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Dear David Allen, The number of ways I treasure your body of work seem countless. Getting Things Done. Your presentation style. The weekly review. Psychic RAM. Deep water of doing. Mind like water. How you dissed me in 2010. The list continues from there. Yours truly, Chicago Productivity Coach

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At Spark Productivity we’re continually searching for methods to increase productivity. This week we were drawn to TagMyDoc–a quick and easy option for sharing information without wasting time following up, making copies, or lugging lots of paper around.

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Reduce Junk Mail

Do you allow your productivity skills to transfer from the office to the home? You may feel pleasantly rewarded in applying one of the easiest productivity lessons to your home mail… eliminate the nonsense.

We often enter cycles where junk mail piles up quickly and/or we are sent beautiful flyers that we spend valuable time looking through only to determine that we are not in the market for those items. To decrease your mail and make better use of your time, consider the following:

  • Use to discontinue mailings. Creating a free account takes one minute and then requires a confirmation click from an email. From there, login to search by company and to remove your address from mailings with only a few clicks.
  • Print this document with four nearly-completed letters requesting you be removed from mailing list rentals. We’ve picked the most abusive organizations as well as the DMA’s Mail Preference Service to result in a tremendous reduction in mail for the 10-minute  investment. (Fill in your name and address. Fold. Staple. Stamp. Done!)
  • Remove deceased contacts from mailing lists by printing and sending the letter in this document.

To prevent mailings from starting in the first place:

  • Do not provide your email address to cashiers.
  • Be cautious of entering contests or accessing free offers.
  • When asked for your address, write on the form, “please do not rent, sell, or trade my name or address.
  • Uncheck boxes in online account set up that would allow mail from the company.
  • Call 1-888-5OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or log on to to permanently remove your name from all prescreened credit offers.

Reducing mailings usually takes about 90 days to see significant results. By following these steps, you will still receive holiday mailings, but you’ll depress it a touch and will start the calendar year off with a tighter lid on the mailbox.

Filertek sent us samples of a smarter tool for paper organization–dry erase file tabs.

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This unique product is useful for building paper filing systems. Some features we found for these file tabs are: 

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  • can use with paper tabs (not our preferred method), printed labels (Avery 5167 return address labels), or with dry-erase marker

  • can use over and over again

  • easy to change a dry erase or printed label–flip open the protective cover, erase or cover the previous label, write in or insert the new label, and flip the cover back down

  • available in clear and colored tabs, and in blister packs of 12 or boxes of 25 or 50

  • clip on and reposition easily, removing the fight to get the tab into the slits in the folder

  • clip onto other products to professionally ad a label  things like letter trays, sorters, notebooks, and paper piles

  • sturdier than other products due to their durable heavy plastic construction that is particularly good for heavily used or shared files

  • slightly larger with a better slant than other 2″ tabs, thus faster for finding the file you are looking for

  • work with any dry erase marker and enables simple color coding of file labels if desired

Our preference was for the clear tabs, as it was harder to read through the colored ones. Additionally, the 25 and 50 tab box sets were nice in that they included a free dry erase pen and we were able to store the additional tabs not needed for our initial project in the box. (Many of our Chicago paper organization clients lose track of the tabs that come with file folders because they were packaged in the plastic bag that is now in the bottom of their drawer under a pile of files. The Filertek box may help store and find any unused tabs more easily when needed.)

describe the imageThese handy little tabs are available at OfficeMax, Walmart, Amazon, and

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We have enjoyed discovering the benefits and time savings of these tabs. What tools have you found for faster and smarter office organization?

Even with the move to the computer era, paper notebooks are not a lost art. The benefits of writing out tasks and points to remember, being able to easily add hand-drawn diagrams, creating a permanent record, and easily  flipping chronologically are some of the advantages we love. If you’ve been unhappy with online notes, we’d like to offer suggestions for how to move back to and organize paper notes.

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Tony Buzan wrote many books on mind mapping–an effective, non-linear technique to dump, and then organize your ideas.

Following are guidelines for creating one:

  1. Begin with your central idea in the middle of a page
  2. Dump all your ideas onto the map without judgment
  3. Use lines to make associations as/if they emerge
  4. Work quickly
  5. Get playful with color, images, turning the page landscape
  6. Once finished, organize using color, numbers, arrows, etc.

    Mind Map

    Three personal productivity Chicago coaching clients of mine have turned to mind mapping of late to increase their output. Following are tales on how they use mind maps to be more productive.


    If you produce well once you get going, but you have a tough time starting (a.k.a. procrastinate), then using a mind map as your starting point might just eliminate a barrier.

    For example, let’s say you’re chairing a conference that is six months away. Rather than wait until the last minute to start producing, let the assignment of the conference be a trigger for creating a mind map on the project. Map out all the different mini projects within the massive one. All of the people who need to be involved. All the of the checkpoints to make the project a success. Then organize the information. Use numbers to suggest an order for completion. Use dates to begin scheduling deadlines.

