Me and my digital decluttering

How much time is wasted sifting through files to find what you need to work on/with or send to someone? Not only does it slow you down, but it also slows your computer down. Conquer your stress by engaging in some digital declutter. Make it a yearly practice for sure, but also set aside a few minutes each week to tidy up so you can see the productivity benefits right away!

Update your File Organization

One of the biggest wasters of time, and the most easily fixed, is your file organization. If you find you are constantly hunting for a certain file, and using brain power to try and remember where you put it, it may be time to revisit your organization system.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to file things, so long as your system works for you. Starting with one file for everything (such as “My Documents”) is a great place to begin. Then try nesting your files, with larger topics first and then years, clients, projects, etc. inside. Keep it simple though, you want to be able to locate the files quickly, and not go through twenty nesting stages to get it. Your organization system can evolve with you, but be consistent so you don’t just end up confusing yourself!

While you are reorganizing, purge your folders, starting with the biggest one. Get rid of old files you don’t need anymore. Don’t be a packrat! Make sure you aren’t keeping around duplicate files, or previous versions of a finished project.

Get into the habit of sitting down once a week to put everything in its place. Clear out your downloads folder and your desktop clutter. You’ll be on your way to a stress-free file management system in no time!

Name your files:

Use a consistent standard, whatever it may be, that works for you. Be descriptive and specific, so you can understand what the file is without having to open it. Many people chose to start with the date, then use the broader category and then project name, with underscores between each, such as:

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You could also add your business acronym and file version, especially if you are sending it on to anyone else. Remember that file names shouldn’t be too long, and most special characters should be avoided. Also avoid using spaces. Instead use underscores, dashes, or camel case (each letter of each word is capitalized for ease of reading).

Also remember that if you are uploading images to your website, they should have SEO optimized file names!

Weed out the E-mail

Email clutter equals brain clutter. Each email symbolizes a taxing demand on you from another person, no matter if the only thing required is a simply “ok” reply. Many of the best email management techniques recommend that you set a certain time each day to sit down and give your email your attention. Don’t let it be a constant interruption during the day! When you are focused on your inbox, be determined to take action. Use descriptive subject headings, respond right away, file messages with specific labels and folders, and use a program like Boomerang to schedule an email to leave your inbox and come back at a later time and date if needed.

Of course, deleting is going to be the best way to declutter. Get rid of your archives that are older than 2 years old! Also, unsubscribe to all of the newsletters that you don’t read.

Control the Information Overload

Do you find yourself stashing away articles that you want to find time to read someday? It’s all too easy to do so, between browser bookmarks, Evernote clippings, and the “Saved” features in our RSS readers and even Facebook! Give yourself time each week (or day) to read these articles you’ve kept and keep what you are stashing down to a minimum. In addition, you may want to decrease your subscriptions to only the top 10 that you can make time to keep up with.

And a final reminder: Backup! Backup! Backup!

How often do you create a backup of your computer? And do you store this backup in a safe location away from your computer? You may want to consider keeping files in cloud storage (such as Dropbox) to not only give you peace of mind that your files are safe and secure, but to also allow yourself access over any computer or tablet.




Concentrating when working from home

Jessica-Ripley-Home-Concentration-TipsOn a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your ability to concentrate on your work?

Concentration is important for self-employed individuals, because if you aren’t able to maintain focus you can end up wasting hours (and as I’ve written about before, time is our most valuable resource)! If you’d like to improve your concentration skills and start getting more done each day, check out the nine tips below.

  1. Create a to-do list every evening (or whenever you finish working for the day). Not only will this give you a chance to set your priorities, but it will also give you the chance to unload everything from your mind and put them on paper so you can enjoy the rest of your evening.
  2. Have a restful sleep. Focus starts the night before you work, beginning with your to-do list and leading into a restful night of sleep. A good mattress and a good pillow help facilitate restful sleep. Try to get a good eight hours a night so your mind is well-rested.
  3. Start your day off with meditation. Letting go of any worries and allowing your mind to clear is the best way to create a stage for focus. Experts recommend 20 minutes of meditation a day to improve your attention span, starting in five minute increments. Clear your mind and focus on your breath. Whenever anything wandering thoughts find their way in your head, simply let them go and focus back on your breath.
  4. Optimize your environment by creating a workspace that feels good to you. You should have a space that you look forward to spending time in. Consider using color theory. The color red is said to improve concentration and memory, and blue improves creativity. Also think about the noise in the area. Many people work well with classical music. Sites like Focus @ Will are specifically designed to help facilitate concentration. Also ensure that you have enough lighting and a comfortable temperature, and keep your area clear of any distracting mess.
  5. Speaking of distractions, remove as many as you can as possible. Turn off the phone and text messages, email, and social media. Set certain times when you check these devices, but remember to keep to your to-do list and don’t let any other requests bump out what you really need to do.
  6. Try the Pomodoro method, or timeboxing. Work straight for 25-50 minutes and then take a five minute break. After two hours of this take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Combined with your to-do list, this helps to set deadlines and trick your mind into having a stronger block of productivity.
  7. Get the blood flowing and improve flow of oxygen to the brain. When you spend so much time sitting, gravity pulls the blood downward. Get up during your breaks and walk, use the stairs, or do some stretches to get your circulation going and improve focus.
  8. Don’t Multitask. Practice doing just one thing at a time, and doing it to completion. When we split our concentration between tasks not only do we increase the time it takes us to finish each one, but research shows that the quality of work also suffers. There are many studies that show multitasking shrink’s the brain’s ability to concentrate, so just don’t do it!
  9. When all else fails, try the “five more” rule. Tell yourself to finish just five more tasks. If you are reading, read five more pages. If you are doing email responses, just five more emails. At the very least, just five more minutes of work!

