Archive for the ‘Resources’ Category

Worth Repeating – October posts from New Leaf News


Still fresh, still good for you! (Farmer's Market, Granville Island, British Columbia. Photo by Margaret Lukens)

I’ve dipped into the New Leaf News archives to share a few posts that still seem as fresh and relevant today as they did in Octobers past. In case you missed them the first time around, here they come again!

I’m still using mind-mapping as a technique to organize and view more information than is possible with a list or outline. And since I wrote about it last year, I have begun making some mind-maps using a piece of free software that couldn’t be easier: MindMeister. I recently used it to develop the curriculum for my new teleclass/workshop PortaVault Prep. It enabled me to fit essential notes for three hours of class time on a single page.

Do you believe that multitasking is a useful productivity practice? My work with clients indicates you’re not alone. Still, research on how our brains execute tasks is yielding stronger evidence that we need to stop interrupting ourselves. Read this advice from an 18th century father to his son, and take it to heart.

Want your productivity instructions boiled down like a concentrated sauce? Here is last year’s light-hearted look at the main ingredients of getting more done.

Wishing you a happy October!


Productivity snack: text GOOGL for free 411

Let’s suppose that as you dash out of your office to do a round of meetings and errands, you neglect to pick up the paper with the address of one of your appointments. Trip wasted? Not necessarily.

Now you can just text GOOGL (46645) with the name of the business followed by CITY,STATE and immediately receive a reply text with the address and phone number of the business. Google’s text-able 411 system is free and NASCAR fast.

Another Google shortcut: to get help locating businesses in an unfamiliar city, text a type of business or company name followed by either the zip code or CITY,STATE — something like STARBUCKS 94010 or OFFICE SUPPLY SAN FRANCISCO,CA and easily find local help wherever you are.

Worth repeating – August posts from New Leaf News

I’m sharing a few posts from the New Leaf archives. Here’s what was on our mind in August during the past couple of years.

Productivity depends on being able to work in comfort. Eliminate at least one pain in the neck with a wireless headset.

Successfully planning for the future requires acknowledging past wins. Are you overlooking this step in your business plan?

The longer I use Evernote, the more I like this free tool for storing, sorting, and retrieving information. Is your desk littered with a bunch of little notes that you don’t know how to keep? Evernote might be the answer to keeping the information but ditching the paper.

Avant-garde artist and filmmaker Andy Warhol understood the art of business and the business of art. Here he speaks about both endeavors.

Happy August to all the New Leaf News readers & writers!

Listen to “Getting Organized with Margaret Lukens” podcasts

Would  you like to listen to your organizing and productivity information as well as read it?

The latest episodes of my radio program, “Getting Organized with Margaret Lukens”, are now available as podcasts on iTunes.

The free podcasts were originally broadcast on WHDD public radio in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. Now you can download them and listen any time.

Check back often — even more programs are in the works.

Are you going it alone?

To cover long distances, ducks, geese, and pelicans (among other birds) fly in formation. By forming a V, they help one another out — a lot. One study determined that 25 birds flying in formation can travel up to 70 percent further than a solo bird.

Pelicans at Edisto Island, SC (photo by Margaret Lukens)

Take a lesson from the birds: make sure you’re not trying to go it alone to meet your goals. Who you add to your “flock” will depend on the size and nature of your business. Some of the professionals who may be able to improve your mileage include:

  • Attorney. When you need legal advice or representation is not the best time to begin searching for a lawyer.
  • Bookkeeping or accounting firm. You may be able to do your own bookkeeping and taxes, but rarely is it the best use of your time.
  • Coach, mastermind group, or accountability partner. We all do better with someone listening to our goals and urging us toward completion.
  • Collection agency. For some solo entrepreneurs and small businesses, a good collection agency can make a substantial contribution to the bottom line by recovering money from non-paying clients.
  • Computer doctor. Having help on-call can save hours of downtime and a world of headaches for the business too small for in-house IT staff.
  • E-business expert. The range of options for online commerce changes by the day. An expert can be worth every penny if any significant part of your business involves online sales and marketing.
  • Payroll company. Unless payroll is your business, it’s best not to do this one for yourself.
  • Virtual assistant. Even the smallest business can find help with scheduling, research, communications, and other tasks at an affordable price.

