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Redefine Organization As Search

Written by Brett McKay

One of my goals during the winter break is to revamp my organizational system. This past year, I’ve tried implementing Getting Things Done and had moderate success. My biggest problem was that I had way too many inboxes and complicated file systems that I spent more time trying to figure out where I put stuff and maintaining my system than I did getting things done.

Thankfully, Leo Babauta from Zen Habits produced a stellar eBook called Zen to Done that gave me some great ideas on how to simplify my organizational system.

While not in his book, one thing that I’m doing to simplify is stopping my filing system on the computer. On my computer, I would create these complicated nested mess of folders for each area of my life. I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out where they should go and I always seemed to forget where I put the file when I needed to bring it up.

My Gmail account was the same as well. I had separate folders for different kinds of email and the email automatically filtered to their respective folder. I started to notice that with this system, I would miss emails. Plus it was annoying to have to click through each folder to check my mail. I hate useless clicks.

The solution:Quit filing and start searching

I’ve stopped filing completely on my computer. Instead, I leverage Google’s search capability for my computer organizational needs.

Organizing your computer. I’ve installed Google Desktop on my computer. This amazing app makes searching your computer as easy as searching the web. It does a full text search of all your documents, music, and videos and brings you the most relevant searches. It will also bring you emails and webpages that are relevant to your search.

Organizing Gmail. I’ve gotten rid of the different folders on Gmail. I now just use the main inbox. It makes going through my email much more easier than having to check four different folders. When ever I want to save an email, I just Archive it. When I need it again, I just use Gmail’s search function and type in a few words that I remember the email being about. Simple.

Organizing paper documents.Unfortunately, Google has not entered the realm of organizing paper documents, so I’m using a simple file box. I’ve thought about digitizing my paper documents so I can take advantage of Google Desktop’s search feature. However, because the scanner I have is old, digitizing would be a chore. Mark Shead of Productivity 501 has a great write up on how to go paperless.

How do you all organize your computer? Do you have any ideas to make digital organization more efficient? Drop a line in the comment box.

The Garage Sale Without a Garage: Declutter Your Life & Make Money on eBay

Written by Brett McKay

Garage Sale

One of the things my wife and I do to make some extra money is selling our old stuff on eBay. How do we find stuff to sell? Every 6 months or so, my wife and I take a day to purge ourselves of stuff we no longer use. While most of the stuff is crap and will go to the garbage, every once in a while we will find some great items that can fetch a pretty penny on eBay. Here’s our general method of how we do do our eBay “purge and profit.”

The Purge

Set aside a day for the purge. A thorough purging will take a good part of the day. Set aside weekend where you can devote your self completely to decluttering your house.

Create your declutter attack plan. Plan the order of the rooms you want to declutter. Start off with some easy rooms to get you in the “declutter zone.” If the room has closets, start of with those before you move the rest of the room. If the room has cabinets, purge those first.

Create a “trash” bag an”eBay” bag, and “donate” bag. Have separate bags or boxes for garbage and eBay and sort as you go. Some items, like clothing, are better to donate than sell on eBay simply because they don’t do that well on eBay. Make sure to have bags for donations as well.

Ask the “one year question.” If you’re not sure whether you should get rid of something, ask yourself “Have I used this item in the last year?” If you haven’t it goes; if you have, keep it.

Finish a room before going on the next one. Stay focused on one room at a time. If you try to purge more than one room at a time, you’ll overwhelm yourself and end up quiting before the job is done.

Chunk it or donate it. Take the trash bag and put out with the garbage. Drop the donate bags to Goodwill. Ahhh… doesn’t that feel good?

The Profit

Now it’s time to sell your stuff on eBay. Here’s what has helped my wife and I get maximum profits on our eBay sales.

Research what similar items have sold for. Find out what the eBay market is valuing your item at. If you set too high a price, you won’t get any bids. Just get on eBay’s advanced search to see what items like yours have sold for and how much they are auctioning for now. Take into account the item’s condition when researching as well. If it has some dings and flaws, you should look to start the bid out lower than other items.

