Archive for ‘Paper Organizing’ Category

Posted on: March 21st, 2017 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”

~Lord Chesterfield on multitasking

Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, had lots of bright things to say about productivity:

I recommend you to take care of the minutes, for the hours will take care of themselves. (productivity and task planning)

Choose your pleasures for yourself, and do not let them be imposed upon you. (productivity, priorities, and joy)

Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness; no laziness; no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. (productivity, priorities, and procrastination)

The dude knew his stuff.

The Myth of Multitasking

Do you perform data entry tasks while on conference calls or answer email while attending workshops? Worse, do you half-listen to your children or staffers or co-workers while flipping through papers? Do you text while you drive? Information and activity overload may lead you to embrace the idea of multitasking to improve efficiency. Don’t give in to the urge.

Multitasking not only fails to make you more productive; it increases all kinds of risks.

From the mid-1990s through the late 2000’s, studies published widely, from NeuroImage and the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and research at the University of Michigan, Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, and the University of California at Irvine all reported that multitasking wastes time and leads to distraction, errors, and memory lapses. You may think you’re doing double-duty, but your brain is actually “task switching,” jumping back and forth between multiple attention orientations, doing each thing less efficiently and less effectively. Reply to a client email while listening to a teleclass, and you will miss salient details of both.

Giving up the myth of multitasking can be difficult. Intellectually, we may understand task switching, or know that checking social media is unproductive, or texting while driving is dangerous, but your senses try to convince you otherwise. It still feels like doing only one thing is wasting time. The longer you go on trying to do multiple things at once, the harder it will be to bring yourself to focus on anything, whether it’s client concerns, the document you’re writing, or the road ahead of you.

Embrace the following tips to reduce your inclination toward multitasking:

1) Declutter Your Physical Space

Physical clutter overwhelms you even when you are not consciously aware of it. Neuroscientists at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that disorder in your visual field limits your brain’s ability to process visual stimuli. If you can’t fully focus on just one thing, you’re creating your own attention deficit.

Start by eliminating anything from the “prime real estate” of your immediate work area that can’t help you with what you’re doing. File your papers away except for the folder of documents you’re working on right now. If you’re working on your computer, move your other digital devices to a counter behind you, or even to another room.

2) Declutter Your Digital Workspace

Do you use multiple monitors with different content on each? Remember, the more you see, the less your brain can think about any one thing. Turn off your notifications, those CNN-like Breaking News tickers that tell you that someone has replied to your tweet or that there’s yet another political brouhaha. (The tweets and the news will all still be there when you’re done with your focused work.)

Clear your digital desktop so that instead of dozens (or hundreds) of individual files and documents on your screen, you’ve got a handful of categorized folders and sub-folders. (Or, if you’re less hierarchical and more trusting of search vs. hierarchy than Paper Doll, move everything to one searchable folder.)

Opt for a minimalist desktop. Instead of a complex photo of your last vacation, try a more calming desktop wallpaper from a site like Simple Desktops.

Gizmodo recently published an excellent field guide to Create a Minimalist Desktop to Be Proud Of. You don’t have to go to the ends of the minimalist desktop spectrum, as Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists recently did with his desktop, but do make things easier on your eyes.

This is just a taste of what you can do to increase your digital focus. In future posts, we’ll be talking about ways to hide your browser tabs, blur the focus on any program except the one in which you’re working, and take whatever program you’re using to full-screen.

3) Shush the Distractions In Your Environment

Close your door. Post a sign telling your colleagues you’re taking a page out of Cal Newport’s buzzy productivity book and that you’ll be doing Deep Work for the next 90 minutes. Leave them some pretty sticky notes and a nice Sharpie so they can plaster your door with messages.

Some of us need complete silence. Many of us need white noise. Check out the Paper Doll classic post, 11 Ways to Organize Your Focus With Ambient Noise, to find your sweet spot.

