How to Set Up a Home Communication Centre

It’s getting close to back-to-school time in this part of the world. Another couple of weeks and the summer lull will be over. You’re going wake up on the Tuesday after Labour Day and realize you have three more people to get out the door in the morning. Don’t leave the preparation to the last minute.

One of the handiest tools in our home is a communication/organization centre. It’s a two-part system, a message board and a calendar (see images below). We keep both in the kitchen, which is a hub in our home.

LUNS writing magnetic board IKEAFor the message centre, we use the LUNS board from IKEA. This is a magnetic chalk board, with two trays below the blackboard, a storage space under that and a couple of hooks on the bottom. The board is attached to the kitchen door through which we generally leave and enter the house. The dry-erase calendar is magnetic on the back and is stuck to our refrigerator.

The message centre holds reminders for items that aren’t attached to a date or that need to be completed quickly. For example, the top item on our board is dry cleaning that needs to be picked up this week. The slip from the dry cleaners is attached with a magnet. As we head out, we check the board. If we’re going in the direction of the cleaner, we grab the slip and pick up the cleaning.

The board has slots that can be used to hold things like bills until it’s time to pay them. We also leave things like coupons and entertainment books in there. so that they are readily accessible when we go out.

There are a couple of hooks on the bottom that holds keys. As we come through the door, the keys are hung on the hook and they’re the last thing we grab on our way out.

The calendar serves to track what is going on in the month. Both my wife and I use separate PDA-based calendars. At the start of each month, we transfer information to the dry-erase calendar. That way, we have a quick, at-a-glance view of what we have scheduled. We also note repeating reminders such as garbage and recycling pick up.

Setting up your system

Set up a zone with a family calendar and a bulletin board. Have family members pin invitations, schedules or school events to the bulletin board.  Enter each family member’s information on the calendar. If you assign different colours to each family member, it makes it easy to see which activity belongs to who.

Review your paper clutter. Decide what to keep and what to toss. Sort your papers into categories that work for you. For example: to do, to pay, pending, and to file.  Other categories might be: the names of children and partner, ongoing activities, current schools and contact information.

Now that you have categories, decide what organizing product might assist you best in keeping these papers in order. Look around the space, measure the area for size, and think about your personal organizing style.  Do you prefer to see paper or not? If so, think of open box-like items to use for each category.  If not, look for a desktop file suited to the décor of the space with hanging files to label with each category.  Be sure to choose a product you love and this will help you stay organized.

Have routines for your family communication center.  Hold a family meeting regularly to update your calendar.  Take turns as secretary to add information. With paper processing, designate a time to work with each of the categories. This will likely take an hour a week, especially if you choose a time you are high energy to get the job done.

A family communication center makes a difference in keeping information accessible. Find the right space, categories, tools and time to make it work. The organization you teach now will serve you and your family a lifetime.

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6 quick tips for managing paper

Close your eyes and picture the Zen-like state of your desk in a paperless world. When you need data from the last quarter, you speak to your computer and a soothing voice responds with the information. When it’s time to pay the bills, you instruct your computer where the payments are to come from.

Now, look at the paper sitting on your desk, dressers, tables, shelves, filing cabinets, etc.

The ideal of a paperless office has been around for at least three decades. While individuals, such as Eric Mack, experiment with paperless solutions, or online services offer paperless solutions, paper usage has increased significantly.

In 2003, Canadians used a whopping 2, 867,442 tonnes of paper, compared with 1,198,100 tonnes two decades earlier. Source: CBC News

For whatever reason, you’re stuck working with paper. Here are some tips for managing your piles (paper, that is).

  1. Keep only the work at hand visible. If you’re working on the month-end report, have it in front of you. Other pending work should be stored in some form of filing system, which makes it easy to retrieve, but keeps it out of sight.
  2. Have a fixed time each day to process routine paperwork. There are regular systems that dump a daily amount of paper on our desks: mail, filing, circulating files, etc. Set aside a few minutes every day to make sure this paper dealt with and not left piling up on your desk.
  3. Keep large wastebasket and/or shredder near your work area. Some percentage of the paper you process can go straight to recycling or garbage: used envelopes, advertising brochures, last week’s cafeteria menu. Toss it immediately.
  4. Don’t use a bulletin board. It’s a burial ground. I have a bulletin board in my office, but I am ruthless about what gets pinned to it. If you can’t be consistently ruthless, don’t put one on the wall.
  5. Organize your stationery. If you have to keep blank stationery on hand, get some type of storage system. Not only does lose stationery add to the cluttered look, it ends up dog-eared, frayed and unusable.
  6. Get a notebook. Resist the urge to take notes on dozens of pieces of scrap paper, notepads and sticky notes. Find a notebook that works for you and keep it with you at all times. That way, not only will you have a single, neat source of all your notes, you’ll only have one place you have to look to find information.

It doesn’t look like paper is going away anytime soon. You will need to have systems to control your paper flow.

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Manage Your Paper With a RAFT

Ruthless paperwork is the route to a clean desk. It’s a problem of small-scale decision-making, every piece of paper requires a decision and a final destination. Too often, papers fall prey to the procrastination syndrome: I’ll think about it tomorrow.

Ideally, mail and paperwork should be attended to for a few minutes every day. If the amount is small, three times a week may do. You don’t want papers to build up to the point where you look at it and you get discouraged. The easiest way to avoid that is to keep up to date.

