October 2010 - Posts

Light it Up: Brainstorming Techniques That Work
Thursday, October 28, 2010 8:28 PM

We've had a month of wet and wild weather where I live, after losing the lights one too many times, the only type of storm I like these days is a good brainstorm. Done correctly, brainstorming can produce a deluge of ideas and tremendous thunderclaps of creativity. Talk about electricity!

Brainstorming Best Practices

Research shows that brainstorming is more than just corporate hokum, and that if done correctly, produces measurable, usable ideas. The very useful Business Brainstorming: Part Art, Part Science outlines 21 best practices that contribute to successful brainstorming efforts. Number one? Leave preconceived notions behind; they undermine brainstorming efforts.

Another useful article Brainstorming suggests sessions include a diverse group of people, from different disciplines, in order to generate the widest possible array of ideas. Other tips include:

  • Don't let one train of thought take center stage for too long
  • Be sure to create an open, non-judgmental atmosphere
  • Let people have fun brainstorming, encourage ideas ranging from the practical to wild. Let creativity rule the day!
  • Take breaks throughout the session to keep energy levels high

While brainstorming often connotes a group session, where people bounce ideas off one another, solo brainstorming is possible. If you are an independent contractor or a self-employed digital nomad read 5 Steps to Solo Brainstorming Success for ideas on how to set up your solo session to get the creative juices flowing.

Do you find brainstorming sessions to be useful? How do you make the most of brainstorming? Share your thoughts here and at the Beyond Folders Facebook page.

by Candie Harris

 

 

 

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Putting the “Business” Back in Business Casual
Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:23 PM

Business casual swept the work world during the heady Internet boom days. But the Recession's back-to-basics emphasis has some offices putting the "business" back into business casual

When a suit is overkill and jeans are taboo, how does one walk the line? A good rule of thumb: if you wish to be taken seriously, you have to dress seriously.

Uniforms Aren't Just for Ball Players

For men, business dressing today might mean a "uniform" of khakis and a blue or black sport coat.  In warm weather, pair the sport coat with collared polo shirts, in colder weather and for more formal occasions, pair with oxford button downs. If your work trends more casual, mix in bright colors or funky patterns; if the office look is more polished, stick to subtle stripes and mix in the occasional tie. Tired of khakis? Pick a few grey or black pants in lightweight wools or an understated herringbone.

Women's fashion provides more options and thus greater room for fun (and error). For women envying the ease of a man's uniform of sport coat and trousers, opt for creating your own standard look. Consider investing in a few pairs of black or grey trousers in a flattering cut and then mixing in a rotation of blouses topped with dressy cardigans or blazers. Take inspiration from high-end fashion designer Carolina Herrera  who only ever wears a signature white blouse paired with neutral bottoms in black or taupe. Herrera makes the look her own with fabulous accessories, think chunky necklaces, or heels and belts in unusual materials such as alligator or leopard print.

Or consider the ease of dresses. It's far simpler to shrug on a dress than to coordinate separates. Find a great wrap dress that fits and flatters and buy it in as many colors or prints as you can afford. Again, team the dresses with simple accessories and a pair of knee high boots or flats and you've created another version of a uniform.

Keep in mind that grooming matters so take care to be in wrinkle-free, polished and put-together. Business casual never means shortchanging grooming so just say no to chipped nail polish or razor stubble.

Remember, at work, the key is to look polished and professional but to be comfortable enough to roll up your sleeves and get to work. At the end of the day, your work needs to speak louder than your look.

For more tips on navigating the new business casual, we've collected some resources for your review:

by Carly Fadako

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Talking Quality
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 8:20 PM

 

Quality, that measure of excellence that defines all that is desirable in a product, a process, or a service, is the Holy Grail of companies. At Esselte, delivering quality office products that enhance productivity is our raison d'être.It is our belief that delivering quality products requires strict attention to quality processes: it's the chicken and the egg if you will.

At Esselte, we make use of kaizen or lean tools  first popularized in Japan to continually improve all business functions, for all employees, from the CEO to assembly line workers and administrative personnel.

As part of our continuous quest to enhance efficiency and improve value, we are constantly on the hunt for new and better tools and resources. Often, we are introduced to resources online, by experts or through research, but another fantastic avenue for ideas is homegrown. Often a company's own employees are the best source of inspiration. Witness the examples in Harness the Power of an Employee Suggestion Program: Beyond the Suggestion Box.

