Help your kids have a great Halloween with these smart strategies.
- Jane Farrell, BettyConfidential.comThese days, Halloween’s a huge holiday: Drive down any suburban street, and chances are that most of the houses will be festooned with glowing pumpkins, tiny hanging ghosts and flying witches. But with all that preparation comes some real hazards for kids, both before the holiday and during it. Here, some expert tips on how to handle the really scary parts of Halloween:
The perils of the pumpkin
If you really want a hand-carved pumpkin, do it yourself. It’s not a project for kids. And it’s best to use a knife designed especially for pumpkin carving, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Carve with small controlled strokes on a steady, smooth surface. Illuminate the pumpkin with a glow stick or small flashlight; that’s much less hazardous than candles. Of course, you can take the easy way out and just paint a face on the pumpkin!
Safe costumes, safe streets
Kids trick-or-treating on Halloween night are four times likelier to be hit by cars than on any other night, according to the National Fire Protection Association. And sometimes their costumes have more to do with that than you might think. Of course, experts advise making sure your kids don’t suddenly run across the street. But it’s also a good idea to choose a brightly colored, highly visible costume and to stick a noticeable piece of reflective tape on it, as well as on the child’s treat bag. The costume should be loose enough so your little princess can turn her head to see any oncoming traffic, but not so big that she’s tripping over her hem. Kids are also more easily visible to drivers when they’re trick-or-treating in groups. If you’re in the driver’s seat, make sure to travel very, very slowly down streets where kids are out in force.
Emergency prep for older kids
Experts generally recommend that parents accompany kids up to age 12 so you can make sure they follow safety principles like not going to any dark houses and refusing to accept candy from anyone on the street. But once kids are past 12 and want to go on their own, there are a few safety measures parents should take: Give them a curfew. Make sure they take a flashlight, wear a watch and have a cell phone, or money to call you. They should also go only in groups and only on routes you know about.
Make sure treats aren’t tricks
The good news: Incidents of kids getting poisoned candy or razor blades in apples are few and very far between. The bad news: It does happen. Safety experts, from police to pediatricians, uniformly advise parents to take a look at their child’s haul, before he starts wolfing it down, and to throw away any unwrapped treats. You should carefully inspect even wrapped treats (a Minneapolis man was arrested in 2000 after he put needles in the bottom of wrapped candy bars).
Don’t forget about your pets!
When choosing a costume for your dog (99% of cats just won’t put up with that), use the same safety precautions you would in picking an outfit for your kids or yourself. Make sure it’s loose enough so that your pet can move freely and see what’s going on around him. With an animal, a costume is enough – paint or makeup can be toxic. If your dog is walking with you or your kids, keep him on a leash: He may become frightened enough by unfamiliar sounds to run away. If your cat is an outdoor cat, keep her inside on Halloween night. And as for pets of either species who just want to stay in the house, give them a “safe” area where they don’t have to hear the doorbell ring repeatedly. When the trick-or-treating’s over, give them a few pet treats as a reward (no actual candy, though; chocolate, especially, can even be fatal).
Many people use a smartphone as part of their time management strategy.
From the first PDA’s to the newest phones, technology has forever changed our time management capabilities.
It has allowed us to use simpler, more effective tools. We have the power to access information and organize in ways never before possible.
However, sometimes it can be too much. Sometimes it seems that our smartphones are taking over our lives. They can complicate things as much as the alleviate them.
Are you being the most effective you can with your smartphone? Are you using it or is it using you?
Here are some of the common smartphone time management mistakes…
There are pitfalls in using any tool. The smartphone is no exception.
You can let it help you with your organization or you can let it take complicate your life and take up all your time.
Some people use all the power and functionality of their smartphone. Others only use a few features. No matter which side you are on, here are 7 Time Managment Mistakes to Avoid Making with Your Smartphone:
- Not Using a Synced Calendar – One of the most powerful smartphone features is the ability to sync your information across multiple platforms/devices. Ensure that your calendar is synched to your desktop and even home PC. This will allow you to maintain one calendar instead of many separate ones. The same is true for your contacts and todo items.
- Answering It All the Time – One of the biggest problems with phones… is that they ring. They interrupt your day and productivity. Most people have a Pavlovian response to answering their phone. However, remember that your phone is for your convenience. Do not let others interrupt if you are in the middle of something.
- Checking Your Email 278 Times a Day – Just because you can access your email from your phone, doesn’t mean you need to do it every time you have a 30 second break. Resist the urge to constantly check your email. And by all means, turn off your work email when you are not working.
