Follow-up on the Arc Notebook

It’s hard to believe it was only January that I reviewed the Arc Notebook from Staples initially and two things have happened that inspired me to follow-up on this – to share more about how it’s holding up with even more time and usage.

I continue to greatly appreciate this notebook – it really is my go-to place when I need to write things down.  This includes my to-do list for the week (or occasionally, day), notes about any blog ideas, things that inspire me, and other things that it’s easier to hand-write (rather than using the iPad).

First, I need to share that there is something I forgot to talk about in my review – another positive aspect of this style notebook (both sizes) is that the rings allows for the notebook to be flipped over like a standard notebook.  This means that if you have limited space for the notebook to be sitting out, you aren’t limited to it lying there closed until you need to use it.  The poly style will lie flatter since the leather has some bulk and causes it to lie at a slight angle.

It’s been interesting though, the amount of paper that comfortable fit in the notebook seems so little.  My perception (and some of the people I work with also) is first that it’s easy to put too much paper in – I think the rings are deceptive in that it seems like more paper would fit easily.

I’ve also become curious about if we’re simply more comfortable with having lots of pages available to us – so when we see how much we need to cut back on the pages, we feel ill at ease.  I know I do – “uh-oh I only have 8 blank pages” – yet I have yet to use all those pages in a sitting.  And there is still a bit of discomfort about how few blank pages there are – hence my curiosity about how we view the access to blank pages in our notebooks.

And it finally happened – there is a page that is coming loose and does not want to sit back around the rings.  I shared in my initial post how it seems like the pages would not be easily moved around time after time – that there should be a limit before the punched paper will just stop working.  Although I initially had some pages where the punched paper was certainly flexible from moving it around, it still connected solidly with the rings.

The only page that has caught my attention with this issue is the first page I left in the notebook – I left in the cover page – and the bottom punch doesn’t want to stay.  Even though the cover page is beginning to not connect with the rings – it’s still only 1 of the punches.  The page has 7 other punches helping to keep it attached – so even when the paper is getting tired, it happens slowly and there is support so that the page is still part of the notebook.

I’ve been appreciating the Arc Notebook so much that it took me a while to start using the similar notebook from Ampad (blog about that coming fairly soon!) and my intuition tells me that I will still prefer the Arc Notebook.  As I see people making notes for themselves – either on random pieces of paper or just filling a spiral notebook with notes – I think about the Arc Notebook and how easy it is to keep like notes together – at least as long as you don’t fill a single page with notes that relate to different aspects of your life.  It’s probably obvious that I consider this product a great option for a variety of needs that require our writing it down.

Variations in Traditional Products

With so many products available – sometimes only online – it’s challenging to know what the possibilities are for your needs.  And I cannot claim to be an expert.  Yet, I do love discovering the variations and considering how and where they might be helpful.  Therefore, with that in mind, here are some variations on a couple of traditional products.

3-Ring Binder Pocket

I first discovered this at Walgreen’s for $0.99 and was impressed by its quality, though I haven’t been able to find this specific one in recent years.  There are now other brands available with various differences.  It can be helpful to have a closeable pocket or folder that then lives within a larger container – in this case a 3-ring binder.  I prefer the side opening; it makes the contents easier to access.  If you are a fan of using binders, there are limitations when you have smaller items that need to be included and this is when having the pocket helps.  (You might remember this is one of the benefits I’d talked about with the Unikeep binders.) Typical binder pockets and page protectors can be a way to include smaller items, though things can fall out of these since they don’t close.  In searching for the specific style I’d found, I realized there are some variations available – from the top or side opening and the type of closure: string, Velcro, and plastic snap (though this plastic snap is harder to find).  Most are designed to expand as the contents need – which is another reason they can be helpful – as the typical binder pockets and page protectors are intended for a limited number of pages.

3 Ring Binder Pocket

My last unused 3 Ring Binder Pocket (from Walgreens) holding the rest of what I talk about here.

Bookmark Index Cards

Index cards have many variations – they have colors, lined and unlined, 2 size choices, and binders and spiral bound to contain for your index cards.  Then there’s the bookmark style from Mead – where it looks like a ruled index card only there is an area that is cut so you can attach it to a page.  Now you can make more extensive notes and easily keep it where it relates in the book.  These can be found locally, Office Depot lists it as being sold in stores, so you might have seen these already.  A friend shared a handful with me and I’ve been using them some – they can fall off the page, though I’ve been using them on the side rather than the top so that might be part of the problem! I like how they have color on the top and back so they stand out and that due to their size I can write more details.  Then if I want to remove them from the book and save them, it’s easy to do.

Bookmark index card

Colorful bookmark index cards – the backs are colored completely in the color of the front edge

Tree Free File Folders (in SuperTab style)

Most of us use file folders at least some – even if you avoid a typical filing cabinet – and we’ve probably all seen all the colors and patterns available.  Did you know that you could buy file folders that are made differently?  These are made from sugar cane waste fiber that they say is sustainable, bio-based, and is a renewable resource.  The file folders are biodegradable, recyclable, and made through a sustainable, eco-friendly manufacturing process.  These have the 1/3 cut tab and are the SuperTab style – which means the space for your label is larger.  I can say that they feel sturdy – maybe even more than the typical file folders we’re all familiar with.

