Category Archives: Productivity

All The Post-It Notes

Office supplies

Office supplies (Photo credit: Marjut)

I’ve been in my new job about five weeks now. It may be my favorite workplace out of any I’ve been in so far. All the office supplies I could want are made available without any need for me to cajole or hunt down.

Now that I’ve gotten comfortable with the work itself, I’m starting to attack my file system. A certain amount of it is mandatory – a tickler file for appointments, for example – but for the most part, I’m left to my own devices. So far, I’m spending a lot of time re-sorting the other files in my drawer, labelling and re-labelling as I decide what I need.

I happened to come in at a very busy time, so I didn’t get the opportunity to decide on “systems” for myself as I went. I’m paying for it now as I catch up, but in the long run I think it’ll be good for me – it means I’ve had a chance to figure out how everything works and try several different things before settling into System 1.0. And of course there will always be System 2.0 when things inevitably change.

In the meantime, I have three different sizes of post-it notes in about eight different colors. And that makes up for a lot.

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On Cleaning

Recently I graduated from college for the second time. The first time I graduated I turned my unused third bedroom into an office. It was wonderful, but when I returned to college the time for an “office” was gone and I spent most of my “free” time in labs and making electronics work. Thus, my office became a junk room.

Today I felt the need to clean it out. The holiday before the start of school will be here soon, the last hurrah for yard sales and I want to get in on the resale of my items. People tend to talk about cleaning as a purging. They speak as though they are getting rid of a part of them that had been bogging them down. To me, however, this experience has felt like remembering someone else. Someone who I really loved, but didn’t have much time to keep up with recently was in that room and I can’t believe I nearly forgot all about her. I used to be a fairly good artist. I used to write fiction. Piles of old work is in that office and now it has a proper place again.

I felt like I was looking at myself. A young woman, a manager in a large company who was still reeling from a degree in Literature was staring right into me. Me, a woman who is now a biomedical technician and all too happy to be done with school. I found myself again in old works that aren’t that bad, really. Old things that can be polished with my new world view and my more technical edge are sitting on a desk that probably needs replaced in the near future. I cosplay now too, so that would easily have a place in this office with Old Me. I went through bookshelves and felt like I’d found myself again. A large piece of me that I didn’t have time to visit in that office. While I did get rid of a lot of old books, I sat aside things that I will mail to friends and family, I took down old pictures and cards to put in my memory box, I’m not giving her up again. Old Me and Me are one person again, finally.

What I was looking for, it turned out, was just me.

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Wait, Let Me Check. Yup, I’m Broke.

For some reason people have been coming to me with a lot of money woes lately. Not that I mind, I do financial planning of sorts for a living. I help people adjust their spending. In today’s times of high gas prices and rising costs of food, schooling, and just about everything, almost everyone needs some adjustment.

Before I continue, don’t think I’m another rich person telling poor people what they are doing wrong. I’ve been homeless for a period of my life, living from door to door and in my car. I worked my little behind off to reach the status of a home owner and to this day if I screw up it’s all on me. I take a lot of pride in the fact that no one else has paid for my life aside from me, but it is certainly a stressful situation at times when the bills get tight and phone calls have to be made.

Many people haven’t had the luck (and I do admit it’s a lot of luck) that I have had in regards to my choices. A lot of my friends have found themselves living back at home or without the ability to move out of their parent’s home for various reasons. Those of us who are still out on our own are suddenly swamped with gas, food, heat, air and all the other things that come along with living on one’s own.

Either way, saving and planning should be the same.

1) Give yourself a goal that is far enough in the future to be reasonable. If you say silly things like “I want to travel the world this summer” and you just had to close your checking account you’re not going to get your goal. Best to set things far in the future, let’s say your goal is to move into your own place in the next five years.

2) Do EVERYTHING financially with this goal in mind.

Fine to say, but how do you do that? First you need to sit yourself down, be it in your room or kitchen and have all of your bills for the month in front of you. There are two major things you’re doing in that time.

1) Remember the due dates. If you’re not the sort who remembers dates well, get a pocket calendar. It is your responsibility to remember these dates and really, excuses don’t cut it.

2) Remember the amounts. You don’t have to recall the cents. Just round up. But angry bill lady, you may say, my bills fluctuate! Round up or take the largest bill. For example in the summer you may get by on 50 a month for your gas, in the winter that bill may be over 100. You will want to budget for 100 a month. Always budget for the largest your bill can become.