- Not Backing It Up - What information would you lose if you lost your phone? Todos, contacts, appointments, pictures? For many people, their smartphone is their personal computer. Make sure your information is backed up. There are many ways to do this these days depending on your phone. (The iPhone backs itself up each time you sync it.)
- Having a Phone That is Too Complicated For You – I often say, “Use Tools You’ll Use.” In other words, choose tools that you like and are comfortable with and you will be much more likely to continue using them. The mistake many people make is to buy the newest most complicated phone available. If you are not technology oriented, then you may be hindering your productivity not helping it. Pick one that suits your needs and level of experience.
- Using the Camera Only for Pictures – If you are only using your smartphone’s camera to take pictures of your kids or cat, then you are missing out. Your smartphone’s camera can be used to capture all kinds of information. Whiteboards. Notes. Reminders. (Where did I park?) Documents. And more. There are some great applications to help you manage your information pictures. (Check out Evernote.)
- Not Keeping It Visible – This one may sound counterintuitive. As we talk about smartphones taking over our lives, one of the mistakes people make is not looking at their phone until it is too late. With a smartphone, you cannot “see” your todo list or calendar unless you turn the device on. One advantage of a paper-based system is that it is always visible. Visibility leads to action. Make sure you do not file your todos and other info away on your smartphone, never to look at it again.
Smartly Using Your Phone
Smartphones have forever changed our lives and world.
The allow us to do amazing things. However, they can complicate our lives, too.
Ensure that you are using your smartphone and not the other way around.
What time management mistakes do you make with your smartphone? What are you best tips?
“Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.”
~ Shaquille ONeal
We’re talking habits this month.
If you missed the first post in the series, Change Your Habits: 30 Days to a more Productive and Successful Life, I recommend you start there and come back.
Changing a habit is difficult. Let’s face it; you have done certain things in a certain way for probably most of your life. Trying to change those patterns is not an easy task, but it can be done. The success rate is much higher if you don’t try to tackle too much at once, otherwise you are just setting yourself up for failure. This is one of the main reasons that New Year’s resolutions don’t have a good success rate. We attempt grand, life altering changes, often several at once.
Choose one habit – Focus on changing one thing at a time. You can add another change later once you have mastered this one.
Keep it simple – I will exercise 5X per week is good. I will train for a marathon time next month is a goal and an ambitious one, not a habit. I will make 5 sales calls every morning before I check email is good. I will increase sales by 30 % = goal.
Start small – The smaller the better. It’s better to start with a small change and build on that. Wake up 15 minutes earlier, not 2 hours. Exercise for 20 minutes, not run 5 miles. Try slowly cutting back on email checking – 5X per day, then 4X, then 3X…..
Cement it – Write down what habit you are going to change. Documenting helps to solidify and cement the intention in your brain. Put it on your calendar, either electronic or paper. Schedule time for it!
Have you chosen you habit yet?
Click here to read more on creating and sticking with new habits.
We’re all way too busy. We live and work in an age with infinite online and offline demands on our time and attention. And the end result is that we’re left little free time for us to just breath and be.
If you’re anything like me, you wish there were few more minutes in every day. Well the good news is there are always minutes to be saved and various ways to save them. Save enough of them every day, and you’ll have a few extra hours at the end of the week. In this article I discuss 30 of my favorite ways to save 30 minutes a day.
Sometimes our days are so crammed with things to do that an extra 30 minutes at the end of the day represents the difference between sanity and insanity. I use each of the tips below to save time and remain sane on a daily basis.
Perhaps the very best question that you can memorize and repeat, over and over, is, “what is the most valuable use of my time right now?”
- Brian Tracy
- Group similar tasks back-to-back. – Switching gears between different types of tasks can be tough. It takes most people several minutes to get into a productive mental groove geared toward a speficic type of task. Therefore, it makes sense to group similar tasks in an effort to minimize the number of rough patches, and thus wasted time, between task orders.
- Use productive shortcuts. – People who claim that there are no productive shortcuts in life have been brainwashed. There are productive shortcuts for almost everything you do. Finding and using them can save you a few minutes here and there on a daily basis. If you use a computer, learn the keyboard shortcuts for the programs you use most often. If you can permanently delegate one of your regular tasks to someone else, do it. Is there a route to work with less traffic? Where can you hit two birds with one stone?
- Eliminate all distractions for a set time. – Distractions are everywhere. They arrive via email, cell phone, coworker inquiry, etc. I’ve found that cutting out all distractions for a set time is one of the most effective ways to get things done in less time. You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be nearly four times as productive while you are.