Try one or two of these tips at a time to build up your concentration. Remember the golden rule of consistency! The more regularly you practice these tricks the more benefits you will see. Good luck!




Tips for Working over Family Holidays

The holidays never cease to throw a wrench into any plans to be productive that I may have had. Living 1800 miles away from my hometown (where most of my family and friends reside) means it’s always a big deal when I am able to go home for a visit. It also means that no matter what my best intentions are, I never get as much writing done as I want to.

It is incredibly hard to get family and friends to understand your job when you work from home, especially if your time is spent all day on the computer. Writing takes a great deal of concentration, and it’s not the kind of thing that is easy to do when you have someone next to you chatting. Combine that with the fact that Christmas is a time for family and loved ones, and we’ve got a very stressful situation and a challenge of trying to find a balance.

It seems like it might be easiest to just take the time off completely and focus on family, but sometimes it isn’t possible to do that, or uncomfortable to take weeks away from making progress. In that case, I’ve been trying out two big tips to help me keep my momentum:

Practice Starting and Finishing: This applies to a work in general as well as daily writing. Sometimes I have something to do in the afternoon, but I have time to write in the morning and evening. I need to practice sitting down and hammering out words without the promise of a long stretch of writing time. For me, starting is the hardest part. I need to get used to it.

Appear in the afternoon: I’m lucky in that my family likes to sleep in, and they don’t really do anything before the coffee has had a few hours to activate their brains. This means I’m able to stay in my room and write in the morning without any distractions, and if they don’t “believe” I am working, they can just assume I’m sleeping. Of course, I’m fighting my own desire to get up and see what everyone is up to, but it works when I can!

The main thing is to keep going along, and not get discouraged no matter what!

Writing Spots: OPL East Ottawa

April 18

Writing Around Town

As a writer, I love to find new places to write. I have my old favorites, but there is something about going somewhere new that shakes up my routine and gets me in a productive mood. That’s just one excuse though, the truth is that I’m just a huge fan of the Ottawa Public Library system, and I want to be able to visit all of the branches before we are posted out of the city! As a small-town girl growing up, we only had a TINY public library, and then our own school libraries and the local College Library. The OPL system is HUGE to me!

Cumberland Library

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Cumberland

The Cumberland Branch is the farthest West branch of the Ottawa Public Library. One of the things I look for in a good writing spot is nearby refreshments, and this one has a Metro, Booster Juice and Tim Horton’s. They also have lots of parking.

One of my favorite things about working at the Library is the opportunity to use a table to spread out the book I’m taking notes from, my laptop, and any papers, etc.

One of the things that put Cumberland over the top for me? The separate area for Children! This kept the noise way down in the rest of the building.

This place has a ton of natural light, several small rooms to do group work, two table areas for study, and even a section of chairs next to a heater/fireplace for reading!

Orleans Library

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Unlike Cumberland, the Orleans Library is in a residential location. This means there doesn’t seem to be food or drink in immediate walking distance. There is parking though. So if you’re planning on spending the day there just pack a cooler and go eat in your car.

North Gloucester Library

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This library was busier, as it was in a more densely populated area. There was plenty of working space though. I’m guessing it would be super busy at the end of the day during the school year.

Prepping for time off

Jessica-Ripley-Productivity-Time-Off(blog originally published on the Hewett Ripley Site)

Do you have vacation plans in the future?

Haha, right! As small business owners it’s hard to imagine taking time completely off from business, but do you have a plan in place to ensure your business is able to still run so you CAN take time off? Remember, time off might come when you least expect it – it might come because you have an illness or family emergency.

In the business world we consider these situations “risks”, but do you have a plan to ensure potential clients aren’t repelled by your sudden withdrawal?

