It’s Time for a “Time Makeover”: 5 Tips for Mastering Your Calendar

Take control of your busy schedule with a few easy ideas! By Joshua Zerkel

Time flies when you’re having fun, but what if you’re not having fun and your time still seems to fly away? Do you ever feel like your schedule runs you, rather than the other way around? Maybe you’re feeling like you can’t get everything done, or that you don’t really know where your time goes. Sound familiar? If so, a “time makeover” might be just what you need! Here are some simple strategies to help get your calendar under control:

  1. Take stock. To truly maximize your use of time, it’s helpful to first find out how you’re currently spending your day. In a journal or on a notepad, write down what you’re doing from hour to hour for a few days. Note what your current daily schedule is (if you have one), what’s working, and what isn’t. Also notice what your energy rhythms are—are you more “up” in the morning, or are you more of a night owl?
  2. Check it out. After keeping a log for a few days, start looking for patterns. Are you spending most of your time on the things that you want or need to do, or are you wasting lots of time procrastinating or surfing the web? Where is time being used well, and where do you see room for improvement? Also see whether the things that are most important to you are synchronized with when you’re the most “up.”
  3. Build blocks. Group your different daily tasks into categories, and then make the categories into “time blocks.” Common categories are work time (time you spend at your job or business), admin tasks (paying bills, processing paper, etc.), pleasure time (breaks and other downtime), and kid-related time (carpooling, getting the kids ready for school).
  4. Fill it in. Look at a blank calendar and start setting up your revised schedule. Put your time blocks onto your calendar based on how much time the tasks within each category take up. As things come up during your day or your week, you’ll now have time literally “blocked out” for the tasks to fit into. Try to group related tasks together—for instance, if you noted in your logs that you were paying bills online on Tuesday and writing checks on Friday, try to group those together on your calendar. Every process that you can group or streamline will make a difference in how efficient you can be.
  5. Keep at it. After you’ve filled in your time blocks with tasks, you’ll be left with a revamped schedule. Try implementing your new schedule slowly—that way you can make adjustments and tweaks. If something works well—great! If not, see if you can shift a task to another time block or shift the blocks around. Keep with it until you find the mix that works for you.

You can get control over your schedule! With a little advance planning and a few of my tips, you’ll soon be master of your day once more.

Joshua Zerkel

Spring Cleaning Your Office

By Joshua Zerkel

Clutter, both physical and digital, is not only annoying – it can get in the way of you being productive and getting your important work done. With the change of season, now’s a great time to take stock of what you have, jettison what you don’t, and make a plan for keeping your office clutter at bay. Here’s how:

Physical clutter. If you’re tripping over things scattered around your desk or have to go on an archeological dig when it’s time to find an important document, it’s time to start clearing through any physical clutter in your workspace. Set a timer for an hour and see how much clutter you can clear. Take a quick tour of the things around your desk and your office, and if you haven’t used it in more than six months or a year, donate or discard it. If you haven’t cleared your clutter in an hour, set aside an hour a day until you’ve discarded all the things you no longer need.
Go paperless. If part of your clutter challenge is dealing with too much paper, maybe it’s time to consider setting up a paperless document management system. Scan important documents into a tool like Evernote Business (, shred the files you no longer need, and recycle the junk you never wanted in the first place. Get a scanner for your desk so you can deal with new paper right away without waiting for it to pile up.
Tidy the tech. Over the past year, have you signed up for a laundry-list of online services, downloaded dozens of apps, and bought gizmos that have gone unused? Take a few minutes to review what’s on your computer and mobile device, and see if you’re really using all the tools that you’ve bought or registered for. Contact your local hazardous waste facility to properly dispose of tech trash, and delete accounts from online services you no longer use (or never did in the first place).
Find a level. Adopt the “one in, one out” rule to keep office clutter at bay over the course of the next year. Essentially, as you buy something new – a book, a desk accessory, a piece of furniture, or art for your wall – let something else go. This will maintain a constant level of “stuff” in your space and prevent it from getting overcrowded with things you no longer need or use.

How To Get Paper Under Control

By Joshua Zerkel

Dealing with paper is nobody’s idea of fun (well, unless you’re a professional organizer, perhaps!). Seeing stacks and piles of paper sitting around can be incredibly frustrating for many of us, and you may waste time rifling through your piles trying to find the one piece of paper you actually DO need. To help you better manage your paper, it’s key to get control over both the new paper coming in the door as well as the paper you already have sitting around. Here’s how:

Go digital. One easy way to get your new paper under control is to start receiving key documents digitally. The usual suspects here include utility bills (power, cable tv, internet, cell phone and landline), financial statements (credit card bills, bank statements, brokerage and investments), and the like. Beyond that, most documents that are sent through the mail, including health insurance statements, mortgage bills, and more, let you opt-in to receive them electronically instead of through snail mail. Go through your new mail, and for each document, see if there’s an option to receive it electronically instead, and sign up right away. To help keep things organized, you can use a service like FileThis Fetch ( to automatically download new statements for you.

Say “no” to the new. It’s largely up to you to stem the tide of new paper, and the less new paper you have to deal with, the better. Rather than blindly accepting paper coming your way, be strategic. If you’re at meetings and someone hands you a document, ask if you can get an electronic copy instead. The next time your reach to pick up a brochure, menu, or flyer, check a company’s website for the information you’re looking for. Instead of taking someone’s business card, take a photo with your phone using Evernote or a business card scanning app. Think about all the miscellaneous bits of paper you find yourself dealing with, and consider alternate ways to get that information.

Toss the junk. Go on a “seek and destroy” mission through the piles on your desk, the stacks on the floor, and your file drawers, looking for the documents that belong in the recycle bin or the shredder. Look for paper that’s blatantly outdated, documents you’ve never read (and never intend to), and things you never wanted in the first place, and get rid of them. Try to get eliminate as much as you can. This is meant to be a quick exercise – don’t waste time agonizing over whether to keep a particular document. Better to just keep it and move on, rather than spend tons of time on each individual piece of paper.

What are your strategies for eliminating paper from your life?


How to Get Organized in 2014

By Joshua Zerkel

If one of your goals for 2014 is to get more organized, you’re in good company. Most polls show that getting organized is a perennial favorite among folks who set resolutions for the new year. Of course, the challenge isn’t in setting the resolution – it’s in keeping it. Here are a few ideas to help you get organized in 2014:

Be super-specific. “Getting organized” is not a goal – it’s a concept, and you can’t achieve a concept. Additionally, there is no endpoint to organization – it’s something that you’ll continue to work on as time moves forward. “Organize my desk,” on the other hand, is a very specific goal. You probably have an idea of what you’d like your desk to look and function like when you’ve finished organizing it. Instead of choosing a general goal, decide which parts of your space or your systems are driving you the most crazy, and write down some specific goals for each. Keep your list somewhere handy – like your FranklinCovey planner or in an electronic form such as Evernote. You can refer back to this list as you make progress to make sure you’re on track.

Do it daily. Once you have your organizing goals written down, then it’s time to start taking action. After working with clients for many years, I can share one universal truth – you can’t get organized in one fell swoop. Think about it – it probably took quite some time for your office, your desk, or your closet to get in the current state it’s in – it likely didn’t happen overnight. You can’t expect to make a lasting change in a day or a weekend. Instead, look at your list of specific goals, and set aside time each day to make small (but measurable and noticeable) progress. Making little bits of headway regularly can help you build the habits that you’ll need to keep your organizing systems and spaces in shape over the long haul.

Get help. Successful goal achievers have a secret – they ask for help. Rather than struggling through on your own, get into the mindset of asking for help when you get stuck. Of course, some parts of getting organized will probably be easy for you to do on your own. Others, however, may stump you. When that happens, call on a friend or coworker for additional motivation, or enlist the help of a professional organizer or productivity consultant. Time and again I’ve seen people get stuck in the weeds when they’re trying to make progress. Simply by asking for help they could have saved themselves time and agony.

What are your goals for 2014, and how do you plan on achieving them?


Easy Steps to Starting Your Organizing Journey

By Joshua Zerkel

As a business owner, you’ve probably already been faced with one of the biggest challenges – staying organized and productive.

Realizing that you need to make time to get yourself organized is one of the biggest steps to getting organized.  It isn’t enough to simply say, “I’ll file that stuff later.”  Later never comes.  When was the last time you had a bunch of free time to get organized?  Yeah, me neither.

The first step you can take to getting organized is to schedule some time once a week to work on your office.  Make it a small amount of time, like 30 minutes or an hour.  Keep it manageable, with an end time in mind.  Don’t take a whole day off of work to get organized – it will seem too overwhelming and it won’t get done. By focusing on a little at a time, you will get more done and have a sense of accomplishment.

So how do you get started?

Start with the number one thing that bothers you every day.  For example, I get a ton of email and before I know it, my inbox is over 200.  So one of my organizing goals is going through my email inbox and going through each email and deciding what to do with it.  Some of the emails will be deleted, others will be filed, and some I need to reply to.  What is it that bothers you most each day? Start working on getting that organized and under control, and then move on to the other parts of your business life that could be better organized.

Action Steps for this Week

  1. Schedule some time on your calendar to get organized – make an appointment with yourself!
  2. Make a list of your top 3 organizational challenges
  3. Start with your #1 organizational challenge and make a plan to work on it.  For example, if you want to clean out your email inbox, your goal should be to reduce it by 25% each time you work on it until it gets to xx (this number is the number of emails you feel are manageable).  Everyone’s goal is different — some people want zero emails in their inbox, some feel comfortable with 50.  Make a goal that’s right for you!


© 2009 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Set Up Email Filters or Rules to Organize Your Inbox

By Joshua Zerkel

Boost your productivity by letting your email program sort your messages.

Not every email you receive requires the same kinds of actions—or any action at all. If you’ve got an avalanche of messages in your inbox, the first step to making sense of it all is to create subfolders for each of the different kinds of messages you receive—project-related messages, newsletters, etc. Once those folders have been created, you can use a tool called filters or rules to automatically sort your incoming email. This can be a huge productivity booster!

Filters or rules are found in the settings for virtually any email program. By creating filters or rules, you can automatically file any messages coming in from a particular sender to a designated folder, bypassing your inbox entirely. This way you don’t have to see it or read it until you have time to deal with it. As new messages come in you can skip past those messages you know will not require your immediate attention. They will be in a special folder waiting for you. You’ll know that there are messages waiting for you in that folder because your email program will alert you.

You might use this feature for specific clients, vendors, co-workers, or resources. When it’s time to read through your email, you can go into the individual folders and take the corresponding actions then. Everything is already pre-sorted for you, so it should be easier and less time-consuming for you to go through your inbox.

160 character description:

Sort your email by using filters or rules to automatically send designated messages to special folders, allowing you to deal with them on your own schedule.


Email, filters, rules, digital organizing


Digital Organizing, Productivity, Technology & Applications


Set up filters or rules in your email to automatically send messages to subfolders, where you can deal w/ them on your own pace.

Not all emails require immediate attention! Learn how to automatically filter out non-urgent messages from your inbox: [link]

Deal with emails when YOU want to. Use filters or rules to automatically move certain messages out of the top of your inbox: [link]


Not all emails require immediate attention! Learn how to automatically filter out non-urgent messages from your inbox, so you can deal with them when YOU want to. [link]

If you create subfolders for specific kinds of email messages, you can create automatic filters or rules that move less-urgent messages into those folders, rather than clamoring for attention at the top of your inbox. [link]



© 2009 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

4 Tips for Eco-Friendly Organizing

By Joshua Zerkel

Simplify your life while being environmentally responsible!

Getting organized can be a fantastic way to simplify and streamline your busy life. The process of getting organized can involve weeding through (and discarding) some of the belongings that have been keeping you from living how you want to live, and finding other products that can help you live in more comfortable, effective way. Tossing some things out while also potentially getting new things may seem to be at odds with eco-friendly living, but there ARE ways to be eco-friendly while getting organized. Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Repurpose what you have. Before getting rid of your stuff, see if you can use what you have in new and different ways. Turn things on their sides, take them to different rooms, and match things up in unusual ways. For instance, an extra bowl from the kitchen can make a great “key-catcher” by the front door. Checkbook boxes transform into drawer dividers, and plastic trays that fancy chocolate comes in are great for organizing earrings. Another example: I have a client who is a scrapbook artist. We used transparent plastic bins to store her supplies, which were functional but not very attractive. Instead of buying new bins, we used some of her extra decorative paper to line the bins and hide the contents. Look around your space – what can use differently?

2. Buy eco-friendly products. You may need to buy specialized organizing products, such as desk accessories, drawer dividers, and other things that will help you get and stay organized. Stores such as Good Girl Goods ( and the Container Store ( carry many products that are made from recycled or natural materials. Consider products that will make it easier for you to recycle, such as sorters that can help you separate glass, paper, compost, etc.

3. Store the right way. Store your items in a way that will best preserve them. First, make sure you have the right containers. If you’re storing photos or documents, choose acid-free boxes, not plastic bins. Keep clothes in a sealed container, not in a suitcase. Second, be conscious of the location where things are stored. Keep issues such as moisture, light, and temperature fluctuations in mind. A damp garage isn’t the right spot for paper, and a bookshelf in direct sunlight will quickly fade your precious photos.

4. Discard responsibly. After weeding through your stuff, you’ll probably be left with lots of things that need to find new homes and some that can be recycled. When working with clients, I usually recommend that they get rid of things in this order: sell, donate, and recycle. Items of value can be sold on eBay (, Craigslist (, at a garage sale, or in your local paper. Call your favorite charities and see what items they are accepting – frequently charities will come and pick up your donations for you, saving you time. Items that are left over after selling or donating can often be given away via Freecycle ( Finally, the items that have no value to you or others can be responsibly recycled.

Simplifying and organizing your life while being environmentally responsible is possible! When embarking on your next organizing project, keep these four tips in mind. You’ll be able to feel good about taking steps toward living the life you want in an eco-friendly way.


Joshua Zerkel, CPO® is a the founder of Custom Living Solutions, a San Francisco-based productivity and organizing consulting firm, specializing in helping busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

Josh© 2009 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Travel Smart: 3 Tips for Organized Gadget Travel

By Joshua Zerkel

I travel quite a bit for both business and for fun, and I can’t think of the last time I went somewhere without some tech in tow, whether a digital camera, my mobile phone, iPad, laptop or netbook, or some other gizmo. These devices are so much a part of our lives that it’s hard for us to go anywhere without them. But how can we take them with us in a way that makes sense, keeps them accessible and organized, and doesn’t leave us with a huge and heavy carry-on bag?

Consolidate. This may seem like strange advice coming from a huge gadget fan, but when traveling, my general philosophy is “the fewer devices, the better.” The less you bring with you, the fewer devices you have to worry about losing, the fewer chargers you need to bring, and less you have to carry. One way to bring less tech with you is to leverage something you probably already use all the time – your mobile phone. Your cell phone can do so much for you – and can save you tons of bulk during a trip by consolidating the functions of many other devices into one. Especially if you have a current smartphone, you can often leave your digital camera, mp3 player, portable video game, camcorder, and GPS unit behind. Granted, you may not get every single feature that you’d have with each and every individual device, but the benefit of leaving them at home is far less bulk, and less to lose. One note: if you’re traveling abroad, make sure to review your data service plan or turn off your data (just leave your phone in flight mode) to avoid exorbitant roaming charges.

Charge smart. It used to be that every device needed its own charger, which can add lots of bulk to your travel case. I remember the days when I’d bring a charger for my laptop, my camera, my cell phone, my mp3 player, and my portable video game – and I’d try to shoehorn it all into one small bag. By the time I was done, my carry-on would be filled with chargers and cords! Luckily, that’s no longer the case. Many current devices can be charged via the USB port on your computer, or via a wall charger with a USB port. Instead of carrying around a wall adapter for each device, instead carry one USB-equipped wall adapter, and use a USB charging cable for your device (most devices, including cell phones, mp3 players, and many digital cameras, already come with such a cable). If you’re bringing your laptop with you, you may not even need to bring the wall adapter at all!

Organize and contain. Even if you have whittled down your devices to just one or two and have consolidated your cables to the bare minimum, you’re still going to have to deal with what can often be a tangled mess. What you don’t want is to open your bag and have to untie a big knot of cables – that’s no way to get a trip started on the right foot! Instead, make sure you’re using the right tools to help organize your cables and keep your devices safe. You’ll want to make sure you have a space for each of your devices, along with any chargers, adapters, extra memory cards, and the like.

When I travel, I like to use the Grid-It ( system to help keep all my chargers and cables organized. What’s great about this particular system is that it’s flexible and adaptable to whatever combination of gizmos and cables you happen to have with you, and it holds your stuff securely. I also like the Kangaroom Personal Media Pouch ( which can hold your devices and cables and then can slip into your larger laptop bag or briefcase.

These days, we all travel with something that has a button or a battery. What do you do to keep your tech organized when you travel?


Psst —What’s the Password?

By Joshua Zerkel

Follow these tips for managing your many logins and passwords.

In the age of living your life online—banking, bills, video rentals, social media, work, email, and so on—keeping track of all your passwords is essential. Many people simply put their passwords on a sticky note stuck right on their monitors—something I definitely don’t recommend. Nor would I suggest using a little booklet specifically for passwords, like the ones they sell in the Container Store. Although these methods keep your passwords centralized, they are not at all secure. (If you are keeping your passwords written down on paper somewhere, make sure they are kept in a locked drawer or cabinet.)

Far better than writing your passwords down is to keep them in a locked file or database on your computer. You could make an excel spreadsheet that is password protected, so that only you can open it (of course, you’ll need to memorize the password to get into your password document!).

You could also purchase a password management tool, which is what I use and recommend.

There are two great programs I recommend: KeePass or RoboForm. KeePass is free, but RoboForm as a few more additional features that might be worthwhile to you. In essence however they work the same. Once you install the program on your computer, you unlock the database with your master password and then you input the websites, user names, passwords, and any notes for the accounts you are keeping track of. All the data that is stored in those databases is encrypted, so if someone tried to hack into it, it would require a lot of effort, so long as they don’t have your master password.

A similar option to KeePass and RoboForm is an online password management tool called LastPass, which essentially works the same way, but it stores your password data online via a secure server, rather than on your home computer. There are pros and cons to doing it this way. The pros are that you have access to your passwords no matter where you are, and you don’t lose all your passwords if your computer bites the dust. The con, however, is that your passwords are stored on someone else’s server, so in theory they could get hacked. If you are considering using something online like LastPass, be sure to look at the company’s security and privacy policies so that you can feel confident about storing your data with them.


The Number One Organizing Mistake

By Joshua Zerkel

“I am an office supply junkie!

I love to go to the office supply stores and get all the matching organizers like pencil cups, paper trays, folders, covered memo boards…you get the picture.

It all looks so nice and neat in the store, and I can just imagine my stuff in them.  I know that once I buy all this stuff, I will finally be organized and I can get on with my day.”

Sound familiar? This is one of the most common mistakes we make – we confuse buying “stuff” to get organized with actually organizing our things.  We waste tons of money on things that really won’t help us get organized.  Ask yourself this question, “Do you struggle with how to make that new organizing ‘thingy’ work with your stuff?”  If the answer is yes, you purchased the wrong item. You can’t buy yourself organized.

Truth of the matter is, most of us don’t need to spend much money, if any at all, on organizational tools.  The first thing you need to do when organizing your space is determine what you need BEFORE you go to the store.  That way you will have a plan of what you will do with your new purchases and won’t be swayed by great displays or helpful sales people.

For example, if you have a ton of paper on your desk that needs to get organized, what do you really need?  Maybe just a box with hanging folders will do.  Or maybe you have tons of receipts; maybe you just need an accordion file to organize those receipts for tax time.  Whatever your organizational challenge is, take the time to analyze what you need first, then decide if you need to buy something to help you get organized.

If you already have too much organizational stuff, and it’s just getting in the way, consider getting rid of it.  You can either sell it at a garage sale, or invite some of your friends over for an office supply swap.  That’s a great way to recycle your unused items and get together with friends!

So, before you buy another organizational tool, follow these action steps:

  1. Determine what particular challenge area you’re going to work on.
  2. Evaluate your challenge to find out what supplies you’ll need to get organized.
  3. Look at everything you have to see if you can use it to organize your stuff before you buy anything new.
  4. If you have to buy something to get organized, make a list before you go shopping. To reduce impulse organizing buys, go online and shop for the one item you need and only purchase that item.


Joshua Zerkel

End-of-Year Productivity Boosters

By Joshua Zerkel

As the end of the year rapidly approaches, you’re probably preoccupied with finishing up the details that come with closing out the year – final quarter reports, wrapping up projects, and of course, holiday parties! It’s an odd time in that for many of us, it can be both busy and slow at the same time – busy with busywork, slow in that it may not feel like a purposeful time.

If that’s true for you, there are few key things you can do with the remainder of the year to be poised for a goal-oriented, streamlined, and more productive 2013. Start with these:

Map out your goals. What do you want to happen in 2013, both on a large scale and on a smaller level? I’m not talking about resolutions like losing weight or getting organized – these are vague goals that typically don’t last past the first week in January. Rather, think about how you’d like to end 2013 – what will be different for you? What do you want to have happen during the year? Spend some time thinking about these results, then working backwards, break them down into their components and start mapping out on the calendar when you’d like to target some time for working on the components. This is much more powerful – and actionable – than simply saying “my goal is to XYZ.”

Choose your planning tool(s). The end of a year and the beginning of a new one is an ideal time to revisit your organizing and planning tools, determine what’s working, what could be better, and make appropriate changes. For instance, if you haven’t been crazy about the planner you’ve been using, this is an opportunity to check out what’s new in the FranklinCovey store. Maybe you’d been curious about using your smartphone as a calendar instead of paper – set aside a few minutes to explore the calendar function and see how well you like it. Spend time experimenting with planning tools now, rather than in the midst of the new year when you are getting busy with your commitments.

End the email deluge. Email can be a double-edged sword – it’s both is useful for communication, and can be a huge distraction and time-suck. To reduce the amount of time wasted on email, spend a few minutes in your inbox and ruthlessly unsubscribe from any newsletters or email lists that you don’t read regularly. Don’t worry – you can always re-subscribe to any newsletters that you feel like you’re missing out on (I’m positive they’ll be happy to welcome you back as a subscriber!). You can also use a service like to consolidate your newsletters and other subscriptions and make this process of organizing and unsubscribing a bit faster and easier.

Review your subscriptions and services. Speaking of services, open your credit card statement and review any recurring charges. Are you being billed for a service you don’t really use anymore – like a web-based music subscription service that you don’t listen to anymore, or a professional subscription that’s no longer relevant? These things have a way of just collecting, and although each one may not be a lot of money on its own, together these services and subscriptions can add up to a big chunk of change either monthly or annually. Take a few minutes to look over what you’re using – and what you’re not – and eliminate the waste.

Doing the things I just mentioned won’t take you much time up front – maybe an hour or two all told – but they can save you a lot of time, and make you more purposeful, productive, and effective.

Excellent advice Josh, thanks for sharing! 

Joshua Zerkel

Digitized Files: How Much Hard Drive Do They Take?

PDFs, Docs, and image files all take space, but how much?

By Joshua Zerkel  

So you’ve gone paperless and are now storing all your documents on your hard drive. Great! By doing so, you’ve likely freed up tons of space in your office by eliminating the need for paper storage. Just because the papers don’t take up physical space, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t taking space on your hard drive. Hard drives have memory capacities, so it’s good to know what kinds of files are filling your storage.

Word Documents (.doc, .docx, .txt): Text documents—whether Microsoft Word, TextEdit on Macs, or other word processing programs—typically contain only text, which is one of the tiniest forms of files that you can have. You can have a book-length Word document that nevertheless amounts to a very, very small file size, unless it also contains embedded images or any sort of imported media inside of it. Typically, however, Word documents are very tiny, usually a in the range of a few kilobytes (kb) to less than ten megabytes (MBs).

Portable Document Format (.pdf): Compared to docs, PDFs can have all sorts of things inside of them. In addition to just text, PDFs often include images or links to other things. This increases their overall file size. If a PDF is a scanned document, it can be an extremely large file size—many MBs. Typically your scanner will come with software that lets you create PDFs, and that software has multiple settings. You can opt to scan things at high resolution, low resolution, black and white, color, single-sided, or double-sided, depending on your scanner. If you’re scanning things at high resolution, in color and double-sided, the resulting PDFs you create can be surprisingly large. So you might want to play with the settings in your scanner, making sure that you’re scanning at the resolution that you need, not necessarily the best possible quality. If you scan something in black and white at low resolution, that may be enough to capture what you need and the file size of your PDF will be much, much smaller.

Image files (.jpg, .gif, .tif): Image files can be of all sorts of different file sizes, depending on the resolution of the image or the overall dimensions. If an image is print-quality resolution—300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher—it will be a larger file size, upwards of 25 or 50 MBs. Likewise if the image is many inches wide, as opposed to a tiny thumbnail, it will be a larger file size. If you use images only for web-based or Power Point presentations, you can save them at a lower resolution (72 dpi) and thus at a lower file size.

Thank you Joshua!  Did you like this article?  Like it on Facebook and/or give it a cheer!

Joshua Zerkel



Managing Your Papers: Inbox, Outbox, and Everything In Between

By Joshua Zerkel  

Set up a system that syncs with the lifecycle of paper.

No matter how organized the rest of your office may be, it’s easy to feel like things are out of control when your desk is covered with papers. Although you may have heard rumors that the so-called “paperless world” has arrived, you and I both know that we have more paper coming at us than ever before. If you feel like paper is a pain in the butt, you’re not alone. But the good news is if you put the right systems in place you can get the papers in your office under control.

In order to come up with strategies for how to deal with paper, we need to understand that paper has a lifecycle of its very own:

1.Papers come into your office—printed from the computer, through the mail, or maybe brought in from meetings or conferences.
2.You sort the papers—you put bills in one stack, magazines and periodicals in another, correspondences you need to write into a third.
3.You process the papers—you pay bills, read magazines, or write letters.
4.You archive the papers—papers you’re keeping long-term are put into your file cabinet or a box.
5.You remove the papers—you drop the junk mail in the recycle bin or shred sensitive documents.

These five stages—in, sort, process, archive, and out—are the basic framework for your paper-management strategy. The key to managing your paper is to have dedicated space for each stage in your paper’s lifecycle: an inbox for all the things that are brand new; a “hot files area” to handle the sorting and the processing steps; an archival area for all the papers you want to hold onto long term; and an outbox for papers that are leaving your space entirely. Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

First is an inbox. This can simply be a basket, box, or tray where you place all incoming papers—mail, printouts, etc.–keeping it all in one place so that it doesn’t get lost in the chaos of your desk. When it’s time for you to actually sit down and process your new papers, you don’t have to waste time searching your space. Aside from collecting your incoming papers, this first stage is completely action free.

Of course, many papers do require some action on your part—a signature, a response, a payment. This is where most people’s systems tend to fall down. Typically there will be a “To-Do” stack, but that isn’t always helpful because we simply have too many different kinds of actions we need to take on any given paper. I think it’s helpful to have a hot files area: This can simply be a desktop file box, maybe 6” to 8” deep, which is readily available in any office supply store. Inside of this file box you would have a series of hanging files; this enables you to break out your To-Dos into the different actions you need to take, with specific words for each action that your papers represent—“Call” for phone messages, “Sign” for papers that require signatures, “Calendar” for events you need to add to your schedule, “Correspondence” for letters, and so on. Now, when you go through your inbox you can sort your papers into the specific actions that each paper needs. This makes it a lot easier for you to actually take those actions: now you can grab the “Call” folder and make all of the phone calls at once, or take the “Sign” folder and sign all of the documents at one time. Rather than going through a stack of To-Dos and going back and forth and shifting gears, now you’re streamlining how you’re dealing with your paper. Creating this system should save you a lot of stress, a lot of frustration, and hopefully quite a bit of time as well.

Once you’ve taken action on your papers via your hot files area, there will be some you need to hold onto. Those will go in your archives—a file box, file cabinet, or file drawer. This is your long-term, cold storage area. You can name these files whatever you like—whatever makes the most intuitive sense to you.

Of course not every paper you take action with needs to be stored. Some of your paper will need to be recycled, shredded, or sent back into the world. It is helpful to have a recycle bin and a shredder right next to where your new mail or paper comes in. For the papers that need to go back into the world (outgoing mail or interoffice documents), it’s best to have a corresponding outbox right next to your inbox. This would be where everything that you’re taking back out into the world would live until you’re actually leaving.

Excellent organizing advice Josh, thanks for sharing! 

Joshua Zerkel

3 Easy Ways to Get Your Paper Under Control

By Joshua Zerkel

Virtually every client I have – and every person I talk to – is fed up with dealing with paper. And it’s no surprise, since, like email, we have a constant influx of it that we’re simply forced to deal with. The worst part is that even though we all have paper in our lives, we’re never really taught what to do with it or how to manage it. It’s no wonder that people are practically in tears by the time they call me asking for help.

If you’re feeling like dealing with paper makes you want to tear your hair out, the good news is that there are simple things you can do to help. You don’t have to wait until your stacks of paper are about to topple over or let every available horizontal surface get covered in paper before you decide to develop some strategies for gaining control over paper. Here’s a few ways to get started:

Stop taking it. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who have told me as we’re going through their mounds of papers that much of what they’ve been keeping they never wanted in the first place. Some of the culprits include junk mail, atm and grocery receipts, old bills, and more. The truth is, you don’t have to accept every piece of paper that’s foisted on you – when given a choice, if you don’t know what you’ll do with that paper when you get it back to your home or office, find a way to not collect it. Get off junk mail and catalog lists, decline receipts at the atm, leave the grocery receipts at the bottom of the bag and use the bag for recycling, and switch to electronic billing. Just by doing these quick actions you’ll likely get rid of tons of scraps of paper.

Break the sticky note addiction. One or two sticky notes on your desk or computer can be helpful reminders – maybe you keep frequently used phone numbers on one note, and a quick to-do item on another. But if your computer screen is framed by sticky notes, they start to become part of the background and lose all their utility. There’s no doubt that sticky notes can be helpful, but when you have a lot of them they stop being helpful and start creating their own special brand of neon-colored clutter. Plus, they are so easy to lose! Instead of writing everything on an endless series of stickies, try getting one small spiral-bound notebook, and write all of each day’s notes, ideas, and to-do’s in there. Make sure the notebook is small enough that it can travel with you wherever you go. That way, you’ll always be able to jot notes down, everything will be date-stamped, centralized, and easy to keep track of.

Go paperless. If you have lots of paper lying around, you may want to wave the proverbial magic wand and make it all just go away. With most things organizing and productivity related, I have to tell people that this just isn’t possible. However, with paper, it is! For virtually any task that you would normally need paper for, there are services and tools that can help you switch those tasks to a paperless version. As mentioned above, one obvious way to begin going paperless is to switch to electronic billing. If you have lots of receipts (both paper and electronic), you can use a service like Shoeboxed to scan them for you, and OfficeDrop will take your printed documents and convert them to searchable electronic versions. You can also get a personal scanner like the ones from the Neat Company and scan things on your own. Another method is to stop printing out documents whenever possible and instead read them on your desktop computer, iPad or other tablet, or even on your phone.

As with most things productivity and organizing related, there’s no one right way or one-size-fits-all method for managing paper, so don’t feel like you need to get it “right.” Just try a few different strategies, and see what works!

Great tips, Joshua!  What strategy will you try first?  

Joshua Zerkel


Tips for Organizing Medical Files

Keep critical paperwork together and easily searchable.  By Joshua Zerkel

Files related to you and your family’s health are important documents and should be effectively organized. The first thing to do in organizing the paperwork you receive from your doctors or insurance company is to separate it into categories. One category would be actual diagnoses or lab results. If you ever switch doctors, you’ll want these documents at hand and easily accessible for your own records or to pass on to the new doctor. Separate from that you’ll keep the financial paperwork—insurance, bills, EOBs, etc. When it comes to medical-related files there can be a voluminous amount of these documents, so it is important to separate it out into small, easily searchable chunks.

If you want to cross-reference your files, the easiest thing to do is to store them on your computer. That way you can tag your files by year and keep them in sub-categories or sub-folders. Before you begin tagging your files, think through the circumstances under which you might need to cross-reference them. If you are going to put in the time of digitally organizing and tagging your files, you want to be sure you’re doing it in a way that will be helpful to you months or years down the road.

If you prefer to keep the paper records, you can purchase specialty binders for medical records. These are typically meant for someone who has an ongoing condition that they are treating. If you are seeing a series of doctors about a specific condition, there is sure to be a lot of paperwork you’ll need to keep track of. These binders have different pockets for categories like lab tests, and things to talk about with the doctor at your next visit, or tracking what one doctor said versus another.

Excellent organizing advice Josh, thanks for sharing! 

Joshua Zerkel


Choosing the Right Tools for Going Paperless

By Joshua Zerkel

Paper takes a lot of space to store, and especially if you’re used to searching for documents on your computer, rifling through paper piles and digging into file cabinets can seem practically archaic! Many people have been asking me lately to help them go paperless – that is, reduce the amount of paper they have in their homes or offices. You’ll always have SOME paper – the mail will still come in the door, you’ll collect things while out in the world, and you’ll still print things from your computer. Going paperless can help you reduce the amount of storage space your documents take up, and make it easier to process and find your documents later when you need them.

There are four basic ways to help you get your paper documents digitized (that is, scanned and put onto your computer). Here’s the rundown, as well as who each type is right for:

Portable Scanners – If you travel frequently and want to get your documents scanned immediately, a portable scanner will let you do just that. Typically, these devices are small and light and come with software that will let you scan your documents as PDFs and/or into a proprietary database. Some have you scan one sheet or business card at a time, while higher-end (read: more expensive) models will let you insert 10 or 15 sheets. These are a good bet if you have a very small scanning volume or if you travel a lot – if you are mostly stationed at a desk, other options will be easier to use and will likely serve you better. Popular portable scanners are made by the Neat Company, Fujitsu, and Canon, and are typically in the $100-$200 range.

Desktop Scanners – If you’re desk-bound and have a lot of documents that you’ll want scanned on an ongoing basis, a dedicated high-speed desktop scanner may be a good choice. These are usually larger and heavier-duty than their portable counterparts, and can usually scan 25-50 pages at a time, which saves you from having to refill the scanner as frequently. These are a good choice if you have lots of scanning that you’ll be doing yourself on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind that you’ll need to find space in your office to accommodate these devices, which are typically the size of a small printer or fax machine. Common models are made by the same companies that make portable scanners – the Neat Company, Fujitsu, and Canon. These can get pretty expensive ($250-$500+), and they have a lot of moving parts, so if you buy one, it’s worth investing in an extended warranty if one is offered.

Multifunction Devices – If you are short on space in your office and have relatively light scanning needs, a multifunction device – one that is a printer, scanner, fax, and copier all-in-one – may be able to handle a variety of your office tasks. These can save a lot of space because they can replace up to four other separate devices, and they are usually relatively inexpensive ($150 or so for a decent model from HP, Lexmark, Canon, and other large manufacturers). These are a great choice if you have relatively light scanning needs, as they will get the job done, but very slowly – their scanning speeds tend take a lot longer than a dedicated desktop scanner. If you choose one, make sure to get a model that includes an automatic document feeder (ADF), as these will let you load multiple sheets for scanning or copying, rather than you having to put one sheet on the scanner glass at a time.

Scanning Services – If you know you won’t be dedicating time to doing scanning yourself on a regular basis but you still need and want your documents scanned, an offsite scanning service may be a good choice for you. When you sign up for one of these subscription-based services, you’ll receive a prepaid envelope that you fill with your documents and send off to the company once or twice a month. They will scan your docs and send them back to you or shred them at your request. Once scanned, you can view your documents online or download them back to your computer – it’s up to you. These are a great option if you aren’t planning on making a regular habit of scanning, as they handle the grunt work for you. Scanning services typically start around $15 a month and go up from there, depending on how much you need scanned. Popular scanning services are Shoeboxed ( for business cards and receipts and OfficeDrop ( for documents.

Going paperless can be a huge boost to your productivity. Choosing the right tool is essential to getting you started off on the right foot. What tools and techniques do you use to help you go paperless?

Thanks Joshua!

Did you enjoy this article? Give it a cheer!

Joshua Zerkel



Tips for Creating a New Filing System

Trust your intuition when organizing your papers. By Joshua Zerkel

One of the most frequent questions I get from clients who are organizing their offices is what to call their new filing categories. The truth is, there is no one right way to create a category structure for a filing system. Filing, whether on the computer or on paper, is really about retrieval. You put things away into folders because you want to find that information later. It is really important, therefore, that the places we put those things are easily remembered.

Typically people over-think their category names, settling on labels they think should be right based on what someone else told them or what they read in a book—rather than naming a category something that might be more intuitively correct. So when it’s time to look for something they filed, they have to look several levels deep before they can find what they’re looking for.

There are plenty of guides out there that offer suggestions for basic filing systems, but it is important to take these as guidelines and not use them verbatim. You should customize your filing system to meet your needs—especially the category names. You can start with a pre-defined list of file categories, but you should comb through that list and really customize each category name so that they resonate with you. Later, when you’re looking for something, those are the names you are going to look for.

Choose a category name that speaks to you. Four different businesses might file profit-and-loss statements four different ways: one might call them “financials”; another might call them “numbers”; a third might call them “reports”; and a fourth might call them “money.” None of these are wrong. As long as you know where to find what you need, it’s correct! Trust your intuition: whatever pops into your head first—that is the category name that you should choose. Because when you are going to look for those things later, that is probably the first thing that will pop into your mind then, too.

Thanks Joshua! If you liked this article, give it a cheer and/or like it on Facebook.

 Joshua Zerkel


4 Tips for Easier Emailing

A few simple strategies will make processing your email a snap!  By Joshua Zerkel

Do you feel like email has taken over your life? Well, you’re not alone. In a study by Information Week, over 75% of the people surveyed said that email is essential to their lives—and an additional 15% say they’d rather lose their spouse than give up email! It’s important to remember that email is a tool we can control—one that is meant to improve communication and make our lives easier. To that end, here are four top tips to wrangle that inbox:

  • Smarten up your subject line. Put as much descriptive information in the subject line as possible, and your recipient will know what your message is about without having to even open your email. For instance, “Rescheduling Meeting: Orig. 6/1/11 3PM—New 6/1/11 5PM” is a lot better than “Meeting time changed”—the more descriptive, the better.
  • Don’t use your inbox as a filing cabinet. Instead, create descriptive folders in your email program—by topic, client, vendor, etc. As you’re finished reading your messages, file them accordingly.
  • Filter your messages to save a step. Once you’ve set up some folders, you can then tell your email program to automatically put messages from specific senders or with specific subject lines into the folders where they belong. For instance, if you’re receiving dozens of newsletters, create a “Newsletters” folder, and have your email program filter those emails right into the folder, bypassing your inbox entirely. In your email program, search the help for “rules” or “filters” for more instructions.
  • Beware the 4,000-message inbox. Instead of letting emails pile up in your inbox indefinitely, set a limit for how many messages you want to have there at any given time—I recommend no more than 25 or so (once you have more than that, it’s hard to actually see what’s in there). Once your messages start growing past the limit you set, schedule some time to process your email.

Thanks Joshua! If you liked this article, give it a cheer and/or like it on Facebook.

Joshua Zerkel

4 Ways to Spend Less Time Processing Paper

Being a Certified Professional Organizer, I actually enjoy working with paper – I know, I’m strange! Even so, I don’t want to spend too much time on it; like you, I have many other tasks on my to-do list. One of my big goals for 2012 is to reduce the amount of paper that I have to process. Here are a few ways to do it:

Don’t print emails. Really, what are you going to do with that email you just printed out? Save it, maybe? Well, it’s already on your computer or on a server, so it’s already saved. If you’re worried about losing it or it being deleted, create a backup archive on your computer or an external disk. Better yet, use an online backup service like Mozy and you won’t have to worry about backups, they’ll happen automatically. If you’re printing out an email to use as a reference for an upcoming trip or event, start a small file for the trip, and when it’s over, shred or recycle the whole thing.

Don’t print web pages. Many of us print web pages for later reference, but even with the best of intentions, we may never review these documents. By printing these out, we’ve used ink and paper, spent time waiting for the page to print, and now have a new piece of paper on our desk that we need to deal with – a document that we may never even use, or may be outdated by the time we get back to it! Instead of printing, try creating folders in your web browser by topic, and bookmark pages that you’d like to revisit at some future point. If you’re worried that the page may no longer be there later, try a web page capture tool like the free Evernote Web Clipper, which lets you capture and save entire web pages for review later – without printing them out.

Don’t print your faxes. And I mean don’t print the one you’re sending OR the one you’re receiving. “But Josh,” you say, “I need to print it out in order to send it, right?” In most cases, no. If you have a printer/scanner/fax multifunction device, or a fax/modem built into your computer, you can usually “print” directly to the fax function (check your owner’s manual). Doing this bypasses the actual printer and sends your document straight to the fax function, without ever using any paper. Additionally, it takes less time since the fax doesn’t have to scan your document, and the quality is better on the recipient’s end. As far as receiving faxes, try using an internet-based service like eFax where you can view incoming faxes on your computer before you decide whether it’s worth printing.

Scan paper documents. Once you’re done working with a document or a file, studies show that once it’s in a file drawer, it’s VERY unlikely that you’re going to use it again. If that’s the case for your documents, instead of filing, you might want to scan them instead. Tools like NeatDesk can scan up to 50 pages via an automatic document feeder, and can convert those documents into searchable PDFs. What I like about this is that so many of us are used to doing searches online, that it feels really natural to search for our own documents – but this can only be done once they’re on our computer in some way, either as an entire document or as an index. I personally think scanning and automatic conversion to PDF is the easiest method.

Thank you Joshua!  Did you like this article?  Like it on Facebook and/or give it a cheer!

Joshua Zerkel


Two Strategies for Stemming the Tide of Email- Learn to master your email, instead of letting your email master you.

By Joshua Zerkel

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your email inbox? You are not alone. Email is complicated because it is an interruptive medium. If you leave the door open for email all day long—i.e., if you have email programs open in front of you, or your phone alerts you every time a new message comes in—chances are you’re going to feel overwhelmed all the time. You can’t control when an email comes to you, so if you leave that door open, you are going to feel bombarded all day long. Here are two ways to gain control over your inbox—and your time.

Turn off message alerts. Unless you are in an industry that requires instant responses, the first thing I’d encourage you to do is turn off any new message alerts. For most people, the majority of emails that come through do not require immediate attention. At the same time, email has become commonplace enough that you know you’re receiving email—you don’t need your phone or computer to tell you that.

Schedule time to process email. If you know you’ve got messages waiting for you, it makes sense to schedule the time to address it. Email is not the kind of thing you can simply get to in your spare time. It is a real task, and just as returning phone calls takes time, so too does processing email. I recommend setting up a few times in the day to check email—maybe once in the morning, once after lunch, and one more time when you’re ready to wrap up the day. A few times a day is typically enough to respond to email. Even if you’re not responding instantly, you’re still responding within a few hours, and in most cases people will still feel that you are being responsive. If you find that you are completely overwhelmed by email, make these real, scheduled appointments on your calendar.

Thanks Josh!If you liked this article, give it a cheer and like it on Facebook.

Joshua Zerkel


3 Steps to Clearing Office Clutter

It’s that time of year again, where resolutions have hopefully been started or implemented, and we’re ready to move forward! But before we do, it’s a great idea to do some pre-spring cleaning. Why wait for later to clear out the clutter? After all, a big spring cleaning can be a daunting endeavor. As with most things organizing-related, if you work on small tasks, the overall project can be a lot easier. Let’s start by paring down some of the extra supplies and electronics that might be lurking around your workspace:

What are you really using? Be honest with yourself, your needs, and what you’re truly likely to use. if you can’t think of an actual event or situation that is likely to happen in the near future where you could use an item, it’s time to let it go. If you haven’t ever needed the card stock you’ve been holding on to, you probably aren’t going to be using it anytime soon. Same goes for the t-shirt iron on transfer paper, the thank-you notes pre-printed with your old address, and the label cartridges for the label maker you no longer have. Your electronic detritus can also be pared down – look for mystery cables and connectors, dead hard drives, business card scanners that just didn’t work, and out-of-date devices to give the old heave-ho to.

Recycle or donate the discards. A huge barrier to clearing out the clutter that I see when I work with clients is that they don’t want their castoffs going into the landfill. It’s great to responsibly get rid of the things you no longer want or need – we just need to find the right new homes for your items. For office supplies, check with local schools and non-profits, as they are often happy to take all sorts of supplies, which can be used in their own offices, or as art supplies for kids. Electronics can be a little trickier. If you have something in working condition, it can often be donated to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Dead electronics can sometimes be sent back to the manufacturer of the item, recycled with a service like Green Citizen, or given to your local hazardous waste disposal unit.

Store what’s left. So you’ve cleared out the clutter and made some room in your workspace. Now it’s time to put everything that you want to keep away. Start by placing your supplies into groups – maybe the ink cartridges together, the mailing supplies in another group, and so on. Place the groups close to where you’d  be likely to use them – these then become your work and storage zones. Once your stuff is in a zone, then look for ways to store the items – whether in drawers, containers, on shelves, etc.

By clearing out the clutter, you can dramatically increase your productivity – the things you need and use are within easy reach, and it’s easy for you to put them away when you’re done. On top of that, you’ll feel better by knowing that you’re not hanging onto stuff that you don’t need!

Joshua Zerkel