Tree Free File Folder

Highly eco-friendly file folders

 Project Planner Notebook

I’ve mostly seen project planner pages sold in packets that you then add to your day planner or other customizable notebook, like the Arc Notebook.  Granted I don’t personally have a great need for a whole notebook dedicated to project planning.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting option – and now that I have a one from the NAPO Conference Expo – it’s been handy. The distinct spaces for making notes is conducive for planning and keeping track of your progress – and different project planners have different allotments of space.  Although it comes spiral bound, sometimes the pages are perforated so removing them and putting them somewhere else is clean and simple.

Project Planner Notebook

Here’s one example of what the pages in a project planner notebook look like


All these products relate in some way to common organizational tools we’re all familiar with, yet these are variations that you might not have known existed.  There’s part of me that thinks we already have too many choices – too many options – yet there’s also a need for alternatives to the traditional tools.  Since we’re all different, having a variety of needs, and handling things uniquely our own way – this means we can likely find the tools that can assist us along the way.  Are any of these items likely to benefit your organizational life?

Review – Containers


  • a way to keep like items together
  • can maximize space
  • can increase accessibility
  • useful for smaller items of similar category


  • not a guaranteed solution for organizing struggles
  • contents within can “disappear”
  • can become more work to access and replace in its space


Here’s another somewhat nontraditional review – since it’s on containers in general, not a specific container.  When I talk about containers I am referring to any object that has the ability to keep things grouped together.  This means that a drawer, a filing cabinet, a bin, a bag, a basket, and so on are all containers – even your purse, if you use one.  We all use some containers under this definition although how useful the containers we use will depend on who we are and how we use them.  There are times that using containers can make things more challenging – even if you want to use them.  With this broad definition of a container, you might consider when and how they work for you and when they’re actually counter-productive.

In many ways the world seems to assume that we all need containers – we’re “weird”, maybe “wrong” if we don’t want to or can’t use containers.  The filing cabinet is a great example – many people believe they have to use a filing cabinet – “it’s what it is designed for.”  This is one of the fallacies of containers – even when they are designed for a specific purpose it doesn’t make them function for everyone.  Then it’s time to consider other options for keeping items contained.  You can create systems for containing that doesn’t require containers.

Figuring out when and where containers will help you is the most important thing – for if they only complicate your process, that’s defeating the point.  Therefore let’s cover a few situations that can make containers more useful.

  1. Are there things that seem to get “lost” frequently?  Small items in a bigger drawer can be one of these things getting lost.  This can be a time to consider a container of some sort to keep those smaller items together and accessible.  This is when it’s time to consider if you simply need a bin – in this example, something without a top to provide visibility and is easy to use – or if another solution needs to be found.

    Pantry drawer showing containers

    Here’s one of my pantry drawers – using containers to corral smaller items together

  2. Are there areas that are harder for you to use – spaces that are less accessible for you?  If you are shorter, high shelves can be a challenge to use – although if you put less frequently used items into a container, it provides easier access.  As a short person, the lip of a container means that you can slide the things you need out without the hassle of getting the step stool.  And it’s not just the lip of a container – it’s the handle, lid, whatever – having the items contained means you have access to hard to reach areas and the things you store there.  This can apply equally to deeper areas and low areas if it’s a challenge to bend or sit on the floor – containers offer easier access to get and move the things to a more convenient area while you need the contents.  The key to making this work is to limit the weight of the containers in the hard to access areas.

    Tall closet showing containers

    Both these shelves are hard for me to reach – yet by putting like items into containers, I can grab the handle, loop, edge to get easy access. This applies even to that box above.

  3. Do you need (or want) to maximize the tall and/or deep shelves?A cabinet shelf – one of any style stand-alone shelf – can help make the most of tall shelves in closets and then you use containers on top and bottom of these, as they’re useful for you.  One of the challenges of tall and deep shelves and using the cabinet shelf without containers is that loose things can topple off and things can disappear behind things – so the combination of tall and deep shelves and using containers means that you can make the most of the space.  You can also stack containers in these spaces, though that can make it harder to get to all of them and then possible resistance to returning them to their spot. Containers used in the front of these types of closets can then be easily moved when you need access to the items further back, which hopefully are need infrequently.

    Stand alone shelf in a tall and deep closet shelf

    Here’s a stand-alone shelf in one of our tall and deep closet shelves – where the containers on top and below provide greater storage. There are containers behind on both levels as well – helping to make the most of the space.

With all the variations of containers available to us, it is worth evaluating what features will assist you in getting and staying organized when a container is called for.

  • What size do you need?

