I Finally Have a File Cabinet!

wooden file cabinetIt was almost a year ago that I set out to purchase a file cabinet for my home office. I have lamented many times about not having quite enough to buy my file cabinet, whether it's not having enough points, or not having enough money, or not having the time to pick one out. Well, no more worrying. No more lamenting. No more wishing and wanting. I finally have my file cabinet!

I've Been Needing One for Well Over a Year

Ever since I transitioned to a virtual office toward the end of 2012, I've needed a file cabinet. I didn't have one in my home office, so my files were in piles in a corner of my office, collecting dust. My cat even peed on the pile once and I had to throw a whole bunch of files away since there was no way I was going to get the pee out of the paper (and I didn't want to encourage him to pee outside the litter box). Not only did have to throw away a few files (fortunately, none of them were too important), but when they were in piles, the files and their contents were useless. It was too much trouble to dig through them to find what I needed, and since they weren't organized, there wasn't any point in creating new files or adding to them.

But, That is All Over

files in a file cabinetI only spent $90 on this file cabinet, which was at the top of my range but I think I got a good deal. I bought a wooden file cabinet just like I wanted. Even thought it only has two drawers, it functions like four-drawer file cabinet, as shown in the picture on the left. It even came with about 50 extra file folders that I wasn't expecting. The previous owner threw them in for free. I didn't need them, but I couldn't say no because the folders were in one of the drawers ready to go with me. I didn't want to tell the owner to take them out and waste more of their time.

Anyway, I organized my files and created several new ones to accommodate more important papers and articles that I've accumulated over the years (such as the lease on my apartment and the adoption papers for my cat). I accumulated so much that I've run out of manila folders. It's a good thing I found a file cabinet that's essentially four drawers instead of two. It looks like that I'll be needing the extra room, and I'm excited to fill it with all kinds of neat stuff. I pondered on whether or not to get a two-drawer file cabinet or a four-drawer file cabinet. I eventually settled on a two-drawer because I didn't think I would have enough room for four-drawer, so I was really happy to find this cabinet in such good condition.

Now I Have a Clean Desk

my clean deskSince I went without a file cabinet for so long, papers started piling up on my desk. I had two big piles, one on each end of the desk (the clean "after" version is shown on the right. I didn't think to take any pictures until after I had cleaned it up, so I don't have a shot of the "before" version). I also had papers tucked into folders and piled up in other parts of the office. Once I started cleaning everything up, I found so many bank statements (both opened and unopened) it wasn't even funny.

But my desk is much cleaner, which should help me to get much more done. They say that a cluttered desk hinder productivity, so perhaps my uncluttered desk will mean an uncluttered mind and I will have an easier time getting work done. After all, I can now use more of my desk and use it better since the space isn't taken up by random papers anymore.

All The Things I've Stopped (Part 1 of 9)

the streak has endedEver since my blogging streak ended, I've thought about all the things that I said I was going to do on this blog. With the exception of one or two, I stopped doing all of them within a few months. Besides the blogging streak, there was only one other endeavor that ended in a matter of days. The others were either intentions that were never turned into action, or behaviors that I stopped doing after several months. I think it would be great if I went over each of these goals and endeavors, going into detail of why I wanted to do the project in the first place and why I ended up not finishing what I sent out to do. Not everyone enjoys going over their failures, or evaluating why they were unable (or chose not to) finish something, but I think the exercise will be valuable to me. I am in the middle of determining what I want out of life and how to get those things, so I think this exercise will show me why I wanted to do these projects at a certain point in time, only to decide later on that I wasn't interested in doing them anymore.

Bullet Journal vs Inferno of Productivity

For the first part of this many part series (the number of series parts has yet to be determined), I'm going to evaluate two similar projects where I've stopped doing one but I've continued to do the other.

The bullet journal and the inferno of productivity are two systems that organize your to-do lists and improve your productivity. The inferno of productivity is a system that I created about a year ago, while the bullet journal is a system that I found online and decided to try. I did both concurrently for about seven months, but I've stopped using the bullet journal system about two weeks ago and have continued to use the inferno of productivity system only.

The main reason why I stopped using the bullet journal is because the journal felt redundant. I thought the system, especially its inclusion of a monthly calendar, monthly task lists, and room for other necessary lists (like planning for a vacation or a separate to-do list for that trip), would augment my daily to-do list that the inferno of productivity specializes in. However, that didn't happen. Using both systems at the same time seemed like I was managing two to-do lists for each day with no added benefit in having both. If there was a discrepancy in the to-do lists, then it was weird and a hassle to remedy that discrepancy.

