Monthly Archives: April 2011

how to kill creativity

After writing for this blog for a few years, I’ve noticed that occasionally I’m really stumped for topics, to say the least.  I don’t really get writer’s block, since once I have a topic I can usually fly away with it, but I do get stifled on overall themes and ideas.  I was trying to come up with a list of ways that my creativity gets stifled in order to fight that tendency.  Here they are:

I write for a living. The kind of writing you do in a corporate environment does not encourage any creativity whatsoever.  Here is a lovely gem I put in an email:  “John Doe – Based on your note, I think the 5/31 date needs to be revised for the 2nd and 3rd issues, and the first issue (negative admin credits) still appears to be ready to be closed pending whatever verification is necessary.  These will need corrected close dates, revised action plans if necessary and an updated open/closed status by 6/15 at the latest.”  That is not exactly the kind of writing that would draw visitors back to this blog, I think.  But I have to do it all day long, every day.  Writing like that kills off writing like this.

I watch TV.  I have given up watching regular TV and (try to) only watch Netflix, but every now and then I will be distracted by something someone else is watching at our house or someone else’s house.  I try not to be tempted, but something about flashing lights and loud noises draws me in.  I find these shows fill up the empty, creative and quiet places in my head and replace them with light and fluffy cotton candy-like filling.  The advertising pounds away at your senses and fills your head with jingles and multiple jarring images.  I have a different experience watching a good movie on DVD, since it can inspire me to think about deeper issues and is not broken up every 10 minutes by commercials asking if I have heartburn or want to buy a new car.

I read too much.  I am up to the ninth book of the extremely challenging Thomas Covenant series (which are wonderful books, but the language is very, very dense, to say the least).  I read about 70 blogs, dozens of emails and reports and memos and even the occasional children’s book aloud.  Trying to pull in and process all of that information can crowd out creativity.  I did quit reading any news that was not business or sports-related a few months ago, so at least my attention is not distracted by the latest developments with Paris Hilton.  All of this is on top of my work-related reading, which is full of gems like this one I got in a memo today:  “If applicable, does the appendix include a listing of all applications processes included in the assessment process and the process conclusion for said processes?”  Read that again.  Yes, I have to read this kind of writing and reply to it all day long.

I do not write ideas down as soon as they occur. Too often, I have a great idea and tell myself “excellent post idea!  Write an article about it this evening!” only to forget it by the time I get home.  I make an effort to carry around a small notebook all day and write ideas in it as they occur, but I still sabotage myself constantly by thinking “remember to write that down when you get back to your desk.”

I am still learning to be creative. When I first started blogging about eight years ago, I wrote a virulent political blog that was a huge series of links and videos and random comments and thoughts on almost a stream-of-consciousness basis.  If I read an article, I would throw out a link and two lines of commentary, and then move on.  Being creative means taking all of the influences you receive during the course of the day and processing them and creating something new, not just consolidating information.  Many blogs just turn into link fests, but my favorite ones are usually written by people unafraid to present their own ideas rather than linking to others’.

Football. I used to be a sports fanatic, following the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball.  I even watched the Tour de France and most tennis Grand Slams and golf majors.  Other than hockey, I seldom missed a game of any sort on TV.  SportsCenter was the wake up call and the goodnight lullaby.  Those days are gone – the demands of marriage and fatherhood have crowded them out.  However, I still love the NFL so much that I make time for it.  I do realize, though, that spending time reading about NFL roster news, watching the games and buying Jets merchandise are bad, bad habits.  Nothing about football will help me write this blog, be a better person or be more frugal.  Still, I have loved the NFL since becoming a fan of the almost-great Browns teams of the 80s (Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, anyone?) although I left them and moved on to the Jets 20 years ago.  I have to admit I am a footbaliholic.  That barrier to creativity will probably remain.

