Your Tasks have Needs

Endless to-do lists exist everywhere.  Even when you get caught up on your current tasks, more to-dos are bound to come your way.  There’s no escaping them, whether you write them down or keep them in your head.  Living our life, there is always more to do.  Finding a way to organize your to-do list can be just as individual as anything else – discovering how to make it work for you is most important.  Part of making things work for you is to make the most of your current state.

It’s not uncommon that some of us are most successful with completing certain types of tasks.  What do those tasks have in common?  What makes them easier to handle?  What’s similar between tasks you tend to avoid?  What leads you to feeling successful with your to-do list?  What’s the biggest challenge with your list?

Our current state can have a dramatic impact on how we move through or avoid our tasks.  Too often we wait until our feelings to lead us to our to-do list, “Now I feel ready to work on my list.”  Yet what happens when you are always too tired, too sick, too overwhelmed?

I challenge you to consider your tasks in a different way – match the tasks with what you are capable of right now.  Although there any number of ways to break tasks into categories, for this particular approach consider these two factors – the physical and mental requirements – for each task on your list.

It’s more likely that you get the physical tasks accomplished when you feel like you have enough energy to tackle it.  Yet, when you are struggling with consistent fatigue or pain issues, those active tasks might be put off.  This makes sense.  Although if you begin to consider your tasks according to how physical they are, you can also begin to figure out how to make the most of your energy when it’s available – you’ll know which tasks to make a priority.

Likewise when you have little to no energy, you probably have tasks that are less physically strenuous.  If you’ve identified which tasks those are, you can tackle those.  And be sure to consider if there are ways to make some tasks less physically demanding – like the drawer you can pull out completely and put it next to you on the couch.

The second category can be just as important as the physical requirements per task.  Our mental state and completing tasks has the potential to backfire – think about organizing something when you are practically brain-dead with exhaustion (which hopefully you wouldn’t do anyway).   There are tasks that we can complete almost automatically – you don’t need to be completely focused to get your dishes done.  Other tasks need more attention – we have to think and make decisions.

Both of these 2 categories are both really a spectrum – it’s generally not as simple as sedentary versus active – it’s a scale where you move between the two extremes.  I generally think of tasks as falling on one side or the other though – for simplicities sake.  I apply the same rules to the mental category too – complex versus simple (often thinking of them as intellectual vs. mindless).  Yet, even by putting tasks into these extremes brings awareness about what each task will need of my attention whether they easily fit into those extremes.  Then you also can alternate among the different categories to maintain or even increase your progress through your to-do list.

Therefore if you can match up the tasks on your list to your current state, mentally and physically, you can probably get a lot more crossed off your list.  By pairing up your tasks with your current abilities, you will also prevent the need for a long recovery – physically or emotionally – from accidentally overextending yourself.   Considering your to-do list with these factors in mind offers you the opportunity to make the most of your time and energy to get things accomplished in a sensible way.

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.

Paper Pyramid

Are you trying to imagine a literal pyramid of paper?  Fortunately I am not talking literally – though it might be interesting to see one, though I’d imagine none of us would want to deal with it.  Nevertheless, papers are the most common struggle we all face – and it can feel like a pyramid.  And there can be a pyramid effect to papers, just like my recent discussion, The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized.  Because papers are challenging, it warrants its own discussion – these small pieces need to be evaluated and have a decision made about each one – time and energy consuming.

First some questions:

  1. Do you currently have a system for your papers?
  2. Is there room within your system for adding papers? (i.e. is your filing cabinet or whatever stuffed full or not)
  3. Are you happy (relatively speaking) with your current system?
  4. How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?

When your answers to the first 3 questions aren’t all yeses, it’s time to consider using the idea of a pyramid to deal with your papers.  And if you answer no to all 3, then the pyramid will be the most efficient way to handle those papers.  This also reduces the chaos in the short term.  Warning – it might feel inefficient and time consuming – that’s because we’re looking at the bigger picture of getting your papers organized in order for you to maintain them and be able to find what you need when you need it, in the long run.

