HeartWork Organizing

Helping you find peace and purpose through organization and design

Forget Resolutions: Do This One Thing and Sleep Easier January 2, 2012

Filed under: Business Organizing,Financial Organizing,Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 1:53 pm
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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! 

How to store tax files for 2012And, by the way, forget the resolutions.  Who ever thought up that idea, anyway?

But here is one thing you can do in three minutes or less that can make a real difference for you this year.  Not kidding.  Right now.  Read this, and then run to find your nearest file folder, oversized envelope, or empty box.  Yes, you can even repurpose a gift box if you need to.

Use any box, file, or envelope you have for tax files

Label this folder, oversized envelope, or gift box with a thick, dark marker:  TAXES, 2011.

Set this folder, envelope, or box aside in your home office, or near where you process your mail.  If you share your home, let your spouse know where this is and what it is for.  Start filling it with items you might need to file your taxes this year.  You’ll start gettting these items in mid-January, possibly through February.  You might already have a few receipts or pages to add right now.  But if not, you’ll find them over the next few weeks.  When you find stuff that is or might be tax related, just pop it in here without worrying about organizing it.  Get something in email that you might need?  Save your sanity today by actually printing it out and popping it in the safe spot you just created.  Do you run a small, disorganized business from home?  Start pulling all of your records together now, and you’ll have what you need come crunch time.

Important tax records include W2’s, 1099’s, receipts for charitable gifts and donations, 529 records (contributions or expenses), end of year banking statements, refinance records, energy-saving home improvement records from the past year, and, of course, any unreimbursed work expenses.  If you aren’t sure whether it might be tax-related, pull out last year’s (2010) tax return and use that as a guide.

Don’t organize this stuff until you get ready to prepare your taxes; you are weeks away from that.  Right now, you are just trying to corral the little buggers that you’ll need for your 1040.

There.  Done.  You’re all organized, and it’s only day 2 of the new year.  Good for you!

 

 

Copyright (c) <a href=’http://www.123rf.com’>123RF Stock Photos</a>

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Organizing Photos On Your Computer September 30, 2011

Filed under: Organizing,Tech — HeartWork Organizing @ 1:51 pm
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Wouldn’t you like to easily organize your digital photos?

First, know your software and system.  There are plenty of tools to help you pull your photos off of your camera or phone and get them into your archives.  Your camera probably came with a software disk.  Windows comes with photo programs.  Apple is all over photos, for sure.

The most frustrating thing about software might be that downloading your photos can result in your photos having odd, computer assigned names.  Search your download program for an option or field that lets you assign a name to a batch of photos while you are downloading them. You might be able to download a batch of photos that you name “birthday 2011”, and each photo will start with that name and then end with the number in sequence.  If you don’t like your download program, and you can’t do named batch downloads, go and search for another one.

According to Wikihow, Download a free image organizer. Fast small ones include Xnview (open source) and Irfanview (popular). Picasa from Google is an easy-to-use photo management tool. However, read the fine print on the agreement you sign with Picasa/Google. It gives Google the rights to all of the photos you put on the site, for their unrestricted use.  I do use Picasa to organize and edit my photos, but I don’t upload them to the Google web albums. One of the coolest things I can do with Picasa is easily brighten photos that I thought were too dark to save.

This one might seem a little obvious, but take the time to create different folders, and avoid dumping all of your photos into the Microsoft “My Photos” folder.  This is essentially like throwing a handful of photos into a closet and shutting the door.  Sure, you could search for a particular file later, but why would you?  Instead, just name the folders by year, or you might have folders with more meaningful names, such as:

  • birthdays
  • Christmases
  • home
  • weddings
  • vacations

From there, you can subdivide your photos using a naming system.  It is immensely helpful to have a naming convention for your photos so that you’ll be able to find them again later. Your computer file system will want to arrange your files either alphabetically or numerically. I use the following naming convention for my family photo files, which keeps my files neat and allows me to find files quickly:

Format:            Year_Month_Kidname_Event/Holiday

Example:         2010_April_KittyCat_Easter

Figure out this naming system once, tape it to your computer, and use it every time you download your pictures.  Suddenly all of those fun photos will be worth a lot more because you can actually find them again.  Unless you are married to a pro photographer, knowing who took the picture probably won’t be important in 5 or 10 years, so all family members can save photos the same way, with the same file name format, and create a very useful family photo treasure trove.

You might also check out http://shrinkpictures.com/facebook.php to help you size photos for different applications.

One last trick, and this one is great especially for the holidays, turn your paper photos into a digital archive without any fuss.  Contact Maxx or Monica at SaveMyPix.com to get up to 1,000 photos scanned for just $100.  You can rename photos returned to you once they are on disk.  But the best part is that making copies of digital photos is so easy, and you no longer have to be the one person with all the family archives.

Oh, and did I mention to be sure to backup your computer to safeguard all those treasures???

I’m always looking for new tricks, so please share your favorite photo info here.  Happy snapping.

 

How to Save Passwords, Please September 23, 2011

Filed under: Business Organizing,Financial Organizing,Organizing,Tech — HeartWork Organizing @ 12:36 am
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Quick, do you know the best way to save passwords?  How to store passwords?  How to remember passwords?  Here are some of my favorites for offline, online, or on your computer.

Where to Save Passwords Offline

If you want to save passwords offline, I like the On Line Organizer. It is about the size of the Hallmark calendars that many people still carry in their purse, and inside it has tabs A-Z.  On each page you can store a company or URL, User name, and Password.  The size and the A-Z indexing make it very easy to use at your desk or carry it with you.  I use and sell these lovely babies for $10.  They come in a two pack, so you can carry one and keep one at your desk, or give one to your honey or best friend.  Click here to order and make saving passwords easier.

