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Thursday, December 30, 2010

I resolve to .... take control of my email

Of all the advice my father has so graciously provided over the years I am troubled most by his advice regarding company email. If I had only followed his advice sooner, I would have avoided so much conflict and misery.

I was visiting my parents when my father mentioned that his work had offered him a smart phone, but that he had politely refused. As I sat in utter disbelief, I silently wondered if senility could set in at such an early age, how much time would I have before my parents would require full-time care and quite possibly need to move in with me. Before I could schedule an appointment for him to be examined by a physician he uttered words that in retrospect I should have applied to my own life. “Why would I want to receive work emails nights and weekends? I work 10 hour days as it is, anymore than that and I’m a prisoner.” The same man, who once told me that if you have time for a hobby you should get a second job, was suggesting that there should be a limit to work emails. Could this man who has been known to eat lima beans from a can actually be on to something? Before I could finish my thoughts I was interrupted by an email and I let his advice slip my mind.

I didn’t see email quite the same way he did. I believed that with a smart phone I was free. I could take a day off to spend with my children and periodically check my email. Without a smart phone I would be chained to my desk. The reality is that I’m never in the moment. I’m actually in a constant state of interruption so my New Year’s Resolution is to take control of my time and I’m going to do it by managing my email.

The email guidelines are as follows:

1) Do not immediately respond to emotionally charged emails. If I can respond within the hour by phone I will do so, if not I will let the person know via email when they can expect a response. I will not perpetuate any misunderstandings or emotional unrest via email.

2) Always use the subject line. What good is email if you can’t use it as a record of events? It can take hours to sort through old emails with the subject line: re re re re, so even if I’m responding to an email lacking a subject line I will add my own before sending a response. This is also a courtesy to recipients of my email as they can quickly see what the subject is and determine importance. If possible add things like URGENT or FYI in the subject line.

3) Read the email twice and collect all information before responding. If this will take more than a few hours I will let the person know when they can expect a response. This will eliminate the back-and-forth that can suck hours out of the day. If someone emails asking for a shipping address and I leave out something like the zip code it will add a few more emails to the string.

4) Group emails. Instead of emailing a coworker each time I have a thought, I will create a draft email and add to it throughout the day. Sending one email instead of many will help me and the recipient.

5) Program my email so that each new email doesn’t pop-up on the screen or otherwise alert me. I will check email every few hours rather than every 5 minutes.

6) Be clear in my email. Specify by bullet point exactly what I am requesting and when I need it.

7) Set work hours and stick to them. Family time is family time and work time is work time. Sounds easy, but keeping myself from email in the evenings will be a challenge.

8) Organize my email. I will keep a folder of open items and completed by subject. I will save only what I really need. In a string of emails I need only save the last message as it will include the previous correspondence.

9) Set up a folder for newsletters and a folder for shopping. I will set up a rule that any coupon or shopping email subscription goes directly to that folder. I can check just once daily and delete any that I don’t plan to use. Informative subscriptions to blogs, magazines, etc. can go in their own folder. I will check those just once daily as well. I will unsubscribe to any website that sends me useless mail more than once a week. I like to know what the trends are or who is having a sale, just not every day.

They say it takes about a month to create a habit. If I can create healthy email habits in a month then I will buy myself a Penelope & Parker bag. (Since I have not yet decided which bag I want, this will give me a little time to make my decision.) If not, I won’t give up. I’ll give it another month or two. I’ll keep trying because like healthy eating I know this will improve my quality of life. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Holiday Gift Giving

Holiday giving is very tricky. No matter how you choose to celebrate you should be sensitive and courteous. For many the holidays are a difficult time of year, personal, family or financial problems are magnified. In addition, people celebrate in many ways. There is Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, just to name a few. The last place you want to upset someone is at work, so consider the following:

1) Celebrate Thanksgiving-Find out if there are any non-profit organizations that deliver meals to needy families. Make a list of the items they require and post in the break-room. People can sign up without feeling pressured.
Going desk-to-desk to collect money is not acceptable, neither is sending out a mass email specifying the people who still haven’t anteed up. Holiday drives and donations are great, but if they single people out who can’t afford to participate they are not in the holiday spirit.

Host a gift drawing, but again make sure it’s not mandatory. Be considerate about the gift you submit. Sweets, alcohol, etc. are off limits in a day and age of strict diets and struggles with addiction. A fun
Jonathan Adler umbrella or commuter mug is always welcome and say a little more about your gift giving efforts. By giving something unique and thoughtful you are also standing out at work in a positive way.

