July 2010 - Posts

Problem Solving with the 5 Whys
Friday, July 30, 2010 1:18 PM

Anyone who has ever spent time with young children has heard the question:"Why?" over and over again. Kids are onto something: "why" is not only a classic information gathering tool, it does double duty as a problem-solving device.

Consider the 5 Whys,  a problem solving method developed by car-making kingpin Saikichi Toyoda of Toyota Industries. Toyoda advocated a 5-step question and answer process to discover the root cause of a problem and find a solution. Today, the 5 Whys are used by proponents of lean manufacturing-a business practice that focuses on reducing waste-to solve problems, improve quality, and reduce costs.

Why ask Why?

So how do the 5 Whys work?  Here is an example from Lean Tool Box How-To: Five Why's Problem Solving.

The problem:  A key piece of equipment failed.

1.    Why did the equipment fail? Because the circuit board burned out.

2.    Why did the circuit board burn out? Because it overheated.

3.    Why did it overheat? Because it wasn't getting enough air.

4.    Why was it not getting enough air? Because the filter wasn't changed.

5.    Why was the filter not changed? Because there was no preventive maintenance schedule to do so.

Solution: Develop a preventive maintenance schedule.

In this example, the 5 Whys neatly lead to a useful and easily executable solution. Problem solved. However, problems can be more intractable so care should be taken to develop an effective problem statement. If the problem is inaccurately characterized, every step that follows will be wrong.  Remain open to amending the problem statement as you learn more during your investigation. Also, take care not to combine multiple problems into one.

For more on the 5 Whys, we've assembled some useful resources:

Have you found the 5 Whys helpful in problem solving?  Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers


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Stress Less: Keeping Work Worries in Check
Thursday, July 29, 2010 2:04 PM

Deadlines, shrinking budgets, economic uncertainty: work provides plenty of sources of stress. How to keep stress at bay, or at least keep it from ballooning into full-fledged burnout?

To begin, do a stress check. Are you experiencing any of the physical or mental affects of stress?

  • Attention. How is your focus? Energy levels? Are they off?
  • Mood. Are you less optimistic than usual? Have your thoughts become negative? Are you easily frustrated?
  • Stamina. Do you feel like you're running out of steam?
  • Body. Are you experiencing back pain, dizziness, a racing pulse, heart burn or headaches? These are all common indicators of stress. 

If you've answered yes to any of the above questions, you're experiencing some level of stress. So how to keep it in check? 

Combating Stress at Work

To begin, recognize that stress isn't always negative. Sometimes the adrenaline rush that comes on before a big meeting or presentation can sharpen the senses and provide for optimum performance. But chronic stress can have a deleterious impact on health and is linked with negative workplaces outcomes such as absenteeism and loss of productivity

Therefore, stress needs to be managed. For tips on reducing job stress by prioritizing and organizing read Stress at Work: How to Reduce and Manage Workplace and Job Stress. 

Highlights include:

  • Practice realistic time management: Don't over commit; understand how long it takes to get tasks done.
  • Practice task management: Prioritize, break projects into small, manageable tasks and delegate.
  • Organize: Clutter creates stress. Organize for optimum mental performance.
  • Use your Emotional Intelligence: Master your emotions. Be self-aware and work on techniques to quickly calm yourself and remain a rational thinker when under duress.

More useful ideas can be found in the following articles:

Combating Stress with Lifestyle Choices

Keep in mind that tackling stress at work isn't enough. While the upcoming quarterly earnings report may be the source of anxiety, lifestyle changes at home can help keep things in perspective.

  • Get enough sleep. Dozing on the commute or in front of the TV isn't enough. Deep, regenerative sleep is needed regularly.
  • Exercise. No time for a regular regimen? Walk around the block during lunch or midday to recharge.
  • Eat a balanced diet. You are what you eat. Enough said.
  • Think positively. Sounds clichéd but positive thinking can translate into positive outcomes. Negative thinking can take a toll on the body.