Learning to overcome these barriers to creativity is part of what I am enjoying about the blogging process; having a small idea and then seeing the words spill out on the page once I get underway writing is a tremendous feeling.  But creativity is a delicate thing; it has to be nurtured and coddled, and indulging in any of the behaviors I listed above is a good way to kill it off before it takes hold.

The Best Time to Buy a Car

Guest Post By Edward Pacheco

Portrait of Boxleys new car

When buying a new car the main goal for most people is to get the most vehicle for the lowest price. There is nothing better than walking out of the dealership knowing that you got the best of them. Many people do not realize it but there are times when you can get a lower price simply by going car shopping at the right time. In general, it is a somewhat known fact but that there are a few certain times of the year when dealerships are under pressure to move inventory. It is during these certain times that will do whatever they can to sell vehicles.

The end of the calendar year is one of the best times to buy  a car. The day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas are thought to be the best two dates to buy a car. Though you can realize significant savings throughout the months of November and December in general, the largest discounts will be available these two days. The car dealerships know people are in a buying mood these two months, and actually they are able to sell a higher volume during this period which in turn allows them to offer a few at a lower price without feeling bad.  Also, dealers are typically anticipating the slowdown of sales that occur in the months of January and February. These two months are usually slow regarding sales because people tend to have less excess money to spend after the holidays. By moving a lot of inventory in November and December they can compensate for the slowdown in January and February, and might just give you the deal you’re looking for.

The end of the model year of a certain car is also a great time to buy a new car if you don’t mind giving up on buying the “newest.” It should be noted that the end of the model year does not always coincide with the end of the calendar year. In fact, the end of the model year usually occurs somewhere in the middle of the calendar year. During this time, the dealerships want to get rid of the old models to clear room for the new models. This creates a sense of urgency that makes the dealerships slash the prices on the older models. Many times, especially on popular models, the older ones can sometimes be had at the price that the dealership paid for the car. The dealers need room to provide a prominent position for all the new models, and it’s worth it for them to get rid of the old ones. My neighbor recently purchased a new Mercedes (2009 E350) for $12,000 off the original price since the new 2010 (new design) Mercedes came in.

The end of the month is also a good time to buy a new car regardless of where the month falls on the calendar. Car salesmen have a monthly quota that they must meet. To that end, they will be interested in moving as many cars as they have to at the end of the month in order to meet that quota even if they don’t make money—some may be depending on the quote to keep their job. The pressure is on them to make sales so it is easier to work out a better deal. One other thing, be sure to check any available rebates or incentives on the models you’re looking at, you may be in for a treat.

The nice thing about car shopping today is that you have so much information available to you. It is possible to go online and find all the information you want very easily on all of the models you are thinking of buying. When you’re a knowledgeable buyer, you will be equipped to haggle with the salesman since you know how much the car is worth, and how much others are asking for it. The easiest method: Request several free price quotes from various dealerships online (you fill out a few questions about the type, make and model of car you want they will send you back a price quote). Then you use this to your advantage. If you want to contact all the local dealerships in your area  in one step and have them fight over your business, consider researching at InternetAutoguide.com and using the “Get Real Dealer Pricing” option for whichever car you’re interested in!

chinese water torture

Tranquility


The biggest mistake most people make in their lives – one that has an impact on their health, wealth, career, education and on and on is a simple one:  failing to understand the long-term consequences of short-term repetitive actions. We’re all guilty of it.  A soda a day rots the teeth, the guts, adds weight and does nothing to improve one’s life.  They are expensive and bad for your health.  Borrowing large sums of money for a college degree in Sanskrit falls in the same category.  Taking the elevator from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor every day.  Failing to deal, mentally, with a stressful daily commute.

In most cases, one time or infrequent actions don’t cause many long-term problems. If you drink water every day but splurge once a month to have a Coke, it’s unlikely to have any significant effect.  If you decide to drop $100 playing the slots at that sales and marketing convention in Vegas, your retirement income won’t be affected.  Now this isn’t always true:  trying to grab a gun out of a police officers’ belt for a thrill WOULD have some serious consequences.

