Tag Archives: tips

Eight Ways to Keep Your Office Clutter-Free

Working at an organizations’ head office, we see a lot of paper. We recently were involved in a capital project to build a new program facility in our region. When the HVAC system was installed, someone thought we might want the user manual for the system: a 400 page PDF document. Instead of filing the PDF on the network, the document was printed and placed in a filing cabinet, where it will sit until doomsday.

We really didn’t need the manual. We will never troubleshoot the system; we will never program the system; and we will never maintain the system. The next time we will be concerned with the HVAC in this building is when it stops working and needs to be replaced.

Despite the improvements in document handling technology, despite the the convenience of a PDF, we still produce a lot of paper. Keeping your desk and files clutter–free in a paper–filled environment isn’t easy, but a little planning and a little technology can help.

Start with the 4 D’s of Effective Paper Management:

  • DO IT. This means that you perform the necessary items on this piece of paper today. Once you’ve completed these items, the paper should be filed, re-routed to someone else or discarded.
  • DELAY IT. This means that further action needs to be taken on this paper, but not right now. File it in a Reminder file or in your file cabinet. If necessary, write a date and time on your calendar when you’ll be retrieving this paper for further action.
  • DELEGATE IT. This means that you immediately give this paper to someone else, whether this person is someone in your company, a client, vendor or someone else you outsource to.
  • DUMP IT. This is the greatest one of them all. It’s probably safe to say that a huge percentage of the paper that enters your office can be immediately discarded.

Manage your “to read” pile

The paper littering desks and files is mostly mail or things colleagues send, stuff that you mean to read, but never get to. Have a plan to eliminating the paper as soon as you get it. That doesn’t mean throwing it in the recycle bin as soon as you receive it, but you need to know where things will end up after they hit your desk.

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. Don’t worry you’ll throw away something vital, if it’s vital, it shouldn’t be in a general reading file.

Think before you print

We also create a lot of the paper piles, without giving it much thought. It can be tempting to print every interesting thing we find on the web or print a 400 page PDF “just in case.” It adds up. Stop and think before hitting the print button. Is there a better way to store the material.

Here’s a place where technology can be put to good use. The cost of storage media keeps getting less and less. I just bought a 1 terabyte (that’s 1,000 gigabytes) hard drive for $120.00. I can print any web page to pdf and store it on the drive. Combine that with a search tool such as Google Desktop and I can quickly find material previously saved.

Create a record retention policy

Despite technological advances, there are certain files, such as personnel records and corporate documents, that you’ll need to keep for extended periods of time. To manage this process, you’ll need a record retention plan. How this policy reads will vary depending on local laws. However, these are the kinds of documents controlled by such policies:

  • Annual financial statements, corporate documents (including corporate charter, deeds and easements, stock, minutes of board of directors’ meetings, labor contracts, trademark and registration applications), and income tax paperwork and payment checks.
  • Bank statements, voided checks, purchase records (purchase orders, payment vouchers, vendor invoices), and sales records (invoices, monthly statements, shipping papers and customers’ purchase orders).
  • Personnel and payroll records.
  • Monthly financial statements.

Archive off site

Use off–site storage for those files that you don’t use everyday, but can’t discard immediately. This allows you to keep your office space free of the files, but the information is still available if you need. Assign a destroy date to each box that you store. This forces you to make a decision about a set of documents that you might not do if the files are on–site.

Before sending your files away, cull them and discard duplicates, non–essential files, or those past retention dates according to your policy. You’re paying by the box, you don’t want to send unnecessary bulk.

Invest in equipment and software

Technology lets you toss more than ever before. New information is constantly accessible to via the Internet, there’s less need to maintain all types of files.

  • If you have documents that you need to keep, but you don’t use everyday or don’t have the room to store, use a scanner to create an electronic copy.
  • If discarding confidential documents makes you resistant to purging files, shred sensitive documents before recycling.
  • Business cards can be filed in a book, or scanned to keep electronic copies of the cards, which can later be searched by name or keyword.
  • To file effectively and quickly, you need to have the essentials: plenty of file folders, file labels, cardboard boxes and bins, plastic crates and carts, and file cabinets.
  • And don’t forget wastebaskets and recycling bins for the items that you choose not to file.

Organize your office heart

You may have business documents items which have more of a sentimental or morale value: photos, letters from clients, awards, etc. Have a memento box or album when and collect those gems — pictures of the first office party, thank you letters from their first few clients. Keep the box or album in a designated area in your office.