Remember, wait to get a container until you have gathered and sorted all the like items you want to store together.  By doing this, you will know your specific needs.  It’s worth considering if the amount of items is typical too – are you likely to pick up more things that would need to be stored there too?  Do you actually have more than you’d like to store normally, so in the future a smaller container would make more sense?

  • What is the container made of?

With all the options out there, we’re virtually unlimited in our choices – plastic, canvas, wicker and woven materials, metal, and so on.  Yet, there are more than preferences for the material involved.  For instance, wicker and other woven type containers can snag things unless they’re lined.  Some people want to avoid using plastic, though that often means the contents aren’t visible from the side.  Are solid sides important?

  • Will you forget what’s inside if it’s not transparent?

Some people are quite visual – if you can’t see it, it’s like it doesn’t exist.  Sometimes this means that labels aren’t enough, so being able to see the contents becomes critical to the system working.  Other people, who are visual in a different way, come to strongly associate a particular container with specific contents – where the orange bin is autumn decorations.

  • Does it need a top or will the top just get in the way (or get lost)?

Lids can be important when we are stacking containers on top of each other, or if you will need to tip the container and not have the contents spill out.  They can help keep dust and dirt out of the contents too.  Other times, it makes more sense to have open containers – it’s easier to put things in and pull things out.  Inside a drawer is a prime place to avoid lids – you can see and access the contents easily.

  • Is there a shape that will work better for the stuff or the space?

Most of the time, a square or rectangular container is going to help maximize your spaces – since most spaces are designed with right angles.  Yet, is this container going into such a space?  If it’s a decorative hamper that you’re going to put in the corner of your living room to hold your yarn – it doesn’t need to have right angles for the space or the contents.

  • How much does it matter if it has a place for a label or is challenging to label?

One of the challenges with containers is the ability to label – or rather the inability to label them.  Many adhesives don’t attach securely to canvas, metals, wicker and woven materials and so on.  There are containers designed with a built in label while the bulk of them don’t provide this feature.  Figuring out how valuable this is for your situation is important.  Of course there are alternatives for hard to label containers – I’ve gotten attached to binder clips holding the label – as they can work with most containers.

Despite the perception that containers should work for everyone and are the solution for organizing challenges – it doesn’t make it true.  We need to consider our situation, the space, and how we work.  As much as I love containers, they do not function equally well for me – it depends on different factors.  This means that to discover what will work for us, in whatever context, we need to evaluate our needs.  Containers certainly help us contain our belongings, yet they are not the only way for us to keep our items together.

Review: Ampad Shot Note

4 out of 5 stars

Ampad ShotNote

Ampad ShotNote


  • take written notes and turn them into digital notes
  • share notes with other people and programs
  • easy to use
  • pads of paper come in various sizes as well as blank,  wide ruled, and dot graph
  • iPhone app is free
  • ability to make a multi-page note


  • focus was quite variable
  • requires purchased paper to use
  • no control with sending to Dropbox


When I decide to write a review, I approach the product with as much of a blank slate as possible – keeping my mind open to see the benefits and drawbacks.  Except with this one – the Ampad Shot Note (paper and iPhone app), I discovered I had high expectations.  I’d been imagining how I could use it – even modifying it to suit other ideas.  And I immediately began trying it out in these other ways – before exploring it in the way it was designed.  As soon as I realized this, I took a step back and began testing it out exactly as they intended.  Similar to my trying to use it with the variations, my experiences shifted and changed throughout my using it.

As with many of the products I review, it came from the NAPO conference where they shared some of the paper and gave us a demo on how it works.  The paper has special symbols on the four corners, which the app uses.  You take notes, sketch, doodle, or whatever on this paper and then use the app to take a picture of it.  These images are limited to the paper – it uses those corner codes to eliminate anything else – so you won’t get distracting background.  It also keeps the image straight.  It’s easy to make your notes more than 1 page when needed, even when it’s an afterthought.  After taking the pictures of your notes, the next step is to put in a title and if you want, a description and tags, which will help you find your digital notes later.  That’s the process.  If you want to share it, you have the option for different methods: camera roll, email, Evernote, Dropbox, and Twitter.

Once I slowed down, I wrote out things on their paper to use with the app.  Although I wasn’t in the brightest of places, I could not get the app to capture an image of my notes that was crisp and clear.  I need to add the caveat that I often have a tremble that can make taking focused pictures challenging.

Test 1 First test of the Shot Note

First test of the Shot Note

I continued to experiment – testing out the same notes outside on a bright day in the shade and then out in the sun.  It was surprising how blue the notes were in the shade.

Test 2 outside shade

Test 2 of Shot Note
-outside shade

The best has been the note that was taken outside in full sun.

Test 3 outside full sun

Test 3 of Shot Note
– outside full sun

During this process it occurred to me that some of what this product is offering might be available from simply using the camera within the phone.  Therefore, I tried using the iPhone camera to see how the images compared.  Inside, the iPhone performed better and you have the option for flash with it.  With your iPhone (maybe other smart phones?) you also have the same options for sharing with email and Twitter.  It’s already on your camera roll.

