Monday, March 30, 2009

Productivity Tools for Poor Typists - and Others

keyboard with caps lock key removed

Confession time: I'm a two-finger typist - pretty fast for two fingers, but still. I learned touch typing back in high school, lost the skill, never got it back. (Yes, I know I could teach myself again; that's on the someday/maybe list.)

Here are two ways I've become more productive on the computer:

1. I turned off the caps lock key.

I was always hitting that darn key by mistake. Back on my old PC, I just removed the key from my keyboard, as in the photo above. But on my Mac, I simply learned how to disable the caps lock key. You can also do this on a PC, but I'm no expert there; I'll let you google for solutions. (I also got a giggle from the Caps Lock Trainer Key, found via Unplggd.]

[photo of keyboard with caps lock removed by tlianza / Tom Lianza, licensed under Creative Commons]

sample text expansions

2. I bought a text expansion tool.

This is what Mark Hurst calls a "bit lever", and he's the one who introduced me to the idea. My choice is Typinator (a Mac-only product), but there are plenty of other options for both PCs and Macs; Guy Kawasaki uses TextExpander.

Typinator lets me define a whole series of simple abbreviations that I can type in any program. When I enter one of those abbreviations, it gets replaced with a chunk of text - in my case, that's often multiple paragraphs. I use it for long phrases I type with some regularity (such as National Association of Professional Organizers - San Francisco Bay Area Chapter), some standard e-mail replies I send as a Freecycle moderator, and much more.

Highly recommended for all - not just the two-finger typists!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fun with Storage: Fabric Buckets

fabric bucket

Fabric buckets provide a splash of color and pattern to jazz up any room - and at not-too-crazy prices. This bucket by Lotta Jansdotter costs $32 (plus shipping, and possibly tax) and is the most expensive of the choices listed here. Update on April 15, 2012: Lotta Jansdotter doesn't seem to sell these any more.

fabric storage bucket with animals

Other nice buckets are available through various Etsy shops. This fabric storage bucket comes from Henry and Zoe; right now, there are nine different fabrics available.

fabric bucket with mopeds

You can also head over to Henry and Zoe Studio Designs for more fabric buckets, including this one. (Name corrected on June 28, 2009)

pair of fabric buckets

These fabric buckets come from White Rabbit 21; right now, the store has seven different bucket choices.

four fabric buckets

And these fabric buckets come from How About Orange. Update on April 15, 2012: The owner of this Etsy shop is closing it down.

fabric bins

Sewing Momma provides these fabric bins. Update on April 15, 2012: This Etsy store seems to have disappeared.

linen bucket

Inklore has this linen bucket. Update on June 5, 2013: These buckets are no longer available; Samantha Hirst, who ran the shop, has refocused on other types of products.

felt bucket

And finally, leaving Etsy, Tiny Décor has felt buckets, made from 100% organic cotton. Update on April 15, 2012: This web site disappeared — but seems to have re-appeared on Etsy.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bill Organizers: Filing From 1-31

wood 31-day bill organizer

While a tickler file has a file folder (or a slot) for every day of the current month, and for each of the next 12 months, there are other products that just have spaces labeled 1-31. While these are often called bill organizers, you could certainly use them for other things too. Here's one such product I've seen a lot: the wood 31-day monthly bill organizer.

rotating bill organizer

Another option is the rotating bill organizer. [via ADD Consults] Update on Sept. 1, 2014: This product doesn't seem to be available any more.

file sorter

The Globe-Weis 1-31 Everyday File Fast Sorter looks a lot like the company's other sorter which also has the months - so be sure you're getting the one you want. (Smead has a very similar product.)

red file sorter

There's also this sorter from Esselte, in red. It's made with 30% post-consumer waste.

expanding file, 31 pockets

And a number of companies make expanding files with 31 pockets.

wall pockets for 31 days

And another option is the EZ Pocket Date Organizer. This one is promoted as more than a bill organizer: "Simply tuck a note, bill, sports ticket or invitation in the dated pocket that corresponds to when the 'action' needs to take place. Every day check the current date's numbered pocket." Update on Nov. 1, 2012: I'm no longer finding this product.

Friday, March 27, 2009

To-Do Management: The Tickler File


Back in 2004, Merlin Mann created a web site called 43 folders. As he explains:
This site’s title, 43 folders, refers to the number of manila folders required to build a physical tickler file system.

Twelve monthly folders and 31 daily folders are used to build a rotating, one-year “look ahead” system. Maintained daily, it’s a powerful lofi hack for never forgetting to do something (and, consequently, not having to worry about forgetting to do something).

It beats (or at least complements) your electronic calendar in at least one way by letting you store hard-copy items like cards or bills in the folder associated with any day between now and a year from now.
If you'd like to learn about creating and using a tickler file, here are two excellent resources from my fellow professional organizers:

You can also download David Allen's article on the tickler file.

Creating a tickler file is easy enough. You don't need much: just 43 labeled folders and a place to store them. But if you'd like to buy a ready-made system, you can certainly do that. The most common product is the one shown above, from Smead.

tickler file folders

David Allen now sells the GTD tickler file - the 43 file folders (not hanging file folders, since he doesn't like those). The alphabetic files included in this picture are not part of the tickler file product.

tickler file box

At-A-Glance has this GTD Tools tickler file - the 43 folders plus a desk organizer box. Update on Nov. 20, 2011: It seems this product is no longer available for purchase.

tickler file folders

The Paper Tiger Productivity Institute sells the SwiftFile - the 43 folders, sold with or without a desktop file to hold them.

desktop file - tickler and more

The Alpha-Omega Organizer is a tickler file and more. Thanks to organizer Allison Carter for pointing me to this one.

