Win Your Day with Time Blocking and Time Boxing

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference Read More

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference to bureaucracy, but it is a perfect explanation for what happens to tasks and projects without boundaries. Tiffanie Wen provides an excellent deep dive in her article, “The Law That Explains Why You Can’t Get Anything Done.

Projects and Tasks

Every project should have a deadline. A deadline, whether imposed by you or someone else, creates a boundary, and boundaries are good. Not only do they provide structure, but they also help you prioritize.

According to David Allen’s GTD system (Getting Things Done), anything that requires two or more tasks to complete is a project. And if a project has a deadline, the tasks that support it should also have their own deadlines. If you have six important tasks to accomplish in a month, but only four have specific deadlines, those tasks with deadlines will be prioritized at the top of the list. The two tasks with vague or non-existent deadlines will flounder at the bottom of the list and may not get done at all.

So how can you structure your day so that your tasks and projects actually are completed? How do you motivate yourself when you are staring at a monitor or junk room and overwhelmed at the enormity of the work ahead? By putting boundaries around your time with Time Blocking, Time Chunking, and/or Time Boxing.

Before I explain how this works, let’s weed out one term. Time Blocking and Time Chunking are used interchangeably, so I will refer only to Time Blocking and Time Boxing in this article.

Time Blocking

Schedule for Time Blocking in 25 Minute Increments

Time Blocking involves dedicating a block of time to a task or project. With the Pomodoro Method, developed by Frances Cocirillo, you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat. One round of this is referred to as a Pomodoro (think of a traditional tomato-shaped kitchen timer). After the fourth round, take a longer break. Are you dreading a big, time-consuming project? It’s less overwhelming when you only have to commit to 25 minutes of intentional work at a time. This graphic shows what that might look like.

That’s a strict schedule but with about six hours and forty minutes of focused work time. Think that’s not enough? According to a study of 2,000 office workers, most people who work an eight hour day are only productive for about three hours. So, if you achieve this schedule, you are twice as productive as most. There are health benefits for breaking up your work session. According to the American Optometric Association, to prevent eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at something at least 20 feet away. Working within short blocks of time can help achieve that.

Hacking the Tomato (Pomodoro)

Schedule for Time Blocking in 50-Minute Increments

For most tasks, the Pomodoro method works for me. But when I get in a writing zone, I don’t want to stop. If stopping after 25 minutes feels like an interruption that stymies your workflow, try different durations until you find one that works for you. In his book, The Time Chunking Method: A 10-Step Action Plan for Increasing Your Workflow and Skyrocketing Your Productivity, Damon Zahariades found he works better with longer blocks/chunks of time. This graphic shows a much more condensed schedule for six and a half hours of focused work.

Time Boxing

Time Blocking is an excellent way to stay on track, but you can still stretch a project out without additional boundaries. Enter Time Boxing. With this technique, you set a limit on the amount of time you will spend on a task or project. If you want to get a blog post written in four hours, schedule the time on your calendar and get to work. At the end of the four hours, evaluate if the task is done or “good enough.” If you absolutely must spend more time on it, then schedule the minimum amount of time you might need to finish.

This is an excellent practice if you have perfectionist tendencies. And if you often miscalculate how much time a task or project takes to complete, this technique will help you create more realistic estimates – a key component of good project management.

Time Blocking vs. Time Boxing

So which technique should you choose? Either will help you manage your time better, but they can also be used effectively together. Use Time Boxing to schedule when you will complete a task and Time Blocking to keep your focus and momentum during that time limit.

I’d love to hear what works for you. How do you manage your time?

Need help with productivity? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Get a Password Manager and Get Organized!

Note: This post includes referral links and although clicking on them won’t cost you more, as an Amazon Associate and LastPass affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. You Need a Password Manager “It’s on a piece of paper somewhere. Maybe the back of an envelope or a Post-it note? Where is it?!” And so begins Read More

Note: This post includes referral links and although clicking on them won’t cost you more, as an Amazon Associate and LastPass affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

You Need a Password Manager

Colorful sticky notes on laptop keyboard
You need a password manager!

“It’s on a piece of paper somewhere. Maybe the back of an envelope or a Post-it note? Where is it?!” And so begins the typical search for an elusive password. Eventually, we find it, or give up and create a new one. And that one is hastily scribbled on a small piece of paper, or added to a sheet filled with other user names and passwords, some crossed out and with question marks. I am impressed by how much writing can fit on one page. Words fill the margins, some crossed out and erased, while others swirl around the corners as if in a vortex.