The article posits that an employee suggestion program can enhance existing idea-generating mechanisms such as brainstorming sessions and staff meetings. To set your suggestion program up for success, be sure to designate an administrator of the program and establish guidelines for suggestions. Also, define rewards or recognition for ideas that are selected and successfully implemented. Making employees stakeholders in success encourages participation.

Does your company have an employee suggestion program? How are valuable ideas generated and shared in your office?  Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Facebook page.

by Bradley Eggers

 

 

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The Shelf Life of Documents
Thursday, October 21, 2010 1:58 PM

Documents don't come with the handy expiration date found on cartons of milk. So it's not always easy to tell if your paperwork has reached its "past sell" date. Interested in purging your filing cabinet and hard drive of documents you no longer need? We've assembled a list courtesy of ConsumerReports.org with advice on what to save for now, what to keep forever and what can (happily) be tossed.

Short timers: Keep for a year or less

  • Bank records: Keep deposit and ATM receipts until you reconcile them with your monthly statements. File statements until tax time, keep any you need to prove deductions; shred the rest.
  • Credit-card bills: Check them, pay them and shred them unless you need to support a tax deduction. Also keep statements for purchases of items under warranty, shred when warranty expires.
  • Current-year tax records: Keep for the year.
  • Insurance policies: Keep policies that you renew each year and shred the old one's after renewing.
  • Investment statements: Shred monthly statements after the new one arrives. Keep annual statements until you sell the investments.
  • Pay stubs: Keep the calendar year's records until you reconcile them with your annual W-2 form, and then shred them.
  • Household furnishings paperwork: Keep receipts, warranties, and instruction booklets for appliances and electronics. Toss when the warranty expires or you no longer own the item.

 

Depends on You: Time frame varies

  • Investment purchase confirmations: Keep to establish your cost basis and holding period when you sell the investments; if this information appears on your annual statements, keep those instead. Once you sell the investment, shred the old statements and move the sales paperwork into this year's tax file.
  • Loan documents: Keep closing documents for mortgage, vehicle, student, and other loans in a safe-deposit box until loan is paid off. Then shred.
  • Savings bonds: Keep in a secure place until you cash them in. Or you can convert them to electronic form using the Treasury's SmartExchange program, at www. Treasureydirect.gov. http://bit.ly/dr88tL
  • Vehicle records: Keep purchase receipts, titles, and registration information in a safe-deposit box as long as you own the car, boat, truck, or other vehicle. Store the maintenance and repair records. Toss when you no longer own.

Seven Years: The magic number for tax documents

  • Federal and state tax returns and their supporting records.
  • Receipts, bank statements, investment statements and all paperwork with tax-related information.

The Long Haul: Essential records to be kept permanently

  • Birth and death certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce decrees
  • Social Security cards
  • Military discharge papers
  • Defined-benefit plan documents: pension-plan documents from your current and former employers.
  • Estate-planning documents such as wills, powers of attorney, health care proxy.
  • Life-insurance policies
  • Safe-deposit box inventory: Note the location of the box and your keys, and keep a list of what you have in it.

 

For those of you who have gone largely paperless, storing photos, bank statements and even scanned copies of vital records on your computer, keeping even years worth of material takes very little space. For you paperless people, purging the physical clutter is less important than ensuring that your files are adequately backed up. A recent USA Today article MiMedia Backs Up Digital Files While Saving You Serious Time showcases a new technology that makes backing files up easier than ever. The article also discusses the pros and cons of using storage methods such as external hard drives.

How do you back up important digital records? What type of fling system do you use to keep vital records at your fingertips? Share your thoughts here and at the Beyond Folders Facebook page.

by Bradley Eggers

 

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Gotta Have ‘Em: The Office Tools You Can't Live Without
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 1:52 PM

When it comes to must-have office tools its hard to beat the computer and the phone. Is there a single industry or job today that doesn't rely on one of these two devices to make it through a workday? We think the answer is no. But what about other tech tools, the iPad, or social media resources such as Facebook or Twitter? Are these must-have, must-use productivity tools?

The Beyond Folders bloggers are always on the lookout for new and useful resources. In our past post In Search of the Best Office Productivity Tools we asked for your top productivity tools. We're still collecting input so send your thoughts our way! In the meantime, we want to share two "must-have" lists: one catalogs the top four tools chosen by more than 330 IT workers at large companies and the second are the resources of choice of a freelancing digital nomad. 

The Four Office Tools That Tech Workers Can't Live Without: 

  • Laptops
  • Mobile phone
  • VPN access
  • BlackBerry

The least useful tool according to these IT pros? The desk phone was number one with video conferencing a close second. Food for thought.