4) Shush the Distractions In Your Head

If you’re worried about your children, your job security, that bump on the back of your arm, or even the project you’re trying to complete, you won’t be able to focus. Anxiety is a shockingly bad productivity tool.

Try Box Breathing, a Navy SEAL technique for calming yourself down with simple breathing, illustrated beautifully below by QuietKit (which also has a nifty Meditation for Beginners program).

When feeling overwhelmed, simply:

Inhale for four seconds as you watch the blue circle expand.
Pause, with your lungs full, for four seconds as the circle stays expanded.
Exhale for four seconds as you watch the circle shrink.
Pause, with your lungs full, for four seconds as the circle stays contracted.

Whether you’re searching for a web-based model, a computer program, or an app for your phone, tablet, or watch, mindfulness solutions abound, including:

5) Schedule Time To Focus

One of the most popular time management methods, The Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, helps multitaskers strengthen their focusing skills and single-tasking muscles. The basic premise is simple: select a task and focus on it, and only it, for 25 minutes. When the timer rings, take a five-minute break before resuming work for another 25 minutes. For every two hours you work, take a longer break.

This method, named for the once-ubiquitous Italian tomato-shaped kitchen timer, encompasses other time management strategies and tools, and has practically become an industry of its own. Download the free e-book to learn how to use the Pomodoro Technique, or buy it in tangible form. You also can purchase an official timer or use the online Pomodoro countdown clock. And, of course, there’s an app for that. (Actually, there are many Pomodoro-based apps and web-based applets, including Focus Booster, Focus Time, the easy-peasy Tomato Timer, and 30/30.)

There’s nothing magical about the block of 25 minutes. It’s short enough to get past the innate tendency to procrastinate, and surely you can do anything for 25 minutes. However, for tasks requiring a greater depth and duration of attention, you need adequate time to make headway. In those situations, try a modified version of the Pomodoro Technique.

Turn off your message alerts, send incoming calls straight to voicemail, and set your timer for 45 minutes. When the alarm sounds, take a ten-minute break. Rest your eyes and hydrate after every Pomodoro, and stop for a snack and some human interaction every three hours. Refresh your mind by listening to others without the nagging urge to check email, stock prices, and message updates.

After some practice, you will likely find that your concentration has improved and your thoughts flow more freely when unencumbered by competing demands. It’s a gift to enjoy the present. I bet Lord Chesterfield knew that, too.

Posted on: December 26th, 2016 by Julie Bestry | 2 Comments

You’ve got boxes, right? After a weekend of giving and receiving gifts, you’re likely surrounded by boxes. Everywhere you turn, boxes. It’s practically a Day of Boxing! Well, actually…


Boxing Day, observed on December 26th, the day after Christmas (and this year, the second day of Hanukkah), is a holiday popularly celebrated in the UK and various Commonwealth nations, many of which used to be British colonies. The history of the holiday is complex and widely debated, but traditionally, servants and tradespeople were given Christmas boxes on the day after Christmas, when they were granted leave to visit their own families and did not have to work. How very Downton Abbey of them.

Before you move along to another post, affecting a posh accent and saying, “I’m going upstairs to take off my hat,” I’d like to suggest a much more rewarding way to observe Boxing Day.


Give Back Box®, through a partnership with Amazon,, Ann Taylor, REI Co-Op, and more than a dozen other retailers, has found a solution that allows you to encourage yourself to pare down your excess possessions, bless others with donations of your largesse, and get those cardboard shipping boxes out of your house, all in one fell swoop.



The purpose of Give Back Box® is to provide an effortless and convenient method of donating your used household items. Give Back Box not only provides an easy way to be part of a truly good cause, it also allows cardboard boxes a second life by recycling them and keeping them away from landfills to help improve our environment. So this is an all-round CSR & Sustainability solution that costs you literally nothing.