Direct supervisors should always try to do something for their employees. Don’t over buy. An extravagant gift can be irritating to someone who would rather have the money to buy groceries. Likewise, if there is a significant salary gap between you and your staff don’t be cheap, they will notice. Treat all staff fairly. A $5 coffee house gift card, a gift set with whimsical office supplies (think
Jonathan Adler highlighters, sticky notes, etc), or even a business card holder (Gloss Business Card holders are very inexpensive) are useful and well-received by almost anyone.

4) If you feel compelled to buy for a boss the same rules apply. Extravagant gifts can make people uncomfortable. A lovely
notebook or journal is useful and thoughtful. Don’t push your own ideals on others. You would love to get your boss into yoga so she stops complaining about her neck pain, but your gift of a yoga mat will not likely be a turning point in her life. So give in and buy her the new commuter mug you know she will use.

The short version:
Be sensitive to other’s beliefs.
Be sensitive to other’s financial situation
Be thoughtful
Be practical (executive Zen gardens are out)
Buy reasonably priced gifts

Image above: 1. Jonathan Adler Umbrellas $25; 2. Jonathan Adler Highlighters $10; 3. Sarah Pinto Notebook $12 & Orla Kiely Pear Notebook $17; 4. Jonathan Adler Sticky Notes $7; 5. Gloss Business Card Holder $6.50; 6. Jonathan Adler Travel Mug $15

Friday, December 03, 2010

See Jane Create

What's a Jane to do when she can't find a stylish cork board? Make one....

Finding exactly what you want isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to office supplies.

I recently did an office makeover for an online news editor. She works from home in her lovely, but small, Manhattan apartment on a desk that is visible from anywhere in her home. I was challenged to find desk accessories that wouldn’t take up a lot of room. I decided that wall storage would be a great solution, but I couldn’t find a bulletin board that fit her style, so I decided to make one. It turned out really well, so I thought I would share it with you.

Supplies (prices vary depending on location):

Ung Drill Frame from IKEA $29.99
Rolled cork from Office Depot $11.59
Spray Adhesive from Office Depot $ 5.29
Jewel Push Pins from Office Depot $1.99


1) Remove glass and backing from frame. Recycle glass, retain backing
2) Use backing as template to cut cork to size, must be precise.
3) Apply spray adhesive to cardboard frame backing.
4) Mount cork to cardboard backing.
5) Sit a heavy object like a book or laptop on the cork until the adhesive is dry.
6) Reattach the backing
7) Hang (I didn’t bother with the side screw holes, simply a nail at the top)
8) Use adorable jewel push pins from Office Depot to complete the look.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Enough Is { Rarely } Enough

When it comes to fitness and organization enough is rarely enough.

It's not often that you'll hear someone say "my abs are just right" or "my butt is firm enough." I've even known a few professional weight lifters who could rightly have uttered those words, but did not. Fitness is one of life's constant battles. Organization is similar in that despite the claims of numerous books and infomercials the panacea does not exist. You won't hear someone say "I'm perfectly organized," well, at least not anyone that I know. Then again, I don't know anyone with a nanny, chef, trainer, professional organizer, personal assistant, bookkeeper, housekeeper and gardener working full-time and all at once. That person might be perfectly organized; but for the rest of us getting and staying organized is a life-long process.

Being fit and being organized require constant effort; any little change can get you off-track. A new baby, a new pet, a move, even long hours at work can challenge even the most organized of people. So at risk of sounding cliche I've made a list of the most widely accepted exercise guidelines. You'll find that these rules work as well for organization as they do for exercise, even if it's annoying to hear them over and over again.

1) Don't let a bad day get you off track. When you pig-out or miss a few work-outs you may consider giving up. Organization is similar, when the stacks of paper grow and visible desk space shrinks, you may think why bother. Don't add to the pile. Start with what you are working on at that very moment and give it a proper home.

2) Keep it simple. An elaborate exercise regimen can be difficult to maintain. Being fit is about making conscious decisions throughout the day. Deciding to take the stairs instead of the elevator is a small step toward fitness. Make conscious decisions to stay organized. Toss junk mail into the recycle bin before you set the mail down, you'll have taken a step toward organization with very little effort.

3) Start slow. Just because you worked out this week doesn't mean you're ready for a marathon. When getting organized improve gradually. Elaborate systems implemented all at once will leave you breathless.........sort of like running a marathon without training.

4) Be consistent. Exercising for 20 minutes every day is better than trying to fit in an hour once a week. When getting organized you need to create systems that work. If your system is overly complicated you're less likely to be consistent. Be honest with yourself and create a plan that you can realistically follow. Alphabetizing your canned goods may sound like a good idea, but it is difficult to maintain and will frighten friends and family.