    Using mind maps for starting typically results in feeling better on two fronts: seeing how much you already know, and breaking something big into smaller parts.


    If you think best when you’re producing the work yourself, then using a mind map to think through an assignment will put you in a better position to delegate.

    For instance, let’s say you want to delegate the creation of a presentation, but you’re unsure of your vision. Rather than do the work yourself, let the thought of delegation be a trigger for creating a mind map. Diagram the primary and secondary messages you want to communicate. The different audience members and their expectations. The definition of a successful outcome. Then organize the information using color, numbers, etc.

    Deploying mind maps for delegating allows not only for reduction in workload, but also for opportunities for others to grow by doing.


    If you’ve struggled with linear-based task tracking systems, then using a mind map to track tasks might be the answer.

    As an illustration, you might track on an ongoing basis all your tasks in a mind map. Rather than try to track all your tasks in your head, let the thought of a new task be the trigger for adding to your map. Map assignments by client. List all the things you’ll complete “someday.” While likely over time the map will feel fundamentally organized, the starburst and colorful nature may appeal to you more than a boring list of to dos.

    Using mind maps for tracking is more fun than a paper planner, so it can deliver an increased chance for sustained change.

    Whether you use paper and pen or go electronic, mind mapping may be just the answer to free up your personal productivity.

    In what instances do you use mind maps?

    The age-old tickler filing system may not have the sexiest name, but it is a powerful time management tool to track tasks. Following are nine steps to turn the old fashioned filing system into a customized machine to help you organize your daily tasks.

    1. Make space for 50-60 hanging file folders in the easiest-to-access place in your office.

    2. Gather 50 high-quality hanging file folders (in your favorite color or colors) & 50 clear tabs. (The daily files consume 43 folders: 12 for the months & 31 for the days. Most people have another half-dozen or so files they add to complete their system.)

    3. Customize & print your tickler tabs (we have several to choose from at the bottom of this post), and then slip them between the plastic flaps.

    4. Then insert the tabs into the front (Illustration 1) of the hanging file folder. Consider using straight-line techniques or color to separate the months from the days from the extras (Illustration 2).

    5. Arrange the hanging file folders in their space in this order or in an order you prefer: Scrap Paper –> Waiting for Response –> 1-31 –> Jan-Dec –> Other

    6. Rotate the files so the day you are experiencing is the day at the front (Illustration 3).

    7. Convert your current tasks to reminder sheets (one per sheet) & drop into your trusty new system. When you’re stuck, ask, “when is the next time I want to be reminded to this?” (You go through a lot of paper in the beginning, but this subsides the more you use the system.)

    8. Commit to using the system every day.

    9. Rejoice in the liberation & peace of mind you just created.

    Select one of these tickler tab sets by clicking the image you want. Further customize after opening. Test print. And then print a final copy on Avery 5167 Return Address labels. You’ll make all your colleagues jealous!

    tickler tabs pink  tickler tabs green purple brown  tickler tabs orange green brown

    tickler labels blue gold lime  tickler tabs blue gold red  Tickler tabs blue green purple

    What tickler tricks do you think others should know?

    I recently tested Shoeboxed, a time-saving service for folks who would be more organized and ready for action if business cards and/or receipts were scanned & accessible electronically.

    Here’s how it works:

    shoeboxed 1

    You submit receipts, business cards and other papers/information using pre-paid envelopes, email, or your phone.

    Shoeboxed scans and enters the data into your Shoeboxed account. (The turnaround depends on your plan. Some plans include returning all paper after scanning…or, if you prefer, shredding and recycling it.)

    shoeboxed 2
    shoeboxed 3

    You access your data via online viewing (you can see the original scan or the data extracted from it), manipulate/view statistics/organize on screen, or export for manipulation in other programs.

    Following are my observations from a small, pre-paid envelope test:

    • Overall I’m extremely pleased with the service and will recommend as a time management tool when situations call for it
    • Changing, moving, editing, enhancing on their site is intuitive
    • For business card scanning

      • Both sides of business cards are scanned and viewable—great for jotted notes
      • These fields are entered automatically: First Name, Last Name, Company, Job Title, E-Mail Address, Zip Code, Business Phone, Mobile Phone, Fax
      • You have to change your account settings for Mailing Address fields to be entered
      • Website addresses are not entered
      • Their CSV export works on most applications; to make it easier, Shoeboxed has tutorials for exporting into Outlook, BlackBerry, Apple Address Book/iPhone, Gmail, LinkedIn, Yahoo and Hotmail
      • Video demo
    • For receipt scanning

      • They receipts were returned neatly stacked & folded
      • These fields are entered automatically: Store Name, Category, Payment Type, Total, Date
      • Their export options allow you to work with Quickbooks, MYOB, Evernote, FreshBooks, Excel or other CSV reader as well as PDF Expense Table with Receipt Images
      • There are loads of extras for receipt scanning including a terrific feature allowing you to send all your online store receipts and coupons to Shoeboxed…ah…fewer emails in your main inbox
      • Video demo
    • For document scanning

      • They scan one side unless you note differently
      • These fields are entered automatically: Name (they select text from the document if you don’t provide one), Create Date (they select a date from the document if you don’t provide one), Note (left blank unless you provide notes)
      • Two items I sent exceeded their machine size (8.5″x11″), so they sent it back with a note saying “we’re sorry this item is too large to fit through our scanners”

    I find this service exciting for my clients who have loads of business cards and/or receipts. Their pricing structures are reasonable given you can outsource your scanning without buying a scanner or hiring an assistant.