  • Take your Amazon (or any other retail partner’s box), and empty out the goodies you’ve received. (You can also use a plain cardboard box, if you like.)
  • Fill the box with donations of clothing, shoes, and various household goods. But please, no liquids, electronics, ammunition, or fragile or hazardous things! (And do check the pockets for any train tickets that might prove you innocent of murder.) Then seal up the package.
  • Print a free pre-paid shipping label from Give Back Box’s site and affix it to the box. The cost is covered by Give Back Box’s partner retailers, most of whom have special Give Back Box pages on their sites, too.

gbbneweggThere’s no weight limit, so you can fill the box to the brim — and print as many labels as you need.

  • Now, just send the package to Goodwill via UPS or the United States Postal Service at any UPS Store or post office, all at no cost to you. You can even request a free USPS pick-up of your package at your home, if the weather outside is not so delightful and you’d rather lounge about and have your lady’s maid, Anna, serve your meals in bed.


Give Back Box box has a variety of benefits — personal, social, economic, and environmental.

You’ll make donations more often — You know you’re busy. You know your house is full of things you don’t use, don’t wear, or don’t want. (Honestly, what was Aunt Rosamund thinking?) You want to donate more things and more often, but the truth is that every time you find something in your home that you want to donate, you set it aside and forget about it. Maybe you have a donation station in your home, with the pile getting bigger and bigger, but it practically takes an act of Congress to get the donations out of your house, into your car, and to whatever non-profit you choose.

By making it free and convenient, Give Back Box prompts you to think about what you can let go of every single time you receive a box from one of their partner retailers.

Boom! There’s your habit! Get a box of stuff? Give a box of stuff!

That’s good for you, and it’s good for all the work that Goodwill does, providing job training and putting people to work in the local community. And people who want and need what you no longer have space or time to manage reap the benefits, too!

It’s also sustainable. About 30 million tons of retailers’ cardboard box material is zooming around the earth each year. By following the principles of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” Give Back Box and its partners are helping you clean out your house and helping us all clean up the environment.

Even the Dowager Countess would be excited!


Still have questions? Read through the Give Back Box page of frequently asked questions, and check out this little video.

Posted on: December 16th, 2016 by Julie Bestry | 1 Comment

Last week, in Paper Doll & Smead Talk Paper vs. Digital Organizing: It’s Not Either/Or, you got to see the first part of my discussion with John Hunt of Smead about the anxieties many people face when thinking about moving their information from paper to digital. We discussed control vs. convenience, and how the learning curve with technology can be an obstacle to exploring solutions.

We also reviewed the scientific research on learning and cognition related to taking notes by hand vs. on the computer, and even explored the relative merits and drawbacks for reading paper books vs. using digital devices. We even talked about how marketing messages on paper vs. digital can have differing persuasive powers.

I made the case that there were different situations and individuals for which paper might be the right choice, and others where a digital solution could be better. And there were definitely indications that a hybrid system might be best.

Today, in a continuation of that Keeping You Organized podcast discussion, we continue that chat and explore two of the productivity tools that engender the most debate on the paper vs. digital landscape: calendars and task lists.

Calendars — We discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of paper vs. digital calendars, and delve into portability, syncing, visualization, creativity vs. linearity, and personalization. We also got into how comprehension of the passage of time (whether via analog or digital clocks, or using paper vs. digital calendars) can impact how we live our lives.

To Do and Task Lists — With a plethora of to do and task apps out there, some people are overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of options and choose the analog paper list every time, while others live and die by the task app. John and I talk about my hybrid approach to task tracking, and why using your calendar as a task or to do list is really fraught. And because productivity is all about priorities, we had to talk about the role prioritization plays in getting things done, whether you’re jotting those priorities on a sticky note or accessing them from the cloud.

Jump right in:

Remember, you can also watch (or download the audio only, if you prefer an auditory podcast experience) right at Smead’s page for Part 2 of our chat.

And, if you like what you hear, be sure to check out the other discussions John and I have had about organizing, and listen to what my great colleagues in professional organizing and productivity have had to say. Just pop over to the stellar Keeping You Organized podcast archive page.


