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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top 10 Tips for Getting from "To-Do" to "Done"

Tips To Mark Tasks Off Your List
Whether for our occupations, running our homes, volunteer work or helping take care of those we love most in our lives, most of us have an endless list of tasks that must be completed… Yet, how can we best move those actions from “to-to” to “done” status? Here are a few useful tools and tactics to make that process a little easier.

1. When faced with a task, decide if you should "discard", "delegate", "delay" or "do" the action... Not everything must be done, and those that truly must be done don't always have to be completed by you.

2. Consider options like eLance, Fancy HandsFiverr, Task Rabbit and Thumbtack to outsource what others can complete more quickly than you can or to open time in your schedule for attacking other to-do items.

3. Strategize on what tasks can be automated via If This Then ThatPodbox or Zapier; program them into the selected solution so you can move on to something else that needs your attention.

4. Be realistic about what can be accomplished on any given day... Narrow your running to-do list into three to five tasks per day of your week; then, start each of those priorities with a verb to drive action.

5. Remember that every “what” assigned a “when” is more likely to get done. Since I've yet to find a calendar that includes “someday”, be specific about when each action will be completed and schedule enough time to make progress.

6. Complete a weekly strategy session before each week to create a game plan for (a) what carries over from the prior week, (b) what upcoming appointments require preparation and (c) what tasks must be done when. Keep in mind the importance of scheduling what’s important but not urgent related to your goals.

7. Consider an electronic task manager app because it will offer reminders, allows undone tasks to more easily carry over to later dates and can have recurrences scheduled, like Any.Do, Carrot, Remember The Milk, Pocket Informant or Wunderlist; however, know that paper lists can work if that is more in line with your personality and your workflow, particularly for those that are not mobile workers. While the options are endless, the priority is that you get things done.

8. Break larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks to be done individually, eliminating procrastination from overwhelm or not knowing where to start. When handling many large projects, try adopting a project management tool, like Asana, Azendoo or Mavenlink.

9. If you’re having trouble getting tasks done, utilize a timer… Once you get rolling, you might not stop, you can do anything for 15 minutes or so, and shorter times can lead to an extra burst of energy.

10. Always keep in mind that your overall well-being is very instrumental for your productivity: be sure to exercise, eat well (starting with a good breakfast), get enough sleep for your needs, take time for massages and incorporate positive music in your workspace.

What have you found most helpful in your attempts to mark things off your to-do list? What tactics do you utilize for finishing tasks?

Friday, October 10, 2014

6 Powerful Takeaways from Carley Knobloch

Carley and I at Evernote Conference
One of the highlights from my trip to the Evernote conference was attending Carley Knobloch’s presentation, “Secrets of a Sometimes-Organized Working Parent”. I do not have children; however, many of the same techniques that help working parents to balance parenthood with a full-time job are applicable for balancing the many different hats that I wear and can be transferred to my clients in one-on-one consultation sessions. Plus, Carley Knobloch’s ability to convey her digital expertise in an engaging manner is just amazing. I first learned about Carley back in 2011 when her Digitwirl YouTube channel was growing attention and folks were learning how her weekly web show could make tech work for anyone. Following her path to The Today Show and beyond via her email list, I have found that Carley is a relatable individual who truly cares about helping others, which was obvious in her concurrent session that I attended.

Evernote is an excellent tool for helping anyone get more done while maintaining sanity and peace of mind, tips for which were exuding from Carley’s presentation. Here are a few of the takeaways I gathered:

“Accumulate nothing. Keep everything.” - As Carley explained, physical items pose a burden for where they will be kept and how they can be accessed whenever needed. Alternatively, when you photograph your physical items or scan your paper, uploading it all to Evernote, you alter the situation. As all you need can be accessed from anywhere at any moment via the Evernote app on any of your devices, you retain control of where you do business and when you focus on friends, family, hobbies or volunteering. In other words, you are in control of of your world instead of your world controlling you.

“Achieve work / life efficiency, not balance.” - For years, I’ve emphasized that work / life balance isn’t applicable to everyone; instead, I believe in work / life integration, but I really do like the terminology Carley introduced of work / life efficiency. As Carley explained, it’s the in-between moments that allow for getting your best work accomplished. These days, individuals are called upon to access important information and complete business transactions at any time and from any location. With Evernote, people can have any and all contacts, content and context needed from wherever at whatever time.

“Run your home like a workplace.” - In living life and working with my clients, I have found that our brains are made for thinking, not remembering, and tools like Evernote make it possible for me to remember all that I must, which is just as important for a household or non-profit committee as it is for one’s company, whether it’s repairs, cleaning supplies, insurance details, maintenance completed, paint colors, the plumber's phone number or more. As Carley reminded those in her concurrent session, systems and procedures are necessary for making any entity a well-oiled machine; further, having what information is needed at your fingertips is invaluable. Evernote is hugely helpful for sharing process documents, chore documents, key contact lists, health insurance filing rules and more so you can continue to move forward while the world swirls around you.