When I work with clients, friends, parents, and other family members, password discovery and recovery is often a time-consuming part of my digital organizing* work. It is frustrating for all when our momentum is stymied by having to stop and search, wait for reset emails to arrive in the inbox, and enter codes and answers to secret questions. But more importantly, weak or overused passwords increase the risk of information and identity being stolen. I always recommend a password manager of some type.

*Digital organizing is streamlining and decluttering your computer and digital workspace such as online accounts, email, document storage systems, photos, spreadsheets, basic word processing, etc.

Everyone needs a password management system, whether paper or online. My preference is an online system, but if you prefer paper, consider a logbook made for that purpose. Please avoid these:

  • A blank notebook. If you handwrite passwords, make it as easy as possible by having templates that include space for a website URL, user name, password, and notes (for security answers, and PINs). If you are in a hurry, you might miss something if you have to write the prompts.
  • Random pieces of paper (this is a habit to break!)
  • Excel or Word (or any other spreadsheet or word processing program). If you are worried about a vetted online password manager being easily hacked, do not try to create your own.

Here are the pros and cons of password logbooks and online password managers:

Password Logbook

What it is:

An organized notebook with templates for storing passwords, similar to an address book. Most have a removable cover to make it unidentifiable.

Pros:
  • Paper can’t be hacked; just keep it in a safe place.
  • If you are not comfortable with technology, this is a simple alternative.
  • You can see everything at once.
Cons:
  • Once found, paper can be read!
  • It’s portable, but not really. In fact, I recommend password logbooks be left at home to reduce the chance of loss or theft. Since you won’t be carrying it with you, you won’t have access to your passwords when you need them. If you forget to bring your insurance card to the doctor’s office you may not be able to easily pull up your insurance site on your phone and email them a card.
  • Passwords must be updated manually.
  • You might be tempted to use simpler passwords that are easier to write quickly.
Here are two examples:
  • The Personal Internet Address & Password Logbook: The cover is removable so as not to identify the contents. Sections are included for internet information such as WIFI set-up, email accounts, internet service providers, etc. Peter Pauper Press offers this in many designs and this brand is my favorite.
  • BookFactory Password Journal/Password Organizer: This book is spiral-bound, which makes it easier to hold and flip through. But the cover has “*******” on the front, so if you purchase this book purely for the spiral binding, cover the title.

Online Password Manager

What it is:

An online tool to manage your passwords. Most have free versions and/or a trial period and an upgrade. The paid versions are subscription-based.

Pros:
  • You can sync across devices and access them from anywhere.
  • Your login information can be auto-filled.
  • You can generate random passwords and have them updated automatically.
Cons:
  • As with anything online, it can be hacked. Follow the recommendations for how often to change and update your master password and follow any recommended protocol – such as two-step authentication – to reduce your overall risk.
  • If you are not familiar or comfortable with using technology, then it might be a challenge to learn.
  • If you lose your “master password” (the one you use to access the site) it may be irretrievable (as with LastPass).
My recommendation:
LastPass by LogMeIn logo in red and black
A password manager and vault app

I’ve been using LastPass for years and it is the password manager I recommend to clients. Each year I check reviews, and as of this writing, it still ranks very high. There are some other good ones – Dashlane and 1Password, for instance – but I have no reason to switch (if I did, I could export the data). I asked two internet security experts about their opinion of password managers in general. Although I expected them to recommend a password logbook, both said they use LastPass!

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Passwords vs. Passphrases

Even if you choose to use an online password manager, there is one password I encourage you to write down and keep in a safe place: your master password. That’s the one you use to access your online account. If you lose it, it can’t be recovered. So what do you use for this critical password?