Keep it clean

Once your office is organized, keep it that way! A major part of maintaining order is your approach to the task. To prevent future accumulation, treat paper in your office as if it’s perishable. Don’t pile it up, telling yourself that you’ll deal with it when you have time. Make decisions on the paper immediately. Keep a recycle bin and a wastebasket next to your desk and use them frequently.

Continue filtering, filing and tossing and you’ll maintain a clutter–free environment.

Enhanced by Zemanta

6 Tips for Effective Participation in Meetings

Yesterday, I posted some tips for running effective meetings. What happens when you’re on the other side of the table? How can you ensure you are getting the most out of meetings you attend?

When you attend a meeting you should:

Attend only if needed. Some use meetings as a weapon in their office politics arsenal. They attended to be seen and heard whether they need to be there or not. If you’re not going to contribute to the discussion or if the outcomes do not affect you, don’t attend. Too many non-essential participants can extend the length of the meeting.

Get There On time. I refuse to start a meeting late for the sake of the person who wanders in five-minutes past start time; mostly to prove they are too busy and important to get to a meeting on time. It is discourteous to the chair and to those who make the effort to be on time.

Be prepared with your contribution. If you’ve given up attending meetings where your contribution is not needed, it stands to reason all the meetings you attend require participation. Prepare whatever information you anticipate needing. Go overboard. Bring twice as much data as you think you’ll need. Just don’t spew the whole works. If you have information to hand out, get it to participants a day or two before the meeting.

Pay attention. There will always be those at a meeting so focused on their opinion that they are not really listening to what the others are saying. Listen actively to the discussion. You don’t want to merely parrot or repeat another participant’s contribution.

Get involved in the discussion. Review the agenda and clarify your thoughts prior to the meeting. Make some notes. Being prepared will make it more likely that you will have some energy behind your points of view and, therefore, be more likely to express them.

Be courteous. You’re not likely to agree with everything said at a meeting. Never interrupt anyone – even if you disagree strongly. Note what has been said and return to it later with the chair’s permission. The point of most meetings is to reach agreements. If the participants are combative, the meetings will drag on. Look for ways to build consensus.

If you are attending a meeting, ensure that you respect the time of other attendees by being well prepared, attentive, concise and respectful..

Enhanced by Zemanta

4 Tips for Running Effective Meetings

Staff Meeting
Image via Wikipedia

Meetings can be effective ways of sharing information or reaching a decision. However, ineffectively run,  they can swallow up your time without giving much benefit. Just as jobs have a cost, meetings have a cost; not only for you but for all who attend. After any meeting ask yourself,  “was my contribution worth my investment?”

Here are some tips for running meetings in the most effective way possible:

1. Hold meetings when trigger events occur

Many regular meetings are little more than a case of doing something because it’s the “correct” way to do things or it’s always been done that way. The management team feels it is a “good thing” to communicate,  but are unclear what they would like to communicate. Time is alloted for discussion and discussion expands to fill the time.

It is more effective to hold meetings when specific events show them to be necessary. For example, a deliverable is delayed by two weeks. How does this effect the overall timing of the project and what steps can be taken to keep the whole thing on track.

By scheduling meetings to occur on trigger events, you ensure time is invested in the solution of a problem, only when the problem occurs.

2. Use the Agenda Effectively

The agenda is effectively the to-do list for the meeting. It  shows the aim and discussion points  in priority order.

Using an agenda focuses the meeting, and provides a guide for keeping discussion on-track. Circulating the agenda sufficiently in advance, allows people to prepare for the meeting so it isn’t held up for lack of information.

3. Setting the time of the meeting

You can schedule the meeting to take advantage of the attendees:

  • Where people tend to waffle excessively, you can schedule the meeting just before lunch or going home, giving participants an incentive to keep things brief.
  • Where people are time conscious, write the cost per minute of the meeting on a flip chart can have a focusing effect.
  • Always start meetings on time. When meetings start late, you are in effect penalizing all those who arrived on time. Start without the late-comers.
  • If you’re have a problem with people consistently showing up late, start a meeting at an unusual time, say19 minutes past the hour. This can improve punctuality.

4. Other Useful Techniques

  • Invite the minimum number of attendees needed to a meeting. The more people in attendance, the more discussion there will be. Inviting people who are not needed wastes their time.
  • Make sure that decisions made at a previous meeting have been acted on. This ensures that the meeting will not just be seen as a ‘talking-shop’.
  • At the end of the meeting, prepare minutes summarizing the points discussed and defining action steps on the decisions. This ensures everyone understands what has been decided and who will do what.