I found the inferno of productivity to be easier since I like the tangible aspect of using index cards (something that I'd like to make less disposable with reusable index cards. I just need to find something reusable that I can use.) I also found this system much more flexible with tasks that I wasn't able to get done and with organizing my day, since I can put the cards/ tasks in the order that I wanted to do them. In the end, I stopped doing the bullet journal because it wasn't adding any value, and I was crafting my daily task list from what was already set up in the inferno of productivity system.

I'm Starting with a Softball

The bullet journal and the inferno of productivity were easy ones to evaluate because:

  • I'm still doing the inferno of productivity, which is awesome. It's also a system that I'd like to improve upon in several ways.
  • Since I'm still doing the inferno, stopping the bullet journal was somewhat inconsequential.
  • Seven months is a pretty good run, but since the main reason why I stopped was because it wasn't adding value to my life, the bullet journal wasn't tough to quit. The failure was in the system, no myself.
  • Quitting the bullet journal is not the same as not following through in learning how to drive a stick shift or with anything on my five-year plan. I will cover both in future parts of this series. Both of those do reflect a failure on my part.

But, I gotta start somewhere. It was easiest to start with my productivity systems since they are/were a daily part of my life. The others involved more long-term work, dedication, and planning.

One thing that does need to happen: finishing this series.

To Remain Productive, Email Management is Key

email producitivityLong gone are the days when work email stayed at work, where the only way to check it was to log into your desktop. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, it’s easier than ever to check email or to respond to that ‘ding’, whenever and wherever. IT solutions provider, GFI Software, sponsored a blind survey of 503 employees in small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. to gauge work-related email habits and to assess how much email plays into our work and personal lives. It found that 90% of respondents considered email a blessing, despite its ubiquity and the stresses associated with the influx of information.

“It’s a blessing because you fell connected. It’s about being available and having more flexibility in the workday,” said Sergio Galindo, global head of product management at GFI Software, which conducted the survey. “You don’t have to be at a desk and you can still be productive.”

More than three-quarters of respondents (81%) said they check their work email on weekends, 55% check email after 11 p.m. and 59% keep on top of their work email while on vacation. It would seem from these statistics that email is getting in the way of the distractions that may be help us to be more productive when we return to the office, but Galindo says that keeping email productive is a matter of good use and prioritization.

“Giving the volume of email [we receive every day], management is important,” he said. “The iPhone has the ‘do not disturb’ feature. Prioritize emails by subject line, and [letting other emails wait] by setting 'me' time. Our consumption rate of information has gone down because there’s so much.”

Our consumption rates are also at risk when you consider that we aren’t just checking email during our off hours, but during other events as well. One in 10 respondents admitted to checking work email at a child’s school event, 9% at a wedding, and 6% at a funeral. An additional 6% said they logged into their work email while they or their spouse was in labor. Productivity is much tougher when your child is being born, or when a friend or family member is getting married.

Email management isn’t just managing your use and restraining yourself from responding right away, (76% of respondents, according to the survey, said they typically reply to emails within one hour during work hours), but it’s also looking at how email is used to conduct day-to-day activities. It’s here that businesses could improve productivity by looking at how email is integrated into sales processes, finances, human resources etc.

“Email is a huge repository of information,” Galindo said. “You can see how people are interacting. For example, with sales you can see how often emails are sent and how you can improve the process. Are people sending too few emails, and do they need to be more persistent?”

Another good productivity example is from an IT perspective, where those with large inboxes often have the slowest loads times and sync times for their email. These employees complain about the slowness, or waste time waiting or trying to find something, when simple organization would fix the problem.

“Technology has improved. We are more engaged and we can respond quickly,” Galindo said. “As the main communication format [for employees], it’s important to businesses, and it’s important to learn how to use email.”

What You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Productivity

productivity tipsA lot of times, people want to do something but don’t take the time to do that something or to change what’s necessary to get that done. Productivity is one of those things, where people want to be more productive but never actually do anything to become more productive. Cathy Sexton, a productivity strategist and coach and founder of The Productivity Experts, says that this is the case because people don’t take the time to recognize the benefits of doing something and of being more productive. “People are just overwhelmed today. They don’t see an end and they don’t know where to start,” she said. “There’s value in thinking about what things would look like if they were different.”

Sexton started her business in 2003, coaching and speaking to folks about reducing stress and frustration in order to live productive, peaceful lives. She said that one of the most common problems she addresses with her clients is learning what to control and how to control those things.