“Through 20 years of effort, we’ve successfully trained everyone to use passwords that are hard for humans to remember, but easy for computers to guess.” ~ Randall Munroe, author of the popular webcomic XKCD

The differences:

I’ve been hesitant to write this blog post because of all the different and changing expert advice in the tech community. There is some controversy/dialogue over the effectiveness of passwords vs. passphrases. What’s the difference? A password is (or should be) a random group of letters and numbers with maybe a few odd characters thrown in. The key here is random. A passphrase, on the other hand, is made up of random words with or without spaces in between. Although random, you can actually remember it. Some sites might still require you to include a capital letter and number, but a random word grouping with those tweaks is still easier to remember than a random group of characters. Here are examples:

Password: d96wsk!wp3iQ

Passphrase: dog pipe carpet what soup or dogpipecarpetwhatsoup or dogpipecarpetwhatsouP2

Choose your system:

You can dive deeper into the comparison in this article by Ben Wolford from Proton, but this is what I do:

  • I use LastPass. You can find a quick demonstration of LastPass in my YouTube video, A Few of My Favorite Apps at location 6:40.
  • Create a passphrase of five random words for my master password.
  • Let my password manager generate random passwords for all of the sites I store.
  • Designate someone to have emergency access to my password manager.

Do you still want to write things on sticky notes and scrap pieces of paper? Then write the date on them so you’ll have a clue as to what the note was in reference to or how dated the information is. Perhaps the extra work will inspire you to record that information in the right place – like a password manager!

Need help getting your system in place?

Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Life/Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Five Questions to Ask Yourself to Tame Your Monkey Mind

Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term to describe a restless, unsettled or confused mind. Sometimes I head to bed at night wide-eyed alert, but tired. My mind is still going even though I desperately need sleep. I play a hypnosis app that usually works well to talk me down and into sleep, but there are nights Read More

Photo of two monkeys on a hill in India by Ahmed Zayan on UnsplashMonkey Mind is a Buddhist term to describe a restless, unsettled or confused mind.

Sometimes I head to bed at night wide-eyed alert, but tired. My mind is still going even though I desperately need sleep. I play a hypnosis app that usually works well to talk me down and into sleep, but there are nights my monkey mind opens the door and lets in a squirrel and a hamster for good measure to party with the monkeys. Together they work through scenarios and problems, and in general, take up where I left off before going to bed. It’s exhausting!

Who needs sleep? (I do! You do!)

This often happens when I’m avoiding something and/or my mind is a cluttered wasteland of to-do’s, pending deadlines and unclear goals. One particular week, I was behind in my planner. The long list of tasks I had assigned to each day had created a log jam, with no time carved out to actually do them. In my enthusiasm for achieving my goals, I apparently had not allotted time for sleeping and recharging, ergo the unwanted visitors now carousing in my mind each night. I had unrealistic expectations for what I could accomplish each day.

Taming my own Monkey Mind

This is probably not the scenario you’d expect from a professional organizer or productivity coach, right? No, it sounds like I desperately needed to become my own client! But really, I just needed to tame my monkey mind.

When this happens, I crawl out of bed before the alarm, make some coffee and sit for meditation. It may sound incongruous to wake up only to sit and nearly close my eyes again for 20 minutes, but meditating in the morning helps clear my mind for the day so I have better focus. Once I am done, I ask myself these questions to evict those marsupials and their noisy friends:

  • What deadlines are approaching?
  • What events are coming up and what do I need to do to prepare for them?
  • Are there any phone calls I need to make?
  • Which tasks am I avoiding?
  • What am I taking on that isn’t mine?

Deadlines:

The first thing I do is check my schedule for upcoming deadlines. If I haven’t already done this, I treat them as projects and break them down into tasks. Then I assign each to a day. If more than 30 minutes is needed, I block out time on my calendar. Whew! It’s a relief to have things scheduled!

One Chimpanzee down.

Events and be-there’s

Years ago I attended a Frankin-Covey What Matters Most seminar where calendar events were referred to as “be-there’s.” The main difference between be-there’s and project time on the calendar is that be-there’s involve more preparation. So, I consider what I need to do to be ready and engaged in this event. Do I need to drive somewhere? What do I need to take? What do I need to do beforehand (order supplies, pack car, charge up my headset, etc.)? Anything I need to do to be prepared goes into my planner.

The squirrel scampers away.

Reminders

Uncertain schedules really keep my monkey mind going, so I set reminders. For webinars I attend online, I set one-hour and 15-minute reminders. For client coaching calls, I set one-hour and 30-minute reminders so that I have time to review notes. For be-there’s I need to travel to, I set two-hour and 30-minute prior to travel time reminders. This way, nothing sneaks up on me!

A Rhesus monkey swings away through the trees (hopefully away from north Florida).