Set your starting bid low. Low starting bids attract more bidders. Of course you should base your bids on the demand for the item. If it’s a high demand product, starting low shouldn’t hurt you because more people will be competing for it. If your product is in low demand and you think you won’t get many bids, set the starting price closer to what you actually want to get for the item. This is why researching is so important.

Be descriptive in your description. The more detail you put in your item description the more likely it will sell. Tell how old the item is, how often it has been used, and any flaws it might have. Even if your item has a few dings in it, people will buy IF you’re upfront about it in the description. It shows the buyer you’re an honest eBayer and in the eBay game your reputation is your most important commodity.

Edit your description. Make sure to run a spell check and grammar check on your eBay listing. It just makes you look more legit and boosts that all important eBay reputation.

Create a stellar title. The first thing people will see when searching for eBay items is the title. The key for a good title is description. Try to tell everything you can about the item in the space eBay give your for the title. List things like brand, color, condition, designers, and size. If it’s a book or CD, include the artist. That way if someone searches for the author, but not the title of your book, your item will still come up. Don’t use all caps or punctuations. That just annoys people and shows you have no idea what you’re doing.

Include a picture of the item. Don’t just include one, include several from different angles. Make sure you show any flaws or dings the item might have. Again, if the flaw is minor, it shouldn’t hurt you. The picture of the flaw only shows you’re an honest seller.

Run a 10 day listing. If you start the bid on Thursday and run a 10 day bid, your bid will end on the Sunday of the following week. That means your item will be up for two weekends. More people surf and make purchases on eBay on the weekends, so having exposure on two weekends will definitely help increase the bids.

Be prompt in answering questions. If you get a question from a bidder, answer it quickly. It shows you’re serious about selling your item and only increases your reputation. Plus, it’s just plain courteous.

Be upfront with shipping and handling. Make it clear who’s paying for shipping and handling. One of the biggest scams people run on eBay is selling an item for super cheap, but then charging $15 for shipping. You’ll encourage bids if you’re clear about how much shipping will be.

Don’t use eBay add-ons . I haven’t found these to be very helpful. If you follow these tips, you shouldn’t have to use them.

Ship fast. As soon as the auction is over, head down to the post office and send the package off. Buyers will get to vote on you and how you handle shipping will be taken into consideration. Ship fast to earn a high score!

What are your tips for the eBay “purge and profit?” Drop a line in the comment box!

Law School Widow

Written by Brett McKay

Law school is a challenge. Law school while balancing a family is even more of a challenge. As a married law student, one of the things that I always have in the back of my mind is my relationship with my wife. It’s pretty easy to get so carried away with studying, that you forget to nurture your most important relationships. Some law school wives (or husbands) joke about being a widow or a single parent because their spouse is gone so much.

Law school can wreak havoc on a marriage. I remember at law school orientation, one of the speakers said that half of all first year married law students end up divorced by the end of law school. Yikes!

My wife and I made a priority to have at least one date night every week. After not seeing each other that much during the week it’s nice to go to restaurant or get an ice cream cone and sit and talk. I think it really helped keep our relationship strong during that trying first year.

For those of you who are married or in a close relationship, what has been your experience maintaining that relationship while in law school? What do you do to nurture it?

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How To Leave The Perfect Voicemail

Written by Brett McKay

I’m not a big fan of voicemail. I don’t mind leaving voicemail messages; I just hate having to listen to them. For some strange reason when people know their voice is being recorded, their brain short circuits. What normally would take 30 seconds to say, now takes 2 minutes.

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I don’t mind it so much for people I know. I have to deal with them on a daily basis, so I can’t hold voicemail grudges against them. However, if someone cold calls me or it’s just an acquaintance that calls, a crappy voicemail annoys me and leaves a bad impression.

I know. It’s superficial, but I’m human. But a prospective employer or client is also human, so there’s a good chance that crappy, unclear, and long voicemails annoy them too.