5) Get motivated. New running shoes or yoga pants motivate me to exercise. Sometimes you need a little motivation. New bins for your closet, a media organizer for your entry way, or a new desk set can be just the thing to jump start your organization efforts.

A little motivation for you.....

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Books & Publications

When you live in a small house getting organized isn’t a luxury, it’s a must. In fact, I would even go so far as to compare it to cleaning the bathroom, it should be done frequently and thoroughly. Most experts agree that in order to stay organized you must “edit” your belongings. Over the years, I’ve come to accept this as a part of my daily life, for example when a new article of clothing comes in, another goes out. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution, and I do have some weak areas. One of those areas is my book shelf. I’m a collector of information and I need my books and publications.

Information may seem like an odd thing to collect, but my collection has proven useful on more than one occasion. Information not only spurs my
creativity, it allows me to feel helpful to those around me. I feel like the office darling when I can produce information seemingly out of thin air. Someone in the office is researching color trends, and I instantly provide three articles on that very subject. Another co-worker mentions an upcoming trip to Paris, and there I am with a dog-eared travel guide from my trip.

Although I love my collection, it’s useless if I can’t find what I need when I need it, so I’ve come up with some solutions to organizing books and publications in
style. Here are a few of them.

• Create a travel box. Maps and travel guides are never sized to fit well on a book shelf. Label a See Jane Work Letter
Box with the destination or simply “travel” and toss them in. The box will keep these items looking neat and tidy on your shelf.

• Label a Letter Box, pouch or file folder “to buy.” If you’re researching an upcoming purchase and find yourself holding on to related catalogs or articles, simply tear out the appropriate pages and place them in the file folder, letter box or pouch. It’s much easier than going back through all the pages of the magazines or catalogs.

• Create a theme binder. You may find yourself holding onto magazines, when it’s just an article or two you’re interested in. Get a few binders and a large stack of clear sheet protectors, and start tearing out pages of interest. Create a d├ęcor binder to hold magazine pages you’ve collected as inspiration for your next decorating project or dream room; you can also add pocket pages to hold swatches. Create a kitchen binder for articles about cooking or for recipes.

• Planning an event? Create a binder filled with inspirational pictures, articles, and brochures; you can even include blank paper for notes. For a large event, like a wedding, a binder might not be enough. Use a See Jane Work Art or Letter Box to store books, brochures, fabric samples and other event related material.

• Utilize magazine files. Sometimes a holiday or other seasonal magazine issue can be so full of information it is really necessary to keep the entire issue. Organize those magazines in magazine files so you can quickly find an issue.

• Check online. Many print articles are also available online. If so, don’t keep the paper copy. Simply print the online version to a PDF format and save it on your computer. I keep a folder on my computer called “Reference” then create subfolders for specific subjects.

• Instructions and manuals. These are almost always available online. Double-check before you toss them. If you find a few that are not available online store them in a See Jane Work Art or Letter Box.

• Odd size books. Odd sized books, manuals and other publications can make a bookshelf look messy. Group by subject and store them in a See Jane Work Art or Letter Box.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Back-to-School WORK

Have you ever noticed that no matter how old you may appear, you still feel the same inside? Unless faced with a mirror, my age was just a number. Unfortunately, that number became painfully apparent when I attempted to join my kids on a Slip-N-Slide. Now with that experience permanently cemented into my brain and my injured hip, I’ve come to accept that I must give up some vestiges of my youth. I may still enjoy the occasional Popsicle or swing in the park, but I’ve retired my mini-skirts and short-shorts. The one thing that I won’t give up is Back-to-School shopping.

Back-to-School shopping was the only time my father would spend money. He may have believed that with the right notebook I would suddenly understand the quadratic equation. You can’t blame the guy for trying and honestly the reason didn’t really matter. The end result was the same. My dad forked out some cash and I had new clothes and school supplies that somehow made me believe this school year would be different; full of good hair days and good grades.

Every year around this time I get that familiar desire for new clothes and office supplies; a new dress for an important meeting, maybe even just a notebook or pencil cup, something that will jump-start my creativity and inspire me at work. Although my goals have changed, grades no longer matter and a good hair day is when my grays don’t show, the main premise remains. This year will be different. So get inspired and get that promotion!

Must Have Back-To-School List:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Office Organization Checklist

Supplies Needed:

* 8-10 large cardboard boxes for sorting
* Sticky notes
* Sharpies or other marker
* Project Organizer or poly Velcro envelopes

  • Use marker to label cardboard: Donate, Recycle, Trash, Shred, Supplies, To Do, To File, To Store, Belongs Elsewhere.
    ✓ You may also need boxes for Books/Reference materials, or Samples/swatches this will depend on the type of work you do in your office.
  • Sort contents of office into boxes
    ✓ Force yourself to make a decision and apply one of these categories to each item.
  • Donate any excess office supplies, books, etc. to a local school, charity, or library.
    ✓ Donate extra laptop cases or portfolios to Dress for Success.
  • Recycle any excess supplies that can’t be donated including paper.