7 Productivity Tools I Couldn't Live Without | FreelanceFolder: 

 

  • InFormEnter: A small, clickable icon that displays a form that can be configured to add your name, email and address time after time without typing.
  • StumbleUpon Toolbar: Personalized recommendations of web sites based on past preferences.
  • ToDoIst:  Free to-do list and task manager.
  • Google Docs:  Create, share and edit documents online.
  • FoxMarks: Great bookmarking tool.
  • LeechBlock:  Productivity tool that blocks time-wasting sites (i.e. games, etc.) for defined periods of time.
  • Rescue Time:  Time management software.

 

We want to hear from you. Please share your top productivity tools and resources here or at the Beyond Folders Facebook page.

by Carly Fadako

 

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Healthy Office Eating Made Easy
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 1:47 PM

Offices are a snacking minefield-pastries at breakfast meetings, baked goods in the break room, candies at reception-if you don't watch your step, you'll watch your waistline blow up.

Back Away from the Pastry

Can't seem to make it through the day without popping an office pastry in your mouth? Time for some tips to keep a healthy diet on track.

Reality television personality and New York Times bestselling author of Naturally Thin and The Skinnygirl Dish, Bethenny Frankel, dishes up advice for combating the office snack trap in 5 Tips to Keep Office Snacking From Derailing Your Diet. Tips include filling up with warm drinks: delicious teas or diet coffee drinks score high on taste but low on calories. Or pack your own healthy snacks such as nuts or fruit to stave off the midday slump that too often leads to vending machines full of junk.

Refueling with small, healthy snacks throughout the day keeps the body humming and prevents fatigue. So stock up on healthy, portable snacks for office munching: hummus and mini pitas, whole-wheat crackers and nut butters or yogurt topped with granola or fresh berries are all smart choices. Read 8 Healthy Office Snacks  from CookingLight.com for other ideas. And 11 Energy-Boosting Snacks suggests thinking outside the snack-box for quick energy hits: high-fiber cereals and half a turkey sandwich make terrific snacks at any time of the day.

Lunch Munch

Make time in your schedule for healthy eating habits. Try not to wolf down lunch on the run; harried schedules often result in poor food choices. Make time for healthy lunches such as salads, red pepper slices and hummus or sandwiches stuffed with veggies rather than fatty, high-sodium meats. Need inspiration? The New York Times has a wonderful blog of sandwiches ideas as well as packing tips to ensure maximum freshness at your desk.

How do you combat the office snack-trap? Do you have healthy office lunch ideas to share? Post them here or on our Facebook page!

by Candie Harris

 

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Can You See Your Desktop?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 1:41 PM
When you hear the words "desktop organizing" do you have visions of small icons arranged tidily on your computer screen? Put aside the image of your virtual desktop and take a minute to asses your actual desktop. If you see heaps of papers and...
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Getting the Raise You Deserve
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 1:38 PM
Had a good year at work? Beat sales expectations or closed a big deal? Or perhaps you streamlined operations to achieve effective cost cutting or took on new responsibilities. If you've had a stellar year at work, it's time to ask for a raise...
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We're giving away 100 Rapid® FREEZE Breast Cancer Awareness Staplers!
Monday, October 18, 2010 7:06 PM
We're sorry, the Rapid FREEZE Breast Cancer Awareness Stapler program has ended. Thank you for your support! The Rapid® FREEZE Pink BCA Stapler Features Super Flatclinch™ technology For more than 70 years, Rapid staplers and hole-punches...
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Easy Desk Stretches
Friday, October 15, 2010 3:28 PM

I spend more hours in a day sitting at my desk than I do anywhere else including bed. And I have the sore back and stiff neck to prove it. To combat the desk-bound blues, I'm committing to a series of easy, desk stretches throughout the day. Join me! Your back will thank you.

Streeeetch

To start, here are three of my favorites, courtesy of WebMD.

Shrug your shoulders: Great for releasing the neck and shoulders. Inhale deeply and shrug your shoulders, lifting them high up to your ears. Hold. Release and drop. Repeat three times. Shake your head slowly, yes and no.

Point your fingers: A wonderful stretch for hands, wrist, and forearms. Stretch your left hand out in front of you, pointing fingers toward the floor. Use your right hand to gently increase the stretch, pushing your fingers down and toward the body. Repeat with other hand. Next stretch your left hand out straight in front, wrist bent, with fingers pointing skyward. Use your right hand to increase the stretch, pulling the fingers back toward your body.