“Keep everyone at ease when the CEO is extracted.” - As Carley explained, “time waits for no traveling parent” so it’s important to empower those left to keep the household running with whatever answers will be needed, documenting what must happen when while you are gone and how to keep things rolling during your physical absence. Well, the same philosophy applies to any scenario where the leader will be stepping away, and Evernote is an excellent tool for sharing what answers others need. Just like you as the traveler should get an itinerary that includes travel details, confirmation numbers and appointment locations, Evernote empowers you to leave an itinerary for those staying behind, including things like what’s for dinner or who needs to be where at what time.

“Evernote is the new scrapbook.” - How many photos, keepsakes and memorabilia items do you have stored in a box in your garage or in a notebook on a shelf in your closet? As Carley explained, keeping those physical items in a manner that makes their content non-accessible is really quite nonsensical. Most of us don’t have a need for the physical item itself, but we want to enjoy its content, which is how Evernote becomes helpful. By uploading a photo or a scan of the keepsake, we can access and enjoy that content from anywhere at any time, maybe even in Evernote’s presentation mode. Further, when uploading her kids’ artwork, Carley has them add an audio explanation, which will prove especially valuable as the family looks back on their projects down the road or as a pick-me-up for Carley’s bad days.

Above all else, though, my greatest takeaway might’ve been “breathe a little and laugh a lot”, where Carley reminded all of us to “give yourself permission to make mistakes, keep chipping away at it and test things to see what works”. Life is an adventure, and living is about the process of experiencing that adventure. None of us has all the answers, and, with how rapidly technology is evolving, it can be quite the task to simply keep up with all the options available. As I tell my clients frequently, most tech tools have a free option or a trial offer, and it’s important to test them out before committing; however, the testing things out philosophy applies to so much more than just technology, and I think it’s important to never stop trying options to see what’s available to best meet your needs.

Which of Carley’s best practices resonates most with you? Are there any which are new to you that you plan to implement? 
I’d love to hear your success stories so please share below!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Evernote Announces New Ways to Boost Productivity

Evernote is a secure suite of apps that allow users to capture all sorts of content. Plus, all elements of the database are easy to sort, edit, search, share, present and fuel collaboration. Evernote’s ubiquity allows me to access the same information everywhere at the same time as it syncs all uploaded content “real time” between devices. Evernote’s mind-boggling search capabilities allow me to quickly access whatever content I’m seeking, and its sharing allows me to provide others access to various elements of my database as well as collaborate with committees, teams, clients, vendors and partners alike. Yet, what Evernote offers is getting better as I type.

CEO Phil Libin with EBCCs
On October 2-3, 2014, Evernote held its 4th annual conference in San Francisco, CA, entitled “From Inspiration to Achievement”, and CEO Phil Libin (wearing the black t-shirt and gray sports coat in the photo to the left with all of us Evernote Business Certified Consultants in attendance) demonstrated how Microsoft’s tools are outdated while Evernote is revitalizing the world of business tools, providing collaborative, productivity tools so everyone can complete “your life’s work” in this one workspace. As Libin explained, with the four key elements of work being write, collect, find and present, “we’ve gotten past typewriters, filing cabinets and desktops”. Now, Libin is positioning Evernote as each individual’s and each team’s workspace, in which folks will be able to more easily write, collect, find and present with the additions of the Scannable app, enhanced Presentation mode, Context and Work Chat as well as an amazingly advanced Web Client version that allows for incredibly enhanced focus as one is working in Evernote online. Here’s what’s out now or coming next month:

The Scannable App is a companion to the Fujitsu ScanSnap Evernote Edition Desktop Scanner, which will allow for feeding data into various folks’ mobile devices and will greatly assist in “moving paper forward”.

The enhanced Presentation mode is adding headers and footers in the layout editor, allows the presenter to make edits simultaneously as sharing the content, will make it easier to create a table of contents, automatically sets page breaks that can be changed by the presenter and makes meetings less terrible by boosting collaboration, enhancing information sharing and driving discussions.

Context understands that people don’t write, collect, find or present in a vacuum so Evernote will use augmented intelligence to provide Premium and Business users what’s needed for being more productive, showing as needed other notes, people’s LinkedIn profiles and relevant new articles from CrunchBase, Factiva, Fast Company, Inc, LinkedIn, Pando, TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal.

Work Chat aims to refine the connection between working and communicating, allowing you to see who’s viewing the same note at the same time and empowering you to start a chat with team members, sharing notes within that particular chat; users will have real-time collaboration and rely less on email for doing today's work.