“We can only control four things: time, money, energy, and our attitude or behavior,” she said. “People try to control others or try to control the situation, when we just can’t. [Recognizing] this optimizes our time and energy while reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed.”

Sexton said that one of the biggest myths about productivity is that it’s all about time management, when it’s much more than that. Productivity includes emotional intelligence, being organized, taking action, and working naturally. She said that everyone has a productivity style, which is essentially how we make decisions and pace ourselves. By understanding this, we can get more done, have less frustration, and be better equipped to handle what’s going on.

“It’s about understanding who we are and working with that,” she said. “For example, if you need structure, then you need to be in a [work] position where you can follow a structure and go from step A, to B, to C.”

Not everyone is in a place where they can change jobs and find a position that suits their productivity style, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything that can be done to improve your productivity. Sexton said that one thing anyone can do today to be more productive is to make a decision, and then take the next action. This moves yourself forward, allowing you to plan what you are doing instead of reacting or spending time getting the wrong things done.

In fact, there are four things that need to happen in this decision making process to ensure that the process is productive, but also that the decisions made and the tasks completed were also worthwhile. The four things are:

  1. Plan – This is more than just reacting to events, but strategizing what you’re going to do and how you are going to handle a situation.
  2. Eliminate – Productivity is more than getting things done, but getting the right things done. You need to take the wrong things out of your day, those tasks that don’t really move you forward or accomplish anything.
  3. Prioritize – Organize those ‘right things’ that you need to get done.
  4. Take Action – Do what needs to get done.

“Productivity is an ongoing process. You must work at it,” she said. “The time you take to set up these processes will come back 100-fold.”

Non-Tech Tips and Tricks to Improving Productivity

If you are aware of my work on, you may have noticed that I've written about office productivity more than once. Since it is a tech blog, I tend to cover different types of software that improve productivity, or ways to use technology to improve productivity. As cool and helpful as technology is, let's not forget how helpful those non-tech tools can be.

I get the feeling that productivity is the newest buzzword. That might be because school has just started, so there's now a lot more focus and hype on time management and getting things done. Or, it could be that the final quarter of the year is coming up (October is next week, can you believe it?), so more people are focusing on meeting goals and quota before the third quarter and the year are up. Whatever the case, if you have a few things that you need to get done, here are a few tips and tricks that I personally use to get things done:

  1. Set a Daily Quota - Hopefully, you already make a daily to-do list. If you don't, consider that Tip #0. If you do already make a daily to-do list, then set a daily quota for the number of tasks you will do from the list. I used to set mine at 50 percent. So, whether I have 20, 40, or 60 tasks on the list, I set a quota of completing half of those tasks. That was a bit of an easy quota, so I upped it to two-thirds. I'm doing well with that new quota, but there have been a few days where I didn't quite make it. Once that number gets too easy, then I'll up it 75 percent. This works because this keeps me from getting overwhelmed by a lengthy to-do list.
  2. Select the Tasks That Meet the Quota - After you set the quota, then select the tasks that you will do in order to meet the quota. For example, if your list has 30 tasks, and you've set your quota at 50 percent, then you need to do 15 tasks to meet that quota. Once you know that you need to do 15 tasks, pick the 15 tasks from the list that you will do. I've just started doing this, but I've found that this saves me the time from deciding which of my many things to do next and prevents me from losing motivation because I've lost interest in doing any of the remaining tasks. Selecting tasks also organizes your priorities, so you may find that you're doing the important things first, and reducing your stress in the meantime.
  3. Develop a Routine - I like when things are orderly and predictable, so developing a routine in performing certain task has been helpful for me. When I wake up in the morning, I do my emails, marketing, and follow ups with my cup of coffee. I do this every morning. At 2 p.m., I do the work I need to do for, since that's when the Google Alerts come it. It's a natural launchpad to getting some work done. I read what I need to over lunch, which I usually take at around 12 p.m. Since I've paired behaviors and tasks together, it's come to a point where something is wrong if I am not working on certain things at certain times.
  4. Eat Lunch - I don't understand how folks can go without eating lunch. Eventually, my hunger gets distracting, and I can't work unless I get something to eat. Please eat lunch. It not only gives you a break and a chance to work on easier tasks, but it's also good for your health. Good breaks and good health can make it easier to work when you need to. Plus, lunch breaks give you the chance to get out of the office. I usually take that time to run to the bank or pick up some groceries.

Overall, technology is helpful for productivity, but we certainly shouldn't forget about the things that we do offline and off the computer. Those things can be equally as helpful, or as destructive, to our productivity as we allow them to be.