Also consider techniques such as meditation, yoga, aromatherapy or the ten-minute day dreaming break. For more ideas for stress-busters check out the following resources:

How do you combat stress? Does your workplace use any innovative stress-busting techniques? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris


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Virtual Clutter: Get it Off Your Desktop
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 5:03 PM

Clutter, even virtual clutter, has a way of taking over open spaces. Is your desktop clogged with icons? Are e-files haphazardly stored? If so, it's time to declutter your desktop.

The Urge to Purge

In past posts I've heralded the lowly waste basket as an extremely effective organizing tool. Tossing what isn't needed is Organization 101. So get ready to delete unused short cuts, icons and files. Ditto for those RSS feeds and e-mail newsletters that once seemed like must-reads and now serve as in-box dead-weight. Not sure if something should be consigned to the trash? Create a folder to store those items for a later review.

Tossing done? Now the fun!

Once you've tossed the unnecessary, it's time to streamline what remains. Be creative in tailoring a solution for your needs. You can opt to go icon free altogether (yes! it's possible!) or move to a system that uses folders delineating status to store and organize desktop functions.

In Desktop Zen: Reducing Visual Clutter on your Desktop the author advocates an icon free existence arguing that icons require minimizing and resizing that reduces productivity. Instead, users can elect to use the start menu and the quick launch toolbar for more effective navigating.

Another solution posits that a clutter-free state can be achieved by creating five "master folders" that sort items according to status. In How to Organize Your Cluttered Desktop and Regain Your Sanity  the author outlines an organizing method based on principles espoused in the book Getting Things Done by productivity-guru David Allen

Strive for Simple

Virtual clutter can be easier to deal with than physical piles (no need to worry about recycling or shredding) but taming clutter, virtual or otherwise, requires discipline. Once you've established a system to conquer clutter, set aside time to maintain it. Looking for inspiration to get started? Read the Zen of Tech: 12 Powerful Ways to Keep Your Online Life Simple and Peaceful for a reminder that hi-tech can be managed simply.

Declutter your desktop and unleash your inner Zen.

Is your desktop a clutter-free zone?  Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako


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Career Development for Administrative Professionals: Helping Your Boss Help You Shine
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 1:17 PM
Lucky you, you have a great boss who recognizes your hard work and untapped potential and wants to help you move up the career ladder. For employees hoping to transition from administrative roles to a managerial or executive track, a mentor's interest...
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What’s Your Organizing Personality?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010 1:15 PM
Organizing is a bit like fashion-preppy, punk, polished, professional-in the end everyone gets dressed, but with individual style. And just as fashion choices are inspired by personality, so too are organizing choices. Match your personality with the...
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Tell Us If You've Used or Considered Using a Professional Organizer. You could win a Pendaflex® Expanding File with Sliding Cover!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 1:32 PM
Pendaflex Expanding File with Sliding Cover Congratulations Babs, Snicks and Lanniekat! You've been randomly chosen to receive the Pendaflex Expanding File with Sliding Cover! You've been notified by email where to send your mailing address so...
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Do Communications Tools Make Us More or Less Communicative?
Thursday, July 22, 2010 1:44 PM

"The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate." So said English chemist and writer Jason Priestly, oh, about 200 years before the iPhone and the rise of social media.

What would Priestly make of the way we communicate today? Does the explosion of communications tools make us better communicators? Or does the more-is-more nature of modern communication actually devalue the information we transmit?

When India and Indiana are a Skype Call Away

We've blogged extensively about how the global nature of business is aided and abetted by technology. Global teams wouldn't be possible without the Internet and a host of tech tools. Technology also makes it easier to work as a location independent worker,  free from the tethers of cubicles and commutes. Social media allows us to both keep up with the lives of friends across country and to promote our personal brand professionally

I enjoy being in great Facebook touch with old friends whom I might otherwise be out of the loop with altogether. But what happens when you "like" the post about a friend's promotion. Does it stop you from picking up the phone to say congrats in person? Is technology helping or hurting the way you communicate?