Although neither of these pictures are truly good – the words are blurry – they show the (blown-up) differences between the Shot Note program and a general iPhone picture of the same note.  Both of these were taken with the first batch, inside.

Close-up of Shot Note

Zoomed in picture from Shot Note


Zoomed in image of same Shot Note with iPhone camera

Zoomed in image of same Shot Note with iPhone camera













As far as Evernote options – the Ampad Shot Note gives you the option for connecting the two programs, so all your captured notes with Shot Note will go into a specific Evernote folder.  That specific Evernote folder is assigned within settings, so this isn’t something you decide with each specific note.  Everyone who has an Evernote account also has a special Evernote email address where you can email anything directly into Evernote.  You can also choose to send emails into specific folders in Evernote on a case-by-case basis.  Evernote has handwriting recognition, so any note is then searchable – regardless of its original source.  Both Shot Note and camera images with writing had the same recognition within Evernote, as long as the images were clear – the blurry though still readable to me images did not come up with the search.

With Dropbox, Ampad Shot Note creates a folder in your Dropbox where everything you share with it goes – you cannot define where each note goes (other apps are giving you the option for choosing it’s exact places, i.e. within other folders).

From the moment I was introduced to this product, I asked about using it without having to buy the paper.  They explained that the 4 corner codes are critical since the program uses those in how it processes – the app has guides/boxes on screen that you center over the 4 corner codes – although they said otherwise, it should work.  I had what I thought was a great idea… to use those 4 corners with other papers.  I cut all 4 of them out and placed them on the 4 corners of another piece of paper and tried to use the app.  It tried to take the picture and I received an error message, although it did save the image where you can share it.  I then tried cutting off the top and bottom of the paper and placing the 2 strips on the top and bottom of another paper – the same thing happened.  Somehow the app is smart.  The program isn’t “complaining” when you place another piece of paper on top of the pad with the corners showing – and will treat that image just like it was your notes, sketches, or doodles.

The idea of this is wonderful – a way to unite the paper world with your digital realm.  This means that first you are already comfortable with the technology, that you appreciate the digital aspects available to you.  Second, it’s also designed for people who are largely limited to their phones (and computers) for their access – since you can more easily use an iPad for taking notes with your handwriting.  Then the question is whether you have a need for the features of this product.  It’s not often I take handwritten notes that need to be with me or that I want to share with someone else – or rather if I do, I use my iPad for that.

Can you think of how this can benefit you and your life?

More Brief Overviews of Organizing Products

It’s a bit mind-boggling that it didn’t occur to me sooner to share these various products – whatever they might be.  My thinking had been narrow, yet as I shared last time – just because I’m not prepared to write an independent review doesn’t mean these aren’t worth sharing.  In this world where we can be overwhelmed with the choices available to us, there’s a line between being informed and being paralyzed by the options.

Without further ado let’s jump right into the products.

1. DoubleSeal Envelopes from Ampad – We’ve probably all known someone who moistens the envelope flap and then puts tape over the flap as well.  Heck, there are times when the moistened seal doesn’t seem to be adhering well and we need the tape to keep the contents contained.  Here’s a product that provides that tape right on the envelope itself – no running to retrieve the tape – and adds that extra level of security.  This isn’t a product for everyone, though if this is something that would make your life easier – know that it’s available.

Double Seal Envelopes

Double Seal Envelopes from Ampad

2. Packaways  – This was a new product for me from this year’s 2013 NAPO conference and I really wished they had a miniature sample to bring home with me and let everyone play with it.  These are reusable plastic storage boxes that come in translucent and 3 bright colors in all three styles they make: classic (3 sizes), under bed, and tote.  There are a number of features which make them unique: they collapse and reassemble repeatedly without anything else required – no tape, they have wipe away panels for labeling on 2 sides of the box, corrugated plastic construction protects from water and humidity, and all styles are designed to have the same footprint which makes stacking them easy.  This was certainly a product that surprised me this year – playing with pressing the opposing corners to make the bottom fold into place and then collapsing them – I was impressed with the apparent durability and ease.  There’s a good chance I will purchase at least one of these eventually and if it’s as good as it seems, I will share my impressions with you.

Packaways green classic plastic storage box

Packaways Classic Plastic Storage Box

3. OrganizedUp Heavyweight Vertical File Folders from Smead  – Here’s another organizing product that offers the vertical option, although it does have the option for using and labeling on both the vertical and horizontal to make it more versatile.  I’m happy to see that the vertical options are growing – that approach makes it easier to identify the specific papers you are looking for since the title will be at the top of the opening.  This style also makes organizing papers in backpacks and similarly designed bags easier.  These are water resistant, closed on two sides, and designed to hold up to 25 pages.  Each pack comes with 3 colors – either earth tones or bright tones.

