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to do list

Where does the time go?

There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many of those hours should be spent working. Check out a few of these ways you can save time and make the most of your work day.

To-do list. I get it. I know it’s fun to write it out and check the boxes as you complete the tasks. But in the amount of time you spend writing out that list, you could easily have checked at least one item off of the list. Make a task list on your email calendar, or set reminders on your phone.

Signing documents. Save time and paper by adding an electronic signature to documents rather than printing, signing, scanning, etc.

Banking. Still making daily trips to the bank? Don’t! Call your bank to find out if they offer a remote deposit system.

Create accounts. Find yourself ordering from the same places frequently? Take the extra few minutes on the front end to set up an account so you don’t have to enter all of your information the next time. Many websites also store your order history so you can more easily re-order frequent purchases. Bonus: you might get promotional emails for creating an account.

…which leads me to my final tip…

Unroll.me. Those promotional emails, albeit useful, can sometimes get out of hand. Use this super simple service to help clean up your contacts and make sure you’re only receiving the emails you want to receive, thus saving time weeding through the bad to get to the good.

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ion water

Call me cheap, but I’m always looking for ways to save money at home. I tell my husband at least three times a year that we should cancel our cable subscription. He shuts down that suggestion immediately every time. And really, if I would just cancel my iced coffee “subscription” that would probably cover the cable bill, but I’m much more enjoyable when caffeinated, so that’s more for the benefit of those around me.

Since my money-saving tactics fall on deaf ears at home, I have tried to establish a few money-saving techniques into our day-to-day office management. Looking to save a few dollars yourself? Give these super simple ideas a try!

Water - We previously had a bottled water cooler system in the office, but as our employee numbers increased, so did the amount of water we were consuming. I made one phone call to our local Culligan dealer, met with a sales rep to review the options, and decided to go with a bottle-free system that is filtered right from our sink. The effort was minimal and it cut our monthly bill nearly in half.

Buy bulk/take advantage of sales – Unless you’re saving even more money by going completely paperless, there’s no reason not to take advantage of a sale on copy paper. Most holiday sales (ie: President’s Day, Columbus Day, etc.) last an entire week. Watch for retailer specials and buy heavily used office and cleaning supplies in bulk. If you have the space, stock up to avoid ordering supplies on the fly.

Mail – When sending packages, people immediately turn to UPS and FedEx, but often, shipping through the U.S. Postal Service is the most cost-effective option. Get some flat rate boxes, but don’t count on them to always be the cheapest. Sign up for a usps.com account and price out standard priority mail. You might be surprised at how cheap it is to get a package to its destination within two days.

Automatic withdrawals – Take a look at your financial statement at the end of the month. Any service or product that is paid via automatic withdrawal or is set to automatically re-order is worth a second glance. You might be surprised to see that your service fee has increased without your knowledge or you’re using far more of a product than you even realized.

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Kimmy Schmidt

Sometimes achieving a large goal is easier when broken up into smaller, more attainable goals. This is true both at work and in our personal lives. For instance, I have a daily goal of drinking at least half of my weight in ounces of water. I’m not about to tell you how many ounces that requires, but I will tell you that I start each day with a 32oz glass, and try to sip on it while I get ready for work each day. My goal is to finish that 32oz before I walk out the door. Because I tend to be rather rushed in the morning, that sometimes means chugging the whole thing just before I leave, but regardless, it’s done. One mini goal accomplished before I even leave the house.

On a perfect day, I’ll set up my workload in such a way that I’m able to set mini goals to get through the big projects that are ahead of me.

First, I prioritize. What needs to be done first? What can wait until tomorrow or later in the week, if necessary? Often it’s easiest to get the biggest task out of the way first. If it’s looming, staring at me all day, I just keep putting it off. I’ll think of a million excuses not to do it. But if I plan out my day, 10-30 minutes at a time, it’s a little easier to get through it all.

I jot down the things I need to get done, in the order they need to be done, and get to work. If email is involved, I first get rid of the junk. Once I’ve pared it down to what is actually relevant, I set my mini goal. 49 new emails? I make a goal to get through ten of them in 20 minutes or less. Of course, depending on the subject matter, you might want to allow yourself more or less time. Something realistic that will keep you focused on the task at hand, but not allow enough time for distraction. Once I’ve responded to the first ten; I get up to refill my water or go to the bathroom, even just look out the window for a couple minutes, and then come back to work on the next batch of ten. Before I know it, I’m through them all in what seems like no time at all because I took that dreaded block of time and broke it into smaller clumps, giving me small slivers of accomplishment periodically, thus influencing my productivity.

You can use this same method with different rewards too. Work on a project with complete focus until lunchtime, or don’t allow yourself that second cup of coffee until your inbox is clear. Even the most dreaded tasks, at work and at home, are easier to complete when divided up into smaller tasks. Or, as the wise, unbreakable, Kimmy Schmidt would say, “You can do anything for ten seconds! Then you just start on a new ten seconds.”