When You're Texting Rather than Talking

We've also posted about the downside of technology. How the 24/7 nature of social media can lead to the loss of privacy or how the long arm of technology's reach can turn a beach chair into a boardroom. Technology certainly has its downside but has it eroded the quality of our communications? 

We all know e-mails and texts can be misread, misconstrued. I'd argue that they can be misused; too often face-to-face or in person communication is overlooked. I'd also make the case that the increase in our communication bandwidth can verge on "oversharing."  When its all-news-all-the-time, it's hard to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

New and creative communications tools are a never-ending parade as this fascinating article makes clear: Evolution of Communication: From Email to Twitter and Beyond.  At the end of the day, how well or poorly we communicate is governed less by the technology we use, then the way we use that technology.

Let's strive to use it mindfully.

What do you think about modern communication skills? Are we more or less communicative? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris


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Organizing by Deputizing
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 1:50 PM

Want to be organized?  Not sure how to proceed?  Consider outsourcing the job to a pro.

Professional organizers can help you deal with everything from papers to your kitchen cabinets to your time management challenges. They have the been-there-done-that expertise in every area of organizing that many of us lack.

How can a pro help?

Professional organizers offer a wide variety of services, ranging from general organizing for home and office to specialists who provide services in niche areas such as estate planning or home staging and moving services.  This comprehensive article by ProfessionalOrganizersOnline.com lists the many areas where pros can be helpful

How to find a get-organized guru?

Start with the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).  For 25 years, this industry group has served as a clearinghouse for information and experts working in the organizing industry. NAPO has a state-by-state database of professionals and offers information about criteria to consider when hiring a pro

Once you've found a few good candidates, be sure to interview each just as you would any prospective hire. Does the pro have expertise in the particular area you need help? Check to see if they are licensed and insured and be sure to check references. Also, be clear about fees and expenses before getting started. For more questions to ask when hiring a professional, check out these two helpful resources:

Investing in organizing pays dividends

Hiring a professional to tackle your organizing might seem like a luxury but consider that the investment can actually free up time and money

Do you restock your pantry with items you already own?  Keep buying items for the home that you know are already there...somewhere? Is your home office running on slo-mo because invoicing and paperwork keeps piling up?  Would you rather hit the beach than tackle the task of locating those beach chairs in your buried basement? 

If you've answered yes to any of these questions, it's time to outsource your organizing.

Have you used a professional organizer? Was it helpful?  Do you have any tips for maintaining organization after working with a pro? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako


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Developing Emotional Intelligence: Putting on Your “Feeling” Cap
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 1:33 PM

Ever since author Daniel Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ the business and life-coaching world has been abuzz about EI's role in creating success. But what exactly is emotional intelligence, why is it considered so important and what role if any does it have in the business world?

Do You Know Your EQ?

Plays Well With Others

Goleman defined emotional intelligence as the ability to control one's impulses and emotions, to feel empathy and to demonstrate social competence in interpersonal relationships.

Over the years, debate has ensued over the significance of EI;  is it truly a measurable form of intelligence? Does it really trump old-fashioned intelligence?

I'll leave that debate to others but my study of collaborative work and the importance of team building in the workplace leads me to conclude that emotional mastery-that is the ability to listen, understand, calm down and to think rationally under duress-as well as the ability to work well with others are assets both in business and life.

Mastering Emotional Intelligence

So, how does one develop greater emotional intelligence and how best to employ that ability in the workplace? Books abound on the subject such as Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and Quick Emotional Intelligence Activities for Busy Managers but this succinct article from MindTools.com provides a useful Cliff Notes. Tips include:

  • Observe how you react to others: Do you rush to judge or stereotype? Or do you accept differences in personality or opinion?
  • Examine how you react to situations: What gives you stress? What tools help you remain calm under duress?
  • Look before you leap: Consider how your actions affect others before you get started. How would you feel if in their shoes?
  • Do a self-evaluation: What are your weaknesses and strengthens? Understanding yourself helps you relate to others.