Phone calls

When a client is overwhelmed with either how many things they need to do or not knowing where to start, I suggest they ask themselves three questions:

  • What will reduce my stress if I take care of it today?
  • What will have a big impact on the future (could be as simple as making doctor’s appt or searching for a new one)?
  • Which completed task will make my significant other/friend/family member happy?

It could be something as simple as a phone call, and those don’t take very long! So pick up the phone and make the appointment, order the prescription, or get an answer to your question. Then you can move on with the rest of your day and get the wheels turning.

A Howler monkey quiets down and disappears (seriously, I think all the monkeys in my mind are Howlers!).

What am I avoiding?

One weekend I bought two potted herb plants from the grocery store. I set them down on the porch for repotting later. Every day as I walked passed them, I remembered I needed to plant them before they died. But the thought of putting on gloves, filling pots with dirt, planting and watering just made me procrastinate more.

Because they were in little peat pots I had to water them frequently. No, they didn’t die, but two weeks later they were definitely unhappy. So, out of curiosity, I set a timer. Then I grabbed my gloves and less than five minutes later, they were repotted and I was done, including scrubbing under my nails. Just FIVE minutes!

I’ve timed a few normal household tasks and found I could make my bed in less than two minutes, put away dishes in three, and unload a laundry basket (actually hanging and folding, not dumping) in less than five.

So what are you putting off? Unloading the dishwasher? Putting away clean clothes? Opening mail? Set a timer and get it done, and you’ll have a better awareness of how long tasks really take.  Then perhaps you won’t avoid them in the future. Have a bigger task to tackle, like cleaning out the garage, filing taxes, or filing anything? ? Try the Pomodoro technique and set a timer for 25 minutes. You can stick with just about any task for 25 minutes!

The hamster gets off the wheel and curls up to sleep.

What am I worrying about that isn’t mine?

One of my favorite sayings is “Not my circus, not my monkeys!” Sometimes, when working at warp speed, we add things to our list of things to do that really shouldn’t be there. Although I try not to ask my clients a question starting with “why” (it can sound a little judgmental), it’s okay for you to ask yourself this key question:

"Not my circus, not my monkeys" quote with little monkeys falling through a circus background

“Why am I doing this?”

For full impact, ask it out loud! If your answer is a little unconvincing, follow-up with these:

  • Is this going to help me reach my goals?
  • If I don’t do this, what will happen/not happen?
  • Am I the right person to do this?

Hopefully, you’ll trim that list just a little more. And with that, the three remaining little spider monkeys traipse off together. I’ve always wanted to use the word traipse in a blog post so here it is! #lifegoals

Am I recommending that if you can’t sleep you get up and do all these things? Absolutely not! But writing it down will clear your mind and ease any anxiety about what you need to get done the next day, and absent a monkey mind, you might just get some sleep!

Need help getting organized, whether with physical or mental clutter? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, life and productivity coaching. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Life/Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Supercharge Productivity with Smartphone Reminders

Supercharge Productivity with Smartphone Reminders Did you set some New Year’s resolutions that you have yet to take action on? Well, dust off those goals and start making real progress with smartphone reminders! Your smartphone comes with a default reminders app that can help you build habits and routines. If you ask your phone’s personal Read More

Supercharge Productivity with Smartphone Reminders

White smartphone on orange background with exclamation point symbol on phoneDid you set some New Year’s resolutions that you have yet to take action on? Well, dust off those goals and start making real progress with smartphone reminders!

Your smartphone comes with a default reminders app that can help you build habits and routines. If you ask your phone’s personal assistant to set a reminder (“Set a reminder to call Bob at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow), that’s where you’ll find it. Note: I’ll be referring to iOS, but Android users have one too. Also, the information in this post will most certainly be outdated as apps come and go, improve or disappear, and technology advances overall. But the basic concepts are “evergreen.”

I use reminders to help me achieve annual goals and resolutions. Want to track your food intake? Set a lunchtime and evening reminder to keep you on track. Want to meditate every morning? Set a daily reminder. Do you forget to set out your recycling bin? Set a weekly/bi-weekly reminder for the night before pickup. Want to remember to record your odometer reading every January 1st? Set an annual reminder. It feels good to check off a reminder when you complete a task!

Reminders vs. Alerts set in Appointments

Are you confused about when to add a reminder and when to add an appointment? Me too, sometimes! Reminders are for things I need to do and alerts are notifications I set for appointments: places I need to be (in-person or virtual), or blocks of specific project time. If you have reminders for tasks that will take more than fifteen minutes to do, then blocking out time on your calendar would be a good thing, especially if you are trying to build a routine, a group of related habits completed in the same order each time.