Think about the base of the pyramid – it’s wide and broad.  Figure out your broad categories of papers in your life – like financial, health, recipes, articles, personal/kids, memorabilia, photos, and etcetera.  There’s a caveat though – you don’t want to separate them into file size divisions.  It’s too soon in the process to be attempting this – you’ll get there.

One important category will be those papers that need action from you in the short-term.  You need to make sure to keep those available during the process, though once you’ve taken the necessary action you can add them to one of your other categories.

These categories are also meant to be small enough that when you’re ready to move onto the next step, you’ll be close to creating the files.  The categories are based on your life, your comfort, and the papers you are dealing with.  With one client, the bulk of papers we’re organizing are from her years as an art teacher and her own art supplies – so we created broad categories of images/pictures, technical art info, projects/ideas, blank papers, art history, recipes, articles, and health info.

Keep going through all the papers you can find, adding them to your broad categories – fewer than 10 categories total.  Ideally you will not move to the next step in the pyramid until you have gotten all your papers into these groupings – whether they stay in the same category or get moved later in the process.  It’s simplest to have all the papers you need to organize all together – in order that you can figure out what and how much you are dealing with.  Therefore don’t forget the papers that are already in your filing system, as these will need to be considered in the next step.

Now you’ve gotten all your papers into their broad categories, you pick one of your categories and begin to subdivide that.  This is when you can start to think about your specific files, though I’d wait until you’ve sorted everything in that category before doing any actual labeling or filing.  As you’re making the piles of papers, you can begin to visually see how small or big they are – giving you a chance to consider whether another division would make sense in order that a file doesn’t become unmanageable.

Once you’ve sorted one category, you can label, put into files (and hanging folders), and into the filing cabinet – if that’s your system.  This can also be the time to consider other approaches since using a filing cabinet is only one option for having a system for your papers.  Being at this stage means that you will know what your needs are for your papers – at least for this category – and what options are even possible.

After doing this with each category you’ve created, not only will the paper pyramid be gone – it will be organized.  By following this process you’ll have created a system that has been tailored to your own needs and will be easy to use – at least when you get around to putting those darn papers away! Yet, with having gone through this process, when the time comes for adding more papers to your system – there will be room and no additional dread.  Hopefully now there’s less dismay when you’re ready to tackle the paper pyramid.

My Top Paid App Picks (plus one free app)

Continuing with the theme of technology and productivity, it’s time to talk about apps that might be worth paying for.  Remember the most important aspect to any technology is what your personal needs are – how do you use or want to use your tools.  Using our technology tools, we all vary in what we need and how we use them.

The chances are that there are some free apps that could help you avoid spending money.  Yet even then there are times when it makes more sense to purchase something that will meet your needs.  As I’ve said more than once, I tend to be frugal and especially dislike spending money on something that may or may not meet my needs.  I have more than 100 apps, yet have spent money on only a few.  Apps tend to be significantly less expensive than your traditional computer programs, and I appreciate that.

So, moving on, these are the apps I purchased and why.

1. Todo ($4.99)

This is exactly what it sounds like – a to-do program.  In many ways it functions like many of the other to-do programs available.  It allows you to create projects and checklists as well as a simple to-do item.  You can create multiple categories – like home, work, personal, etc. as well as repeating tasks, start date, priority, alarms, etc.  It also offers you the option of setting tags and contexts – so you can sort by these and see all your tasks that fall under one of these – like all your phone calls or those tasks that require your spouse’s help.  One of the reasons I like it is that my past do items (yes, I do have past due to-do tasks!) are listed yet aren’t quite as annoying as with some other apps.  This program is my brain dump for all tasks, it’s where I collect all those tasks that I need to remember and accomplish.