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The cloud

When our onsite Microsoft Small Business server began nearing the end of its lifespan, we were faced with the question, Do we upgrade to a new server or move to the cloud? At first, I was completely against moving to the cloud—it was so expensive (I’m talking $20,000+ per year for some options!) and the idea of it seemed so abstract (Where is “the cloud,” anyway!?).

After working closely with our IT consultant, Nate Sperloen at Remachines, and many (many!) months of research and testing, we found that the Office Plan from Egnyte with a few customized upgrades (advanced security and synchronization) was perfect for AMPED and began our transition earlier this year. While the long-term costs are a bit more than upgrading to another onsite server, the costs are spread out over time instead of up-front and maintenance costs are basically eliminated.

Although there are definitely perks to having a local server, we’ve found that the benefits of moving to the cloud at this time were greater. We’ll always have the latest technology instead of a local server that is out-of-date pretty much as soon as we install it. We also now have more independence in our ability to manage the cloud server ourselves. In the past, we’ve relied on Nate to make changes to our server, add new employees, etc. With the cloud, the management is much more straight forward. The accessibility of our documents has also become more reliable — no more worrying about VPN connections or having to have someone reboot the server if things aren’t working properly. I love that it allows our employees to access data in a way that is most efficient for their work styles, whether that be a map drive, web access, or other applications.

Finding the right provider was a long process. Not only did we need to keep the needs of AMPED in mind, but also those of all our clients. Here are some things I learned along the way:

Find a good partner to help you through the process. Many smaller companies like AMPED don’t have an IT person on staff, but we are lucky enough to have great consultants. Make sure you have someone “in your corner” as you look through options and don’t just rely on the word of the sales person from each individual provider. This person will know your needs, be looking out for your best interests, and will understand the technical language and specs of each provider.

Know the right questions to ask. Many providers have different pricing options based on the features, so it’s vital that you take the time to figure out your “needs” vs your “wants” and what is important to you. Below are a few of the questions we found extremely important to ask.

  • How much storage is included? Is there a limit on file sizes?
  • What sort of security features are included? How is the data protected?
  • How do you access the data?
  • How easy is it to upgrade/switch to different plans? Is there a limit on the number of users? What different types of users are there?
  • How is the data backed up? How many versions of a document does it store? Can it also be backed up using a third party?
  • What sort of support is included? Will there be a single account manager assigned to us?

Test, test, test. All the providers we looked at offered free trials. Sign up for them! Test them both internally and externally. It’s impossible to know if something is going to work for your company without using it first. There were many providers we thought would work for us after listening to the sales pitch, but we found out otherwise once we began testing.

Make sure everyone is on board and plan for turbulence. Moving to the cloud is a huge change for many companies so there are likely to be “bumps” along the way and things that will work differently than they did before. Make sure everyone knows what changes are coming, the transition plan, and where to go for help.

In the end, I’ve learned that “the cloud” isn’t as scary as it sounds and have actually enjoyed all the research and getting to know the new system. Have you moved to the cloud yet? If so, do you have any additional advice for those thinking of moving to the cloud?

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in the moment

In January I made a New Year’s resolution to be more “in the moment.” My goal is to appreciate and focus on the present and spend less time dwelling on the past or future events that I can’t control. Since we’re almost halfway through 2015 I thought it would be a good time to step back and evaluate my progress.

In general, I would say I’m doing a pretty good job sticking to this resolution. Some days are better than others and it is definitely an ongoing challenge, but I’ve been able to employ a few daily practices that help me follow through on my goal.

One thing I try to do every day is prioritize my “to-do list.” I’m one of those types who keep a written list. It’s usually pretty varied and almost always long. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when I think about everything I have written down. So, I don’t. Instead, I look for items that must be completed immediately. If something has a hard deadline or if I have a pre-arranged appointment or meeting I will make it my focus in that moment. There aren’t usually too many of these tasks in any given day so once they are completed I can move on to ones with softer deadlines. If I get through those, there are always more general tasks on my list. These types of tasks have a deadline of “I would love to get this done someday.”

To further encourage myself to stay in the moment I’ve been working on being flexible. I have kids. Not only are kids always in the moment, they are good at forcing us, as parents and caregivers, into their moment. When my toddler decides he’s hungry it means he’s hungry now, not in an hour from now when I planned to make lunch. I have to adapt accordingly. I know that plans can change in an instant and I have to be willing to temporarily set aside my carefully prioritized task list to deal with the situation at hand.

At the end of the day I usually do spend just a few minutes mentally reviewing the day’s accomplishments. I admit that I can be my own worst critic and feeling like I haven’t gotten through as much as I should can lead to a lot of self-doubt. So, on those days when I don’t feel as productive as I want to be, I try hard to maintain a realistic perspective and to be forgiving. Sometimes I need to remind myself that the world will not end just because I didn’t get through every email in my inbox or if there are still three loads of laundry to be folded. It just gives me somewhere to start tomorrow.

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