When I create an appointment on my calendar (Google, Outlook, iCal, etc.), I always set alerts. For most phone appointments I set one for one hour before, and another for fifteen minutes before. For appointments I need to drive to, I enter the location and then set an alert for two hours before I have to leave and another for 30 minutes before I have to leave. This allows for traffic issues.

Why more than two alerts are helpful

Sometimes I want an extra alert for an appointment that requires extra prep time or that is very infrequent. For example, my dentist is in a town an hour away from me. Setting an alert one week prior gives me time to plan another appointment or errand in the area. I’ve found that the default calendar on my iPhone only has an option for two alerts, but I can add more if working from the app on my laptop. Google calendars offer unlimited alerts.

Explore and Customize Features for Smartphone Reminders:

  • Choose the day: If this is a one-time occurrence, just pick the day and time.
  • Set repeating reminders: How frequently do you want to take the action? You can choose daily, weekly, monthly, etc., or you can also customize the date to the 14th of every month, third Thursday, etc.
  • Set a repetition end date: If you no longer need this reminder after a certain date, then set an end date for the repetition. If you are setting reminders to build new habits and routines, then you can delete them when the habit is ingrained. Not sure how long that might take? Read about habits and routines in my post, Five Myths About Goals, Habits, and Willpower
  • Choose the ideal time of day: When is the best time of day to get this reminder? Would you get more benefit out of exercising first thing in the morning? Would a little yoga before bed help you sleep better? Set the reminder when you need the nudge, giving you enough time to complete the task.
  • Set a level of importance: I am not using this feature, but do set a level of importance if you have so many reminders you need to prioritize them.
  • Include emojis: One or two visuals can be a nice prompt. I added sunrise and sun emojis to my Morning Meditation reminder. 🙂
  • Set a location: Want a reminder to buy special stamps next time you are near your post office or to drop off a bag of donations when you are near your favorite charity? You can plug in the location and get a reminder when you are nearby.
  • Create lists: When writing this post, I realized I haven’t really used this feature. I just piled all my reminders into the one default list. In fact, I was going to write, “As much as I like the Reminders app, this is list overkill for me. I have so many other lists that I want to keep this simple.” But then I realized that I have soooo many reminders it was taking me a while to find the ones I need. So, I now use the default list for one-time reminders and created lists for repeating reminders. Whew! Clutter-free lists are a good thing. I no longer see my annual and “far into the future reminders” such as “Record odometer reading on January 1st“and “Renew my DBA in 2021” every single day. Here are the reminder lists I use:
    • Daily
    • Weekly/Bi-weekly
    • Monthly/Quarterly
    • Annually
    • Far off

Integrating Smartphone Reminders into your Calendar

Want to see your reminders in your calendar? For a time, I considered using Google calendar (it is awesome!) but that requires a Gmail account and the one I have is for personal emails. My work email addresses are based on my domain, so Google isn’t an option. So I use iCal and Outlook for my business emails. Since iCal does not include reminders in the schedule, I found that the Fantastical 2 app (as of this writing) allows me to also see all my calendar items along with reminders for the day, in order of scheduled time. Pretty cool! But also pretty cluttered. So the only thing I use Fantastical 2 for is duplicating and moving appointments, something it is excellent for.

SmartWatch Notifications

If you have a smartwatch, one that will vibrate when you get a reminder, then it is “smart” to turn on notifications for that device. I absolutely love this feature, because I hate the sound of a ringing phone! Hate is probably too strong a word, since a wonderful person may be calling me, but the sound jars me out of whatever task/creative thinking I am involved in. So, the sound AND vibration on my phone are always off. A big plus to this is I never have to worry about my phone ringing in meetings, movie theatres, medical offices, etc.

An embarrassing story…

I’ve never told anyone this story until now. It’s especially embarrassing because I worked for over a decade in human resources and hired over 500 college students!

When I got my first smartphone, the technology was a bit overwhelming, but I was so happy to have all the features of a small computer at my fingertips! I’d been let go from a job after the company I worked for went bankrupt and five months later I had finally landed a job interview. Yep, it took five months!