- Narrow the number of ventures you’re involved in. – Productivity is not usually my challenge, narrowing the number of ventures to be productive in is. Even when you have the knowledge and ability to access super-productive states, you get to a point where being simultaneously super-productive on too many fronts at once causes all activities to slow down, stand still and sometimes even slide backwards.
- Plan ahead and start early. – 10 minutes of dedicated time planning each evening will save you from 30 minutes of ad-hoc preparation each morning. Likewise, starting your morning on purpose 30 minutes early will likely inject at least 60 additional productive minutes into your day. Think about it.
- Organize your space. – How much time do you think the average person wastefully spends searching for items they’ve misplaced? Keeping both your living and working spaces organized will undoubtedly save you 30 minutes daily.
- Productively use waiting time. – Waiting time does not have to be wasted time. When you are waiting at the doctor’s office, the post office, or on hold for the next available representative, what simple tasks could you complete while you wait? How about sorting through your snail mail, writing those thank you notes you’ve been putting off, reading the book you keep meaning to read, reviewing and editing your to-do lists, etc.
- Handle two minute tasks immediately. – “The 2 Minute Rule” is single greatest tip I picked up from David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.” If you roughly estimate that a task is going to take you less than two minutes to accomplish, do it right now. It’s a waste of time and energy to keep small tasks like this on your to-do list on in the back of your mind.
- Ask more questions. – The trial and error process can be a huge waste of time. Often people view asking questions and relying on others as a weakness, but they are sadly mistaken. Asking questions will bring you closer to the people around you and likely save you a huge chunk of time. Win-win.
- Buy in bulk and cook in bulk. – Buying stuff and cooking food are two of the most common unplanned consumptions of time. Most people buy replacements in small amounts only when they need them and think about food only when they’re hungry. The problem is these issues will often arise at inopportune times. The most efficient way I’ve found to counteract this is by doing bulk loads of both. I know I’ll always need gas in my vehicle. So instead of putting in $25 here and $25 there, I top off my tank every time I’m at the station regardless of the sticker shock. Likewise, I know I’m going to be hungry at lunch time every day this week. So on Sundays I’ll grill up five extra chicken breasts and make a chicken wrap or sandwich for every day of the week.
- Pick-up the phone. – We’ve become so accustomed to communicating digitally, sending emails, IMs and texts, etc. that we sometimes forget that we can get the same tasks accomplished in a fraction of the time with one or two quick phone calls.
- Don’t mindlessly browse online ad infinitum. – Web browsing is one of the immense black holes in time spending. Before you realize it, you may have spent hours browsing while generating very little value.
- Standardize common tasks. – If you find yourself performing the same set of tasks on a regular basis then it makes sense to establish an efficient, standardized way of accomplishing them. Are certain tasks easier to perform in the morning? Are there additional resources that can be utilized only at a certain time? It’s up to you to find an efficient pattern, standardize it and follow it.
- Make better usage of commute times. – Listen to audio books, make calls, do some proactive time planning, etc. I use Evernote on my iPhone and capture tons of ideas and thoughts when I’m commuting and traveling on business.
- Write things down. – Nobody’s memory is perfect. If you don’t take notes and setup to-do lists for yourself you will end up wasting minutes of time trying to remember things that would have taken you seconds to write down.
- Consolidate all daily errands into one trip. – Consolidate all of your errands into one trip instead of driving back and forth several times from home to the store to home to the bank to home, etc.
- Stop overanalyzing things. – There comes a time when you have to stop evaluating something and just bite the bullet and do it. Contemplating taking action isn’t taking action. It gets nothing accomplished.
- Exercise daily. – I know it sounds counter-intuitive. You have to spend time exercising. But, research has shown that exercise boosts cognitive function, creativity, problem solving and productivity. In fact a NASA study showed employees who exercised daily worked at 100% efficiency after seven hours, while those who didn’t saw a 50% drop, meaning it took them twice as long to accomplish the same thing.
- Use a timer. – I use a timer to limit the amount of time I spend on daily tasks such as email, retuning calls, cranking through my to-do lists, etc. This keeps me from getting overly distracted from the truly important tasks I must accomplish during the day.
- Do what you don’t want to do first. – If you do the tough tasks first when your mind is fresh, you’ll get them done quicker and be on to the next thing in no time.
- Harness the power of teamwork. – I heard a story once about some horses that were in a competition to see which could pull the most weight. One horse pulled 3,000 lbs and another one pulled 4,000 lbs. Someone suggested the horses team together to see how much they could pull. Most guesses were in the 7,000 lb to 10,000 lb range but when those two horses worked together, they pulled an amazing 20,000 lbs. That’s the power of teamwork. Good teamwork can get a large project completed in an amazingly short amount of time.