Files can be kept in open piles on a desk or in folders, according to your style. If a clean visual environment is important to you, use boxes and folders as you RAFT. If you prefer a look of activity and busyness, paper piles may be the answer.

If you do keep stuff, keep it in a way so that it doesn’t jam up your life and you can find it again.

Use the RAFT template: refer it, act on it, file it or toss it.

  • Refer it to the correct person, if you’re not the one to handle it.
  • Act on it immediately. Items that can be dealt with easily, do now; David Allen’s two-minute rule.
  • File it, if necessary. Eighty percent of filed papers are never looked at again. Make sure you really need it before you keep it.
  • Toss out anything you no longer need. Don’t keep routine memos or anything that gives you information you already know or have. Record meeting information on your calendar, then toss the memo. We you receive document revisions, toss the orginals.
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Document Management System

filing space

filing space (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Options for managing document filing and retrieval.

By establishing a consistent system for filing and tracking documents, you will impose a sense of order on your records. This will save you time and ensure that the records you need will be at your fingertips. This works for business or personal filing systems

There are lots of choices when it comes to filing documents. No single system suits all types of records. It is important to match the system you choose to the particular types of records (financial, personnel and so on) you are keeping.

Here is an overview of the most popular options:

  • Alphabetical filing is one of the oldest, most commonly used systems. It’s a good method for keeping personnel files, vendor records and customer files. Be sure to develop a universal index and a system of standards that describes how the names should be broken down for filing.
  • Numerical sequence, such as accounting numbers, customer numbers, order numbers. There are several types of numerical filing systems, with the simplest being consecutive. Documents are placed in order according to their assigned number. Experts say numerical systems work best if you have fewer than 10,000 files to manage.
  • Geographical sequence, such as by province: with breakdowns by cities, towns, postal codes, etc.
  • Subject or organizational, such as by department, function or subject activity.
  • Chronological, by years, quarters, months and/or days.
  • Color coded. This coding is generally used in conjunction with one of the above systems to make it even faster and more efficient. For a numerical filing system, for example, you’d use a different coloured file folder for each number from 0 to 9, to speed retrieval and refilling.
  • Hybrid. Companies often use alphabetical or numerical sequencing within geographical, subject or chronological filing systems.
  • Bar codes. Scannable bar codes can speed more than retail checkout lines and inventory tracking. Organizations ranging from doctors’ offices to Fortune 500 companies use them for document tracking. Various bar codes, including the alphanumeric Code 128, are commercially available. Users can invest in equipment and software to generate their own labels or buy labels commercially.
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10 Tips to Help Keep Your Desk Clean

This is one of the more popular posts at Ian’s Messy Desk. I’m reposting with some update information.

How much stuff do you have sitting on your desk or in your work area? A while back, Coopers & Lybrand (nowPrice Waterhouse Coopers) released data from a poll on personal organization. One statistic found that, “The average desk worker has 36 hours worth of work on their desk and wastes up to 3 hours a week just “looking” for STUFF!” Finding stuff on my messy desk bears out that statistic. Being disorganized is responsible for a lot of wasted time.

While there is a challenge in the initial cleaning of the messy desk, the regular maintenance often poses the bigger challenge. Here are some tips to help keep the desk clean:

  1. Sort your mail and toss junk as it arrives. Even with an in-basket, you need to process your mail dailyto avoid accumulating a stack of paper. Sort where you have places to put each category of mail: 1) garbage, 2) recycling, 3) bills, 4) etc.
  2. Get rid of sticky notes and scraps of paper. Round them all up and transfer their information tosomething a little more permanent, efficient, and user-friendly. Get a single notebook and use it torecord notes, phone numbers, web addresses, ideas, to-dos, etc.
  3. Create a list or binder of regularly referenced material, such as phone numbers, and keep it accessible in a desk drawer.
  4. Schedule filing time at least once per week. To be more productive, allocate 15 minutes each week. Initially it may take you longer to catch up if you have a large pile, but 15 minutes is manageable. We all can find this much time in our schedules.
  5. Add dated or calendar items to a tickler file system or a diary as soon as they arrive. anything you need reminded of on some future date goes into your tickler file. Every morning, pull out the folder for the day and place the contents into your inbox. Then it is right at hand when you need it.
  6. When you stop working on something, put it away until the next time you need it. Don’t leave half-completed projects sitting on your desktop.
  7. Keep nothing on your desk unless you absolutely need them. If you aren’t joining sheets of paper with tape, move the dispenser off the desk. If you want personal photos in the office, have only one on thedesk or better yet, hang them on the wall.
  8. Keep a reading folder for material you need to read. Put non–urgent “to read” items in file folder; use multiple folders if you have different to-read categories. As you receive new items, place them in the front of the folder. If the folder gets too full, toss the old stuff without looking at it. That way you always have current stuff that might go back a month or two. Schedule regular reading time to clear the material.
  9. Create a “waiting for” or pending file to hold items dependent on outside action. This is not the same as a tickler file. This is for actions waiting on an external response. I.e., you’re waiting on quotes before you can go ahead a get the office repaintied.
  10. Create a weekly appointment to clean your desk and this includes dusting or polishing. You might be less inclined to mess up a shiny desk. ;)

It doesn’t take much “neglect” for your workspace to fill up with things that eat at your productivity. A few simple and regular good habits can free up a bunch of extra time for getting things done.

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