But in general the best way to understand how people fail is to look at their small, seemingly inconsequential actions on a daily or weekly basis.  I know I make multiple small mistakes: I get too lazy to pack a lunch (health and wealth effects); I have coupons but don’t use them; I put off small maintenance activities until something breaks.

This is failure. Not a one-time massive mistake, but the compilation of a million small failures.  It’s easier to avoid the large failures, too.  Most of us know we probably aren’t going to reap health benefits from trying out at amateur parkour hour.  But many of us – myself included – kid ourselves into thinking it doesn’t matter if we sit immobile in office chairs for 8 hours a day 5 days a week 50 weeks a year for 40 years.  It will.  There’s a reason why ‘Chinese water torture’ worked its way into our language:  the small, innocuous drops of water will do damage.  The way to avoid this:  be mindful.

mindfulness

meditation

I haven’t been mindful in a long time. Mindfulness is the way to avoid the death of a thousand small cuts I wrote about yesterday.  I have a phrase I’m always barking at my son (and, given her tendencies towards blissful unawareness, soon will to my daughter): BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS! When I say it to him, I mean it in a simple physical sense: don’t walk into the wall because you’re distracted by a bird.  But mindfulness – simple awareness of the march of time and our place in the world – is something that’s been driven out of many of us by an onslaught of input and information.

I’ve had some mild success this year with small habit changes.  I quit eating cheese, for example.  I love it, but I had become too fond of slapping some cheese on almost anything I ate: eggs, sandwiches, you name it.  I didn’t need it, and it usually was overpowered by whatever the ‘main’ food was, anyway.  So that habit has helped in a small way.

Mindfulness is a small habit, too. How many hours a day do you spend awake and quiet?  Not talking, not reading, not watching TV, not doing something?  I can say it’s close to 0 for myself.  Maybe a few seconds when I wake?  A few minutes before I get home when I switch off the podcasts I listen to?

I have tried meditation and prayer at various points with varying levels of success. Meditation didn’t work for me – I probably didn’t give it enough time.  The main benefit I’ve reaped from meditation (Zen methods) was the ability to clear my mind prior to sleep, which turned me from an insomniac into someone who falls asleep in minutes every single night for going on 20 years now; insomnia for me is failing to fall asleep within 10 minutes.  Prayer was something that helped me a lot during my early twenties when I became quite serious about Christianity, inspired by C.S. Lewis and my heavy involvement with the community-type activities of my local church.  My faith was utterly shattered and discarded during my years in Russia and New York, but now that I’m back in a place of mild agnosticism instead of militant atheism, I look back and realize that I got a lot of value out of prayer as simply an exercise to be mindful of things I should be grateful for, and things I should be remorseful for.  It put me in a state of simply focusing on something other than the hammering inflow of information we absorb every day.

I think the solution is simple for most busy people. Find a time during the day when you “stuff your brain” for no other reason than habit.  Don’t read a book or watch TV while you eat: concentrate on conversation, or if you eat by yourself, on your food.  In the evening, spend 5 minutes looking at the stars or the moon.  And it may even sound silly, but use shower time to clear your mind.  There are many opportunities for mindfulness during a day, and the rewards are an increase in calmness, lower stress and a clearer mind, better ready to process information once it’s ‘restarted.’  Many people can achieve this mindfulness through prayer or meditation, but even if those don’t work for you, take time to simply do nothing.

new reality of deprivation and links

old tv with open door @ chinook motel

There’s a good read by Bret over at Hope to Prosper titled Living on Less is the New Reality for Millions of Americans. The glass ceiling will keep rising, because no company can afford to hire ineffective executives.” I’m not 100% sure I agree with that – seems like a lot of ineffective executives fail forward.  And I’m not sure people are living on less.  Income inequality is becoming far greater in America; middle class wages are stagnant and actually declining when inflation and other factors are considered.

