June 2010 - Posts

Is Your Kitchen Your Home Office?
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 8:44 AM

The kitchen is the de facto command center for many homes. Whether you work at home, commute from home or stay-at-home, managing the paperwork and information flow of life requires a centralized strategy. Where better than the heart of the home?

That Was Easy

 Organizing a kitchen office doesn't have to be hard and having one will make life easy. Very easy. The kitchen is a magnet for paperwork, bills, car keys, prescriptions, invitations and to-do lists. Corralling these items is a must.

Capture items in daily use that can't be filed away in your kitchen command center.  A command center doesn't need to be the permanent filing solution we've discussed in other blog posts. Rather, a kitchen command center is a communications hub handling incoming and outgoing information needing immediate action on a day-to-day basis.

Consider including the following useful items:

  • Calendar
  • Corkboard
  • Dry erase board
  • Clock
  • Pegs for keys, dog leashes, backpacks, etc.
  • Wall mounted bins, file folders, baskets

Set up your command center to enable family members to walk in, unload crucial papers and items and have them at their fingertips when next ready to leave. For more how-to and real life inspiration read The Ultimate Family Command Center.  It targets busy moms and harried home business owners. If they can do it, you can do it.

Command Center Plus

With location independent workers  increasingly telecommuting or freelancing from home, kitchen command centers often need to do double-duty as an office. In our blog post Tips for Setting Up Your Home Office we outline basic home office needs. Home-makeover web site HGTV.com offers tips for optimizing kitchen work space in Fit Functional Office Space in the Kitchen.  Finally, enjoy the eye-candy inspiration of fabulous and functional kitchen office spaces at Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen Workstation Ideas

What tools help your kitchen command center run seamlessly? Do you have pictures of your kitchen home office to share? Post your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako

 

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Teams and Time Zones: Tips for a Global Workforce
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 9:34 AM

When a team's members work in Bombay and Boston, creating a high-functioning unit is a challenge. Navigating diverse cultural expectations and work styles is one hurdle. The logistics of working across time zones is another.

What Time Is It There?

Global teams wanting to optimize performance and communications can use technology and schedules that minimize the divide of separate locales and time zones. They can also work towards alignment, or common ground, in three critical areas outlined by management consultant expert Howard M. Guttman in Are Your Global Team Members Miles Apart? 

Create Commonality

 To transcend the limits of culture and geography, teams need to align, or achieve commonality, in three key areas. They are:

  •  Strategic and operational goals

Teams must agree on strategy and goals, rather than merely giving the appearance of agreeing. Develop clear, written, mutually agreed upon terms, and then stick to them.

  •  Roles and responsibilities

Overlapping roles and territorial disputes undermine productivity. Take time to clarify roles both verbally and in written form; formally articulating roles helps identify misunderstandings or disconnects.

  •  Decision making protocols

Clear decision making processes are crucial. Teams should agree on rules for decision making (i.e. will decisions be made unilaterally, consultatively or by consensus). Consider grouping decisions into categories and designate a decision maker for each (i.e. staffing, budget, marketing, decisions related to new product launches, etc.). Finally, ban second-guessing or attempts to circumvent set decisions.

 

Bridge Time Zones with Technology

Far-flung team members need to pay attention to the logistics of communications as much as the message communicated. When "what time is it anyway?" has vastly different answers, it's time to tackle the time zone gap

Tools to bridge the time zone divide include:

  • The World Clock ;Shows current times around the world
  • Fixed Time Calculator ;If it's 3pm in New York, what time is it in the rest of the world?
  • Dialing Code Calculator ;International area codes
  • World Meeting Planner ;Helps find suitable times for international meetings
  • Agree Date ;Comparisons of different time zones so user can see best block of time for call/conference
  • iZone ;Helps users coordinate all the time zones they might call or visit through an interactive visual interface

 

Consider scheduling meetings so the less desirable times (very early or late) rotate across locales. Cross train team members so that key functions reside in all locales. No one wants to be rousted from bed or called on a weekend for crucial information.