Do necessary but distracting family and home responsibilities take you away from your genius work? Ask whether a dog-walker, private personal chef, or housekeeper could give you back needed hours.

Is there someone here you need to team up with? Have you added someone to your team? Leave a comment.

Need a Net Nanny? Rescue Time Provides the Loving Discipline.

How do you waste time at your computer? Are you an obsessive email-checker? Do you while away hours playing solitaire or backgammon? Are your achievements in Farmville and Mafia Wars huge compared to your achievements in the real world? Are you a connoisseur of funny pet videos on YouTube?

image courtesy of

With temptation never more than one little mouse click away, our best productive plans can easily be derailed. I can always divert myself from work that is difficult or tedious by clicking over to something amusing (I’m a solitaire and backgammon girl, myself.) Even when I’m not trying to avoid work, it’s easy to be drawn from one site by a link, that leads me to another interesting link, that leads to…. Day’s over and nothing’s accomplished.

Did you ever wish for something that would help to keep you on track, a sort of nanny to remind you of what you should be doing right now? Enter Rescue Time. Rescue Time bills itself as time management, productivity, and project tracking software. Running in the background on your computer, it’s basic function is to track what you’re spending time on – business, email, social networking, meetings and phone calls, and so on.

Time Rescue provides pre-assigned categories of activities, which are surprisingly easy to customize, allowing you to change the productivity ranking (“Being on twitter is required for my job – I’m the social networking guru, honest!”) and fine tune the reporting.

One feature of Rescue Time that can be especially helpful is the Focus Time tool. If I need to write without interruption for 30 minutes, I tell Rescue Time to put me on Focus Time, which means it will block any category that I have rated above a certain level of distraction. If I try to leave my work and open a browser window on, which I have rated as “very distracting”, the browser window will roll over to Rescue Time, with a reminder of why the site is blocked for me and, just in case I really need to look at facebook right now, a message detailing how I can unblock it.

If you are motivated by upholding your personal best, you’ll probably enjoy checking your Rescue Time stats and making sure you haven’t dropped below your average, or the score of the average Rescue Time user.

Of course, Rescue Time can’t enforce productive habits against your will. What it can do is to helpfully remind you of your intentions if you should falter for a moment and provide feedback about how well you’re sticking to your goals. And when it comes to forming good time management habits, that’s a lot of help.

The basic Rescue Time application is free.

Five steps for ending “tolerations”

Get ready to stamp out persistent pests!

I call them “tolerations” – those little irritants we hardly notice. Maybe it’s something small, like a sticking wheel on a desk chair. Maybe it’s something you try to ignore because you feel you can’t change it, like a noisy neighbor. It could be your life-long habit, such as piling your papers rather than filing them, making your desk feel like a barricade.

Whatever our tolerations are, they act like potholes in our path. They slow us down and make the journey much less pleasant than it needs to be.

Uncovering and addressing our tolerations can free up huge amounts of time and energy.

Here’s an exercise that I use to uncover and eliminate those energy-sapping tolerations:

  • Make a list of anything that you may be tolerating, putting up with, overlooking – anything that bothers you or drags you down at work. These could be incomplete tasks, other people’s behavior, equipment and tools, frustrations, problems, or even your own behavior.
  • Choose one to work on. (This is where a coach can be especially beneficial, helping you determine whether this is the time for small steps or bigger challenges, and what is the best focus for you right now.)
  • Consider this toleration. How long have you had it? What do you know of its origin? How big is its impact now? What would be your payoff if you were to eliminate this toleration?
  • What do you want to do with this toleration? You may know immediately how to get rid of it. If not, brainstorm several steps you could take to address your chosen toleration.
  • Take action now.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the increased room in your office, your schedule, or your mind!

What have you been tolerating? Are you ready to get rid of it now? Leave a comment here.

How I interviewed a virtual assistant for my team

I’ve written before about virtual assistants and how having a partner — someone who has skills to complement yours, who owns their own business assisting others, and who works from their own office — can be a boon to solo entrepreneurs.

After wasting more hours last year than I like to admit by trying to format my own email newsletters and e-books, set up my own shopping cart, and compare online class registration systems, I admitted that I was working WAY too far outside my expertise, and that I really had to get help.