To Do

One image from Todo app (this view from phone, not tablet)

2. Pages ($9.99)

It’s a word processing app, the equivalent of Word for Mac, and it does allow you to save your files as a Word file (DOC) as well as a PDF.  This is certainly an app that is useful only if you want and have a need for doing a fair amount of typing on your iPad.  Not everyone adjusts to the keyboard or even needs to do much typing; I have written more than one blog on my iPad using this app.  The iPad version is friendlier than the computer version of Pages.  It is very straight forward and easy to use – not much of a learning curve.


One image from Pages app

3. Notability ($1.99 “on sale 60% now”)

A month ago I said I’d only purchased 5 apps, this one was my 6th purchase as I was looking for another program that would allow easier note taking at the NAPO conference.  It offers you the option of audio recording while you take notes, linking the place in the audio to your place in the notes.   You can use the keyboard or writing (finger or stylus) as well as import PDF files to take notes on.  You can export all of these out of the app if you want them elsewhere later.  Since I’ve only just begun using the app, I can only comment on my usage so far, and I really like it and it’s versatility.


One image from Notability app

4. iAnnotate ($9.99)

This is an app for taking notes and annotating PDF files (though they’re now offering Word and PowerPoint annotation with a free account).  It offers a number of options for how to mark-up the PDF’s and how to export them.  I’ve found it a little cumbersome for note taking during conference sessions, though some of that depends on the format of what I’m annotating. When there’s not such a time constraint as being in a session, I prefer this app for annotating for it’s cleanliness and versatility in how I save and export it. Recently I had a PDF I needed to scan and get back to someone, I opened it in iAnnotate, signed and dated it, and emailed it back to her – all within the app.  It was wonderful and saved the hassle (and needless paper) of printing it, signing in, scanning it, and attaching and emailing it back to them.


One image from iAnnotate app

5. Numbers ($9.99)

I use this one the least and primarily for a few business needs – it’s a spreadsheet app.  Like Pages above, it’s the Mac equivalent for Excel, and allows you to open and send files as XLS (Excel) files.  It has many features to offer the user the versatility to do what they need with their spreadsheet.  This is a good example of an app that some will need, while it would be unnecessary for many people.


One image from Numbers app

Last month I said that I’d share the 5 apps I paid for and that 4 of them are indispensable to me.  You might notice that there’s only 5 apps listed and one of them is quite new for me.  The ones I’ve found to be indispensable are ToDo, Pages, and iAnnotate.  There’s an app that I thought I’d paid for, and yet as I look at it now, it’s free!

That’s Penultimate.  This is a great handwriting app. You can create multiple notebooks and sync them with Evernote – an apparently new feature that I’ve not used.  This year I created a notebook for phone calls – a place to take notes on both the messages I collect from voicemail and while talking to someone.  They’re all in one place and there’s a way to view all the pages within a notebook, so when I need to find my notes on a specific phone call it’s easy to do.  It’s also the place I can quickly write something down, even with my finger (though it’s messier than with the stylus) and when I want to “throw” away the note, there’s an option to clear or delete the page.  You can also send a whole notebook or even just a page within a notebook with email.


One image from Penultimate app

One of the things I’m realizing is how this tool – the iPad with associated apps – are moving me naturally toward being more paperless.  This didn’t happen overnight – it’s actually taken me years of using it and adapting to using the technology.  Yet, with my growing comfort and considering things in different lights I’m realizing how to utilize the various features more fully.

Some people believe tablets will replace computers before long, there’s nothing I can think of that you can’t do on a tablet.  I still find my computer to be quite useful and in some ways easier to use – though we all know how fast technology changes.  Now I’m going to feel like a broken record – find and use the tools that will assist you in making your life easier.  🙂

4 Products from the NAPO Conference 2013

I think it’s my curiosity, but I really look forward to seeing what products are being offered.  The NAPO conference expo is a great place to discover new products.  It’s a convenient way to learn about the variations that can be hard to be aware of without doing research – like with my recent post about Hanging Folders.  And it’s already been another year and last week was our 2013 NAPO conference.  Here are 4 products that I found interesting – though stay tuned to see more details about their actual performance.