Upright file folder from Smead

Vertical File Folder, heavyweight, from Smead

4. Pliio – This product is a clothing filer – yes, a way for you to file your clothes (it just might help me shift my reaction to the idea of “filing”).  The design makes it quick and easy to fold your clothes while keeping the shape uniform which then means it’s easier to find the clothes you are looking for.  How intriguing that by using these you could line your clothes upright; no more toppling stacks of clothes as well as not needing to dig to the bottom of the pile to get the item you want.  These help make the most of your storage space and when you are packing for a trip.  Even better they are now available at Bed, Bath & Beyond so you can see them for yourself in person.

Pliio fold, file, and find your clothes

Pliio – clothing filer

5. HomeZada – This is online and mobile software for organizing your home with a free version and a paid, premium version ($59.00 a year or $5.95 a month).  With the free version, Essentials, they offer: a home inventory where you can collect warranties, owner’s manuals, receipts, and pictures; property documents where you gather insurance and mortgage documents, plans, permits, and tax documents; contacts for your service providers and emergency contacts; and news & alerts which provide you with maintenance tips and seasonal checklists.  With the premium version you get everything that Essentials include as well as many benefits relating to home maintenance and a section for home improvements projects: templates, financial planning for the projects, and shopping comparisons, and finally the option to manage up to 3 homes, which could be great for landlords.

Screenshot from Home Zada and home maintenance

Screenshot from HomeZada and its home maintenance section

As with any and all products it’s important that we evaluate what could help us and avoid the temptation to get simple because it’s neat.  For me, the Pliio is the latter – it seems neat and could be fun, yet I already manage my clothes well, it wouldn’t help me simplify.  We also need to be mindful for the time and energy we have to put into things – when it comes to programs, it’s easy to become enamored of the idea that it could make things easier except that we’ll need to learn it and use it – sometimes this easier said than done.

I’ve tried to include a variety of products that are out there which were developed to help us get and/or stay organized.  These are not products I’ve used (and abused) to see how well the function – they are simply options that I know about.  Would any of these meet your needs?  Are there things that you need yet the products you know about don’t fill those needs?  What products are you interested in knowing more about?

Review: NeatDesk Scanner

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Neat Company's Neat Desk Scanner

The Neat Company’s NeatDesk Scanner – desktop scanner I’ve used


  • Eliminate paper
  • OCR (character recognition)
  • Searchable files (due to OCR)
  • Ability to edit PDFs, including copying parts of it elsewhere
  • Scans can live within program or not depending on your needs
  • Multiple pages into 1 document
  • Color or black and white
  • Double-sided scanning option
  • Scans papers, receipts, and business cards
    • Can add business cards into your contact program
  • Create reports, including ones for taxes (from any or some of the receipts)
  • Versions for both PC and Mac
  • Desktop (NeatDesk) and portable (NeatReceipts) models


  • Limited ability to scan to other programs (i.e. Evernote)
  • Occasional image problems
  • Cost
  • Document primarily – less suited for photos
  • PC and Mac models are not interchangeable


Three yeas ago I talked about the temptation of “Creating a Digital Filing Cabinet with a Scanner” – and that all the tools around us have both pros and cons.  Getting and using a scanner in order to reduce paper is the answer for only some of us.  Just as I knew I would eventually, I picked up the NeatDesk scanner from The Neat Company.  It was a little more than a year ago now.  My husband and I both used it independently – scanning papers in so that we could then recycle the paper out of our space.

I can be a bit of a control freak (about my own stuff) – I want to be able to make the decisions and to control where and how things are organized.  NeatDesk allows me that freedom with one setting.  Not everyone wants to make decision after decision about each scanned item – and they provide for that as well, containing everything you scan to the program – if you choose.  I have less experience with this, although I know that you can export any files from the program to somewhere else when/if you need to.   They also offer the ability to export data into spreadsheets and create reports for various expenses, including for taxes (US and Canada).

One of the most important considerations for me was the ability to copy part of a PDF into another program – the time saved by not having to type up a section of the paper.  For instance, my mom sent me an article about the benefits of getting out into nature – I wanted to save the whole article, so I scanned it.  Then I wanted to share just a paragraph in the bottom part of my newsletter, and I was able to open the scanned article and copy and paste just the part I wanted to share into the newsletter.

The cost can be a large factor: the desktop NeatDesk scanner is about $400- and the portable NeatReceipts scanner is about $180- though they do have sales periodically.  Since cost is something to consider – wait to buy a scanner until you are prepared to use it.  Just like any new tool, it takes time to get familiar with it – the learning curve.  I found the NeatDesk to be fairly easy to learn and use; even remembering with gaps between using it.

The Neat Company's Neat Receipts scanner

The Neat Company’s NeatReceipts scanner – their mobile scanner

A regular challenge for me can be to obsess about using the new tools – the temptation to block out all other activities for doing it all.  In this case, I knew part of me would want to sit down and scan everything in sight! I also know that this isn’t the best way to handle things.  First, it leads to a strong possibility that I would scan things that were unnecessary.  Second, life doesn’t stop simply because I have a new system.  Third, like so much, it might never be done – I still get paper magazines with articles to save.  These points mean that incorporating scanning into my life would be more helpful.