Podcast 041: Secrets to Organizing a Small Business

Podcast 108: Fears that Keep You from Getting Organized

Podcast 153: Paper vs. Digital Organizing: Part I

Finally, once you’ve listened to parts 1 and 2 of our Paper vs. Digital podcast discussions, share your thoughts in the comments sections of either or both posts. What are your thoughts and preferences:

  • Do you have app overload, or do you enjoy exploring tech solutions for organizing?
  • Ebooks or dead trees — how do you like to read?
  • Notetaking — would you rather grab a pen and pad, or put your notes into something like Evernote? Does it differ whether you’re taking notes for academic work vs. meetings?
  • Paper planners or digital calendars: where do your appointments live?
  • Task lists: sticky note/paper pad or task app?

Posted on: December 9th, 2016 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

Recently, I sat down again with John Hunt for Smead‘s excellent video podcast series, Keeping You Organized. We wanted to get to the heart of that question, “Which is better, paper or digital organizing?” But as we got into it, I was able to explain my view, that it’s really a false dichotomy.

There are so many things we have to organize — our academic notes and research, our to do lists, our appointments, our thoughts — in order to keep our heads afloat. Even the fun things in our lives, like the books we read, can be overwhelming if we don’t have a way to organize the collections so we can enjoy and remember what we’ve read. And would you believe certain marketing messages — which impact our pocketbooks and those little green pieces of paper — can have a greater or lesser effect depending on whether they come on the page or the screen?

Sometimes, the decision over whether to go paper vs. digital is aesthetic — we like the feel of paper, or the glossy nature of a screen. But I’ve found that emotions play the largest role in how we choose a platform.

The problem we professional organizers often see is that people have anxiety around this whole issue of paper vs. digital. Some people feel anxious about not moving their whole lives to the cloud — digital task lists, calendars, ebooks, phone books — they’re afraid they will seem out of touch if they don’t eschew paper and embrace everything digital. Meanwhile, just as there is a backlash against modernity with hipsters and music purists preferring vinyl, there are those who will only relinquish their Moleskines when you pry them from their cold, dead hands. But it doesn’t have to be like this!

In my discussion with John, we talk about all the different situations, and the different types of learning styles and personality types, for which organizing by paper, or digitally, or through a combination of the two, might work best.

Take a look:

If you visit the source, you can watch us right at Smead’s Keeping You Organized podcast page or download the show as an audio podcast to listen while walk or work. While you’re there, peruse other episodes in the multi-year series, including some with me, your Paper Doll:


Podcast 041: Secrets to Organizing a Small Business

Podcast 108: Fears that Keep You from Getting Organized

Finally, John and I had SO MUCH to discuss (because when does Paper Doll ever run out of words?) that there’s a second whole video podcast on the way, where we continue the conversation. How’s that for organizing a holiday gift for you readers and viewers?

Posted on: August 4th, 2016 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

A few years ago, we discussed how Social Security replaced the annual paper statements (for individuals under age 60) with an online system called My Social Security, and I explained the steps for registering for an account. (Officially, it appears everywhere as “my Social Security,” complete with the italicized, lowercase “my” and color-coding, which Paper Doll finds frustrating and will not emulate, but let’s stay on point.)

In step #8 of the Paper Doll’s 16 Ways to Organize Your Money in 2016, I reminded you of the importance of registering for your My Social Security account.


My Social Security is similar to your IRA, 401(K), and other retirement-related websites, in that it provides essential information for planning your retirement. At the website, you can see your estimated benefits if you were to retire early (at age 62), at your full retirement age (for Paper Doll, that’s 67) or later, at age 70. You also have the opportunity to view your complete earnings record (and taxes paid for both Social Security and Medicare purposes), back to the first time you filed your taxes. For example, my record begins in 1984.