Right before I met with the manager of a company I really wanted a job with, I dutifully turned off the sound on my phone (I had learned that much!), but midway through the interview, I realized with horror what I’d forgotten to do. My purse began buzzing, loudly, and started vibrating on the nearby table. I’d forgotten to turn off the vibration notification feature for phone calls and someone was calling me.

Maybe it was so loud because the phone was rattling next to my keys. Not sure, but what I was sure of was I had no idea how to turn it off! The interviewer looked a bit annoyed and I mumbled something about a new phone. The buzzing finally stopped. The interview ended. I did not get the job. I blame the phone. And my (now ex) husband, who had been calling me to see how the interview was going. Okay, maybe not his fault, but I digress… The point is, a ringing or even vibrating phone can be noisy and distracting. A vibrating smartwatch, not so much.

Sample List of Smartphone Reminders

Screen shot of reminders lists on smartphone including, Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Annual listsHere are some of the smartphone reminders I have set:

Daily

  • Morning meditation
  • Mantras
  • Daily plank
  • Check Thumbtack (7:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m.)
  • Evening routine: floss, vitamins
  • Record meals in MyFitnessPal
  • Cycle for 15 minutes

Weekly/Bi-weekly

  • Take out the trash
  • Take out the recycling
  • Schedule gym workouts
  • Update meal kits
  • Update mileage in MileIQ
  • Update Quickbooks
  • Update client files
  • Schedule networking events
  • Update websites

Monthly/Quarterly

  • Choose Audible books
  • Use Verizon rewards
  • Resend newsletter
  • Pay rent
  • Pay bills
  • Change air filter
  • Check Google Ads performance

Annual/Semi reminders

  • Record odometer for the new year
  • Change smoke alarm batteries
  • Look for tax forms (Amazon Affiliates, Acorns)
  • Schedule annual medical appointments
  • Schedule dental checkup

Far off…

  • Renew my DBA fictitious name
  • Renew driver’s license
  • Renew domains

What tasks have you been forgetting or putting off? What habits do you want to build? If you are ready to be more productive, reach your goals and stay on top of tasks, then grab your smartphone and add those reminders!

Need help with productivity? I am happy to help you create your last filing system ever! Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, life and productivity coaching! I’d love to help you get organized so you can live the life you desire.

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

The Last Filing System You’ll Ever Need

A Filing System for Paper Management Note: This post on filing systems contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I may earn a commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. Most people need some sort of filing system to use for paper management, even if Read More

A Filing System for Paper Management

Note: This post on filing systems contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I may earn a commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link.

Most people need some sort of filing system to use for paper management, even if they prefer to go digital whenever possible. But what about insurance policies, warranties, and user manuals, certificates, passports, and health records, to name a few? You’ll want a place to easily file these things so they don’t turn into clutter. Ready to set up or redo a paper filing system? Here are some decisions to make before you purchase supplies.

Folders or just hanging folders?

Unless you want double work labeling, only hanging folders are needed. Plain manilla folders are very useful, however, during an initial sort of all your paper. Scribble temporary file names with a pencil and erase later for reuse.

Value/cheap or quality hanging files?

How annoying is it to have a hanging file fall apart (the metal piece separates from the file) or the hooks on the end of the files fall off the rails? Double annoying! Go ahead and buy the default dark green or brown files, but please, please, invest in reinforced versions like this one. Better yet, buy the Surehook brand, and not only will your hanging files stay in one piece, but they’ll also stay on the rails. The hooks are longer! You will thank me in a few years, or at least you won’t have regrets!

Solid color hanging files or multi?

q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B002HI9RKM&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=zenyourden05 20Having all hanging files the same color makes filing easier and is probably a little cheaper. Just make sure you choose a color you won’t mind looking at for years! If you thrive on color for different categories, then these Surehook folders in mixed boxes of red, blue, green, orange, and yellow will work well. AND they work very well with the filing system I recommend.

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File tab in front or back?

Should the hanging file tab be attached to the front of the file or the back? While we’re at it, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Was that dress on the internet blue and black, or white and gold? Either way, you’re right. My preference is to put file tabs on the front of the folder so I can grab them and drop papers in behind. But I have many clients who prefer tabs to be placed on the back of the folder so they can grab the file and place papers in front of it. Just pick one method and stick with it.

Left-align, center-align, right-align, or stagger file tabs?