However, I’d argue that we’ve added far too many “new requireds” to our lives. I often complain that I had more disposable income when I was a young urban professional than I do now.  Then again, I had dial-up internet ($15 per month) instead of high-speed cable ($60 per month).  I had a landline with an answering machine instead of a smart phone.  I had books from the library instead of purchased.  I ate grilled cheese for lunch instead of organic turkey breast.  I didn’t have amazon.com or Netflix and so on.  I drank tap water instead of filtered water (and occasionally bottled water).  You get the picture.  “Living on less” is partially because of skyrocketing health care costs but it’s also because of poorer eating habits.  It’s partially because of gas prices but also because of video games.  It’s easy for the paycheck to feel tighter when you have 267 cable channels instead of rabbit ear antennas and 4 channels.  I’m not saying I don’t have those things; I’m just trying to admit to myself that I have a lot of “wants” that I classify as “needs” (I’m looking at you, Blackberry).

Somewhat in the same vein, Where You Can Go To College For Free $4 Gas and Fragile Finances: Not so much for the article, but the comments – some get really out of hand. Trent’s main point is extremely valid, though: if you can’t handle a 10% increase in the price of gas, your finances are in bad, bad shape.

And more:

Income Tax Preparation Software

Most adults have at some point in their life either prepared their own income tax return, or contemplated doing so. Income tax software programs have become increasingly easy to use while at the same time becoming more sophisticated. Accuracy has improved tremendously from what it used to be, due in part to simplified user instructions. There are two methods of entering the data:

  • In the interview method, the program asks questions, the user enters the answers and the program completes the form.
  • In the form method, the user enters their information directly onto the form or a field or worksheet attached to the form.

Both methods work equally well; the interview method is probably easiest for those new to tax preparation. For the individual contemplating their own income tax preparation, the following five are popular options.

H&R Block At Home
H&R Block at home, which was formerly TaxCut, offers a variety of tax preparation software choices, from their very basic program to their premium & business program, which is for small business owners and includes corporate and partnership returns, as well as non-profits, estates and trusts. A free, downloadable one-state tax preparation module is included in all the Block programs, but e-filing the state return costs additional except for the premium & business program.

 

H&R Block At Home Online
H&R Block also offers a best-of-both program that enables the individual to prepare their tax return online at the Block website, then send it to a local office for one of their tax professionals to review; one free session of tax advice is included. In addition, this program is available with their worry-free audit support, which guarantees that in the event of an audit, they will provide an enrolled agent to represent the taxpayer.

Turbo Tax
TurboTax is another popular income tax preparation software program with four levels of tax preparation, and a five-star rating, slightly higher than the H&R Block program. The basic TurboTax program is free for federal preparation and filing, although there is a charge for e-filing the state return. For those with simple returns, this is a good option and includes common forms such as Making Work Pay, Child & Dependent Care Expenses and Education Credits.

TurboTax’s three upgrades include free federal e-file but charge additional for state e-filing. The upgrades to TurboTax cover standard deductions for those who itemize and forms for business owners, those with rental properties, stocks, bonds and mutual funds, etc. All TurboTax tax preparation programs start for free, with payment due at completion of the return.

TaxAct
TaxAct income tax preparation software has an average four-star rating and their four levels are the lowest priced programs available. The free edition has free e-filing for the federal return; both federal and state start for fee in the deluxe edition, with payment being made when the return is filed. The small business edition has state modules integrated into the program and includes free e-file for both federal and state returns. TaxAct conveniently has a bundling option that allows a customized combination of their upgraded software programs.

IRS
For taxpayers with a 2010 adjusted gross income (AGI) of $58,000 or less, the Internal Revenue Service offers free tax preparation software at their website. The program is courtesy of the Free File Alliance, which is a collaboration of industry leaders in tax preparation software. Users select the free file option, then select from a list of companies that fit their needs, or there is an option to help the taxpayer locate an appropriate company.