    Have you used Shoeboxed? What is your experience?

    *Shoeboxed is currently (September, 2010) experiencing delays in service. If you’ve got a project with quick turnaround demands, call them before signing up.

    freedom filer

    How was filing your taxes last week? Did you have difficulty finding all the proper papers to give to your tax preparer or to complete the forms yourself? Did you have to think about where to file all the papers after the forms were complete? Did you create a new 2009 file?

    If you’d like to make filing tax papers easier next year, then invest in the FreedomFiler. The traditional methods most people use to file are greatly enhanced using their home filing label kit.

    One of the linchpins in the system is a 10-year tax archive (the dark-blue folders in the back of the picture). From their website:

    “After finishing taxes, staple all supporting documents by category and file them into a single folder in your tax archive, along with a copy of your actual tax forms. Label the ten folders in your tax archive as follows ‘Tax Year 0’, ‘Tax Year 1’, up to ‘Tax Year 9’. File 2004 taxes in ‘Tax Year 4’, 2005 in ‘Tax Year 5’, and so on. Reuse each tax folder every ten years, automatically removing the documents left over from ten years past. If you prefer to keep your actual tax forms (1040, W2 etc) beyond ten years, you may set up ten additional folders, one for each tax decade, ‘Tax Decade 00-09’, ‘Tax Decade 10-19’, up to ‘Tax Decade 90-99’.”

    Another key is their short-term odd/even tax folders (the light blue folders in the picture). The odd/even nature of the files means you reuse the folders year after year. Hip! Hip! From their website: 

    “Set aside any tax related documents you accumulate during the year in a dedicated section of your filing drawer. Set up tax folders according to your tax needs. You may only need a single folder for your W-2 and any miscellaneous deductions. On the other hand, you may create separate folders for itemized deductions or for home business receipts. For example, ‘Medical Expenses’, ‘Charitable Contributions’, or ‘Business Bank Statements’, ‘Supplies’, and so on. Refer to you most recent tax return to see what paper records were required. Don’t worry, you can always adapt your tax folders later if you are unsure. This will help speed up your tax preparation the following years.”

    The system takes some getting use to, but once you learn the new way, you won’t remember life without Freedom Filer.

    To receive special pricing on FreedomFiler products, use reference number 8481248 during checkout.

    paper-based action fileA desktop action file positions current files (and control over paper) at your fingertips.

    What Belongs in an Action File?

    All the papers triggering you to do something today, in the next few weeks, or regularly should live in an Action File. (e.g., make a phone call, enter information into your address book, visit a website, read, research, write an email, review a statement for accuracy, file in long-term filing, enter transactions into the computer.)

    What Doesn’t Belong in an Action File?

    All the papers you’re keeping for reference or legal reasons, but do not require action on a near-term or regular basis should be archived or stored in a long-term filing system. (e.g., completed project files, tax-related papers, manuals, insurance policies, best practice articles, performance reviews, maintenance records, birth certificate.)

    Steps to Create a Categorical Action File

    1. Schedule a few hours to create an Action File.

    2. Gather all your loose papers, a scratch pad, and a pen.

    3. Take the first piece of paper and ask yourself “What is the next action I need to take to get this piece of paper out of my life?”. Write down the answer on the scrap paper and begin a pile of papers labeled with this category heading. Move onto the next paper and repeat. (Most people end up with categories such as recycle, shred, read, write, call, data enter, pay, pending, file, and then special categories to fit their unique situation.)

    4. Assess your categories, and condense where possible. Tally the number of categories and evaluate if you can create a file system with your current office supplies, or if you’ll need to purchase new ones.

    5. Shop for new materials if necessary. (Some of our favorites are this desktop file box and these hanging and file folders.)

    6. Install your office products and place the piles of papers into their properly labeled new homes.

    7. Add reminders to your calendar. Either specifically call out special tasks with deadlines, or add reminders to go through certain file folders on specified dates to ensure deadlines are not missed.

    8. Maintain the system by keeping up with your filing and reminder system, and by removing files you haven’t used in a month or more.

    9. Bask in the clear space and control you just created.

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    Wondering how to improve productivity?

    Spark Productivity delivers customized training solutions that help individuals and teams become more focused, joyful, and confident as they improve productivity.
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