Therefore I set up a file in my small desktop filing box called “To Scan” and as I came across papers that I’d want to scan I put them in the file.  Then about once a month I sit down and scan all the papers in that file – a focused time for only this purpose which also means I’m also saving time and energy from scanning one paper here and another there.  This also gives me time and space to be clear about the decisions I’m making about what I’m scanning and then how and where to organize the scanned papers.

The versatility of the settings makes it valuable as well – being able to scan both sides, multiple pages into one document, color or black and white means that we as the consumer have less work – the scanner can more easily benefit us.  As with any tool we use, one of the most important considerations is how it can assist us with our priorities and limit additional effort on our part – the NeatDesk scanner succeeds well in keeping things simplified.

In some ways The Neat Company products are designed for organization within their program.  The ability of where you can direct your scanned documents to go is more limited than I would like.  Since I continue to discover how helpful Evernote is, I’m a bit disappointed that I cannot scan directly into my Evernote account.  On the other hand, I use Dropbox a lot as well and NeatDesk scans my papers there quite easily.  Despite the Evernote limitation, I would not give up my NeatDesk scanner – the functionality of it meets my needs (and it’s not hard to add the documents to Evernote, it’s simply another step).

Some of the documents I scanned came out blurry, though it does seem to be a rare occurrence.  This year I scanned many of the tax related documents for my husband – when there was grayed or colored areas those were barely legible.  Except that when I repeated the scanning of them with a different setting, they scanned in beautifully.  This isn’t always the case – I have a black and white printout from a presentation with the PowerPoint slides and its appearance leaves something to be desired – though part of that could easily be that the printout itself is less than ideal.

Since I waited until I was ready to get the NeatDesk and have used it regularly for over a year I can share with you that it’s a tool that I truly value.  It offers me important options for getting papers into a digital format and makes it easy to do so.  Being mindful of my own tendencies, I knew going in that I would need to establish systems with it that would benefit me.  Just because I have found it to be a wonderful tool doesn’t mean you need to create a digital filing cabinet with your papers.  What are your needs?  What are you comfortable with?

The Neat Company's Paper Monster

The Neat Company’s Paper Monster
Isn’t it cute? 😉


Brief Overview of Some Organizing Products

The NAPO conference each year is such an experience of learning – both from the presentations about various topics and the expo hall where vendors display and sometimes share samples of their products.  I’ve started sharing products that I want to review, yet there are plenty of products that I’m not inclined to review.  That doesn’t mean they are uninteresting or wouldn’t be useful – it’s more about seeing those products as fairly self-explanatory, obviously useful or not depending on your individual needs.  Then it occurred to me that you all might know these things even exist, therefore I’m here to share several products shared at the NAPO conference expo this year.

1.  Bankers Box – We’re probably all familiar with these, they hold file folders perfectly with lids and handles.  What you might not know is that they are offering more specialized boxes for home storage (Fellowes Bankers Box Home Organization) – they have a prettier design than the straight cardboard as well as this line of products provides windows on the side of the box in order to see some of the contents.  This line also includes an ornament storage box in red and green (including the window and handles).

A banker's box from Fellowes Home Organization line

A banker’s box from Fellowes Home Organization line

2.  EZ Flag Writing Pad – This is a traditional notepad with the perforated edge on top, with a couple of additional features – repositionable stick-on flags for labeling and highlighting on the bottom of the pad.  It means you can leave your highlighter and flags at home and still have them with you.

Easy Flag Writing Pad

EZ Flag Writing Pad with flag and highlighting stickies on pad itself

3.  Vertical Reinforced Expanding Wallet – There seems to be a movement toward shifting the orientation for paper organization and this is one example.  We know about expanding wallets with (then called accordion folders) or without dividers – now when you look in, the top of the papers are easier to read and find – if you don’t mind the necessary depth.

Vertical Expanding Wallet

Vertical Expanding Wallet (sorry for the blurriness -it’s hard to hold steady while snapping a picture)

4.  Privacy CopySafe File Jacket – These are just like all the 2-sided poly sleeves (or jackets) except this one has a privacy pattern on it.  That means any potentially prying eyes won’t be able to tell what your papers are while still providing you with some visibility.

Privacy Copy Safe File Jacket

Privacy CopySafe File Jacket with a paper partway in to see the effect

5.  What’s That Paint – Here’s something new – labels made specifically for your paint cans.  It has space for you to put information about the paint and your use of it: area/room, color, finish & base, brand/store, date, other, and a place to dab the color on the label.  You’ll never have to wonder when or where you applied what can of paint again.

What's That Paint

Labels for your paint cans from What’s That Paint

These are a handful of products that have been displayed and shared at the NAPO conference expo.  They certainly fill the needs for some people and are straightforward in their capabilities.  And just as much, not everyone will have a need for them.  Yet, I believe it’s always great to know what is out there and possible for filling a need – whether now or down the road.

