carbonite offers a good alternative, too.

- Scheduling Application... While I prefer using Doodle, it is also easy to schedule meetings or gatherings with groups of people using TimeBridge, or Meeting Wizard.

- Keyboard Macro Program... Although Macs come with all sorts of shortcuts built in, there are options like ActiveWords (which I prefer) or AutoHotKey that enable PC-users to associate select words with Substitute Text, Launch a Program, Open Document, Navigate to Internet Site, Send Email, Open Folder or Scripting.

- Online File Sharing... To share or sync files between computers, especially when email just can't handle those really big files, I rely on Dropbox, but Live Mesh, Syncplicity, SugarSync and SparkleShare work, too.

- Task Management Solution... While I prefer Outlook since it can combine email and calendar in the same tool as my tasks, other great options include Producteev, Toodledo, Remember the Milk and TadaList.

- "Remember Everything" Tool... To save images, text, audio and video somewhere I can access anywhere (including desktop, smart phone or Internet) through a quick search of keyword, tag or included text, I rely on Evernote, but OneNote offers an alternative that many others utilize, too... Evernote is such a fantastic tool!

Since these are just the tip of the iceberg for available tech tools, I'd love to hear what you like, too... What electronic tools do you use to make life easier?

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do You Keep Your Computer Clutter-Free?

In past blog posts, we've discussed overflowing paper files and overwhelming email inboxes, but what about your computer's electronic files? Whether you use a PC or Mac, does your computer's electronic clutter make it difficult to quickly find what you need when you need it? Do you waste valuable time searching for documents and / or replacing those documents you cannot locate? In honor of today's Clean Out Your Computer Day, here are some practical organizing tips to start tackling this project:

1. Automate your computer updates and virus scans. Then, schedule time weekly on your calendar to delete any temporary files that have not been touched in more than that week. Particularly for PC users, run a disk cleanup weekly and a disk defragment every-other-week.

2. Be vigilant in removing documents that are not used or can be easily found online. With what remains, remove visual clutter by funneling desktop icons into just two folders: Documents and Software.

3. Mirror the names of your paper file folders when creating or maintaining your electronic files. To easily find filed items, start the name with the general category and follow that with the specifics. For example, file names could include INSURANCE - AUTO, INSURANCE - HEALTH and INSURANCE - HOME / OFFICE.

4. Be certain to back-up data regularly... If you have a system for remembering to back-up regularly via flash drive, disk or external hard-drive, those are viable options; however, I highly recommend a cloud solution that will automatically back-up your data in a "set it and forget it" manner. I prefer Mozy, but Carbonite is an excellent alternative, too.

5. Speaking of "the cloud", remember that you don't have to keep all electronic information saved on your computer's hard drive... Evernote is an absolutely fabulous way to capture anything (ideas, articles, to-do lists, shopping suggestions, photos, business cards and so much more) in an organized manner to be accessed anywhere. There are Evernote tools for your computer, smart phone or web browser, and they all enable finding whatever you need very quickly, whether that be through keywords, tags, printed text or, even, handwritten text inside uploaded images. For details, visit today.

What will you do today to clean out your computer? What are your current processes for keeping your computer cleaned out? With which portions of your computer do you struggle most to keep clutter-free?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NC Auto Expo: Organize for Success in Buying a Car

As explained by ads running in the Triangle right now for this weekend's 2011 NC International Auto Expo, "people love their cars", and isn't Valentine's Day weekend a great time to fall in love with a new ride?!? If you're planning to head to the NC State Fairgrounds to find your next vehicle or just drool over the new Chevy Volt, Maserati Gran Truismo, Dodge Challenger and Aston Martin V8 Vantage, this is a great time to organize your car-buying process.

First and foremost, determine what type of vehicle you'll need and what equipment that vehicle will need to include by analyzing what you'll be doing with your vehicle... Do you need to haul furniture, gardening supplies, business equipment or some other large items in the bed of a pick-up truck or in the back of a SUV? Do you need a vehicle with really good fuel economy, like a coupe or compact sedan, or is towing a priority? Do you feel it's important to be able to check your Facebook newsfeed from your car or sync your MP3 player with your car's radio? Do you desire any bells and whistles, like heated seats, sunroof, navigation, rear entertainment system, parallel park assist or Bose speakers with your AM/FM/satellite radio? Does your extended travel make warranty coverage and roadside assistance important? Do you prefer leather or cloth, 4-wheel or 2-wheel drive and 4-, 6-, 8-cylinder or another option? The more you know with regards to what you like about your current vehicle, what you'd like to change about your current vehicle and what you'll be doing with your new vehicle, then the better prepared you'll be for the process of obtaining a new car, truck, van, SUV or crossover vehicle.