- Just say NO! – While saying yes can take us down some wonderful roads, there’s also a ton of value in saying “no.” We’re only given a certain amount of hours in our lives; do you really want to give yours away so easily? If you don’t have to time to commit to a new project, complete a favor, or serve on another committee, it’s a good idea to just say “no.”
- Focus your attention on one thing at a time. – Cutting out multitasking (or “multi-slacking” as I call it) leaves you to focus more intently on one task and finish it to completion, rather than having many tasks started and nothing finished.
- Pare down your e-mail inbox. – As a first step, cancel any e-mail newsletter subscriptions that you do not read anymore. If you subscribe to more than one newsletter in a certain category (e.g. tech newsletters), choose the one that delivers the most value to you on a daily basis and get rid of the rest. The e-mail inbox should only be for priority communication, otherwise it just wastes your time.
- Use time multipliers. – Effective delegation of lower priority tasks is a time multiplier. Eliminating time wasting activities is a time multiplier. Screening phone calls can be a time multiplier. By practicing creative procrastination on anything that doesn’t propel you toward your goals, you can multiply the amount of time you have to achieve those goals.
- Relocate closer to your place of employment. – In every major city in the world there are people traveling over an hour to reach their work destination from home. This is a huge chunk of time that could be used far more productively.
- Turn off the TV. – Nuff said.
- Use technology to automate tasks. – From creating email filters, to automatically backing-up your hard drive, to automatic bill paying. The more you can automate, the more time you’ll save.
- Keep it simple. – Keep your to-do lists and planning simple, and don’t waste time playing with new tools, etc. There’s always going to be shiny programs that promise to make your day faster and more efficient. Stick with one, and learn to rely on it.
- Spend minutes now to save hours later. – During happy hour last Friday I spent some time listening to one of my colleagues confess her utter distaste for the Windows 7 Start menu. “The system is organized all wrong. The programs I need are buried and the ones I never use are right at my finger tips. I waste so much time digging through menus,” she said. “But you can easily rearrange that,” I replied. She looked down with a despondent expression on her face. “I know,” she said. “Someone else told me that too, but I haven’t taken the time to figure it out.” Bottom line: Sometimes you have to spend a few minutes now to save hours of grief in the future.
What did I leave off the list? Please share your favorite time saving tips with us in the comments area below.
Photo by: Xava Du
Commuting doesn’t have to be the hellish experience it has been made out to be. You can learn a lot while commuting. I used to despise jumping on the train or taking the bus, but not anymore. I have everything set-up for my commuting adventures.
I always have a book ready, or my iPod loaded up with material for me to listen to. I like to read and fill my brain with knowledge, so finding material is easy. The biggest problem you’ll face is preparation. You have to prepare yourself for your commutes, otherwise you’ll most likely not bring the best material with you.
I’ve learned a lot while sitting on trains, buses and airplanes. It feels more cumbersome to bring something with you, but you’ll be thankful you did when you’re sitting there with nothing to do.
You’ll almost feel forced to do something, which is when it’s a perfect time to fill your brain with precious, tasty knowledge.
Here are a few productive things you can do while commuting:
Read a Book
You may not have time to read books, but if you’re commuting and doing nothing, you’re wasting a good opportunity to get friendly with the interesting world of books.
If you aren’t an avid reader, it may feel hard to get started, but as you keep reading, you’ll find it more and more fun, at least I did.
If you’re aspiring to become a blogger or writer of any kind, you can grab a laptop, put on some music and start writing while sitting on the train or bus.
If you don’t have a laptop, there are a lot of ways to find a really cheap one. If you’re only using it for writing and surfing the web, you don’t really need the best of the best.
If you’re commuting by car and can’t really read or write, you can always buy audiobooks and audio courses on many different topics.
There really are no excuses to squander your commuting time. No matter how you commute, you can always take advantage of the time you have.
Have anything in your life that isn’t clear or that’s bothering you? Grab a pen and a piece of paper and start putting down your thoughts on paper.
Whenever I write down whatever I’m trying to solve, it helps clear my mind, and I’m sure it’ll help you as well.
Start a Business
Online businesses are started every day in every way. Even if you only have one or two hours of free time every day, you can get a lot done by prioritizing your time.
There are a lot of different online income streams you can build. You can get involved in affiliate marketing, or in creating your own products.
It’s easier said than done, I know, but it is possible, and there are people doing it. The only thing standing in your way is you.