1. Staples Better Binder with Removable FileRings

These are reinforced 3 ring binders that have pull-tabs to remove it from the binder.  Once it has been removed from the binder, you can hang the 3-ring part in a filing cabinet.  It even comes with a label on the back of the 3-rings for labeling.  Other interesting aspects are that with the binder itself there is a convenient way to label the spine and for a page to be inserted on the front of the binder without traditional challenges.  Also, the pockets that are included in binders with this particular one appear to be much more user friendly.

Binder with removable rings

Binder with removable rings

2. Ampad Versa Crossover Notebook (from Pendaflex)

This is quite similar to the Arc Notebook from Staples that I reviewed from last year’s NAPO conference.  I’m intrigued with the smaller page dividers and looking into other features this specific notebook offers.

Versa Crossover Notebook

Versa Crossover Notebook

3. Erasable Hanging Folder Tabs, Hanging Folders, and File Folders (from Smead)

These have a surface that allows you to use a white eraser to remove your prior label and then re-label them.  The first thing I did when I saw these was to try to use my finger to smudge or erase the words – it had no impact.  If you like to hand-write your labels, this could be a great way to keep your files and hanging folders useful for much longer.

Erasable hanging folder tab and file folder

Erasable hanging folder tab and file folder

4. Ampad Shot Note

This is something that received a fair amount of attention from all the organizer’s attending the expo.  It’s a system for taking your notes and drawings from handwriting to handheld.  There is special paper with four corners that connect with their app and converts it into digital files for you.  I joked with the guy that you could avoid using their paper up by placing papers on top so that the 4 corners were still visible – as this is the most critical part for their system.

Ampad ShotNote

Ampad ShotNote


There were other products that were introduced which I might briefly share later.  These were the ones that I found to be the most different that could also offer more features for the users.  I’m intrigued with these and look forward to using them – seeing if I find more aspects to them as I implement using them.

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.

The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized

You can’t do “a” until you get “b,” “c,” and “d” done.  And sometimes that’s a short version – since there are times you have 10 things to accomplish before you can work on the thing that you most want to work on.  This is one of those common struggles we all face.  It doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much space and stuff you have.  Nevertheless, a series of things need to happen before you can achieve your goals.

First, it’s most helpful to make a plan before you dig into anything.  This can feel counterproductive – you want to use the energy and motivation to jump in and start getting things done, not to be still and think about the process.  It will save you time and energy in the long run since you can avoid making more of a mess in an area that needs to wait until further into the process.

Often this means making a list, which some of us do better than taking action. 🙂  For instance, if you have furniture that needs to be shifted between rooms, it can help to figure out what needs to happen in order for the space to be made available.

  • You know you want the dresser to be moved into the spare bedroom.
    • The spot for the dresser in the spare bedroom has a reading chair and a desk.
      • The reading chair needs to be moved to another space in the spare bedroom.
        • The only other space in the spare bedroom is filled with random, full bins – they need to be moved somewhere.
          • The bins need to be sorted and organized.
    • The desk needs to go to the corner in the dining room.
      • The corner in the dining room has spare chairs for the table; those need to go to the basement.
        • The driest place in the basement for the chairs has boxes that you need to break down to make space for the dining table chairs.

This is a relatively simple example of the pyramid effect just to get the dresser into the spare bedroom.  It’s even easier because it deals with large items that are fairly clear-cut.  And you know that you it will be simplest for you to break down boxes in the basement as the first step, then to move the chairs from the dining room down, and then you will be able to move the desk into the dining room.

Making these types of plans only work when you know what you want to do with each of the items in question.  It can be further simplified when you are getting rid of things – if you were getting rid of the desk – then all that would be left is dealing with moving the reading chair.