This month I’ve hired a virtual assistant, and I’m really looking forward to this working relationship. Though a virtual assistant is not an employee, the process of choosing one is very much like a hiring process. I wrote a complete description of what I need, how many hours per month I want the person to work, what my business is about, and what my working style is like. (For example, in dealing with complex issues, I really dislike email. I need to pick up the phone and have a short conversation with the other person rather than spend hours writing an email that addresses all the variables in a complex problem.)

When candidates emailed in response to my request for a proposal, I reviewed their websites and blogs — all of them, including those that weren’t directly related to their VA business. Then I scheduled times for interviews with the final three. Here are the questions I asked each of them:

  • How long have you been a VA?
  • What was your last job before starting your VA business?
  • Do you use a Mac?
  • What days & hours do you work?
  • Tell me about your experience in helping clients with e-commerce.
  • Understanding that there is a lot of variability among the projects you work on, can you give me a range of long it takes you to set up a landing page? format an ezine? set up a new shopping cart for one product?
  • Do you have any services you recommend  or prefer to use for shopping cart? blog platform? web host? autoresponder?
  • Do you take a referral fee when you recommend platforms to your clients?
  • Tell me about a recent client success.
  • Tell me about a recent client challenge and what you learned from it.
  • Tell me how you charge — hourly rate? monthly retainer? arrangements for extra hours?

Each interview took about 40 minutes (10 minutes longer than I had expected). All three were fully qualified, but by the end I felt that I had a good sense of which of these candidates would work best for this project at this time.

One final note: I took the time to write to the two that I didn’t choose and let them know that I wouldn’t be needing their services at this time. After all, I had asked for information, and each of them took the time to compose an email response and then clear their schedule to talk to me. They deserve the courtesy of a final decision. I hope more people adopt this standard of communication. I continue to be surprised by the solo entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes that request proposals, then fail to follow through to a final decision.

Have you hired someone recently? Do you want to? Write your experiences here.

Do Not Interrupt Me!

It's a time management thing

It's a time management thing

The national “do not call” list is well-known to many people. By registering your business or home number, telemarketers once were forbidden from calling your number – at dinner time or any time – for five years.

Exceptions included those who were calling for legitimate charities, which sadly include the well-paid fundraisers who dial on behalf of the local police and fire departments, and anyone to whom you’ve given permission.

Recent changes to the do not call list have eliminated the five-year expiration date. A law which became effective in February changes the “5-year” rule. Now, once you enter your phone number on the list, your preference for uninterrupted dinners lasts forever.

If you should receive a call after registering with the list, file a complaint here. This address also works to register a new phone number you’d like post a “no call” notice, so that you will not receive marketing calls.

Three everyday uses for mind maps

As I began to write an outline of her project, my usually reserved client let out a desperate groan. She was experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed and “beaten up” by the things she had to do, and the outline looked like a big weapon. I  avoid making my clients miserable, so I whisked the paper away and asked, “Are you interested in trying something new?” She was.

Mind-maps make introductions easy

Mind-maps make introductions easy

I picked up a fistful of colored markers and, using a big sheet of flip-chart paper, wrote a few words naming her project in the center of the sheet and drew an oval around them. Radiating from the central theme, we began to add various concerns, sub-projects, thoughts, and questions. The “something new” that I introduced was mind-mapping, a technique to organize information in a non-linear way.

Use mind-mapping whenever you want to gather information, ideas, and questions; sort out connections that may not be apparent, or present information in a more holistic format than is possible with lists or outlines.

Here are three uses for mind-mapping:

1. Designing a class, speech, or book. Put the topic or title in the center of the page, then add themes you want to address related to that topic.

2. Introducing someone publicly. Put the person’s name in the center of the page, then surround it with all the areas you want to cover: work history, awards and accolades, contributions to the industry, philanthropic interests, and so on. It’s amazing how much information a one-page mind-map will hold, allowing you as the presenter to speak from compact notes without reading text. The speaker will bless you for it.

3. Planning a project such as a move or renovation. Into the center of the page goes the goal. Surrounding it are the broad categories of action needed to make it a reality. Radiating from those categories will be discrete tasks.

If you’re struggling to get your arms around a project,  create a mind-map first. You’ll be off and running.

What will you do with a mind-map? Leave a comment here.

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