Finally, appreciate the upside of the global nature of your team. When the sun never sets on your workforce, problems can be tackled in one location, while team members in another head home for the night.

Do you have far-flung team members? What tips and techniques do you use to bridge the time zone divide? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

 

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What's Your Favorite Organization Tool? You could win an I.Organize™ Information Management Kit!
Monday, June 28, 2010 8:50 AM
Congratulations to Patti M, Mike R, and Heddy K! You've each won an I.Organize Kit! Send your mailing address to contact@beyondfolders.com ! What's an I.Organize™? In a world filled with Blackberrys, IPhones, Outlook, Lotus, CD's and...
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Drinking from the Virtual Water Cooler
Monday, June 28, 2010 8:31 AM
The office water cooler provides more than refreshment: it's the hub of office chit chat about World Cup standings and weekend plans while simultaneously being the front-line of critical office information . So what happens when a work environment...
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How to Write Persuasively
Monday, June 28, 2010 8:28 AM
Writing clear, compelling communications that seduce readers with style and conviction is a must in the modern workplace. Need persuasion? Consider how many work products are written: e-mails, cover letters, sales pitches, internal memos, presentations...
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Best Old and New Organization Tools
Friday, June 25, 2010 8:31 AM

Life requires organization. Fortunately a host of tools can help. We've assembled a must-have list ranging from the simple notepad and pen to the latest iPhone app. Read on and study up, it's time to get organized.

Old School

Not all organizing tools are high-tech. Consider that lowliest of office items, the waste basket. Tossing unneeded items is Organization 101.

Other so-simple-yet-so-useful items include:

  • A stack of 3×5 index cards. Use for lists, notes. Easy to file or toss. Cheap and portable.
  • A notebook and pen. As old-fashioned as it gets. Find a size and style that works and buy in bulk.
  • A Filofax. Keeps your calendar and contacts close at hand.
  • Post-it notes. Highly visual reminders when used sparingly.
  • Label maker.  Defines where items belong.
  • Shredder.  Eliminates sensitive and/or unnecessary documents.

New School

Take advantage of technology. Digital note-taking, to-do lists, mind-mapping, and personal organization tools all make being organized just a click away.

  • PDAs. Provide calendar, address book, to-do lists, documents/applications such as Word and Excel, clock and can sync with work calendars.
  • Scanners. Go paperless; scan must-keep documents/biz cards then toss.
  • Digital note taking and to-do lists. Backpack, Task ToyRemember the Milk,  and Ta-da lists  are just a few examples of mostly free, easy to use eLists.
  • Personal organizing tools. Again, too many options to list; Google Calendar, Ecco Pro and Time & Chaos  are a few standouts.

For more information on leading digital note taking, to-do lists and time tracking tools, read Blogging Bit's comprehensive article 40 Best Personal Organization Tools To Boost Your Productivity.

Too Cool for School

Technology adds a "wow" factor to staying organized. Tools so innovative, you didn't even know you needed them, keep popping up on the technology landscape. Here are some funky (and functional!) tools:

  • JotNot.  An iPhone app that turns your phone into a scanner.
  • reQall.  Turn your phone into a personal assistant. Dictate your to-dos, reminders, appointments and ReQall translates your commands into actionable tasks.
  • do.Oh.  A to-do list with a twist-a zany poll-making this web app a fun use.
  • RoamBi.  Excel docs and phones don't mix well. RoamBi takes spreadsheet files and turns them into "visualizations" - pie charts, bar graphs, flip books and other designs made especially for a small interface.

Do you have any favorite organizing tools we overlooked? What is your must-have list? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako

 

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Breaking Those Productivity Rules
Friday, June 25, 2010 7:46 AM

Go ahead, check your e-mail in the morning

Productivity "rules" are great - in a few words, they quickly remind you of what you need to do (or not do!) to have a productive a day.  But what about when one of these "always do this" or "never do that" rules don't work for you?