This is for those times when you’ve somehow forgot all of your stuff at home. Whenever I’m on the bus with nothing in my hands or in my ear, I like to visualize and play around with my imagination.
That is, of course, if there’s no beautiful scenery to marvel at. Visualization can be anything you want it to be, but I personally like to use it to feel good.
What you do is you visualize something you want. Say you want to travel. Think about as many details as you can and start living your dream, inside your head.
Feel the feelings you would have if you were already traveling right now. You’ll know it works because you will start feeling better and better.
Learn A LanguageCommuting may at first seem boring, but when you really think about it, it’s an opportunity for you to do awesome things while the world passes you by.
Have you ever thought about learning a language? I think we all have at some point in our lives. I’ve recently started learning Spanish and am having a lot of fun doing it.
Language learning can be fun. You don’t need to sit in school and study grammar to learn a language. You can immerse yourself in it and absorb it.
If you can devote 30-60 minutes to a language per day, you will make progress. If you can do more, you will learn more.
Written on 9/21/2010 by Henri Junttila. Henri blogs at, Wake Up Cloud, where he shows you how you can earn money online ethically. You can also get the Passion Blogging Guide, which is free, but really shouldn’t be. Photo Credit: j.o.h.n. Walker
Patented 100 years ago to mitigate the time-consuming process of manually hole-punching and thread-binding papers and manuscripts, the classic piece of office-supply brilliance known as the binder clip deserves a prominent spot in every office, home, and quick-and-dirty DIYers’ toolkit.
A Brief History of Binder Clips
Let’s marvel for a bit at the design mastery behind the binder clip. It’s made of one solid but flexible piece of metal and two hinged metal wires. When folded back, the binder clip’s metal hooks provide the leverage necessary to open the powerful spring-loaded clasp. After you’ve bound your papers (or whatever you’ve fit into the mouth of the binder clip), the metal arms fold forward, flush against the bound object. Or you can remove them altogether.
Unlike its older and significantly more simplistic cousin, the paperclip, the binder clip binds significantly larger stacks of paper together with ease; unlike staples, hole-punches, or thread, the binder clip is a completely non-destructive method of binding and organizing paper with a vice-like grip. (You can even completely remove the wires if you prefer to keep the clip fastened and want to lose the cruft.)
Per Wikipedia, the binder clip has undergone next to no significant design improvements or changes since it was invented nearly 100 years ago. You can find the indispensable gadgets in a variety of sizes, from the tiny roach-clip style to clamps the size of your hand (but with a significantly stronger grip).
In the UK, it’s called a bulldog clip. Yeah.
So yeah, binder clips hold paper together. That’s not terribly sexy, and even the fact that it’s stood the test of time and remains one of the most reliable and ubiquitous office supplies doesn’t really change that. But the binder clip transcends the yawn-factor of office knighthood through the many brilliant and clever ways they’ve been put to use outside the piles of workspace papers. Let’s look at a few of our favorites:
Binder Clip as Cable Catcher
The picture says it all, but you can also combine binder clips with magnets for an even better hidden alternative.
The Hipster PDA
Sick of digital tools like Evernote and long for the days of analog capture? Personal productivity guru Merlin Mann’s classic Hipster PDA is a bundle of 3”x5” notecards and a binder clip. Done.
Combine binder clips with a sturdy sync cable and you’ve got yourself a syncing stand. Or you can do a little bending for a smartphone stand of a different style.
And So On
The binder clip can also stand in as emergency cuff links in a pinch, keep your toothpaste squeezed, stop hanging folders from sliding, create a quick DIY photo wall, hold your duvet cover, and more. It’s one of those “let your imagination run wild” DIY tools, and its surprising versatility seems almost endless.
So it’s in that spirit that we salute the classic binder clip, this editor’s favorite understated workplace timesaver.
Staring Out Over the Bridge
Difficult choices. Photo courtesy of Kristaps B.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity. Follow him on Twitter here.
When you were a kid and wanted to do something your parents or teachers didn’t like, you may have heard the question, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” The idea is that it’s not good to do something stupid, even if everyone else is doing it. The logic is think for yourself instead of following the crowd.
It’s good advice, regardless of the motivations of the authority figure giving it to you. But one day, you grow up and suddenly the tables are turned. People start expecting you to behave very much like they do. If you disagree and don’t conform to their expectations, some of them get confused or irritated. It’s almost as if they are asking: “Hey, everyone else is jumping off the bridge. Why aren’t you?”
Every day, you’ll encounter the bridge in countless decisions and conversations—but the choice of whether to jump or not is completely up to you. How can you back away and make your own choices?