Next pull out your paycheck. Take the LOWEST your pay will be if you don’t get a set wage. Remember when you get paid. Make your pay dates line up with your bills. The way I usually suggest people do this is columns. However you do it you need to know how well your current paycheck meets your basic needs and the SCHEDULE of those needs.

This may be harsh to some of you, but you need to remember your own information. No one else is going to balance your checkbook. If you’re unwilling to do it, then stop whining and mooch off family or find a significant other who doesn’t mind the fact that you’re a lazy ponce.

If you don’t have overage, then you’re in trouble. You need to either raise your income or lower your bills. Both are easier said than done. You can ask for more hours at work or try to pick up a part time job. You can also deal with creditors on a personal level.

Call your creditors. Honestly, they have people that work for them who can be very understanding. Say “I got sick and my check’s really low this week. Can I please pay half of it next week and then the rest by the end of the month?” You’d be amazed at how understanding people can be. Remember what bills you put off and when you did it, also remember who you talked to.

You may have to get rid of some things for the time being to make ends meet. This is not fun, but if you can’t pay your rent you need to cut out cable. Try not running your air or heat until you positively need to. You don’t need all the additions on your cell phone and the library has the internet for free. All else fails, live with people. Roommates make things cheaper. Remember you set a goal and you need to create overage to reach it.

Next we are going to assume that there is overage after your basic expenses. Now you need to add your “life” expenses of food, transportation and entertainment. Here is where you can actually afford to cut back and show a little leeway. Remember that going to the grocery store and packing your lunch is cheaper than going out for lunch. Going out for dinner or to the club every weekend is fun, but if you really want to have your goal, you need to cut that back. You’ll get tired of rice and ramen, but in the end, you’ll have to do something.

If you don’t want to cut things, please see my previous statement about stopping whining.

Finally, open a savings account and name it whatever your goal is (like “Vacation Fund”). Many banks require a minimum amount in these accounts. I know that my bank requires 300 in the account at all times. Save your money till you have enough to open that savings account. If you are the sort who can trust yourself to not touch it link it to your checking for overdraft protection. If you cannot trust yourself do not link it to your checking. Keep it separate, keep it away from view and put money into it at the end of every month.

A savings account is the hardest step. Once you get a savings account you’ve done a lot of good. You’ve given yourself a financial cushion and peace of mind. You’ve also set yourself up to continue to save money. Maybe some months you won’t put anything in it, that’s fine. The point is to do SOMETHING and even if you’re doing it slowly, it’s better than nothing at all. At least you will reach your goal sometime this way instead of being at square one constantly.

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“Dead Week” and Other Myths

Starting Monday, it’s “Dead Week” for me. There’s been much debate as to why it was called that, either be it because there’s no tests supposed to happen during the week so people can study for finals, or because that rule doesn’t apply to projects, quizzes, or other forms of torture that professors can inflict on hapless students.

I’ve always hated the end of the semester, which was always the time I felt most like a stereotypical student. A victim of the stress and binge.

At first, I wondered if this was because I was unorganized, had gotten too comfortable in the semester. So I started doing things earlier, kept a better eye on long term projects. No avail. I still found myself sleepless and running around like crazy during the last three weeks. So I figured it was the professors, trying to see if they could crack me before I was free of their grip.

Then I learned it was a bit of both.

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Spring Semester: Opening

For my online classes, spring semester just recently started. For some reason, I decided that taking a full twelve credits on top of working full time would be a good idea. Luckily, none of them look particularly complicated – I’m taking intros and basic general education requirements right now – and I think some basic time management will get me through.

The challenge with online classes is not just that I’m totally responsible for my attendance and due dates, but that many online classes require more attention than traditional classes. For example, one of my professors suggests that I visit the class discussion board at least four times a week! Very few college courses would require that kind of daily commitment.

These classes also require a lot more teamwork than one would generally expect from, say, a college math course. During the mini-term I spent a lot of time covering for teammates who couldn’t be bothered to do anything. I hope this is better during the full length terms.

All of this means I need to keep my courses in the front of my consciousness every day – without letting them take over either my work or my personal time. My trick is to place a large number of course-related triggers in my to-do list. Homework and quizzes show up on the day before they’re due, but “check discussion board” items appear almost daily. They keep me from forgetting to follow up once I’ve made my initial post, or from forgetting to post at all until the last day.