Let's take "never check e-mail in the morning."  Great advice that works for many.  But if checking your e-mail in the morning doesn't throw you way off course, and you find that once you get a few key e-mails out of the way you are then better able to focus on more important work, that's a successful routine for you - keep doing it, and stop feeling guilty about it.

Now, if the reason you keep trying to embrace this rule is because you do end up lingering in your inbox and wasting time, customize the rule to fit that reality.  One way you can do that is by asking "if I were to check e-mail in the morning and make the best, most productive and genuine use of my time, what would that look like?"

For example:

When I check e-mail in the morning...

  • I check for e-mail only from Bob, Angie, and Mark
  • I do not open any personal or irrelevant e-mail
  • I deal only with urgent, deadline-based, or quick action items, and leave the rest

Having these "do's and don'ts" spelled out in black and white can help pull you out of an e-mail trance on those days when you might need a little help to keep you focused.  And you can go through this process for any other activities that tend to throw your day off course.  Keep these reminders to 3-5 points, visible, and handy (index cards work well), so you can read them every day.

Make productivity rules work for you: they can best help keep you on track to a productive day when you customize them to fit your personality, situation, and the way you work.

Claudine Motto is a Productivity Coach and Professional Organizer in Wellington, Florida.  She works with women business owners who want to work smarter and get more done so they can have more time to grow the business that they love, and have more fun doing it.  For more tips and information, go to www.vistalnorte.com, connect with her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

 

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How’s the Tunnel Coming? Tracking Long Term Projects
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 8:34 AM

It took 20 years for the character Andy Dufresne to tunnel his way to freedom in the Oscar winning movie The Shawshank Redemption.  While most of us will never tackle a project of this scope, we all face long-term projects in the workplace. How best to track progress?

There is no one size-fits-all answer. Large companies, with deep pockets and dedicated project managers, can avail themselves of tools such as enterprise project management software, Gantt charts, PERT (Program Review and Review Technique) and Earned Value Analysis .

Looking to learn more about the fundamentals of project management? Visit the Project Management Institute (PMI), a non-profit professional organization, for resources including the seminal A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). PMBOK is the internationally recognized standard on project management as it applies to a wide range of projects including construction, software, engineering and automotive production.  

Smaller companies, or independent workers, require simpler project management tools that allow energy to be focused on completing projects rather than tracking progress. Pared down tacking tools for leaner infrastructures can include:

  • Online Project Management Tools  (Use software or for hire-services)
  • Time Tracking  (Critical if you bill hourly; helpful for anyone wondering "what the heck have I been working on?" Keep track manually or with software.)
  • Task Management  (Tasks include document uploads, document versioning, notes and comments, due dates, task status, and daily email reminders about what is due.)
  • Milestones  (Determine deliverables and deadlines, plug these into your time tracking calendar to stay on track)
  • Evaluate Progress, Analyze Results (Find the right evaluation method or software to analyze your day-to-day workflow and outcomes.)

The bottom line, long-term projects need to be chipped away at a day at a time, much like Andy Dufresne's tunnel. Make use of project tracking tools to ensure that you are staying on track.

How do you track-long term projects? What role do milestones and deadlines play in getting to the end of your tunnel? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

 

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How to Write Persuasively and Why
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 9:01 AM

To write is human. To persuade, divine. Writing clear, compelling communications that beguile readers with style and conviction is a must in the modern workplace. Do you want to convince readers of your viewpoint?  Or to clearly communicate information or intentions? Of course you do!  

Sharpen Your Writing Skills

Writing is a crucial part of the work day-to-day. Consider how many work products are written: e-mail, cover letters, sales pitches, internal memos, presentation and blog posts. Even the 140-character Tweet requires pint-sized punch.