  • Trash and non-recyclable waste.
    ✓ Toss any loose extra supplies collecting in the bottom of your desk drawer.

  • Shred.
    ✓ This is the place for any sensitive information.

  • Supplies should only be saved if you absolutely need them and plan to use them within a year’s time.
    ✓ If you have a tiny office, remember that work is first and foremost. It’s better to limit your supplies to those you will use in just a few months rather than sacrifice work space.
    ✓ Put just enough supplies in an organizing tray on top of your desk or in your desk drawer.

  • To Do items should include legitimate projects that you are working on sort them into clear poly envelopes, or use file folders or task clips
    ✓This is the perfect time to use decorative file folders. It will set apart your “To Do” items from your “To File” items.
    ✓It couldn’t be too important if you’ve been meaning to do it for two years, items like this are better left undone and out of your “To Do” pile.

  • To File items will need to be sorted into file folders.
    ✓ For now you can label the folders with sticky notes, later create printed labels using word processing software or your neatest handwriting with a felt tip pen.

  • To Store items should be primarily financial records, and a few edited keepsakes.
    ✓ Contact your CPA or look on the IRS website to see how long to keep records.
    ✓ Save as much as possible to a DVD disk and store with your tax return.
    ✓ Limit keepsakes to 1-2 See Jane Work Art Boxes. I store my children’s artwork and other mementos. If they get full I go through and edit.

  • Belongs elsewhere items that have found their way into your office, but really don’t belong need to be removed from the office.
    ✓ If at the office return things to storage room or your car to take home.
    ✓ If at home enlist family members to help you quickly clear out the box, return shoes to closets, etc.

  • Organize odds and ends.
    ✓ Manuals can be found online, no need to store these.
    ✓ Donate rarely used books to the library. You’ll know where to find them if you need them.
    ✓ Organize fabric swatches or other oddly shaped items in clearly labeled storage boxes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Computer Recovery Box

The excitement of getting a new computer can often distract us from the important task of organizing the computer and its accoutrements. Once the screen lights up, you instantly forget about things like the emergency recovery disk. That is, until there is an actual emergency. Part of being organized is being prepared for the times you hope will never arrive but often do.

While on vacation and enjoying some rum punch, my boyfriend (now husband) and I got into a very heated debate about whether a woman should be flattered or insulted by being called an Amazon. In his hurried attempt to Google examples to make his case and avoid being smitten by my Amazonian sword, he accidentally spilled some punch onto the laptop keyboard. At the time, I was mostly upset that I wouldn’t be able to finish my rum punch, but a little later the reality hit. I didn’t know what software was on my computer, where the emergency recovery disks were located and when I called the place I had purchased it from I was told I needed the date of purchase. I could remember the year, but certainly not the actual date.

When I had received the laptop I’d thrown the box and its contents into the garage. I was finally able to locate the box and emergency recovery disk, but software I had added later was stored in various locations throughout my office. It took hours to find each disk and the license keys. All this trouble could have been avoided by either not drinking rum punch while using my computer or by properly organizing my computer in the beginning.

I have since created a Computer Recovery Box. You may never have the occasion to use it, but there is a certain peace of mind that comes from being prepared.

The steps to creating a Computer Recovery Box are as follows:

  1. Purchase a See Jane Work Letter or Art Box (depending on the space needed), or use another secure container with lid.

  2. Label the box with the exact computer it has been created for. For example: Dell Laptop, service tag B5TK3. The service tag or other identifying number can usually be found somewhere on the computer.

  3. Purge any software or hardware you will not be using. For example you probably don’t need 4 free mouse pads or a disk with trial software.

  4. Download and complete the Software Tracker, then log each product ID, date of purchase, software version, and even purchase location.

  5. Retain all receipts for the computer, software, and accessories. Some receipts use ink that tends to fade. Photo copy the receipts whenever possible. The larger size paper is less likely to get lost, and the ink won’t fade.

  6. If you use an online back up system keep the User ID, Password, and a telephone number in the computer box as well. If you actually need the back-up you may not have immediate access to the internet, but you can at least call and find out what steps will be necessary to recover your data.
I hope you never have to use it, but if your computer crashes or even if you upgrade your computer you may need those old license keys and software. You’ll be glad you took the hour or less to set up your Computer Recovery Box. Once you finish pour yourself a rum punch to celebrate, but please don’t drink it near your computer.