Meetings can be effective methods for reaching decisions. They can also be huge time wasters. When you invest time in a meeting, you should expect a sufficiently large pay-back to justify the investment.

Enhanced by Zemanta

How to Manage Work Life Balance

Take this Work/Life Balance quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association. It will open in a new window. Once you have your results, come back here for some tips to help you manage the balance between work and life.

In Life

  • Decide what is important. If you do not have a clear sense of your personal values, goals and priorities, you will not be able to determine which activities are important to furthering your life plan.
  • Eliminate the unnecessary. Once you have a clear picture of your life plan, drop those things that do not move your goals forward. Learn to say no!
  • Protect Your Goals and Priorities. Everyone will have an opinion as to how you should be living your life. Listening to opinions is fine, being dictated to is not. Live the life you want, not the one your parents or best friends or anyone else thinks you should be living.
  • Don’t go it alone. Get the support of family and friends. Give your partner permission to remind you when things seem to be getting out of balance. Better yet, your partner should be involved in developing your life plan.

At Work

  • Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day. Your productivity and effectiveness will increase if you take short breaks every couple of hours. You will get more accomplished.
  • At the end of each day, set your priorities for the following day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have available.
  • Only respond to email once or twice a day. Then, shut off your email program to avoid being distracted as messages come in.
  • Make a distinction between work and the rest of your life. Protect your private time by turning off electronic communications.   Don’t be available 24/7.
  • Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early. As soon as you see that a deadline is unrealistic, communicate your concern to your employer – don’t wait until the deadline passes.
  • Take all of your allotted vacation time. Taking vacation allows you to come back to work refreshed and more productive.
  • Learn to say no!

At Home

  • Create a buffer between work and home. After work, take a brief walk, do a crossword puzzle, or listen to some music before beginning the evening’s routine.
  • Decide what chores can be shared or let go. Determine which household chores are critical and which can be done by someone else.  Let the rest go.
  • Exercise. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, you’ll feel more energized and refreshed.
  • Create and implement a household budget. Start by setting aside some money from each pay cheque for the future.
  • Make healthy food choices. Healthy eating will gives you and your family more energy.
  • Pursue a hobby. Either with friends or family or for some quality time on your own.
  • Learn to say no!

In Your Community

  • Make choices. Social, community and volunteer obligations pull us in many directions. Choose the ones that are most fulfilling and learn to say ‘no’ to the rest.
  • Manage expectations. Be clear at the outset about how much time or support you can contribute to community organizations or your children’s school events.
  • Learn to say no!
Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Tips for leaving a good out-of-office message

Whether it’s time to get away from the office on vacation or business takes us on the road, the influx of email or phones messages rarely stops.

A little bit of preparation before you leave will ensure less to worry about on return. A good out-of-office message is a must. A well-prepared message can go a long way to decrease the backlog of messages waiting for you when you get back to work.

A good out of office message has three parts:

  1. Dates of your absence. Let the contact know when you are out of the office. It helps them decide what their next step is going to be; whether to wait for your return or to direct their request elsewhere.
  2. Reason for absence. I like to let my contacts know whether I am on a business trip or vacation. A business trip means I am connected to the office in some way and might be able to respond to a message. If I’m on vacation, I’m out of contact range.
  3. Who to contact in your absence. I try and leave contact information for alternate contacts when I am out of the office; a minimum of one up to as many as are needed.

Just because you leave an out-of-office message, it doesn’t mean that you have communicated to the sender. There are three things you should keep in mind when composing the message. It should be:

  • Complete: give all the detail necessary. Don’t say, “I’m out of the office” or “I’m gone for two weeks.” Make it precise. “I am away from the office starting July 1 and will be back July 15. The same applies to your alternate contacts. Let the sender know who to contact and how to get a hold of them.
  • Concise: keep it as short as possible while still making it complete. Use short, bulleted phrases. People don’t want to be able to read a novel during your out-of-office reply.
  • Clear: make sure it’s easy to understand. Don’t use abbreviations, job titles or internal jargon that will not be understood by everyone sending you a message.

Rather that coming back to a packed e-mail in-box and a full voice-mail box, spend a few minutes crafting a useful out-of-office message and people will be able to redirect or park tasks appropriately.