Techniques, Not Talent

Pulitzer Prize writing requires enormous talent. Clear, compelling persuasive writing does not; rather it requires techniques anyone can master.  So how to write persuasively?

Employ these techniques:

  •  Create Strong Ideas (Simply state main ideas. To be persuasive, opinions must be understandable.)
  • Organize Logically (Chose to present your ideas directly or indirectly, don't meander between the two.)
  •  Select an Appropriate Voice (Is a formal or casual tone appropriate?  Most businesses writing should aim for a conversation, yet professional tone.)
  • Precise Words Only (Leave out qualifiers, excessive adjectives/adverbs, long lead-ins, clichés)
  • Employ Sentence Variety (Vary rhythm. Use a mix of short, punchy sentences offsetting longer ones.)
  • Correct Copy (There's no place for typos, grammatical errors.)
  • Polish the Presentation (How does the copy look? Make use of bullets and formatting to create white space. Keep it easy on the eyes, not dense.)

 

And, most importantly, proof read your work. Many times, when I believe I have done all of the above techniques, I proof my work, and find a mistake, or a better way to communicate an idea.

See what professional writers have to say on the topic:

Really serious about overhauling your writing skills? Invest in two classic references:

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction and Strunk's Elements of Style. 

Do you have compelling examples of writing to share? What writers do you find persuasive and why? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris

 

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Creating a Virtual Water Cooler
Thursday, June 17, 2010 8:43 AM

The office water cooler enjoys an iconic reputation in the American workplace. It's the hub of office chit chat about must-see TV and weekend plans while simultaneously being the front-line of critical office information

Given the value of water cooler communications, remote employees and nomadic workers need to fill the void created by their alternative work environments. What's needed is a virtual water cooler.

Fortunately, the rise of social networking  makes sipping from the virtual water cooler a real possibility. Social media allows users to build professional networks and exchange business ideas virtually. Social networking can also provide inspiration, boost morale and mitigate feelings of isolation.

Many different networks exist, under two broad categories

  • Horizontal networks: Broad networks where anyone can belong. Examples include: Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Twitter
  • Vertical networks: niche networks, often organized by profession (military.com, policelink, linkedin) or by area of interest (babycenter, dogster, ravelry, [a knitting network]).

Spend time thinking about what type of network best serves your needs. Perhaps it's a broad network such as Facebook used in combination with a niche community focused on your profession.

Looking to "tweet" and "friend" a virtual water cooler network? We've assembled a collection of articles on how social media can help.

Commit yourself to building and managing a social network just as you would face-to-face office relationships. The Wall Street Journal recently declared that Facebook and Twitter have dethroned e-mail as the king of communication.

It's time to stop by that virtual water cooler and check in.

Do you make use of a virtual water cooler? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

 

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Stop Procrastinating Now!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 11:34 AM

English humorist Douglas Adams once joked "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." Easy to make jokes when being funny is your job but at most workplaces procrastination is no laughing matter. Time is valuable; if we spend it putting off important tasks, it's doubly-wasted.

So let's jump right in. Are you a procrastinator?

We all know what procrastination looks like: putting off until tomorrow what we should do today. Yet some forms of procrastination are more subtle. Often we busy ourselves with small tasks rather than tackling high priority jobs.

Do you ever:

  • Sit down to a critical task and immediately get side-tracked?
  • Say yes to unimportant tasks that distract you from high priority items?
  • Read e-mails several times without taking action?

 

If you answered yes (like I did) to any of those, you are a procrastinator. Need help determining if you're a major or a minor procrastinator? Mind Tools has a helpful Are You a Procrastinator? quiz

Why People Procrastinate

Recognizing you are a procrastinator is the first step in tackling the why-do-today-what-you-can-put-off-until-tomorrow attitude that derails productivity and decision-making.