For the taxpayer who wants to prepare their own income taxes, there are a multitude of available options that will simplify what is without doubt a daunting and arduous task. However, it can be done and for less money than a tax professional would charge.

 

and following up on the color of moneyblogging…

I’ve decided that I’m not going to take any more guest posts, or do any more blatantly commercial posts.  But. I have already agreed to run several guest posts from nice people before I made this decision, so I’m going to do a flurry of guest posts prior to ceasing guest posts altogether.  I didn’t feel that it would be fair to tell everyone that had submitted guest posts to me (and I had subsequently agreed to post) to tell them that I was rejecting their posts.  So we’ll have a quick final flurry of guest posts here, and then I’ll be imposing my guest-posting ban, which will be simple:  no links.  Most guest posters simply want a link back to their site to increase their page rank, and I’ve allowed it, because quite honestly some of these guest posts are decent enough posts; I don’t mind them getting a tiny bit of link ‘juice’ in return for a decent article.

Anyway, enjoy the next few guest posts as I clear out my queue. They are all from good people doing their best to make it online.  And if you are someone with something to say and DON’T care about ‘link juice’ feel free to send me a post – I’d love to host a few posts from people with brip blap kind of thinking – against the grain.

the color of moneyblogging

I’m not nearly as prolific in my writing as I used to be.  I started out blogging in 2007, usually putting one sizable post up per day, sometimes more.  I guest posted, I participated actively in forums and had a real passion for both the business and art of blogging.  I was enthusiastic and enjoyed what I was doing.I’m not nearly as prolific in my writing as I used to be. I started out blogging in 2007, usually putting one sizable post up per day, sometimes more. I guest posted, I participated actively in forums and had a real passion for both the business and art of blogging. I was enthusiastic and enjoyed what I was doing.

I have no doubt if you’re reading here that you’ve heard or read all the same “follow your passion” credos out there that I have. The idea is that you should find something you like to do, and do it – success will follow. The only way you’ll fail is if you can’t apply yourself 110% to whatever endeavor you choose to do.

It’s clear to me that while this is partially true, there is a small gray area between following your passion and the opposite idea: simply find something you can do that’s lucrative enough and do that. I like to kid myself that I’m a decent writer; not great, but I feel that I have a grasp of the language and an understanding of how to write a compelling narrative. You tell me. At one point I had a passion for the craft of writing, and it’s faded away. You know why? It’s not so much that I don’t like writing, I just started to feel that writing brip blap was a job – that I should be targeting keywords, writing to subjects I didn’t care about and putting myself in a crummy position: doing something I had a passion for but in the process of doing it, killing that passion.

So what do you do in my shoes? I’ve read enough blogs that focus on monetization (through ads, affiliate links and other forms of advertising) to know that it’s both possible to find money while producing original (albeit dry) content. I’ve also read enough blogs that DON’T focus on monetization to know that you can have a deeply fascinating blog if you simply choose to write directly to an audience about a subject you care about without worrying about the money.

Where you fail in those models, I think, is if you approach blogging or writing in a half-hearted manner. If Seth Godin and his famously short, no-comment, no ads (discounting ads for his own books) blog suddenly slapped a pop-up ad for lawnmowers in your face, it wouldn’t work. And if ad-driven, highly monetized blogs suddenly expected you to start reading/following/sharing their articles about credit cards as if they were inspirational tracts, they’d have a while to wait before anyone did so, if they ever did.

I’ve approached brip blap in that kind of a half-hearted manner. I’ve got a blog that focuses on a wide variety of topics near and dear to me – weight loss, personal finance, happiness, family and career. These are disparate subjects and it’s hard to find a theme. I have an internal idea of a theme: me. More broadly, though, I set out to write the blog to be helpful. I think some of it has been – I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback on my 101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds, my 8 steps to a six figure career and other posts. That’s the part where I think I’ve been most successful.