 Torso Twist: Release tension in the upper body. Inhale and as you exhale, turn to the right and grab the back of your chair with your right hand, and grab the arm of the chair with your left. With eyes level, use your grasp on the chair to help twist your torso around as far to the back of the room as possible. Hold the twist and let your eyes continue the stretch -- see how far around the room you can peer. Repeat on the other side.

For more stretches, read WebMD's Stretching Exercises at Your Desk: 12 Simple Tips.

In addition to stretching, desk workers should get up and move around at least every hour to promote circulation and get the blood flowing. Other simple desk relaxation techniques include breathing deeply; many people unconsciously hold their breath, which causes tension in our muscles. Take time to focus on breathing throughout the day.

Finally, before hitting the "send" button on an e-mail, consider getting up and walking to talk with your colleague face-to-face. Or hit the stairs at lunch rather than the elevator. Small steps can add up to relaxed results. 

Do you have desk stretches or other office relaxation tips? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

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Ergonomics Matter
Thursday, October 14, 2010 3:24 PM

October is National Ergonomics Month (who knew?) but smart workers pay attention to ergonomics every day. People were made to move and bend, not sit tapping away at computer keyboards day in and day out. Carpal tunnel, back aches, neck pains, these are just a few of the modern maladies that might be prevented or mitigated with proper attention to ergonomics.

 Sitting Pretty

 Given that so many American workers spend their days at desks, careful attention to sitting alignment and computer use is essential. The helpful article 7 Ergonomic Tips for Desk Workers  provides useful advice to keep you sitting pretty. Tips include:

A Good Chair is Key: An ergonomic chair supports your back, legs, buttocks, and arms; typically an adjustable chair is the best option for maximum comfort.

Lumbar Support: Use a chair that supports your lower back or a rolled up towel or small pillow between your back and the backrest of the chair.

Posture Please: When sitting, your posture should be in neutral body positioning: hands, wrists, forearms, thighs and hips are parallel to the floor; head is level, shoulders are relaxed with elbows close to the body. Be sure feet are supported by the floor or a footrest and back is fully supported with appropriate lumbar support.

Monitor Matters: Place the monitor directly in front of you and at least 20 inches away from your face. The top of the monitor should be eye-level or below.

Improve Lighting and Avoid Glare: Arrange your desk to minimize glare from lights and windows and use well-distributed diffused light.

Keyboard and Mouse: Keep your mouse next to your keyboard and be sure your keyboard rests securely on a flat surface. You also want to use a wrist or palm rest to avoid contact with the sharp edges of your desk.

Comfort is King: Make sure your legs have enough room, you can reach everything you need access to, and you can read without strain. Aaah, now that feels good!

Wrist rests, glare shields and other work station accessories can easily be purchased to help create a safe, comfortable working environment. Two sites that we like include ErgoPro.com and AskErgoWorks.com. Finally, keep in mind that ergonomics isn't just about the office. Daily activities in the home can also benefit from ergonomically designed products. Check out the OXO Good Grips line  for everything from spoons to can openers, ergonomically designed to be both comfortable and attractive. Now that's good design!

 Do you use ergonomic products at the office or at home? Do you have a favorite ergonomic aid? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris

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In Search of the Best Office Productivity Tools
Wednesday, October 13, 2010 2:36 PM

Productivity and organization are the twin engines that drive companies. The Beyond Folders Bloggers are always on the hunt for products and tools that enhance efficiency. Regular readers know that we believe not all tools need to be fancy: the lowly wastebasket is unrivaled for it cost-effective role in ridding offices of unnecessary clutter. And not all products need to be new: the post-it note has been a foot soldier in the war on disorganization since it took the market by storm in 1980.

 Still, innovation can address modern dilemmas. We are intrigued by the buzz about Google's new Priority Inbox.  Can it really help tame e-mail overload? And is the iPad, which marries the portability of a wireless phone with the power and flexibility of a laptop, a productivity game-changer? 

We want to hear from you. Tell us about your favorite productivity tools. What makes them so useful? And what tools or products do you think are overrated? Give us your list and we'll in turn share the top tools with readers in a future blog post.

 We look forward to hearing from you. Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page.

by Carly Fadako

 

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Avoiding Communication Missteps
Thursday, October 07, 2010 2:00 PM

In real estate, the mantra may be "location, location, location" but at work the motto that makes life run smoothly is "communication, communication, communication."

 We blog about effective communication frequently (see past posts Something to Say? Choosing the Right Form of Communication and How to Write Persuasively and Why) and we think about the topic even more often. Recently, I came across some terrific articles that crystallize the mistakes that people all too often make when communicating. Read on to avoid pitfalls.