The overhauled Web Client addresses what issues have always plagued accessing Evernote online, offering a simple, elegant and powerful platform to eliminate distractions while working; users will get formatting only as needed and includes beautiful search functionality.

With concurrent sessions focused on “Using Evernote to Reduce Overhead, Build a Smarter Team and Get More Done”, “Creating a More Productive Workday with Evernote”, “Effortless Teamwork: Using Evernote for Seamless Workflows”, “Merging Your Paper and Digital Worlds” and “Building the Success Habit with Evernote”, this conference was clearly focused on empowering Evernote users with a tool to be their new workspace, better enabling everyone worldwide to more easily complete their life’s work.

About which of the new offerings are you most excited? 
Further, how do YOU use Evernote now?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Surviving The Information Avalanche

 The majority of us are on information overload. We are constantly inundated with emails, news, texts, articles, feeds, tweets, blogs, calls, reminders and much more, not only in our professional lives but our personal lives as well. Digital storage space is much less expensive than ever before. Regular folks, in addition to companies, are contributing online content, which has multiplied the amount of content being generated. Our tech tools do much more than ever before, and mobile professionals are “on call” for working 24/7. It can be extremely overwhelming!

To take control, it is important that we address these 5 different challenges:
  •        We must capture and cull together all the relevant bits of information.
  •        We must organize those contents, grouping like with like and, hopefully, indexing the details for later searching.
  •        We must make sure we have enough space to adequately store and manage the contents being retained, not worrying if we’ll go over imposed limits.
  •        We must address privacy concerns by verifying what we keep is stored safe from theft, loss or damage.
  •        We must plan for quickly locating what’s needed later so we see the contents in an understandable way, being able to share what’s needed.

In addressing the immense challenges of surviving today’s info avalanche, there are action items we can implement immediately. For busy professionals to wade through all the information with which we’re bombarded, the first step is to turn off all the pings and dings of our various notifications; this empowers us to be in control of when we handle information, not whoever is sending that information out in our direction. Then, it’s important for us to be very clear about our personal and professional goals so we’ll know upfront how we’d like to use whatever useful information we receive, which will allow for a much clearer focus in on what information is applicable, thereby blocking out what is really not needed. Such tweaks to how we address the info avalanche can make an immediate and noticeable difference in how we survive.

When evaluating the info avalanche and how we can best handle it, email is a place where we can get overwhelmed until it’s all a blur; however, there are tons of great techniques for clearing the clutter in our email. First, send fewer emails to get fewer emails back. Obviously, if you need something documented, you’ll need to stick with sending an email, and, if you need to send the information to multiple people at once, email is the best option; however, if a phone call will suffice, give that a try. Next, unsubscribe from eNewsletters you are not reading. While it only takes a second to hit the delete key, those seconds add up if you are continuing to delete the same eNewsletter regularly; instead, take a little extra time upfront to unsubscribe so you save the accumulating time of deleting with each receipt. On the other hand, consider culling those subscriptions you do want to keep receiving into a “roll-up” by using’s website or The Swizzle’s email tool. Third, master the art of creating reference folders within your email management tool. You can more quickly locate a message for later reference when you have enough folders that everything to be kept can have a home while you limit the number of fodders so nothing could be appropriate for more than one of those existing. Within your reference folders, utilize automated rules to sort emails into their appropriate homes, whether to highlight what needs time-sensitive attention or to cull items for reading when convenient for you. Finally and probably most importantly, shift your mentality related to email from “checking” your email to “processing” it so your Inbox is no longer a holding zone, you don’t repeat time and effort of reading any original message and what you’ll reply doesn’t weigh on you continually between receipt and finally responding. Tasks that take less than 5 minutes should be completed with the message asking for them to be done is initially received. Any task that will take longer than 5 minutes to do needs to be added to your running tasks list. Appointments should be moved to your calendar, retention items should be moved to your personal folders and anything not needed should be moved directly to Trash.

When processing and maintaining your email account, please remember the “delete” key can be your friend. There’s no need to hold onto whatever is no longer accurate, applicable, useful or bringing you joy. Likewise, there is a big difference between junk that you should never bring into your space to begin with and trash that you can delete after reviewing. Most importantly, though, when determining what to save, ignore or delete, consider what can be easily located online later. There’s no need to clutter your space with what you don’t need or can just as easily get online.