Review: Hanging Folders

It’s that time of the month again – to review an organizing tool.  I’m going to assume you all know what hanging folders are, though I’m finding that not everyone realizes some of the options that are available.  I wonder sometimes whether they’ve been around so long that we figure that we’re limited to the familiar design.

hanging folders

Familiar hanging folders

As with any product, it’s important to be aware of how much it can hold before it begins to lose its effectiveness.  Hanging folders are limited in how many files/papers they can hold – even if we want them to hold more.  Just like file folders, your traditional hanging folders have a series of creases along the bottom.  These creases are there for you to expand the amount it can consistently hold. Just be sure to make the creases on both sides at the same place so that it hangs evenly.

There’s nothing wrong with having more than one hanging folder for your topic/category.  And there are different approaches you can take with having several hanging folders for each topic.

  •  Use the plastic label tabs only on the first hanging folders, so everything behind it until the next label tab is the same topic
  •  Use different color hanging folders (or alternating colors) for each topic, so that the combination of label tabs as well as color can cue you about what topic you’re in
  •  Use the label tabs for each hanging folder, simply labeling each one with the same title followed by the number of hanging folders

For many years I wasn’t aware about the square or box bottomed hanging folders.  If you end up with them accidentally, they often don’t sit well in filing cabinets, as they’re a tad taller unless you’ve added the cardboard piece into the bottom to give them their square bottoms. Many years ago now I found them to be flimsy, mine broke down quickly, though they seem to have improved. These can be great for larger categories, though if you don’t fill it up sufficiently the files will bend and slip down.

Boxed or square bottomed hanging folders

Boxed or square bottomed hanging folders

There are many different tab options as well.  There are the traditional plastic tabs that you fit into slots on the hanging file.  You can get hanging files with paper or cardboard tabs that you label which of course can never move.  Another option is the slide tabs, which snap into place somewhat while still being more easily moved without dis-attaching the whole tab.  While looking for images as well as what else might be out there, I found pop up tabs on hanging folders.

solid tabbed hanging folder

Built-in tab hanging folder

Slide tab hanging folder

Slide tab hanging folder

Pop-up tabs hanging folder

Pop-up tabs hanging folder

Another variation in hanging folder style is the top-rail hanging folder where the pieces that hold the hanging folder onto the frame are not even.  This allows more of the file to be visible in the filing cabinet.

top rail hanging folder

Top rail hanging folder

Also they make hanging pockets (or called hanging jackets) where the hanging folder has full sides except at the top where you put papers in.  The design of this type provides you with the ability to store non-paper items within if you choose.  It also protects the papers from sliding out unless you turn it upside down.  Similar to the accordion folders though it is designed for the sides to bend in, which means papers can get bent.

Pocket hanging folder

Pocket hanging folder

In addition to these design differences, they are also making hanging folders of different materials so you’re not just limited to cardboard.  Similarly, you have some choices in brackets used to attach the hanging folders in the filing cabinet.  One of which is with plastic hooks with tension springs that can be especially useful when your frame has bent a little.

Sure Hook hanging folder

Sure Hook hanging folder

I know before I got into professional organizing I didn’t know about all these options, though I certainly knew about some.  In this world filled with such a plethora of choices and options it can be overwhelming to consider trying to figure out what is available, let along what would be best for your situation.  Also I’m not always interested in trying something new when what I’ve used works fine, although I appreciate knowing the possibilities.

Review: Accordion Folders


Accordion Folder

Here’s an accordion folder I used for our wedding!

  • portable
  • one system, one piece
  • contains papers together yet separately


  • limited number of papers within
  • doesn’t expand with need
  • isn’t conducive to flipping through the papers



One of the things I’ve found in working with people is that they haven’t always thought through the pros and cons of the “typical” organizing options.  Accordion folders have been around a long time and can be quite useful.  Let me say up front that I am not a fan of them personally.  Yet, as I practically preach about – we each have to find our own ways, the products that work for each individual.

Accordion folders of various types are portable.  If you need to move a collection of papers around or carry them somewhere, these folders can simplify that easily.  The papers stay organized and can go with the person wherever they need them – even if it’s from room to room.

2 styles of accordion folders

Here are 2 (of many) styles for accordion folders

Due to the design and function of accordion folders, there’s little to decide about – mostly a hard or soft cover.  You don’t need to decide if you want to have hanging folders with file folders or just file folders (which lean without the framework of the hanging folders).  Color options are fewer, though everything’s contained and you won’t be thinking about what color signifies what.  The accordion folder offers you one system – all together, in one unit.

Since part of the design is the divided sections, you have a way to organize your papers together yet separately.  You can use the accordion folder for one category of papers – like financial or medical – and each section holds some distinct type of paper related to that category.  Or you can make it more broad where it’s all your recurring bills – credit cards, car payments, mortgage, medical expenses, etcetera.

Depending on how it’s used, this is where its limitations can become an issue.  Since it is a self-contained system, it can only contain so much.  The pockets are designed for a certain amount of papers before it the folder itself gets misshapen.  Although file folders also have a limit on how many papers they can hold, the accordion folders pockets can hold significantly less.  (Those creases at the bottom of file folders make their expansion possible and much easier.)  Once you’ve maxed out the amount of papers in the accordion folder, you have to make adjustments.