Looking for motivation to further develop your emotional intelligence skill set? People with higher EQ's are better salespeople, produce greater revenue for their companies and are likely to keep their jobs longer according to The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, which includes representatives from Johnson & Johnson, American Express Financial Advisors and the U.S. Federal Government among others. 

Do you believe emotional intelligence is an important asset in the business world? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers


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Finding the Silver Lining in Your Daily Commute
Thursday, July 15, 2010 11:17 AM

The average American spends about 100 minutes commuting daily. So it's no surprise to learn that commute time plays a major role in employee satisfaction and retention. A recent survey by Regus, a workplace solutions provider, found that 16 percent of the U.S. workforce has considered leaving a job because of commuting distance.  And the longer the commute, the greater the employee dissatisfaction.

Making the Most of Commute Time

While we can't shorten the distance between home and office or ease traffic congestion, we can help find the silver lining in what is often viewed as an unsatisfactory way to spend that most valuable of commodities: time.

Make your commute time multitask by using it for both productive learning and relaxation. I have a friend who uses her New York-to-San Francisco flying time to catch up on work on the trip out West and on movies on the return leg.

Want to be Productive?

  • Learn: Audio books and podcasts make it possible to learn everything from foreign languages to the latest business innovations. Get to those unread professional journals or business bestsellers.
  • Correspond: Read and return e-mails with your PDA and keep up with social media networks. Try to limit work calls however; you don't want to breach company privacy or distract fellow commuters.
  • Work: Use your laptop to proof documents, review reports or get a jump start on projects.
  • Organize: Create and maintain to-do and project-related lists. Sync your calendar with your PDA.

Hoping to Relax?

  • Read: Escape into a good book with your Kindle, an audio book or a traditional hardcover.
  • Listen: Break out those ear buds and enjoy your iPod or Sirius Stiletto. Download new tunes to your playlist.
  • Play: Crossword puzzles anyone? Sudoku, video games and iPhone apps all put entertainment at your fingertips.
  • Meditate: Close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. Use meditation podcasts or audiotapes to help eliminate commute distractions.
  • Ruminate: Sit and think. Clear your mind by writing in a journal or by watching the window-scenery unfold. Time to think is time well spent.

Finally, for nitty-gritty tips on maximizing commute time (sit near exits for speedy disembarkation and don't forget the hand sanitizer!) check out 100 Excellent Lifehacks for Your Long Commute

How do you maximize your commuting time? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako


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Leading a Remote Team
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 7:44 AM

FiFA World Cup fever, which heightened in intensity as the finals neared, united sports fans across the globe in front of their TVs. Global happenings like the World Cup, the Olympics or even Oscar night, can seemingly shrink the world to a small village but when tasked with managing a remote workforce-across continents or cities-the distance between remote team members can seem vast.

Remote is Close to Home

Remote teams and how they work is more than an interesting abstraction at our company. We have subsidiaries in 31 countries and distribution in more than 120, additionally, our global management and sales forces are working from a myriad of locations.  In the Beyond Folders blog  we've written about managing the challenges of a global workforce in Teams and Time Zones: Tips for a Global Workforce and posted tips enabling employees to gain recognition in Remote Workers Do Not Have to Be Invisible. 

Managing remote teams presents a singular challenge: when the old model of "MBWA" or management by walking around, popularized as a catchphrase in the first business bestseller, In Search of Excellence,  no longer applies, what is the new model? 

In short, successful leaders of remote teams must demonstrate a willingness to travel and be adept users of social media. I am a fan of two fascinating articles making these points; in Management by Flying Around Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kantar argues that "showing up is the number one key to success."  And in Leading Virtual Teams to Real Results, two leading businesswomen and writers, maintain that social media is a crucial tool for leading remote teams.

For a constructive read on managing both the logistics and morale of remote teams, I would steer readers to How to Manage Employees in Remote Locations.  