So why procrastinate? Common reasons include:

  • Disorganization
  • Reluctance to tackle what is perceived as unpleasant or difficult
  • Absence of strong decision making skills
  • Fear of failure (perfectionists take note: this is most often your concern)

For a more in-depth look at the emotional and psychological reasons people procrastinate, we've collected some useful articles:

Tips to Stop Procrastinating

Now to the good stuff.  How to stop procrastinating once and for all.

To begin, set the stage. Visualize the unpleasant consequences of not doing the task. Empower others to check up on you; positive peer pressure is a motivating force. Once you've set up your stick, be sure to find your carrot. Reward yourself for accomplishing goals. What I have found is thinking about all the things I have to do causes 'mental stress', which magically disappears once the task is done!

Get Organized, Get Going

  • Keep a prioritized to-do list
  • Schedule your tasks and your time
  • Break projects into manageable pieces, do it step-by step
  • Give yourself realistic deadlines, reward yourself for meeting them
  • Tackle tough jobs first; they might be less unpleasant then you feared
  • Overhaul your decision-making skills  if you can't decide what to do first.
  • Practice your anti-procrastination techniques. It'll get easier.

Looking for more tips? We've collected some terrific resources:

So kick the procrastination habit for good. What are you waiting for?

Do you have road-tested anti-procrastination tips to share? How do you motivate yourself to tackle tough projects? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris

 

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Managing Productivity During the Summer
Thursday, June 10, 2010 8:46 AM

Memorial Day is in the rearview mirror, school vacation is almost upon us.  With the "lazy, hazy, crazy" days of summer fast approaching, how best to maintain productivity during a season marked by holidays, vacations and distracting beach weather?

For starters, don't resist the time off. While it may seem counterintuitive, productivity is actually enhanced by taking a break. Roman poet Ovid famously said, "Take a rest; a field that is rested gives a bountiful crop."

Make a Plan and Hit the Road

Don't Forego Your Vacation This Summer!

 

The Upside of Downtime

Ovid's dictum holds true today.  A 2009 study lead by Harvard Business School leadership professor Leslie Perlow confirms that getting away from work for set, preplanned periods of time can yield unexpected on-the-job benefits. The preparation required to successfully execute a shortened workweek produces tangible benefits which can include:

  • Better communication
  • Closer work relationships
  • Improved planning ahead
  • Streamlined work
  • Improved client service

Wall Street Journal reporter Sue Shellenbarger was inspired by the HBS study to put aside her own work for a set period each month and found her own productivity improving. Read her article If You Need to Work Better, Try Working Less for her first-hand account of increased productivity through planned respites.

Consider a Compressed Workweek

Looking for opportunities to let your field lie fallow? Explore the possibilities of working Summer Hours also commonly called a Compressed Workweek.  Compressed schedules can be set up in a variety of ways, either 40 hours worked over 4 days, or a week of five nine-hour days followed by a week of four nine-hour days, giving employees a day off every other week. Some offices elect to give employees half day Fridays. Summer Hours typically are offered only between Memorial and Labor Days.

According to a study by Hewitt Associates,  a leading HR consulting and outsourcing firm, the majority of firms who provide compressed workweeks during the summer find it successful in boosting employee retention, engagement and productivity.

While a flexible work schedule can provide plenty of upside-revitalized employees and improved workplace planning and communication- drawbacks to compressed workweeks exist and should be fully explored before embarking on any schedule changes.

Make Vacation Count

If a compressed work week isn't in the cards, recharge your batteries by making the most of your vacation days.

Alleviate pre-vacation stress by giving plenty of notice so schedules run smoothly and cross-train a colleague to sub in on your workload while you're out. Consider scheduling vacations after major projects and during slow periods so you can be confident your absence isn't burdensome.

And while you may need (or want) to check in, be sure to allow enough mental distance from work, that you can return recharged and ready.