And then there are also some products, often called bill paying systems, that have part of the tickler system - the 31-day portion, without the 12-month portion. I'll cover that in my next post.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm in the Shower, I Got a Great Idea - Now What?

dive slate

As David Allen tells us: "Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them." So what do you do about the ideas that come to you in the shower? It's been quite a while since I posted about writing in the shower, so it's time for an update.

The dive slate is still a perfectly fine option; you can get these through dive shops, or you can get the one shown above from Cindy Helgason at Soupourri Natural Bath & Body; she includes a non-rusting hook to hang it from. [Image from]

washable crayons

And the washable crayon is still a decent option, too. Jennifer Barthe writes on HubSpot, "I too get my best ideas in the shower. I use washable crayons to write down my ideas on the tiles and then I write them down on paper later." Just be sure the product you're using is not going to cause any staining issues. (Some have reported problems.) Crayola says, "The Crayola Washable formula was designed to wipe off of most walls and non-porous household surfaces with just warm water and a sponge."

waterproof notepad for shower

But I'm also intrigued by some newer products, including Aqua Notes - a waterproof notepad.

waterproof notepad

The Droodle is a similar product - a waterproof notepad. [via GeekAlerts]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Computers and Productivity: PC vs. Mac


I love my Mac - so I was amused to read some people arguing that Macs are an essential tool for those who care about productivity.

First, let's listen to (Uncle) Mark Hurst:
Without question, buy a Mac – unless you must be compatible with a Windows network at work or school. ...

Now, for everyone else: buy a Mac. There are two main reasons to make this choice. First Macs are easier to use. The whole point of using a computer is to get things done. Given the choice between getting your work done more or less easily, why would you choose the harder option? This has always puzzled me about people choosing Windows PCs – why would they choose to be less productive?
And then there's the dialogue between Guy Kawasaki and David Allen at David's recent GTD Global Summit, as reported by Chris Blatnick:
Guy told David, "I don't see how anyone that thinks they are going to get things done uses Windows."
And them there's Lauren, who also writes about Moving to Macs for Productivity (and Prettiness).
Yes, I'm sure some of you are very productive on your PCs. But I'm just reporting on what I've been reading - and I haven't found people arguing that PCs make you more productive than Macs do.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 2009 Organizing Tips and More

green silverware tray

My March 2009 newsletter is now available.

Tip of the Month: Other People's Stuff

Product of the Month: Silverware trays from Mountain Woods

Recycling Resource of the Month: The Currency Commission
[via Ed Perkins, read in the San Francisco Chronicle]

Also included: Statistics of the Month

The Kitchen Towel Conundrum

kitchen towels hanging on oven door

The Kitchn asks: Where do you hang the kitchen towel? Reading the replies, and looking around the web, you can see a number of answers. The oven door is a top pick. [photo by Carissa Marie / Carissa Bonham, licensed under Creative Commons]

kitchen towel on refrigerator door handle

Another popular option is the refrigerator door handle. [photo by trekkyandy / Andy Melton, licensed under Creative Commons]

Endo magnet clip with shoe

Some people use refrigerator door magnets. The Endo magnet clip, which I wrote about some time ago, could certainly hold a towel.

kitchen towels on drawer pull

Some people use the drawer pulls. [Photo by Peter Clark, licensed under Creative Commons - who also used the oven door option]

kitchen with wall-mounted towel racks

Some put up wall-mounted towel racks (or towel hooks). [Photo by Lara604, licensed under Creative Commons]

kitchen towel rack on outside of cabinet door

And some just put towel racks on the outside of the kitchen cabinet doors. As the photographer says, "Not pretty, but pretty useful!" [Photo by jek in the box, licensed under Creative Commons]

adhesive-backed towel holder

What other options are there? Well, there are the adhesive-backed towel holders (sometimes called towel grabbers).

over cabinet towel rack

Then there are over-cabinet towel racks.

over the door kitchen dish towel rack

Here's another over-the-door kitchen towel rack, with room for more towels.

over the door hook

There are over-the-door hooks, too - maybe easier for the towels to fall off (unless you have those crocheted-top towels), but hooks are about the easiest way to hang anything up.

inside the door towel rack

It's not as convenient, but if you like to hide your towels away, you could use an inside-the-door towel rack. OK, that photo shows bath towels, but you could use it for any towels you wanted.

pull out towel rack

Another inside-the-door option is the pull-out towel rack.

countertop towel tree

If you had countertop space available, you could use one of the many countertop towel trees that are available.

towel hook on oven
towel hook on slacks

And finally, an interesting option is the cookhook, designed to give you more options as to where to put the towel. [via Slashfood]

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bunches of Bins

bin cabinet

Sometimes a series of bins is the perfect storage solution. Here are some companies that make bin storage products. While I'm only showing one product/company, most of them make a range of useful stuff: cabinets, racks/shelving, and carts. We'll go through in alphabetical order, from A to W.

Akro-Mils makes the cabinet shown above - and many more products. [Photo from Lab Safety Supply.]

pick racks with bins

These pick racks with plastic bins are some of the many products made by Edsal Manufacturing. [Photo from]

bin cart

Flexcon Container makes this cart, and a lot more.

bin cart

LewisBins is another company with a wide range of products, including this cart.

bin cabinet

Lyon Cabinets makes just what you'd expect - cabinets.

bin wall cabinet

Sandusky Lee makes this bin wall cabinet. [photo from]

large bin cabinet

Quantum Storage is yet another company with lots to choose from, including this cabinet. [Photo from CSN Sheds]

bin rack

And finally, Whalen Storage has this bin rack with metal shelves.