I’ve always liked the look of staggered tabs. But here’s the thing about that layout: it slows me down. My eyes dart from left to right and back again when looking for a file. And when I add a new file, I have to reorder a few tabs around it so the order makes sense to me. And it bugs me when, if I am using a five-tab system, the first four tabs in a group are related, but the fifth one isn’t. It just looks wrong to me. Confusing? Yes. Nitpicky? Well, maybe…

I now recommend that all tabs be left-aligned, with an optional category tab placed on the far right of the folder that starts a new category or group of files. Our eyes naturally look to the left first anyway. No more eyes darting all over the files; just a quick scan from front to back with the prompt of a category tab if needed. This system works well with drawers or carts where files are stored front to back. But if files are stored sideways in lateral file cabinets, then align the tabs so they are at the front of the drawer, whether left or right-aligned. If you access files in this type of drawer while facing right, then your tabs need to be right-aligned, and vice versa.

Place papers in the file with the top of the papers pointing to the left or right?

This may seem like a small detail, but if you don’t want to spend your time shuffling papers around so they all point the same direction, you need a system.

Do you have a file nearby? Stop what you are doing and pull the papers out. Which hand did you use? If you used your right hand, then put papers in files with the top of the pages pointing to the left. If you used your left hand to pull the papers out, then it makes sense to put the papers in with the tops pointing to the right. But wait, are these your personal files, or do these files need to be accessed by others as well? If the latter, you may need to have papers pointing to the left. Why? Because right-handers rule the world. I know this because I was born left-handed, learned how to write with my left hand, and then was made to switch so I would conform (my teachers meant well!). Although I’ve been writing with my right hand for decades, my tendency would still be to grab papers with my left hand. But I am in the minority and most of my clients would prefer their papers point to the left. Once you’ve decided this, explain your preference to anyone else who accesses these files.

I’m getting dizzy, are you? On to more concrete options!

Drawer, tub, crate, or rolling cart?

First, are you an Innie or an Outie? If you prefer things to be in drawers or closets – out of view so they aren’t visual distractions – then you may be an Innie. If you need things out in plain view for visual inspiration and also because out-of-site means out-of-mind to you, then you may be an Outie. Take this tendency into consideration along with how and where you use your files.

Elfa rolling file cart with Freedom Filer Filing SystemDo you want to keep your files tucked out of sight and in one room only? If you promise to open them frequently to file things and purge as needed, then fill your drawers with files. If you aren’t so sure those things will happen, then consider using drawers for archived files like tax returns, reference material, or supplies.

Do your files need to leave the premises? Consider tubs or crates that fit in your trunk. Do you like to work at your kitchen table or sofa? Consider a rolling file cart that you can roll out of sight later.

Do you hate filing and/or have ADD or ADHD? Consider an “open” filing system such as a file cart, crate, or tub minus the lid. Removing extra steps to filing (open door to the office, pull the drawer out…) simplifies filing.

I use drawers for supplies, reference material, and archived files like tax returns. I use this rolling cart from The Container Store for all my frequently accessed files (monthly statements, policies, ID’s, warranties, etc) and a step rack for active files (prospects, business cards for follow-up, receipts to log). The step rack should be within reach of your workspace.

Labeling systems

A good system will make it easy to file and retrieve items. A great system will be evergreen – you won’t need to update file labels if you move, use different utility companies, or have a significant life change. The filing system I recommend and use with nearly all my clients is Freedom Filer.

This is a color-coded labeling system (a pack of labels) for home filing with add-ons for:

  • Self-employed
  • Business
  • Employees
  • Customers and Jobs
  • Vendors

The Home 1/5 tab version is ideal for most people. The 1/3 system is more detailed, so compare them both if you aren’t sure. There are enough labels to make separate health and ID files for a family of four, with plenty of blank labels. You can purchase add-ons if needed, although most people don’t need them.

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You will need 60-80 hanging files and tabs to create a complete filing system with this kit. If you want to use colored hanging files that match Freedom Filer’s labels, then these Surehook files are perfect. Yellow is not one of the system’s label colors, but you can use those for archived tax files and warranty files.

Ready to get started? Order a filing kit directly from FreedomFiler using my discount link.   While there, check out all their different products including the Elfa rolling cart that I recommend to all my clients. This is a $10 discount from The Container Store.

Need help with this project? I am happy to help you create your last filing system ever! Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, or life and productivity coaching! I’d love to help you get organized so you can live the life you desire.

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO