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Supermom vs. Super Mom By Vanessa Hayes

Supermom vs Super MomAs far as I am aware, I am not a mom. I’m certainly not a super mom. I can say with reasonable confidence that my wife has me beat in all super mom aspects (sometimes she whips up a batch of muffins in the morning before heading off to her corporate senior management job – I’m lucky if I can make my smoothie without it exploding).

However, I enjoy the work that Dan Hayes and Vanessa Hayes do on their Simple Life Together podcast, and when Vanessa released her book Supermom vs Super Mom: Simplicity Tips for Busy Moms: A Simple Life Guide to Getting Organized, Finding Margin and Embracing Simplicity for Moms I decided what the heck, I’ll pick it up and maybe get some good simplicity tips.

I bought it when it first came out, but because of the weird way that I read books, I haven’t gotten to it until just now. Since I am currently on a train heading down to the World Domination Summit, I figure it is a good time to write about the book since WDS in 2011 was the first time I met them. If you look closely in this picture, you can see Dan, Vanessa, and I all listening to Leo Babauta in his “class on the grass”.

WDS Zen Habits Meetup

While I’ve established that I am not a mom, I found that the book has a lot of great tips that you can implement immediately. One area I really liked was her S-I-M-P-L-E method for organizing. We have some areas at home that are a bit, shall we say, disorganized. I’m going to apply this methodology to those and see how it goes.

I don’t think I have ever said this about a book, but the Appendices are almost the most valuable part. There are specific sections for specific types of clutter, and there are routines she outlines that can really make a difference.

For example, there is a fantastic appendix on dealing with paper clutter. If you want to learn to create an overall paper plan, the book is worth it just for that chapter alone.

While targeted to moms, I think Supermom vs Super Mom could be valuable for anyone who wants to create order at home and get their stuff and routines under control.

Full disclosure: At the National Association of Professional Organizers conference in Phoenix this year, I went out to dinner with Dan and Vanessa and they bought me a burger called The Green Monster, and there may have been one or two Lumberyard IPAs involved. However, I had purchased the book months before this dinner, and the deliciousness of The Green Monster did not influence my recommending this book.

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Should You Have A Document Destruction Policy?

Prune BonsaiWhen you go paperless, over time you will accumulate a lot of information. This may lead you to ask yourself an important question – how long should you keep your electronic documents? Should you prune them periodically, or should you keep them forever?

I need to be open and transparent right off the bat here – I do not prune my documents. To this point, I have taken a “you never know what you will need until you need it” approach and have kept everything.

That has worked for me so far, but there may be some very good reasons to have an electronic document destruction policy – especially if you run a larger business.

But I Want To Keep My Electronic Documents Forever

That is entirely your choice, but here are some things to consider.

Storage Costs

The nice thing about going paperless is that more document storage does not usually lead to more physical space being taken up. We don’t have to worry about file cabinets, boxes, or storage rooms.

You often hear “storage is cheap” when it comes to electronic data, and it is. You can get terabyte upon terabyte of cloud storage for free, and the price of external storage keeps falling.

Over time though, you may start hitting storage tiers where keeping more data leads to additional cost, which may be unnecessary.

Increased Complexity

The more information you keep, the more you will need to wade through when you or your users are looking for a document. Using a consistent and descriptive naming convention will help, but the less outdated and irrelevant information you need to wade through, the more effective you may be.

Legal Issues

This is mostly applicable in an organization, but keeping old documents around may open you up to legal risk. The more documents you have, the more discoverable information there is if you are involved in a lawsuit or audit.

It is sad for historic and preservation reasons, but there is a trend for organizations to get rid of documents as quickly as they can for these sorts of legal reasons.

There are some important caveats around this though, so read on.

Create An Electronic Document Destruction Policy

So you’ve decided that you want to start removing old information. Here is what you should not do: go crazy and start deleting stuff.

The first thing you will want to do is talk to your legal and tax experts to find out which records you need to keep and for how long.

Once you have sorted that out, it is still not to time to take a chainsaw to your document archive. You should create a formal document destruction policy.

For example, the time to delete documents related to a lawsuit is not when you are involved in the lawsuit. That is what is known as a Bad Idea (remember Enron?).

Rich Medina puts it well in his AIIM post 4 Things You Need to Know to Safely Get Rid of Electronic Stuff (Technical Term for Information Chaos):

The first step is to develop your Defensible Disposition Policy. This is the design specification that states very clearly the objectives that your methodology will fulfill. You should be able to defend your actions by pointing at your policy for defensible disposition, which shows what you intend to do, and then showing that you are following it. The good news is that you don’t need to be perfect – you don’t have to perfectly satisfy your retention demands. You do need to use the Principle of Reasonableness and act In Good Faith.

Some things you will want to think about:

  • What should be removed?
  • What should never be removed?
  • When should they be removed?
  • Who removes them?

Though it is specifically targeted at lawyers, Lawyerist has a good Sample Document-Destruction Policy.

Make Sure Everything Is Documented

You want to make sure that everything you do around document destruction (especially if you are an organization) is done carefully and deliberately.

When you destroy records, you want to make sure that the act of destruction is documented and shown that it is in compliance with your policy.

Document Pruning Strategies

Many higher-level document management systems have disposition features built-in that you can use.

If you are not using one of those systems, you can do things like set up smart folders on your computer to identify files in your archive that are of a certain age in a certain location and then go through those to decide which to delete.

Make Sure You Review And Update

Over time, you will want to review your policy and make sure that it is still relevant, and you will want to do some sample audits to make sure that the policy is being followed.

Do You Have A Document Destruction Policy?

Do you keep everything (as I currently do), or do you prune your documents? If you are comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear below the sorts of things you delete and how you go about it.

(Photo by Tanaka Juuyoh)

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Mac Users – Save Browser Tabs For Later And Take Action

TabsBrowser tabs, amiright?

For those of us old and/or geeky enough to remember when tabbed browsing first became available, it was a godsend. No more stacks of never-ending browser windows all over the place.

Of course, we still have the same underlying problem. We still have too much stuff open in our browsers; it has just shifted to too many tabs instead of too many windows.

Often these tabs are things we no longer need, so that is no problem – close away. But what if they are something we want to research later? What if they are reference material, or items that require some sort of action?

Technology wizard Justin Lancy (aka Veritrope) has put together this fantastic list of resources for Mac users (sorry, Windows friends) that allow you to capture those open tabs and quickly do something with them:

Tools to Organize Browser Tabs for Mac Users – Veritrope

Here’s a strategy that you might consider trying: Prepare some tools which can, at the moment you’re ready, put all those tabs exactly where you need them so you can close those tabs. If most of those tabs are really your to-do list, line them up in one window and then get them into your actual to-do list. I’ve found that if your tools are easy to use, you’ll be more likely to make it a part of your routine.

That’s the key – Getting in the habit of not letting those open tabs accumulate.

If you are using Safari or Chrome, he’s created AppleScripts to save your open tabs to Text files, Evernote, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, Reminders, and DEVONthink Pro.

He’s even packaged them up in easy Alfred workflows and Launchbar 6 actions. Bananas.

I’ve found the Alfred Chrome-to-OmniFocus one super handy because that is how I roll, but I am going to start playing with the Evernote ones as well.

Thanks Justin! Now I just have to actually take action on these tabs I am putting into my task manager.

(Photo by Peter Dutton)

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Ampad Shot Note Writing Pads – From Handwritten To Handheld

Ampad Shot Note IconI have attended the annual conference for the National Association of Professional Organizers for the past two years, and both times I eyed the booth for a product called the Ampad Shot Note.

The Shot Note pads are billed as an easy way to digitize handwriting and sketches, and this year they were handing out some samples.

I picked up two 5×8 Writing pads in ruled and dot graph format to try out. As usual for these sorts of tests, I am trying it out at my local Starbucks to simulate “real world” use.

I can’t tell if people are staring at me because I am taking pictures of notebooks like a crazy person, or if it is because I have a World Cup match playing on the iPad beside me.

Ampad Shot Note
Ampad Shot Note

It’s All About The Corners

These writing pads come with 40 sheets of lined or graph paper. Unfortunately, they are single-sided.

The first thing you will notice is that the pages have strange-looking squares on each corner. The Shot Note app (more on that in a moment) uses these markings to easily determine the page capture area.

Shot Note Corners
Shot Note Corners

Speaking of the pages, I have seem some complaints online that the paper is a bit thin and that there can be some bleedthrough. Unless you’re Daniel Gold and use a fountain pen, you probably won’t have an issue, but it is something to be aware of. I personally have not experienced any bleedthrough problems with my trusty Pilot G2 .38 pen.

Capture With The Shot Note App

Of course you can take a picture of the paper with any camera-enabled app, but the point of using these special notebooks is to use the free Shot Note app which is available for iOS and Android.

When you use the app, you position the camera so that the corners are inside the blue boxes and hit the button to take the picture (it’d be nice if it automatically detects that and does it for you).

Shot Note Corners
Shot Note Corners

Once you take the picture, it automatically crops out everything outside of the corners.

Shot Note Cropped Image
Shot Note Cropped Image

One thing I don’t understand: if it is able to crop out everything outside of the corners, why don’t they crop out the corners themselves? It is weird that the resulting image still has the corner squares and the Ampad branding. Who would want that?

Here is an image captured with the grid paper. Once you capture the image, you can perform basic cleanup such as making it black & white, adjusting the brightness, and adjusting the contrast.

Shot Note Grid Image Manipulation
Shot Note Grid Image Manipulation

Image Export

The Shot Note app wouldn’t be very useful if the images stayed in the app. Fortunately you can email the image, and one handy feature is the ability to set up a default email address.

You can also link the app to your Evernote or Dropbox account.

Shot Note Export
Shot Note Export

Evernote Export

For Evernote, you can set a default notebook and default tags for your exported images.

Here are two notes that were exported to Evernote: ruled and grid.

Dropbox Export

When you export to Dropbox, it creates a folder under Apps called Ampad Shot Note. For each exported note, it creates a folder which has a text file containing the note’s description, and a JPG with the image.

Shot Note Dropbox Export
Shot Note Dropbox Export

My Verdict

The Ampad Shot Note pads are an interesting idea and the app seems to work well. The 5×8" Writing Pad, which I used, is available on Amazon. There are also 8.5×11.75" pads, 9×12" spiral bound notebooks, and even easel pads.

While everything works well, I am not a huge fan of systems like this that rely on proprietary paper that you have to keep buying. At $6 for 40 single-sided sheets, it will get pretty expensive if you use it a lot (maybe I am just cheap though).

There are also so many great document scanning apps like Genius Scan, Scanner Pro, and Scanbot that this sort of solution perhaps isn’t quite as useful as it once was.

Maybe that’s my bias though – do you see any great uses for a system like this? Let me know why I am wrong in the comments.

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Codes And Document Naming Conventions

Name TagsThe more I work with electronic documents, the more I become convinced that a consistent, descriptive naming convention is the biggest thing you can do to be able to find your documents later.

Having searchable PDFs is great, but using a naming convention will help to make sure that your documents are findable, not just searchable.

This includes including dates in the file name and using words in the name that will help you search for the document later.

Project Or Client Codes

If you work with clients or projects, you can go one step further and have a unique code that you include in the file name. I find this incredibly helpful to quickly zoom in on the file or folder that I am looking for using search.

I tend to use three letter codes inspired by this oldie but goodie blog post by Ben Brooks.

I was once talking to someone from an accounting firm, and she told me that they came up with a shared naming convention by which they would have a code of the first three letters of a client’s last name and the first three letters of a client’s first name in the file name.

For example, for an invoice they might have something like this:

2014_05_31-Comcast_Bill_DUNBRO.pdf

What About Privacy?

At the NAPO conference last week, I was in a session by the Project Digital Sanity crew. They made an interesting point – if you have a situation where for privacy reasons you wouldn’t want the client name in the file name, you could use a client number instead.

What Do You Use?

These are three examples of naming codes you could use. You need to figure out what works for you and your documents.

Do you have a naming code system for your documents? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

(Photo by Mr. Eugene)

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You Are Responsible For Your Own Data

Control KeyPeople often ask me if I recommend downloading paperless statements and bills, or if it is okay to leave them on the bank or other vendor’s website.

My answer to this is always the same: do whatever works for you, but I always recommend downloading your electronic documents.

Why is this?

You Need To Control Your Data

It takes extra work, but my opinion is that you need to be the one to control your data.

Your paperless statements on your bank’s website? They’ll only be there for a set amount of time.

How long is that set amount of time? It varies. Six months, a year, eighteen months, six years? You are completely at the mercy of the bank’s IT department. If they decide they want to cut the amount of time that statements are stored, there is nothing you can do about it.

If you have downloaded the statement, it doesn’t matter what the bank does. You are in control.

Even Awesome Services Go Away

Just because a service is popular does not mean it will survive. Case in point: Manilla is closing as of July 1, 2014.

Many people used Manilla to take the billing process paperless. What could be better than managing and paying bills in one place through the web, and then having free online document storage?

Well, users have until September 30, 2014 to get their documents out of Manilla. After that, they will be gone. Judging by the company’s Twitter stream, users are now scrambling to download their documents.

By the way, for Manilla refugees, a feature I like in the FileThis service is its ability to automatically download bills and statements, but you can then have them automatically download to your computer. You get some of the benefits of Manilla, but you don’t have to worry about ending up in the same place later.

Does This Mean Don’t Use The Cloud?

I am absolutely not saying that you should only store your documents locally and not use the cloud.

What I am saying is that no one cares about your data as much as you do. Want to use a cloud synchronization service? Go for it. But have a local backup of your information, and know how to get your stuff out of your chosen platform before you are forced to.

Manilla users are fortunate that they have four months to download their information – not everyone will be so lucky.

I have always appreciated Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s proactive stance on how they treat user data with their Three Laws of Data Protection:

Everything we do at Evernote follows these three basic rules:

Your Data is Yours
Your Data is Protected
Your Data is Portable

The key law is the first one: your data is yours. Even if you entrust it to a third party, you are still responsible for your own data. You would be well served to take that responsibility seriously.

(Photo by Faramarz Hashemi)

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Wipebook Review

WipebookAt the end of 2013, I did a post about an interesting looking Kickstarter project. The product I funded (I have a Kickstarter weakness) is called the Wipebook, and I have been using it for the past month.

If you want to skip the rest of this post, I will save you time and just say that I love the Wipebook and use it every day.

What It Is

I spent many years doing and running software support, and my not-so-secret weapon was a pad of paper I kept beside my desk. For jotting down information, there is nothing (for me) as fast as scrawling quick notes.

I have found iPad apps like Penultimate or typing into Evernote an acceptable substitute, but it was never quite the same.

When I saw the Wipebook, I knew right away it was what I was looking for – a way to quickly jot down information, but it is erasable and reusable so I don’t waste paper.

The book is 25 pages (50 sides) and you can get it in blank, lined, grid, or a mix thereof. I ordered the blank version.

Wipebook

Erasing

The first time I went to erase something, I used a whiteboard eraser I had lying around and – nothing erased (unless I put a lot of elbow grease in). I thought “oh no, another Kickstarter disaster.”

I quickly realized that was a function of the pen I was using (more on that in a moment). I’ve found that if I put a few drops of water on a paper towel, the page erases quickly and perfectly.

If you are using standard dry erase markers, erasing is easy. You can even erase it with your finger. If you are using correctable markers (again, more on this below), they recommend erasing the page within a week.

Wipebook

If you don’t erase weekly or if you are having any other eraser trouble, it’s not a big deal. Just put a bit of isopropyl alcohol (available in any drug store) on a paper towel and it will come right off good as new.

Markers

The Wipebook will work with standard dry erase markers, but you will find the ink will smudge off quite easily.

The manufacturers recommend that you use a correctable marker, and when you buy the Wipebook they’ll offer to tack one on to your order. I highly recommend picking one up. I find writing on the Wipebook with a Staedtler Lumocolor Fine Correctable marker great. You can either buy it from the Wipebook folks, or you can buy a pack of four on Amazon.

Staedtler Lumocolor Correctable Marker

Once you start delving into the world of Staedtler markers, you will see that there are Non-Permanent markers as well. You don’t want to use these – they will cause ghosting. Stick with Correctables.

Now Feel The Wrath Of The Left Hand Of Brooks!

Being a lefty, I fully expected the Wipebook to not work out for me. If you are left-handed you will know what I am talking about.

For those not in our secret club, imagine writing on a whiteboard and finding that half of what you wrote is smudged onto your hand.

I have found that smudging isn’t nearly as much of an issue as I had expected. Using the aforementioned Correctable markers, there has been very little smudging. It occasionally happens, but the eraser on these markers is very good and it is quick to fix if desired.

Scanning

Your use may vary, but for me, I want to keep many of these notes that I am taking.

What I do is write away in the Wipebook and then when I am done, I use a scanning app (usually Genius Scan) to capture the page and send it to Evernote.

Believe it or not, the Wipebook folks have a video where they show scanning the Wipebook pages with a ScanSnap, but I have not tried that, and don’t really expect to be taking my binding off.

Wishlist

There isn’t much I would change about the Wipebook. I’ve seen some complaints online about the binding not being sturdy, but I have not experienced any issues at all.

The main thing I wish is that they would make smaller versions. A 25 page 8.5×11" book is hefty to carry around. I’d love a smaller version that I can throw in a bag with my iPad.

The Wipebook is $29.99, so it is not drugstore-notebook cheap, but for me it is worth it.

What do you think of the Wipebook or the concept of a “reusable book”? Do you have any use for it?

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Organize Electronic Files The National Archives Way

Hard Drive Light EffectsOn the DocumentSnap Facebook Page, awesome reader Corey Adams shared this great video from the US National Archives.

The video is titled “Let’s Get Organized! Setting up your Electronic Files”, and is by Donna Read from the National Archives.

The presentation is a little geared towards agencies and larger organizations, but it still has solid tips for file organization, naming, and some of the challenges we face when organizing electronic documents.

It makes some great points about why organizing electronic documents up front is more important than with paper files.

Thanks for the tip, Corey!

(Photo by Matt Rudge)

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Photo Organizing Tips From An Expert

Stack of PhotosA surprising number of awesome DocumentSnap readers write me and ask for photo scanning and organizing advice.

A look at my iPhoto library will tell you that I am absolutely not the person to ask about this subject, but as luck would have it I went to the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers in New Orleans last year and met Christie Gelsomino. When I found out she is both a Professional Organizer and a Certified Personal Photo Organizer, I begged her for her card. Little did she know I’d be bugging her for advice someday, and today is that day.

I asked Christie for photo scanning and photo organizing tips.

What equipment do you need to scan in your photos?

FlipPal (portable to take to clients), Kodak upright (large projects), Canon and/or Epson (flat bed scanning).

The best resolution to scan at is at least 600 dpi.

Is it better to use a scanning service? Any recommendations?

The scanning services are good to use as well, if you just don’t have the time or the equipment. I use them for larger projects and for a faster turn around time then what I might be available to do for my clients.

Fotobridge in NJ, ScanDigital in CA. No company that will then send your photos overseas to be scanned. Keep your photos in the USA.

Brooks note: Obviously this applies if you are in the USA to start with. If you know a comparable service in your country, please let us know in the comments.

What are some tips for organizing physical photos?

  1. Know your goal for the completed project. Break that goal into smaller goals. Stay focused. Get help.
  2. Gather all the physical photos into one general location of the house.
  3. Created a timeline of events/people/yearly activities to help label the photos.
  4. Group by theme or by date or a combination of both.
  5. It’s ok to TRASH bad pictures.
  6. Become a detective with the photos to find the clues that you need.
  7. Use archival, photo and lignin free products to store your photos. Albums or photo boxes.
  8. Use post-it notes and archival safe writing tools to make notes with your photos.
  9. Scan the physical photos as a “back up”, not to get rid of the physical photos. Consider the physical photos a form of a back-up.
  10. Share the photos, create gifts, display your organized photos and tell the stories that go with the photos.

What are some tips for organizing digital photos?

  1. Know your goal for the completed project. Break that goal into smaller goals. Stay focused. Get help.
  2. Gather all the digital photos into one general location. Computers, memory cards, devices etc…
  3. Create a timeline of events/people/yearly activities to help label the photos.
  4. BACK-UP first before starting your digital photo organizing, then BACK-UP again at the end of the work session. PictureKeeper is great for this.
  5. It’s ok to DELETE bad pictures.
  6. Group by theme or by date or a combination of both. Use the Number system 1.2.3 to label the files. ex. 1 January 2014
  7. Use the provided software that is already on your computer (PC: Picture Viewer, Mac: iPhoto).
  8. Additional software: Picasa, Shutterfly, Flickr, Photoshop/Lightroom, Panstoria.
  9. PRINT some of your best digital photos not just to share but to also have them as a back-up.
  10. Share the photos, create gifts, display your organized photos (digital photo frame) and tell the stories that go with the photos.

Any additional information you’d like to share?

Get Film Reels, VHS tapes, Slides and Negatives transferred to DVD’s, CD’s or a Hard Drive so you can view these great stories.

Keep the originals because we don’t know how long DVD’s, CD’s or a Hard Drive can last. VHS tapes are an exception, they are already deteriorating.

Thanks so much Christie! If you have additional photo tips or questions for Christie, please leave them in the comments.

Christie Gelsomino is the owner and operator of Vision to be Organized (2006) and Scrapbook Designer (2003). She is a Professional Organizer, a Certified Personal Photo Organizer, a Certified Home Movie Expert and a Personal Scrapbook Designer. Christie is a NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) National Member, a NAPO Los Angeles Chapter Member and a NAPO Virtual Chapter Member. Christie serves currently as the Marketing Director for the NAPO-LA Chapter, has been the Chapter Historian for the NAPO-LA Chapter since 2007 and is on the Professional Development Committee for the NAPO Virtual Chapter since 2012, she is also a NAPO Golden Circle member and a member of the NAPO Technology Sig. Christie is also a member of APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organizers) as a Certified Personal Photo Organizer. Christie has assisted as a Professional Organizer on the A&E show “Hoarders.” Christie focuses her organizing business on residential organizing while specializing in photo organizing.

(Photo by Alex)

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SimpleRev – Pursuing Simplicity

SimpleRevThere’s an interesting-looking new conference coming up that I thought I’d share, since I know a lot of DocumentSnap readers are into simplification and minimalism.

It’s called SimpleRev and it is taking place October 3–4, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN.

According to the site, here is what will go on:

There will be intimate workshops, inspiring main-stage action, community-sourced meetups, and evening connecting shindigs. You’ll also talk with mentors, new friends, and potential project partners … not to mention have a ton of fun.

SimpleRev is being put on by Joel Zaslofsky from Value of Simple and Dan Hayes of Simple Life Together fame. I notice my friend Mike Vardy is speaking too.

The first batch of tickets went on sale today if you are interested in checking it out.

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