What Not to Do 

Harvard Business Review contributor Stever Robbins succinctly summarizes what not to do in Seven Communication Mistakes Managers Make.  This article is spot-on in indentifying crucial missteps that sabotage effective communications. They include:

1.  Making controversial announcements without doing groundwork first

2. Lying

3. Ignoring the realities of power

4. Underestimating your audience's intelligence

5. Confusing process with outcome

6. Using inappropriate forms of communication

7. Ignoring acts of omission

 

Cultural Foul-ups

In our increasingly global world, communication must surmount not only time zones but cultural obstacles. If your work environment includes cross-cultural communications, take the time to educate yourself about the nuances of the world with which you interact. Good advice can be found in

How to Steer Clear of Pitfalls in Cross-Cultural Negotiation - Tips for Avoiding Misunderstandings When Negotiating Cross-Border Deals and Avoiding the Pitfalls of Coaching Across Cultures.

 Finally, I leave you with an amusing video  produced by the Peace Corps illustrating cultural blunders in action.

 Don't let this be you, educate yourself to avoid cultural communications gaffes and take steps to ensure that your domestic interactions are equally inoffensive (and most importantly, effective!)

 Have you had issues with communication missteps? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Candie Harris

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The Working Parents’ Toolkit
Wednesday, October 06, 2010 1:56 PM

Working parents pull double-duty, managing both paying work and labors of love. Pulling it all off requires patience, planning and frankly, luck. If you've ever had a child fall sick on the day of a major presentation, you know what I'm talking about.  In the ounce-of-preparation-is-worth-a-pound-of-cure mode we've assembled some useful resources for working parents. Think of it as your toolkit for sanity.

 Finding Child Care for Sick Kids: A Working Mom's Guide to Sick Kids:  Daycare for sick kids? Yup, it exists; here's how to sleuth it out before Johnny has a fever.

Stress Management Tools for Parents:  Take a deep breath and read on for stress-busting tips, everything from parental date-night to effective time management tools that help keep stress at bay.

Working Parents:  A clearinghouse of information from leading web resource BabyCenter providing tips for working parents on topics ranging from childcare to managing mom-guilt.

25 Parent Productivity Tools for Busy Moms, Dads and Kids:  Great productivity resources ranging from pet care to allowance trackers. Offers a productivity overhaul for virtually every aspect of family life.

Mom Puts Family on Her Meal Plan:  Healthy, home-cooked dinners every weeknight? You heard me right. This helpful article takes you through the planning process for dishing up dinner after work.

 Do you have any great tools that help balance the demands of work and parenting? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Carly Fadako

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Scaling Back: Keeping Your Hard-Earned Dollars During Recessionary Times
Tuesday, October 05, 2010 1:50 PM

The numbers aren't pretty. More than half of working Americans have experienced a job loss, pay cut, or a reduction in hours since the 2007 recession began. As a result, the spending boom days of the early 2000's have subsided, with 62 percent of adults saying they've reduced spending.

The upside of the downside

The good news? Total debt balances have contracted by $690 billion, or 6 percent since 2008.  Americans are now being more cautious with their money. Will savings trump spending in the future?

No one has a crystal ball but if you're interested in taking stock and scaling back today to save for tomorrow, we've assembled some resources that may be useful:

5 ways to get your retirement back on track - CNN Money.com: Yes, you can retire but that nest egg needs some tending after a few tough years. Consider downsizing your home now, rather than later and think about opting for a phased retirement, working part-time, before leaving work altogether.

How to Save Money on Groceries - Oprah.com:  Food is the biggest expense for most people after housing. Cut costs at the grocery store with tips ranging from commonsense advice such as sticking to a list to avoid costly impulse buys to cutting costs with coupons from sites such as cuponmom.com.

Money101 Lesson 11: Saving for College:  The early bird is better off; get started as soon as possible with 529s and investing in the markets and study up on tax-credits for tuition and breaks for grads repaying loans. Finally, read a first-hand account of how to get a debt-free education from a college student: Yes, College Without Loans Is Possible: The Math of Debt-Free U.

25 Ways to Save Money on Healthcare:  Provides advice on comparison shopping for health plans as well as money-saving tips such as using generic medicines versus costly name-brands and taking advantage of sample medicines.

Save Money on Practically Everything:  Tips on how to stretch your hard-earned dollars in practically every aspect of life from baby-sitting swaps to using a gas rebate credit card.

Does the recession have you cutting corners? How do you save? Share your thoughts here and on the Beyond Folders Community's Facebook and Twitter pages.

by Bradley Eggers

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