In addition to providing comforting figures (or spurring you to improve your retirement-related investment habits), the My Social Security online account gives you other opportunities. You can:

  • Provide eligibility proof (for yourself or your family) that you have qualified to receive Medicare, disability, retirement, or related benefits.
  • Identify under-reporting errors, generally caused when an employer neglects to provide an accurate 1099 to the IRS.
  • Identify over-reporting errors, which most often happens when you’re a victim of identity theft. If someone fraudulently uses your Social Security number when applying for a job (which they would be unable to get under their own name and number), that income can be erroneously applied to your Social Security record.


Starting this month, as the result of an executive order for all federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services, the Social Security Administration is creating an additional level of security to protect users’ privacy. Social Security, like other agencies that that provides online access to its customer’s personal information, will be using multi-factor authentication. That’s a fancy way of saying Social Security will be using more than one method to make sure you are really you.

It also means that you’ll have to do a little more to prove that you are you. Annoying? Well, wouldn’t it be more annoying to have someone fraudulently log into your Social Security account?

Effective immediately, when you sign into your Social Security account at, you will still use your username and password, as always. However, the site will then ask you to add your text-enabled cell phone number. From then on, every time you log into your Social Security account, the system will text you a one-time security code you will then enter on-screen before you can successfully complete your log-in.

So, if you already have a My Social Security account, you can go test it out:

Step 1: Sign in with your username and password. (Remember, Social Security makes you change your password every 6 months, so be prepared to make note of your new password somewhere secure, like your password notebook or password app, and not on a sticky note next to the computer!)

Step 2: Get a text message from Social Security. It won’t say it’s coming from Social Security — there will just be a phone number and a one-time security code.


Step 3: Submit the security code by entering the code from the text into the field on the screen and hit “submit.”

That’s it! Because I had my phone next to the computer, the whole process took about six seconds. If you have to go hunting around your home or office for your phone, it might take a few extra minutes. Still, pretty easy for helping protect your data, eh?

There are some potential downsides to this plan, of course.

You have to have a text-enabled cell phone. If your first reaction is, “That’s silly. EVERYONE has texting!” then you’re probably younger, have some form of disposable income, and are used to texting. But not everyone has texting. Until mere months ago, Paper Doll enjoyed the gentle chiding of colleagues over this very issue.


Yes, it’s true, I had a flip phone and a 2000-era legacy account for 300 minutes for $30/month. I didn’t text because it’s nearly impossible to text out on a dumb-phone, and I froze texting on my plan so I wouldn’t be charged for incoming spam calls and wrong numbers. However, because texting has “almost zero marginal cost” for service providers, the advent of unlimited talk-and-texting plans means that upwards of 88% of Americans have access to unlimited texting.

If you don’t have an unlimited plan, your cell phone provider’s text message (and possibly data) rates may apply.

You have to be willing to provide your cell phone number to the Social Security Administration. But y’know, they have your address, they have access to all your tax returns, and they know how much money you make and will get back. Unlike your favorite coffee bar or fast food place, they probably won’t be tempted to sell your cell phone number to other marketers. I can’t be certain, but I think your cell phone number is pretty safe with Social Security.

So, from now on, if you want to be able to log into your account, you’ll have to be willing to adhere to two-factor/multi-factor authentication, and not only know your user name and password (which, again, Social Security makes you change every six months), but you’ll have to have your cell phone nearby so that when you log in, you can pause for a few seconds and type in that special code.

If you don’t have a text-enabled cell phone [note: it doesn’t have to be a smart phone] or you don’t want to give up your digits, you won’t be able to access your Social Security account. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck — you’ll just have to contact Social Security “Old School” by phone, US Mail, in person, or by email.

Multi-factor authentication isn’t the wave of the future; it’s the wave of the present. My bank just upgraded its online app, and I went through the same process to prove my identity. The bank also gave me the option of using my thumb or fingerprint to log into my account. I have no doubt that future options will include voice authentication or retinal scans — perhaps psychic readings, someday! The point is, the safer your information is, the safer your financial future is, and isn’t that a goal of a more organized life?