Further, even though much of the daily overwhelm comes from electronic, paper can be a problem, too. To clear the clutter with regards to paper, we must first acknowledge that it’s easier to find what’s needed in electronic form; therefore, convert what paper you can to electronic files. There are such powerful scanning options from Doxie, Fujitsu and Neat, but many folks simply take a photo of the paper to be converted to electronic using their phones so it’s important to keep in mind how many options can turn paper to electronic. Beyond that, as with email, consolidate what paper comes into your space via an Inbox, empowering you to address what’s most important when convenient for you. Create naming conventions to mirror between paper and electronic and, then, schedule time regularly to edit the contents of your retention files. When any piece of paper is no longer accurate, applicable, useful or bringing you joy, get it out of your space, whether via recycling or shredding. Finally, utilize a fireproof safe for those most important papers, especially what needs to be accessed quickly in the event you die or are incapacitated.

There are excellent tools currently available for our mobile devices to aid in easily storing what information we will need later without it turning into another form of clutter. Using MorningCoffee for Android or Firefox, Morning for iOS or Flipboard that works across the various platforms, you can determine which communication or news channels cross into your space. Then, you can more easily save what will be needed later into a “Read It Later” app, like Pocket, Instapaper and Readability. Likewise, for any blog or website that posts content in a stream, you can pull its RSS feed into an RSS Reader, like Feedly, FeedReader, NewsBlur, and RSSOwl. While Pinterest has been pigeon-holed into being just for planning DIY projects, pulling fashion ideas or planning your home renovation, Pinterest can be a great tool for storing the information facing us daily, allowing you to create an image board for any project or client. Alternatively, Twitter can be a great tool for storing the information onslaught we get with sweet Tweets, making them easier to locate again later. Lastly, lest we not forget my all-time favorite tool for storing information that we’ll need later without creating another form of clutter, I recommend a self-made database in Evernote, to which you can send emails so each is better retained for later. See which best meets your needs and enhances your toolbox.

Meanwhile, although there are tons of useful apps to boost your productivity and enable sharing information with your team, you don’t have to log into each individually each day; many of these tools talk to one another so you can get information from several of these tools by logging into just one app. You can cull together documents from various online file repositories with CloudCube on Android and Citrix ShareFile QuickEdit on iOS. Quip Business lets a team combine shared documents with messaging about related projects, all in one place. Further, both Catch App and Hojoki App merge data from multiple different apps for quicker response and easier understanding of all that’s happening. As your team grows and evolves, always be thinking about how tech tools can help you be more efficient.

Streamlining can be vital in clearing the clutter, and there are two other tools I’d like to bring to your attention to aid in your attempts at streamlining the info avalanche. First, although it’s important to have the right message in front of the right audience at the right time to grow your business, you can’t be everywhere at once, which makes a social media manager very valuable. Options include Buffer, Hootsuite, Postling, SocialOomph and Sprout, but find the one that best meets your unique needs and test it before committing. Second, since our brains are meant for thinking, not remembering, a Customer Relationship Manager helps remember the details of previous interactions as well as when each contact needs follow-up. I recommend looking at Infusionsoft, Insightly, NetVibes, Nimble and Zoho.

As many people claim that one is a lonely number, I’ve found it to be very powerful for boosting folks’ productivity. In my work with individuals and corporate teams, I’m continually reminded that each of us is just one person, not a work person and home person. With that in mind, these are 5 tools I’ve found to be most helpful when you use just one for all segments of your life:
  •        One calendar for both work and personal items encourages you to not double-book yourself and leads to fewer items falling through the cracks.
  •        One running tasks list that funnels into one daily to-do list for each day means you more easily know what needs to be done at each moment and allows you to better focus on the 3 to 5 action items most important for your current day.
  •        One “data dump” that enables your brain to think, rather than remember details, allows you to search just one location for all your notes, research and references.
  •        One address book for both work and personal contacts empowers you to better maintain contacts’ most current information.
  •        One weekly strategy session that is supported with one wrap-up each day allows you to have a game plan for attacking what absolutely must be done each week as well as those important items that are not urgent.

On a related note, though I do believe work / life integration is replacing the impractical concept of work / life balance, I also feel it is vital for busy professionals to set limits on our availability to customers, vendors and other team members. There’s no right or wrong answer about how accessible you should be, but it’s important to set guidelines based on what works best for you and the unique needs of your business. Tools and software can mesh with the way you need to communicate day to day, but it’s also smart to step away for a while from time to time. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it’s important to incorporate downtime into your routine and to disengage from electronic communications by building some much-needed quiet into your day. This can be for reflection, for progressing towards goals, for re-energizing or whatever meets your needs, but its value is beyond measure.

Even though it might seem impossible, you can certainly survive the information avalanche in today’s society, but you must be focused in your efforts and fully utilize the available tools to help you. Click here to view a recent interview of me addressing this topic with Julie Coraccio of Reawaken Your Brilliance, and think about how these tools and techniques can apply to your specific needs. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and keep evolving as the available tech tools continue to develop around you do.

What tools and techniques do you employ in surviving the info avalanche?