Speaking of this process, thinking about your buying and driving habits will help you determine if it is better for you to purchase or lease your next vehicle... How often do you want a new car? Do you prefer to change vehicles frequently or keep your car "until the wheels fall off"? How much do you drive? Does your annual driving fall within the 12,000 - 15,000 miles per year range allowed with leasing or do you tend to drive more each year? Do you use your car for business purposes, allowing more tax deductions with a lease? Do you worry about your car's resale value? Are you hard on your car and wear down the interior quickly, which might lead to penalties with leasing? Do you prefer to have equity in your investment as you pay off the vehicle's entire cost or to lower your payments by paying off just the depreciation on the car? Still, regardless of which automobile financing option you choose, a greater downpayment will lead to lower monthly payments so it's also a good idea to evaluate your downpayment options before heading out to shop for your new ride.

Then, you must tackle a really difficult task as you determine how much money you can spend... What payment will fit within your monthly budget's constraints? What sort of finance rate will your current credit situation allow you to obtain? There are tons of vehicles out right now that can fulfill both your automotive wants and needs while still fitting within your budgetary constraints, but it is important to be aware of that budget before starting the process of getting a new vehicle.

If you're replacing a vehicle, ensure you get the most money back from that previous investment... Gather together all documents for what maintenance work you've completed because that documentation will increase your vehicle's value. Then, check Black Book Online at to get a ballpark figure for the value of your vehicle, keeping in mind the final assigned value will depend on the dealership's assessment. Finally, thoroughly clean the inside and outside of your vehicle so it is in its best shape possible.

Now, it's time for the fun part... Shop online and in-store for the vehicle that you like best and that meets your needs best. Just remember that, although there's a great deal of information on the Internet, nothing can really give you a feel for which vehicle you should buy like sitting in the driver's seat. For more details on the Wake County New Vehicle Dealers Association's auto expo, visit, and I'll see you at the Jim Graham Building this weekend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February is Archive Your Files Month

When working on Paper File Management, my clients and I typically establish three "zones" within the office space: DAILY USE or CURRENT PROJECT items get the "prime real estate" in fingertip files on your desk or in your immediate work area; ACTIVE FILES that are used regularly but not daily would be stored in a nearby file drawer or cabinet; ARCHIVE FILES that require reference rarely are stored further away from your work area. February is National Archive Your Files Month since it's an ideal time to focus on these three Paper File Management zones.

Why February? Well, by now, you should have received most (if not all) year-end statements and documents for the prior year, enabling you to prep your income tax return with plenty of time left to track down any missing documents. Plus, since the new year is well underway, last year's active files can be removed completely or moved into archive space, enabling you to open up space for the new year's files to be added.

Utilize this time for purging to prevent overfill of your filing solution so you can locate needed documents and find room for new ones... Using sorting options of KEEP, RECYCLE, SHRED and SEND TO OTHERS, do you know what really needs to be kept and for how long? Establishing specific records retention guidelines that apply to your unique situation can be vital. Furthermore, as you purge your paper documents, think about what are you really using and, for those not used now but that might be used in the future, whether the document be easily recreated or retrieved elsewhere... For details on what tax-related documents need to be retained, visit

It is imperative to stash the following items in your safety deposit box or fire- and flood-proof home safe: birth certificates, adoption papers, Social Security cards, citizenship papers, passports, marriage certificates, deeds, divorce decrees, insurance policy papers, lease agreements, loan documents, mortgage papers, personal property appraisals, stock / bond certificates, vehicle titles, copies of wills, powers of attorney papers and death certificates.

Also, as you remove old files and add new files, remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to set-up a filing system. The system that will work best for your unique needs & specific personality will depend on the way you categorize information, the type of information you keep, the volume of information with which you interact regularly and whether others in your office will need to access files in your absence.

Finally, make sure those files that you're keeping are labeled clearly and correctly. It can be a balancing act to make sure you have enough files for all your necessary papers while not having so many that it's hard to find what you need, but an effective filing system can significantly improve productivity and efficiency.

Is your filing system meeting your current needs and have you purged unneeded or outdated materials lately?