It may make my to-do list a lot longer, but it also means I can forget about discussion boards and teamwork projects when I’m not actively engaged in them, freeing up valuable time for my brain to worry about other things, like global warming and how bad the G.I. Joe movie is going to be.

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My Desk Is A Mess

We’re coming up on a big deadline at work, and I’ve noticed that the closer we are to panic time, the more of a mess my desk seems to be. And yes, as a consequence, I tend to spend more time hunting for files than I should.

Of course, there seems to come a point on every project where putting things away and taking them out again is more annoying than leaving them on the desk is, but this isn’t just about access. This is mostly about me being too tired to want to put them away at the end of my work day.

Yes, I know, lazy.

The problem is that I am a visual cues kind of person. When I need to do something unusual with a file, I leave it somewhere I’ll see it, which will remind me to do it when I have some free time (unless, of course, I’m working on a blog post). The problem is that files tend to pile up, and then my brain starts blocking them out and I don’t take care of any of them.

Oops.

The obvious solution is to stop being lazy and also to use a to-do list instead of visual cues. I’ve switched to a Remember the Milk-based system in my personal and school life, but to-dos seem to come so fast during the day that I can’t make myself use the website. I’m going to try both paper and Outlook-based lists (don’t laugh; Outlook is required by the office) and see which works better. If anything works, I’ll keep you updated.

Studying Smarter Means More Color

I am a bad bad student.

Maybe it was all those years of being able to get by on the fact I am a world class guesser, but it made me very lazy about studying and otherwise being able to discipline myself in regards to schooling. While some people can still get away with this, I hit a sort of brick wall the instant I got to college and classes that required a little more than my diverse, but limited, general knowledge.

I have finally found a fantastic method for myself that allows me to actually retain information. And all I needed was to start using the highlighters and colored tabs I had collecting dust in a drawer.

This worked best for my history class, which is the type of class that really can’t be taught by anything other than lectures and reading. The main problem with this type of class is a lot of information goes in, but a lot of it needs to be filtered. In a way, I had to learn how to declutter the information I was receiving. Since I am not super disciplined, I had to do this twofold. So here was the first set of filters.

  1. Write notes in outline format (I type my notes, simply because I type faster than write)
  2. Keep notes in separate text files by date
  3. Only do the readings in segments related to their assignment
  4. Add a colored tag of the same color at the beginning of each segment

The third point was especially important, since I’m a fast reader and everything tends to jumble together if I don’t watch it. The fourth point is really only beneficial in that I used one color of a tag for every segment pertaining to a single test. That way when I needed to know which material was going to be on the next test, I could easily flip to it.

After sorting things as they came in, I was left with the processing part, otherwise known as studying. Most people will tell you that you need to study as you go, sometimes going to the extreme that you need to be reading something from a class every day. Personally, I find this tiring, and as some things have different deadlines, I fall behind that kind of schedule quickly.

So, I start about a week before an exam processing through all the information. I count listening in class and keeping up with the reading assignments as an initial pass through, and the actual studying as something far more in depth. But even this had a sort of process to it.

  1. Put all note files into one file and print it off (since I put the date at the top of all of them, this wasn’t disorganized)
  2. Go through notes and highlight all important names in one color
  3. Repeat this with locations, concepts, dates, each in their own separate color
  4. Then actually read through the notes
  5. Do this with reading materials, only more liberally

The first point is a necessity for me, because computers distract me easily when I need to focus. Can’t check email if there’s no email on a paper. For the most part, studying should be as low tech as possible. Points two and three were especially useful in that it helped distinguish certain important things; names didn’t get mixed up with locations, dates stood out, etc. For instance, I used a purple highlighter to indicate locations. When I got to point four, actually reading through it, the idea of locations being associated with purple stuck in my brain. Turning to the reading, I skimmed more, because it was less of an emphasis in the class. Not only that, the readings are always more dense than notes. So, only the first time a name appeared, unless it was connected with say, an invention in that paragraph was highlighted.

Using different colors also helped it from turning into the wall of yellow that is a mistake a lot of younger students I see make. Like the girl next to me in class, who used the same orange highlighter for everything.  The point about a good study method is to filter out the noise and try to filter to the types of facts you’ll be tested on. Because no matter how much they will tell you that you need to know everything in a class, they can’t possibly test you on all that. If you pay enough attention during class or when people ask questions before the exam, you will notice which things the professor finds important.

So go ahead and splurge for multiple colored highlighters and those neat flag thingies. Just make sure you use them appropriately.