Do you lead a remote team? How do you maximize morale and productivity remotely? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers


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Negotiate What You Deserve
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:14 AM

Business writer and negotiating-guru Dr. Chester L. Karrass has said, "In business, you don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate." As anyone who has tried to reach a deal on a car lease, a home's sale price or even a teenager's curfew knows, life, not just business, requires negotiating chops. So how to get the best raise, sale price or deal? 

Do You Know What You're Worth?

To begin, arm yourself with information. Different negotiating experts employ various strategies and tips, but all sound a common theme: educate yourself before sitting down at the bargaining table. Research and listen; often the person across the table will reveal useful information.

Don't Capitulate (Or Worse, Eviscerate)

Since knowledge-is-power in negotiating, we've assembled a selection of resources offering constructive negotiating tips and techniques. One pointer from authors Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro of the Harvard Negotiation Project  strikes me as being spot-on: successful negotiating requires respect for both yourself and others.

Don't put yourself at a disadvantage by undermining your position with a lack of self-respect for your needs. Similarly, you'll have a greater chance of reaching a winning outcome if you treat your counterpart respectfully and don't try to bludgeon or bully them into accepting your point of view.

For more hands-on tools and tactics, arm yourself with information from these resources:


Do you have strategic negotiating tips? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris


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Best Old and New Project Management Tools and Techniques
Thursday, July 08, 2010 10:04 AM

From the ancient pyramids to the iPhone 4, teams of individuals have successfully banded together to produce celebrated results. While most projects don't become tourist Meccas or headline news fodder  (Note to self: don't take your top secret phone prototypes into bars) all projects requiring team effort can benefit from topflight project management tools.

In past Beyond Folders blog posts we've looked at aspects of project management in The New Project Collaboration and Management Tools and in How's the Tunnel Coming? Tracking Long Term Projects.

Now we've assembled lists of resources of the best old (traditional) and new (innovative) project management tools and strategies around. Our traditional list has resources on the fundamentals of project management; the other list has resources that tweak those concepts. One list isn't better than the other, different tools or strategies fit different needs.

Traditional Resources

New Resources

No list of resources is totally comprehensive. Are you using helpful tools we didn't include here? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers


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Working Out Summer Vacations
Wednesday, July 07, 2010 9:37 AM

Summer officially kicked off at the end of June which means summer vacation season is upon us. With two-thirds of all employees planning a summer break from work, coordinating vacation schedules to maximize employee downtime while maintaining productivity is a must. Translation: Not everyone can head to the beach at the same time.

As we've discussed in previous blog posts, time off from work is crucial for morale and reenergizing workers.  A smart vacation schedule can prevent an empty-office syndrome in August when productivity grinds to a halt and can also keep employees from feeling overworked while colleagues are off recreating.

Having a transparent vacation policy keeps employers and employees on the same page. Clearly articulating policies and keeping track of days off is key. So is formalizing responsibility for work delegated during absences.

Here are some tips and resources to help coordinate a vacation program. Ideas to consider include:

  • Figure out the maximum number of people that can be off at one time.
  • Require vacation time to be booked a set time in advance.
  • Reward seniority if too many employees want the same weeks off.
  • When summer is your busy time, consider offering bonuses or incentive programs for working the entire summer.
  • Schedule vacation blackout dates (days that nobody can take off).
  • Offer vacation alternatives, such as three day weekends rather than larger blocks of time.

Looking for more assistance in creating comprehensive vacation policies for your work place? Read Developing Vacation and Sick Leave Policies and How to Set a Workplace Vacation Policy

How does your workplace avoid vacation conflicts? Do you have tips for maintaining productivity during the summer vacation months? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris


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Making The Most Of Mentoring
Tuesday, July 06, 2010 11:24 AM
by Candie Harris Mentoring is all over recent headlines with stories touting its positive effects. President Obama launched a fatherhood mentoring initiative in June and recognized the winners of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring organization in...
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