Does your workplace have Summer Hours or policies to help manage productivity during the summer? Share your stories here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako

 

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Problem? Solved.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 10:21 AM
By Candie Harris Problems and workplaces go hand-in-hand. No matter the size of the company, the scope of the dilemma, problems are as inescapable in the workplace as well, work. While problems cropping up may be beyond your control, problem- solving...
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Take the Time to Understand Technology Use Policies
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 9:00 AM

Learning how to use your new office-issued laptop or cell phone is no longer enough to keep you current in today's workplace. Today, we must understand when to use these devices.

If you've ever surfed the web at work or sent a personal e-mail or text from an office computer or mobile phone-and who hasn't?-you need to take the time to understand your office's policy of acceptable technology use.

Did you know that a quarter of employers have fired workers for misusing e-mail and nearly one third have fired employees for misusing the Internet? That statistic comes from the 2007 Electronic Monitoring & Surveillance Survey  from American Management Association (AMA) and The ePolicy Institute. It's worth a read to see what other forms of technology use have landed employees in hot water.

Most corporate work environments have technology use policies in place. Consult with your human resources team or manager to be sure you're up-to-date. If your firm is small, and doesn't have protocols in place, encourage management to formalize guidelines

Keep in mind that the landscape of what is acceptable and legal often shifts. The Supreme Court  will soon decide if a California police department violated an employee's privacy when it inspected personal text messages he sent using a work-issued pager. Avid texters, and companies that issue handheld devices, will want to be well-informed about how the decision affects their workplace.

Workplaces need to minimize litigation, security and other risks. They also need to manage productivity.  So scrutiny of employees' use of office technology is going to be an ever-present part of the modern workplace. Arm yourself with information to stay on track. That way, the next time you pick up your office-issued cell or get on the Internet, you can be confident that you're adhering to best practices in your usage.

Does your workplace have a clear cut policy on acceptable technology usage that you can share? What standards are most helpful in managing your day-to-day technology use? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

 

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Meeting Etiquette
Tuesday, June 08, 2010 9:13 AM

Across the pond, the new English Prime Minister has set tongues wagging with his decision to ban cabinet members from using mobile phones and BlackBerries in meetings. This tempest is in an English teapot but it does bear thinking about at home. I would be lying if I didn't say that at times, I would love to ban phones, blackberries, and laptops from meetings. Technology has clearly changed the way we work and live. But has it changed the rules of what is polite and acceptable in business meetings?

Maintaining Meeting Etiquette

According to Christine Pearson, a management professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Thunderbird School of Global Management  technology and its omnipresence in the workplace is eroding civility. Pearson interviewed 9,000 U.S. workers and managers for her book The Cost of Bad Behavior and concluded that texting and emailing during meetings is a serious lapse of etiquette.

"No one likes to be snubbed, of course, but the offense can take on a new edge when the winner is a machine," observed Pearson in a recent New York Times article Sending a Message that You Don't Care

Managers work hard to plan and execute successful meetings.  Don't let a meeting be derailed by texting and cell phone interruptions. Establish a protocol for managing meeting technology etiquette. 

Steps could include:

  • Remind everyone that face-to-face meeting time is valuable.
  • Impose a moratorium on devices during some meetings, but allow breaks for checking e-mail, texts and networking accounts.
  • Work with your staff to set guidelines about what is and isn't reasonable in your particular workplace.
  • Hold everyone accountable to the guidelines - including yourself.

One of the first rules for life we are taught as young children is 'mind your manners.' Keep this old truism firmly in mind when next tempted to check your e-mail or send a text during a meeting. Remember, that the message you could be sending is that what is on your e-mail or cell phone is more important than interacting with the person you are with.

Do you think meeting etiquette is being executed well in your workplace?  Could your office stand to improve its meeting etiquette policies? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris

 

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About Beyond Folders™

Beyond FoldersTM is written by a team of Pendaflex associates passionate about time management, communications, productivity and workplace organization.  Believing in  "continuous improvement" on both a personal and professional level, they share their unique perspectives on subjects of common interest to our readers.

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