Where I haven’t been successful, though, is in advertising. I’ve had more luck than most bloggers, I’m sure – I make more than enough to cover the cost of blogging and have a bit left over for themes or other ‘blog extras.’ But it’s also clear to me that I’m not headed in a direction where brip blap is going to support me or my family. The reason is that I’m not writing the kind of easily monetizable articles I should be, to capitalize on ads or affiliate links.

Now if you’re still reading, you might be wondering if this is some kind of “goodbye” post. It’s not. I intend to keep writing brip blap. But I’ve decided that for the blog to grow, it can only go in one of two ways: I can start putting up articles written by others which are keyword-optimized, ad-focused, etc. I have several such articles ready to go, in fact. Why would I do that? To make money. To treat this blog as a business, not as a personal place to share my thoughts.

Why wouldn’t I do that? Because this blog is a lot of ME. Early on I rejected blatant monetization. Recently I’ve rejected almost everything except affiliate links – which seems fair enough to me. If I recommend Dr. Atkins’ book and put an amazon link for it in an article on weight loss, it doesn’t hurt anyone to click through that link and give me a small commission if you buy it through amazon. Same thing with items like Sodastream, which I love, or even the Amex Blue card, which I have used constantly for years and years.

Again, I only see two ways to keep a blog going: make good money or make it a good outlet for your thoughts. Some people do both. I know that I personally can’t write monetizable articles, or successfully place and convert ads. I’ve thrown a lot of junk at the wall over the years – some has stuck and some has not. But generally I haven’t been that successful with ads. I know from my Moneywriters colleagues that it is possible to make good money with blogs, but I haven’t stayed in their league.

Don’t take this as anything more than me thinking out loud. I’d like to recapture the excitement I had about blogging back when I had 100 readers, made $8 a month and wrote almost every time I was sitting still. I’d also like to make $50,000 a year off the blog, not $2,000 (I actually make a bit more than that, but I see the trends headed that way). It’s a conundrum. So you can look forward to me doing a couple of things over the next month or two: first, a large number of keyword-heavy “monetizing” articles that will always be clearly marked as not being from me. If you like ME as a writer, skip over them – they are just there for me to test those waters. And on the other hand if you don’t like long introspective posts like this, which are too much about my thoughts and opinions, well, sorry, it’s how I write best. I’ve really enjoyed Tumblr and Facebook recently, and I think the reason why – again – is that I don’t feel any pressure there to write FOR money.

So if you’d like to help me out, consider using the amazon link to the side if you were going to use amazon anyway, or just keep reading and subscribing. Share an article with a friend if you like it. Send me an email or a message on Facebook or a tweet. Interacting with people on the web is one of the biggest rewards of running and writing a blog like this. Fair winds and following seas, my friends. My next post will be far less serious!

a brief roundup on tuesday

I missed the roundup this weekend, and I doubt I should apologize for it.  We spent a full weekend at the park, playing soccer, making pizza, and then – frankly – cleaning up the house.  If that’s not productivity, I don’t know what it is.  But I do feel like I should get out the links, so here they are.  And if you are a personal finance blogger (or productivity/lifestyle blogger, which is closer to my general theme) who wants to be included in my roundups, don’t be shy – send me an email, I’ll be happy to share an article.