Check out the bottom of an accordion folder – the frame has creased paper going up into each section – limiting how it holds your papers.  This design is part of how paper is restricted within each section.  Although you can expand the sections, that creased paper goes up into the section regardless of how much paper is stored in there.  This also means that papers are more prone to getting bent, if that matters to you.

Side & bottom of accordion folder

Here’s the side and bottom of an accordion folder which shows the creases

If you need to peruse a section of papers, looking for a specific one that isn’t in the front or back of the pocket, the design of the accordion folder makes that more challenging.  The section dividers only move so far, which means seeing inside the pocket to the words on the paper isn’t much of an option – so you’ll probably pull all the papers out of that section to find the paper you need.  In my mind that means more work for the user – and papers don’t always go (back) in neatly.

It’s probably pretty clear that the limitations of accordion folders have created a bias for me.  I’m not much of a fan.  Yet that doesn’t mean that I haven’t used them – there is something wonderful about their portability.  As well as how useful they can be – depending on how you will use them.  Just like with every product and tool out there, if a product meets your needs with its limitations (and every product has drawbacks) then use it.

Review: Tickler File


Tickler File

Here’s the Tickler File I made for myself

  • easy to create
  • never expires – you can use it over and over again
  • easy to use – little decision making involved
  • no categories


  • challenging to find one set – up for you to jump into using
  • requires regular routines – probably new ones which can be challenging
  • with the full system, might be quite cumbersome
  • no categories
  • files could get overfilled


First, let’s get it out of the way – the name is just funny – Tickler File, or maybe it’s the idea of tickle that makes people giggle.  That seems to be part of the idea – these files are meant to tickle your memory so you won’t forget all the various things you are supposed to be doing.  And you can’t argue with that as a goal – to help you track what’s important and stay on top of things.  If only it was that simple.

Since many people I’ve mentioned this idea to have no idea what it is, let me begin with explaining what it is.  Ideally it seems to be a set of files that sits out on your desktop or some other surface for easy access.  You need hanging folders for each month of the year and some empty ones for the all the file folders.  Then you need file folders numbered 1-31, one for each day of the month generally.  Therefore, since this is February 20th, the front folder is February and the first file would be the one with the number 20 on it.  Behind the file with 20 is 21-28.  Then you’d see the March folder with 1-19 and then 29-31.  Next would be the folders for April, May etc.  At the end of today, you would move 20 to its spot in March.

The idea is that you put your various papers into the date that you need to deal with that specific paper.  Therefore, if you have to RSVP by the 28th, you might put the invitation into the 21st file, and make the decision and mail it on that day.  Or a bill that you need to pay on the March 5th goes into the 5 file.  Or you need to call that person on the 23rd.  When something comes up that you don’t need to deal with it in the next month, you drop it just into the correlating month folder and just as that month becomes relevant, you move the papers into their appropriate day.

You can probably see that for this system to be useful for anyone, they would need to check that day’s file daily.  As with any and every system, you have to use it.  And remember to use it.  Consistently and regularly use it.  This is often easier said than done.  It can be challenging anytime you try to implement a new way to handle your tasks – creating new routines – and with this system it isn’t necessarily obvious.  I think this system also requires that you have enough paper coming in that can get delegated to various days.

It’s easy to create and set up, including labeling – you need 31 file folders, a minimum of 16 hanging folders (one for each month and as many extra to hold all the file folders), and a container to hold all of them.  It will always work – since you simply move the old to the back.  The only decision that you need to make is when you will handle that thing you are putting into the system.  Of course, then when that day arrives, you do need to make decisions.  This system works for any papers – regardless of what action you might need to eventually take.

I got a lot of amusement out of the expressions I encountered when I would ask clerks if they happened to carry a tickler file system.  So, it’s not something that is readily available in local stores, even the national chains.  There appears to be a number that you can purchase online though I would be wary of any accordion styles (though I’m not a personal fan of accordion files in general).

For me, I simply don’t have enough paper to warrant files for each day of the month.  Though it occurred to me that it could be simplified by eliminating the daily and instead doing a weekly file folder – either 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, etc. or week 1, week 2, etc.

One of the most common struggles people face is trying to do too much on a given day (or even week).  It would be easy to drop papers into this system and not realize until the day of that there’s too much to realistically accomplish.

It also doesn’t break things down in any other way which means that I might end up working more that day when I had actually thought I would be home to make phone calls and check things on the computer.  It’s not often, although sometimes I want to get through all of one type of task – non-time sensitive phone calls is my prime example – and with this system they’d likely be divided up among various days since I limit the number of tasks for a given day.

Obviously this system has some great features and can be a good solution for some people.  Yet, it also would fail miserably for other people.  This might be an ideal example of how we each need to find what works for our situation and personality.  As well as an example of how you might need to tweak it to make it work better for you.  Nothing else really matters if it works for you!