1. Ask why. A powerful, annoying question, why is frequently used by three-year-olds but usually abandoned by adults. Support the why revolution. Start asking why of everyone, including yourself.
2. Clarify. What’s it all about? What do you really want to do, and how can you make that the priority?
3. Simplify. That’s what minimalism is all about—letting go and living the dream. But the best part of simplicity has nothing to do with how many socks you own; it lies in being clear about your intentions and motivations.
4. Do … more. That’s right, do more, not less. When you don’t know your core passions and are staring out over the bridge, it’s good to back off and strip everything down. But when you’re crafting a remarkable life, why wouldn’t you want more of it?
Here are a few options for step four: learn a language. Write a book. Take a trip. Learn to walk on hot coals. Enroll in trapeze school. Volunteer.
Or do something else—it’s a big world out there. The main question is: How can you wake up tomorrow and live the life you want, while also connecting with the world around you?
Most of us don’t really want the simplest possible life. We want a life that is free from clutter, yes—but we need to connect our lives with a greater purpose. We don’t need to own things we don’t use, but we should spend freely on meaningful experiences. We should invest in ourselves and invest in others.
Take a hard look at the life before you. Are you staring out over the bridge? Take a step back. Decide for yourself what’s best.
The rest is entirely up to you.
Whether you’re a college student or city dweller, most of us have workspaces and offices much smaller than we’d like. Here’s how to get the most from your workspace, no matter how small it is.
Photo from the Compact Productivity: The Walk-In Closet Workspace.
Before we get started, we’re going to throw our most helpful tip out there. If you can empty the space that is, or will be, your workspace before getting started, your job as office makeover engineer will be much, much, easier. It’s less stressful to start with a blank slate and add items in than it is to try and work around the existing workspace. You’ll be fine either way, but if you can, start from empty.
Note: As always, rules were made to be broken. The tips below aim to provide helpful guidelines, but at the end of the day, if something works, it works.
People are inclined to make timid design choices in a small space. The space is small so everything should be small, including decisions about color and design considerations, right? Wrong. Sure you can’t put a massive and ornately carved desk in a 6’x4’ study nook, but that doesn’t mean you have to go with a timid and tiny white desk and no color. Small spaces require more focus and design energy than large spaces because every single inch counts when you’re appointing a tiny space. Make bold design choices but keep them few and far in between. Painting one wall red is a bold design choice. Painting one wall red, the desk blue, and covering it with Japanese figurines is something well beyond bold and cruising towards eye-sore territory. Photo from Tiny Workspaces: The Black Hole Home Office.
Don’t be afraid of color. A small workspace doesn’t have to look like a newsprint page. Paint the wall green, red, bright blue, whatever color strikes your fancy and works with the palette of your space. If you don’t add in some visual energy to your small space, it can feel draining to sit there working. Can’t paint the walls? Put up a colorful print or poster. Use LED up-lighting to cast a colorful glow on the wall. Do something to introduce variation.
Go easy on the prints. Try to stick to solid or very subtle prints. A tiny home office may not be the place for a chair with a dense and loud fabric pattern. You may also want to keep objects like furniture and office chairs on the darker side, since light objects appear larger to the eye. A huge white leather executive chair in a small office will look even larger than a traditional black one. You can ignore this rule if you have really dark walls, a lighter desk or chair will stand out more and provide contrast if you have slate gray walls.
Accentuate areas of interest in your workspace. Does your office have an interesting window? Architectural details like period molding, textured walls, or other eye catching details? Try to accentuate them. A bare brick wall behind your desk offers far more visual interest than you’d be afforded with a matte white wall. Don’t ignore the innate details in your office when choosing where to place your desk, shelves, and other office necessities. Photo from An Industrial Vibe: Workspace in a Wool Mill.
Don’t skimp on the lighting. The recently featured workspace of Lifehacker reader Ed Venture (above) really drives home the importance of good lighting. His home office is a multipurpose media room, office, guest room, and all-purpose room for his family. He set up multiple lighting schemes for everything from studying to computer work to watching movies to reading on the couch. While you might not opt to have as many lighting schemes and effects as Ed, don’t neglect to factor in lighting. Changes in lighting can dramatically shift the appearance of a small space. Consider bright lighting for tasks that need it, subdued back-lighting on your monitors for reduced eye strain, and general lighting to brighten the place up. Lighting is particularly important if you’re dealing with a space that has little or no natural light.