Second, when considering the pyramid effect of getting organized, you might need to think about the big picture and avoid small picture thinking.  Thinking about planning for the small details will be important, although you’ll be more effective if you wait until the time is right.  So, like those bins from the example above – it would make the most sense (probably – since there can be variables to change that!) to wait to dig into them until after the furniture has been rearranged.

Initially, think about broad categories (or zones, activities, etc.) that relate to your life and stuff.  These will vary from person to person as well as be different depending on what and how much you’re working on.  You might need to consider the relevance for life right now – are there things that you need to keep quite accessible versus things that can be buried a little deeper (though still with related things)?

Sometimes it makes the most sense to make bins, piles, whatever in a specific, available space related to a broad category and leave it for a while.  If you have all your gift wrapping supplies piled in a corner, bin, etc., even without any further organization – you still know where they are when you need something.  This can apply to any category – office supplies, recipes, financial papers (not needing your attention), tools, exercise equipment (small ones), art supplies, articles of interest and everything else.

The degree that you apply this can vary – a lot will depend on the space available as well as the “homes” you already have set up.  If you already have a place for office supplies, even if it’s full, you’d put all other office supplies as close as possible to the ones you have.

The initial steps are to get everything that’s in the same category together.  It’s challenging to create good organization for things when you don’t have all of it available to you.  Once you have all the like things together, then you can begin to organize it – you can see that you will need more space for tools (or whatever), that you need to make space “here” for this, the subcategories you need for these papers, and then consider what containers and organizing tools will support you.

If we continue with the pyramid analogy, you need to create a strong foundation to build on – which means waiting to make decisions about the small details until you get the big stuff (categories) together.  There’s no arguing that it can make things feel more tedious  – especially if you’re eager to get organized.  Yet in the long run you will find more success that you take things slowly and methodically.

My Top Free App Picks

Recently I talked about Technology Tools – To Get or Not to Get, as well as how well the iPad serves my needs.  This lead me to think about what apps are virtually indispensable to me, as well as how extremely overwhelmed I can become even looking at all the possible apps.

It’s not surprising to be overwhelmed by the number of apps – since it’s reported that there are more than 1 million in iTunes.  And it’s a personal peeve of mine that they don’t offer free trials – to see if the app will meet my needs before I spend money on it – even if it’s only $1.99 or some other “minor” amount.  Those small purchases can add up.  Yet, there are many free apps and I’ve only paid for 5 of the 100+ apps I have.  I’ve been grateful for the input of friends on what is worth getting.

Therefore, without further ado, here are my top free apps and why.

1. Evernote

I’ve talked about Evernote before, in Note Taking for Virtually Everything, and need to revisit this incredible cloud program again in my blog.  Since it’s a cloud program, it can be on most any device and offer you access to your account.  Evernote is amazing in how it can collect all the things you want to remember and be functional.  It can also serve as a place to back-up things from your iPad.

One view of Evernote

One view of Evernote

2. Dropbox

Here’s another cloud program that I talked about in my cloud computing entries, in Drop Files You Use – Here, which works with many devices to provide access to your account.  It also offers the option to back-up data from your iPad into it, like photos, and can be easier than Evernote to access any pdf files.

View of Dropbox

One view of Dropbox

3. Alarmed 

You probably know that I am a fan of timers – it’s a good tool to help keep you on track and to get a sense of the time things take you.  I have 11 free timer apps on my iPad from my exploration of timer options.  Alarmed is the one I use the most – it has both a reminder and a timer section and both allow you to create several alarms and choose from multiple alarm sounds.  I use the reminders as a repeating system to remind me to relax before bed and similar things when I might lose track of time.  The timer area has alarms for the washer and dryer as well as the “You can do 15 minutes” alarm when I’m struggling to get moving.