Consider having these 5 steps in place so your business doesn’t whither while you tend to important life circumstances.

  1. Pre-write blogs. Evergreen content is that which can be posted at any time. Do yourself a favor and have a few (5 or so) evergreen blogs ready to go in case you don’t have a chance to write a new one on time.
  2. Curate Content. Having a list of great articles that you’d like to share with your audience ensures that you can stay active on social media and continue to provide everyone with helpful tips.
  3. Be Truthful. Let your audience know if you are having planned or unplanned time off. People can be very forgiving and understanding if they know what is going on.
  4. The “one-hour” rule. Set one hour a day, JUST one hour, to focus on work. You may use this hour for emails, phone calls, and posting that pre-written content. Knowing you have just this one hour will help to set healthy boundaries for you and your business. *Bonus Tip* Consider a tool like Boomerang to schedule emails to be sent back to you in the future.
  5. Make a comeback plan. Odds are that you may feel a little guilty after taking time off, or you may just try to jump back in with too much enthusiasm. Put a system in place to let yourself ease back into work slowly. Prioritize tasks, and set goals, but be careful of overdoing yourself. You don’t want to make commitments that you can’t uphold!

And back to that idea of “time off”. Remember that vacations ARE important to allow yourself to refresh. Summer vacations are especially nice, because then you get to come back in the Fall just like a school kid after summer break. Don’t feel guilty – with proper procedures in place your business will survive and you will benefit from the respite.




Time: our most valuable resource

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As a small business owner and/or entrepreneur, you may have started to realize that the most valuable resource to you is your TIME. The only limit on our productivity, on our ability to create and our ability to pull in income, is how much we can get done each day. What this means is that we need to ensure that our prices are high enough to make up for the rest of the time we spent marketing, bookkeeping, and (in the case of writers like me or other creatives) also brainstorming, and it also means that we need to be making the most of the time we have.

What are some solutions to this issue of needing more time?

1) Increase Productivity: There are so many books and blogs out there about increasing productivity, but my advice is to figure out what works best for YOU. What works best for ME is starting my morning out by focusing on non-work things that will help me to feel good for the rest of the day (exercise, eating a healthy breakfast, and reading). Then I work in 90-minute intervals, taking a break to walk around or change my scenery before sitting down for another session. When I do this I find I don’t end up in a “zombie state” after overworking myself.

2) Set Priorities: Each night, either when “clocking out” or before you go to bed, set your to-do list and agenda for the next day. Stick to this list. It is tempting to backburner tasks for new emails that come in during the day or phone calls that come in, but you have to be realistic and realize that giving your time to these new demands only puts you behind. Check your emails only two or three times a day, at designated times, and focus on your predetermined tasks for the rest of the day.

3) Outsource: There are many options to fit what you need, from high-quality virtual assistants and bookkeepers, to freelancers on oDesk, and all the way down to the $5 deals on Fiverr. There is no excuse for you to have to sit down and teach yourself a whole new skill that takes your time away from what you are really good at.

4) Technology: Use business tools that save time. For example, using Dropbox takes out the need to move files to a USB stick when you are moving locations. Using Google Apps for Business allows you to access your email and calendar on any computer or smartphone. Evernote lets you organize notes, to-do lists, webpage bookmarks, emails, and more! There is something out there that will help you to become a more effective worker.

5) Cut Travel Time: If you drive to meet clients you understand how much time it takes to prepare for the meeting, to commute (especially if you run into traffic), to wait for your client/potential client, to leave time for small talk, and then to drive back to your workspace. Doing this many times a week can really add up to lost time. Try to set just one day a week for traveling around to meet clients, and consider virtual meetings (using tools like Skype) as an alternative.

These five tips are essential for my small business time management, and I hope they will help you too!




Ottawa Flowers

Today’s post is a bit different than my usual posts – today I’m sharing some beauty that can be found in Ottawa here in the spring! I regretted last year when I missed the Ottawa Tulip Festival, and I almost missed it this year too! Today was the last day of the festival (although the flowers can still be enjoyed after the festival ends), and I was so happy that I allowed myself the break from work to go out and enjoy the beauty of nature. Make sure you make time to do the same – don’t let life pass you by while you are chained to your computer!

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In addition to the tulips, the cherry blossoms are also blooming around Ottawa right now. These beautiful pink or white trees only bloom for about a week (although they may start to bloom at different times, so we will see them come and go for a few weeks). These flowers are well-loved and representative of both the beauty and shortness of life. Their meaning is not lost on the small business owner – if you miss out on the chance to enjoy them this month then you may end up with your whole life passing you by while you slave away.

These flowers are related to the rose, so just as the saying goes – make sure you stop and smell the cherry blossoms!

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