Purge, Purge, and Purge Some More
Clutter is the absolute death of a small office. If you’re going to have a functional and effective small office, you have to continually purge. Regular offices get cluttered up quickly; your tiny home office with a small desk and limited storage can be lost to a few days worth of junk mail and unsorted work. Photo from The Organic-Shelf Office.
Corral and purge office clutter. You can’t stop the flow of things into your office, but you can contain them properly. Everything should go through your inbox. (In this context, consider your inbox any defined space on your desk for stuff that needs processed.) If something can’t fit into your inbox, then it’s large enough you really need to deal with it right then and figure out where it belongs. Empty your inbox daily. File or shred daily. You don’t have a big enough workspace to get into the habit of pushing piles around and dealing with things later. When you have a small workspace, your entire desk is the “Deal with it now!” zone. Not sure your filing system is up for the challenge of daily use? Beat your filing cabinet into shape with a filing system workflow.
While you’re at it, if the task of keeping clutter at bay seems impossible, re-evaluate your office gear to simplify and declutter, ditch forgotten items, consider starting over with a clean slate, or use the “this isn’t my stuff” approach to decluttering.
Organization Is Key to Small Office Happiness
Once you’ve got a solid handle on purging—and purging again and again!—it’s time to focus on organization. If your office isn’t well organized, chances are everything will end up on your desk. That’s where everything goes in a messy office—right to the desk. The purging you did above will cut down on the stuff you need or organize; an organization plan will keep things tidy. Photo from The Organized Corner Office.
Organize based on frequency of use, not location of use. People tend to think in terms of “Where do I use this?” rather than “How often do I use this?” when it comes to organizing and storing their office supplies. Scanners are a perfect example of this. If you’re a design professional and you use a scanner every single day, it should be on your desk. If you use a scanner three or four times a year to scan legal documents or invoices, it should be stowed neatly on the top shelf of a closet or out of sight inside a piece of office furniture. Use your staple puller every day? Keep it on the desk or in your top desk drawer. Otherwise put it in the office supply bin in the closet. Use a big microphone for daily pod casts? Keep it out. Use it for once a year dub-overs on family films? Put it in the closet.
It sounds elementary when it’s laid out like that but most people work along the lines of “This is a USB device, USB devices must be plugged into computers!” If you don’t use it frequently, it has no purpose sitting on your space-constrained desk.
Use vertical spaces. Let’s say you are so limited on space for your workspace that you can’t carve out more than the spot your desk sits on. You’ve still got around 20-30 square feet of wall space right behind your desk that could have shelving on it. Don’t overlook your vertical spaces. We don’t suggest covering all your wall space with storage or cabinets, but you’re missing out on prime storage space in a small office if you limit yourself to the desk and other low-to-the-ground furniture. Photo from The Floating Shelves and Hidden Cables Workspace.
Conceal the clutter. Unless you’ve reduced your entire workspace to a single table with a single laptop on it, there is no way you can avoid having a little office clutter. Having lots of stuff on surfaces, whether your desktop or shelving, really shrinks the space and makes it feel like there just isn’t enough room. Use baskets on shelves to hold small objects, drawers under the desk, and try to minimize what sits on the desk. Remember if it’s not in daily use it really shouldn’t be on the desk.
Wrangle your cables. If a tangle of cables looks unsightly in a big office, it looks like a spider’s nest of doom in a small one. We’ve shared numerous solutions over the years for managing your cable clutter. Our top 10 ways to get cables under control and cable management tag page are great places to get started brainstorming ideas on everything from creating a cable-free workspace to managing cords on your mobile devices, including using rain gutters as cable managers (above). Photo by Seandavid010.
Steal Some Great Ideas
Before we leave the topic of workspace design we need to take a peek at where you can get good design ideas. The easiest way to get great ideas for your small office is to look at other small offices and workspaces. In the gallery below we’ve grabbed some workspaces from the Lifehacker Workspace Show and Tell Pool and our Compact Workspace call for submissions—these are just a fraction of the thousands of photos in the pool and our featured workspaces series.
Always keep your eye out for something that would work in your office. Not every office in the workspace pool will be the size as yours, in a color palette you like, or in the same budget range as you’re working with, but you’ll always be able to find something new and interesting to incorporate into your office.
Every small space workspace and its occupant have different needs. Starting with a blank slate, however, and introducing elements of color, good lighting for work and play, and purging unnecessary clutter will go a long way towards creating an effective and enjoyable workspace. Have a tip or trick to share for maximizing a small space? let’s hear about it in the comments.
By Jason Fitzpatrick
Six Thinking Hats is a thinking methodology based on the premise that the human brain thinks and processes information in six distinct ways: via questions, emotions, bad and good points judgment, creativity, and thinking (or more accurately, meta-thinking). Huh-wha?