View of Alarmed timer

View of Alarmed timer

4. 30/30 

I hope to use this one more, especially since they’ve recently resolved some issues.  It’s similar to a timer app as it’s a self-proclaimed “task manager.”  It offers a visual display of what’s on your list, the time remaining on the task and what’s up next.  I’ve been using it to help me create new routines – many of us are familiar with how challenging it can be to get in new habits – and this gives me a framework for remembering and doing it.  I also use it for times when I might have a tendency to get off track – a system for keeping me focused on one area for a period of time before moving to the next area.  I really appreciate the visual aspects of this app – from choosing a color and an icon for each task as well as the ring with time elapsed moving along.

View of app 30/30

One view of 30/30

5. Dragon Dictation

This is another app that I don’t use all the time, yet when I use it, I really appreciate it.  It does require an internet connection and you have a limited amount of time to speak, yet it does a pretty good job in transcribing your speech into text.  From there you can send it or paste it into the app of your choice.  Considering this is a $200- computer program that is free for the i-devices – it’s great!

One view of Dragon Dictation app

One view of Dragon Dictation

There are more apps that I use and appreciate.  These 5 free apps are the ones that help me most – with simplifying, with organization, with productivity, with supporting me in my life.  Although these cannot help anyone if they sit unused on your device – you have to use it to make it helpful.  Next month I’ll share the 5 apps that I did actually pay for – and 4 of them made it to my indispensable list along with these 5 I talked about today.  Remember what matters most is finding and using the tools that will help you make the most out of your life.

Embrace the Duality

I have a wonderful job – I get to work with amazing people.  Often I get to meet some of their family members.  Occasionally those family members aren’t supportive (at least as I would like to see them being supportive).  Even more rarely, I will overhear comments about my being there to help.  One spouse in particular would make comments when I would arrive –  “we don’t want any,” time after time.  He could have been kidding or he could have been frustrated.  In truth, it could be either of these, or both, or some combination of any number of things.

It’s much easier to put those experiences into “boxes” that we understand – oh, they made that rude comment to me so they must be rude.  Or as so many of us take the responsibility on ourselves – they did this or that, so it must be because they’re upset with me.  Our explanations for things can fall into a context that makes sense to us – and often is a clear-cut, black or white interpretation.  This may or may not be the truth for them.

Where’s the middle ground in how we view things?  Well, first it’s incredibly hard to simply hold an experience and not put it into a “box.”  It takes energy and focus.  We have to look at it – rather than shove it away and maybe avoid it.

We do these same things with our own behaviors – we label ourselves as “good” or “bad” for this or that choice, behavior, action.  I know very few people who go around making bad decisions – they make the best choice based on the information they have, their own personality, and values.  As with everyone on this planet, it was the “best” decision they could have made in that moment and situation.

Consider a pro-con list – with each choice you’re considering there are pros and there are cons.  They are personal to you – your pros (and cons) might not be anyone else’s.  It’s the opposite sides to one coin – the choice contains both the pros and cons – at least potentially.

The same thing can be said of the things we do with our life – day to day.  We go to a job that often frustrates us, yet it’s not as simple as just needing the money – we believe in what we’re doing and find joy in it periodically.  We have so many interests that we fill our schedules full and our anxiety skyrockets – yet we wouldn’t change it and find those activities rewarding.  We buy containers to organize the stuff surrounding us that sit unused adding to the stuff around – yet there’s hope for making changes.  Our ongoing behaviors and choices can have both pros and cons within them.  It’s not as simple as black or white.

My job means that I will sometimes work with people whose family isn’t as supportive of them as I would like them to be.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t do this work or work with those clients.  And it doesn’t mean that I will understand what is truly going on with the family members – their concern, their frustration, their whatever – unless they share with me.

There’s nothing wrong with the duality and it doesn’t have to be one or the other – “good” or “bad.”  There’s nothing saying that we can’t live with and stay with those contradictions in our lives.  It doesn’t make it easy to see and hold the duality though.  When we can open our eyes, see the pros as well as the cons, and accept it – then we gain some clarity – a big picture view.  And maybe changes will have to be made, but even then, the next choice will have some duality too!

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.