So, for your consideration, here are 8 tips to help you leave the perfect voicemail and, consequently, a good impression.

  • State your name first. You would think this would be so basic that it shouldn’t even be mentioned. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten voicemails where people go on and on and I don’t even know who’s talking to me until the very end. Pretty annoying.
  • State the purpose of your call. In as few words as possible, state why you’re calling. Is it in regards to an interview appointment? Are you following up on a previous meeting?
  • Find some common ground. If you’re cold calling someone, your voicemail is your 30 second chance to make a connection and leave a good impression. One of the best ways to make a connection in that short amount of time is mentioning a mutual acquaintance. You could also mention a shared affiliation with an organization.
  • Be brief. Don’t make you listener resent you by leaving 5 minute long messages. People are busy. Listening to 5 minute phone messages is not on the top of their priorities.
  • Leave a specific request. What do you want your listener to do? Sure, you want them to call you back, but why? To answer a question? To set up an appointment? People will appreciate it if you give them specific actions for their call back. That way they’ll know they won’t be wasting a lot of time on the call back trying to figure out what you want.
  • Leave your contact info slowly and clearly. You’ve gotten this far, don’t screw it up by muddling the very information that will allow your listener to get back to you. Go slow and be clear.
  • Consider leaving your e-mail in addition to your phone number. People like choices. Some people like to have conversations on the phone, while others prefer communicating through e-mail. You don’t know what kind of person your listener will be, so leave the option on the table. For many, e-mail correspondence is less threatening and might actually encourage them to reach out to you.
  • Be Brief. Did I mention be brief? Yeah? Make sure to do it.

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Ninja Negotiation With Your Cell Phone

Written by Brett McKay

Next time you go shopping for your next big purchase, make sure you have your cell phone with you. Most salespeople will match or beat competitor prices. Before you close a deal, call the store’s competitor and ask if they can offer a better price. Do this right in front of the salesperson. By doing this, either store can give you a better price on the spot. You save yourself time and money. You’ll also have the satisfaction of turning the tables on high pressure salesmen.

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[tags]cell phone, negotiation, money tips[/tags]

Do You Suffer From Digital Pack Rat-itis? Here’s Your Prescription.

Written by Brett McKay

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Talk of the Nation had an interesting segment yesterday about pack rats. Neal Conan interviewed Mark McCluskey, products editor at Wired magazine, about how hoarding has gone digital.

Unlike analog pack rats who love collecting things, digital pack rats love collecting content. Analog pack rats love the tactile experience of holding an old vinyl album or smelling an old book. Analog pack rats generally don’t even listen to the records or read the books that they hold on to. Digital pack rats on the other hand love collecting information. They like knowing that somewhere in their computer or external hard drive lies a golden nugget of information.

I know I’m guilty of both, but more so with digital hoarding. I have emails from three years ago still on my account. I know I’ll never read them, but I just don’t have the heart to delete them. It’s like my little collection of letters tied with a digital bow that I keep in my digital attic. Instead of old drawings from kindergarten, my computer is overflowing with undergrad papers that I wrote years ago. I have no desire to read my research paper on the philosophy of language, but I don’t want to delete it.

However, analog and digital hoarding can cost people time and money. Important things or information can get lost in the clutter of stuff that you hold on to. That bill that was due yesterday is probably lost in the huge piles of paper sitting on your desk. My computer is starting to slow down because of all the crap that’s on it.

GTD: Just What the Dr. Ordered

My prescription to you is buying a copy Getting Things Done by David Allen. GTD will help you eliminate clutter and focus on the important things in your life. Below is a short list of resources about GTD and decluttering that I have used to cure myself of pack rat-itis.

Warning: Take productivity in moderation

In your quest to heal yourself of pack rat-itis, don’t replace your obsession with collecting “stuff” with an obsession of productivity. My own experience has shown me that one can get so obsessed with GTD and life hacks that you end up less productive than before. If you take productivity in moderation and you should be alright.

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[tags] GTD, life hack, productivity, NPR, Zen Habits[/tags]