Wikipedia describes the six metaphorical hats (and their corresponding colors) thusly:
- Questions (White) - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
- Emotions (Red) - instinctive gut reaction or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
- Bad points judgment (Black) - logic applied to identifying flaws or barriers, seeking mismatch
- Good points judgment (Yellow) - logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
- Creativity (Green) - statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes
- Thinking (Blue) - thinking about thinking
In the grand scheme of Six Thinking Hats, the idea is that you’ll use these six methods—or rather, put on these six different hats—to structure the way you’re thinking about a problem or task.
Coloured hats are used as metaphors for each state. Switching to a state is symbolized by the act of putting on a coloured hat, either literally or metaphorically. These metaphors allow for more complete and elaborate segregation of the states than the preconceptions inherent in people’s current language. All of these thinking hats help [achieve] deeper [thinking]. The six thinking hats indicate problems and solutions about an idea you might come up with.
At the end of the day, the six hats probably won’t revolutionize the way you think and get things done. But like most tools of its kind, it does offer an interesting perspective for thinking about how we think, and how we tackle problems. You may not feel like restricting your thoughts specifically to any one hat under normal circumstances, but if you hit a roadblock in your thinking, considering the six hats seems like a useful exercise that could help dislodge your stuck brain.
Thoughtful planning is essential to success. Plan smarter by exercising your brainstorming muscles.
It sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it: by taking a break, you can get more useful work done. But it really works.
You can struggle along for days, weeks or even years, working hard but without really producing anything good. With so many interruptions and distractions (from meetings to phone calls to Twitter), it’s easy to come to the end of a week and question what you’ve really accomplished.
If you’ve ever worked on a big project, whether at work or in your personal life, you’ll know how easy it is to get bogged down in trivia – or to procrastinate. Rather than plowing on grimly, sometimes you just need to take a break. Here’s why.
You’re Not Very Productive When You’re a Quivering Wreck
I’m a freelancer, and I realized a while back (while trying to follow various time management tips) that one of the big areas where I “lost” time was when I kept pushing myself and pushing myself to work … ending up burning out.
If you work too long or too hard, you’re working yourself up to a crash. You’re not going to be at all productive if you’re lying in a ball on the floor, or if you’re lashing out at employees or relatives because you’re so stressed.
Looking Forward to a Break Helps You Stay Focused
Have you ever had a whole day to get something done – and ended up spending most of that time fiddling around with other tasks? I’m sure most college students are familiar with the essay-writing process, which involves a lot of cups of coffee, sharpening pencils, doodling, filing lecture notes – anything but actually getting on with the essay!
When you give yourself all day to do something, chances are it’ll end up taking all day. When you give yourself two hours – with the promise of a proper break at the end of that time – it’s much easier to concentrate and stay on task.
Limited Time Makes You Stick to Important Tasks
Another problem with plowing on, and on, and on with work is that you’ll often end up doing unimportant tasks: the ones which let you look or feel busy (like repeatedly checking emails). When you know you have an end point for your work session, you’re forced to focus on the things you really need to get done.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, go through it and put the numbers 1, 2 and 3 against the three most important tasks – the things you really must get done. Then work through them in order, and don’t switch to anything new until you’ve completed them. This is a great way to race through work and to avoid darting between tasks without finishing anything.
Your Mind Keeps Working During a Break
Have you ever had a great idea when you were in the shower, or driving, or doing the dishes? Your unconscious mind doesn’t switch off when you’re having a break: on the contrary, a period of time when you’re not focusing on a particular task is just what your mind needs in order to come up with something amazing. What might you be missing out on because you’re not giving yourself that sort of thinking time?All it takes is one or two good ideas, well-executed, for you to live the life of greatness. Most of the influential creatives throughout history – including present ones – started with one really good idea. The rest of their life was spent either working on that idea or living off of the fruit of that idea. You may be incubating that great idea, or you may be one step away from it and I want you to get it out so we all can enjoy it.(Charlie Gilkey, Demystifying the Creative Process, Productive Flourishing)
Breaks come in different shapes and sizes. A five-minute break to gaze out of the window can calm you down and prevent you from trying to work in a frantic but unproductive way. A week’s vacation can give you a whole new perspective on your life.
What sort of break can you take today, or this week?
Written on 7/29/2010 by Ali Hale. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: JOVIKA
Good news: taking a break makes you work BETTER. Please remember to take a break from work, folks! You’ll thank us for reminding you on Monday!