12 steps to a cleaner and more productive workspace

If you work in an office, chances are good that you work on a desk that is covered in a mess.  Twenty-five years ago when most people still used their desks for writing, papers were a big problem.  With the arrival of the desktop computer, most people added a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and a host of accessories (printers, external drives, etc.) to their desk – and didn’t get rid of the paper!  Keeping a clean desk is a challenge for even the most disciplined corporate soldier.  I manage to leave every night with a completely organized desk.  I did not come by this easily.  I had a large corner office in my last full-time job, and it was completely full of papers and binders and computer equipment.  When I changed departments, though, I had to move everything and realized I didn’t want all of this junk to follow me to my new office.  Even more, when I became a consultant I lost my office altogether and went back to the cubicle warren.  Here is what I learned:

1.  Death by a thousand paper cuts is the number one killer of desk cleanliness. If I have an electronic copy of something, I don’t print it out.  If I have to print it out, I only keep it if there are notes on it I need to save – but I quickly add those notes to the electronic document.  Try to keep everything you can paperless.

2.  You’ve got old-fashioned mail! Take a look at the mail you are getting.  At work, you may be getting some professional publications, interoffice mail or credit card bills.  At home you are probably getting a different mail order catalog every day and a million pieces of junk mail.  Try to stop them.  All of them.  Try the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Opt Out service.

3.  File almost nothing. There are many people who swear by various methods like Getting Things Done regarding filing.  I say file as close to nothing as possible.  If you need to take an action on it, take it and discard.  If you need it for future reference, put an ‘expire’ date on it and stack it up on your desk.  Go through the stack once in a while and discard.  If you have a legal reason to keep a document, do so.  Otherwise I am willing to bet you that you will probably never refer to it again.

4.  Never keep binders. This one is simple.  Someone else has the binder. Unless it’s something you refer to several times a day, recylce the paper and give the binder back.  In the unlikely event you refer to it, borrow someone else’s.

5.  Use the common printer. If you have a printer next to your workspace, chances are good that you print a lot of junk you don’t need.  Set up your computer to print to the department’s common copier/printer.  If you have to get up and walk around the office you’ll think twice about printing something – but if you do, at least you’ll get a little bonus exercise.

6. Don’t put anything on the walls.  I know you think you need some reference material there – phone numbers, calendars, org charts – but you don’t.  All of that information is far more accessible and searchable on your computer.  Get it all down, it’s just visual clutter.  If there’s anything you must have in front of you, move it as far out of your direct line of sight as possible.

7.  No pictures. I know you think everyone wants to see Junior, but they don’t.  Make your desktop into your picture.  If your company doesn’t let you do that, just keep a few image files in your Documents folder and flip through them once in a while.  If you really need one – the spouse and kids – then do it, but no-one needs to see pictures of you with a fish, or you at last year’s holiday party at Chez Mayonnaise.

8.  Pick a date for purging. Everything on your desk and on your PC should have a ‘purge’ date.  My trick was this:  once a year I would throw out every single document in my office and delete every single file on my PC older than one year.  I had to keep a few documents for legal/tax reasons but everything else went.  I didn’t even do much critical assessment.  I never missed anything more than a year old.

9.  Before you leave every day, stack up loose papers. Put a date on every piece of paper if there isn’t one, and keep it in a stack.  Put newer stuff on top.  You’ll be amazed how often you do NOT hunt through the stack to find something.

10. Bring nothing, take nothing.  Don’t bring junk from home (bills, newspapers, etc.)  Don’t take work documents home.  If you MUST work at home, bring your files on a memory stick or CD, but don’t haul papers back and forth.  Inevitably you’ll end up with junk at home, too.

11. Be pushy about being paperless. Tell everyone you are paperless.  Tell them you are saving the company money.  Tell them too much white paper makes you snowblind.  But just tell everyone you prefer electronic documents, at a minimum.

12. Don’t be embarrassed about being disciplined. This tip is one of the strangest.  Many people are afraid that they look unproductive with a clean desk.  A particularly sloppy client of mine used to give me a hard time about my clean desk, because he equated a clean desk with laziness.    Don’t worry – no-one evers gets fired for having a clean desk.  People get fired for doing a bad job (or for being an unfortunate statistic in a massive layoff).

So if you’re interested in staying organized – which means a more productive and happier work life – pay attention to a few simple little rules about keeping your workspace clean.  It will pay off.