How to Save Passwords with the OnLine Password Organizer

The Best Way To Save Passwords

How to Save Passwords with the On Line Password Organizer- Interior

Save Passwords from A to Z

How to Save Passwords Online

Online, there are many programs and apps that allow you to save passwords to an encrypted site.  LastPass is the one I’ve been trying out for the past few weeks, but since it has limitations when using iPad, I’m not able to recommend it for iPad users just yet.  I want something that works as seamlessly as Evernote.  But at my PC, LastPass does a great job of capturing login and passwords from every site I visit, and then auto-populating it when I return. You don’t need to remember passwords, you just need to remember one password.  Because the data is encrypted, it truly is about as secure as anything gets on the internet. Oh, and it’s free.  You can look into other password manager programs here.

I recently learned that some of the newer browsers are able to store passwords, too.  I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of letting Microsoft hold all my passwords, even with encryption.  I’m pretty sure Bill Gates isn’t going to try to hack my PayPal account, but it gives me the shivers nonetheless.

How to Store Passwords on Your Own Computer

The last option to store passwords is on your computer.  Before you go this route, be sure that your system has the latest version of a strong security/antivirus program and that the program is doing auto-updates often.  This would be McAfee, Norton, AVG (which has both free and paid anti-virus software), or similar.  If this works for you, then just type up a simple document or spreadsheet to remember passwords, and then encrypt the file.  You can find encryption programs like EncryptFiles, which is another free program.  My thanks to Jim at HelpDotNow for passing this along.  I do not personally use this approach or software, but it would be pretty simple.

If any of these options helps you, I hope you’ll let me know.  And remember that you can order your own 2-pack password keeper for $10 right now.  Ten bucks is a pretty small price to pay for your sanity.  (They also make great teacher’s gifts.)

**Please remember to always consider your business and personal needs and consult with an advisor before making business decisions.  HeartWork Organizing accepts no responsibility from any actions you may incur from this or other advice.

 

How to Create Passwords September 21, 2011

Filed under: Business Organizing,Financial Organizing,Organizing,Uncategorized — HeartWork Organizing @ 1:29 pm
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It seems that absolutely everything, on and off the web, requires a password these days.  When creating passwords, stay away from obvious personal information like your birthdate, kids birth dates, anniversary,address and pets names. Use multiple words and non-words, things that can’t be found in the dictionary.   Jim, my tech expert from HelpDotNow tells me that run on sentences like ILIKETREES are good because a hacking program will have a harder time as this is a “word” not found in the dictionary and hacking programs are not generally stopping to parse the phrase into words.  Changing some elements of the word with capitals, numbers, or special characters, like ILIketr33s, is even better, but still relatively easy for you to remember.  If you can remember passwords, or at least the few that you use most often, that will save you time.

Computer experts would not recommend this, but in real life, consider having three different types or categories of passwords.  The first type would be for high stakes sites like a bank account, PayPal, email account, or an encryption program.  They should be pretty complex but still something that you can memorize.  The second level would be for useful sites, perhaps those like computer support sites and other shopping sites you frequent.  The third type of password could be almost a throw-away, something that you might use for a site you’ll never intend to visit again. Decide how much effort you want to put into each type of password, and design them as secure as you can for each level.

Now that you have your passwords, how do you organize them and where do you store them?  Hint: a sticky note is not the best answer.  Stay tuned for the next rivetting post.

 

How Microsoft Stole My Day: Moving to a New Computer September 9, 2011

Filed under: Tech — HeartWork Organizing @ 8:43 pm
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I should have never called this tech month.  As if taunting me, my six-year old computer decided that it was going to slow to an absolute crawl, and I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade to a new business-class machine.  All of today was spent in my office with my wonderful, wonderful tech support department backing up data, moving it my new machine, and installing updated and new software.   Thank you Jim Haupt from http://www.helpdotnowcomputer.com/.  It’s good to know that there are reliable professionals with integrity (besides me, of course!) who will still make housecalls.

Whew.

And I’m not done yet.  I can share a bit of what I learned with you here today.  The most importantis probably backup, backup, backup.  Jim and I talked about the different backup options widely available.

  • On-site backup units like those from Seagate can run about $100, but can be super easy to set up.  You purchase an external hard drive, which sits next to your computer and automatically makes a copy of files you specify in real time.  He also recommended looking into a fire-proof, waterproof unit like ioSafe http://www.hddfiresafe.com/index.php/, especially for businesses, in the $200-$400 range.  Cooooool!  Remember, some hard drives do auto-backups, and some require you to manage them.  I prefer the former.
  • Online backups like Carbonite, Mozy, SugarSync, and SOS Online backup offer options that will run you roughly $50 to $100 per year, and offer additional peace of mind.  Some, like SugarSync even offer a free account, which is better than nothing, and I know plenty of people who have nothing set up for backups.  But Jim says he’s had many instances of clients who couldn’t retrieve data at crunch time.   You can read more about these services at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2370803,00.asp  And if you are worried about whether it’s safe to save your data off-site, consider this:  you are more at risk for fraud when you send the server at your favorite restaurant back to the kitchen with your credit card than when you send encrypted data to a server farm.
  • Businesses really need to consider stepping up their backup plan, perhaps with a monitored solution like that offered by Jim’s firm, http://www.helpdotnowcomputer.com/.  Not only are backups routine and automatic, backups are reviewed daily to look for imcomplete or problem backups, while tech support, hardware and upgrades are included in the service price, which starts at about $25 per month.  I’ve read stats that say more than 50% of businesses with a major data failure go out of business within a year.  It’s just too important to not backup your business data.

Once you have a backup solution in place, it’s a good idea to test it from time to time, which means you go to wherever your data is stored and select a small slice of data, such as a file, and try to restore it to a file you’ve created on your home or business computer just for this task.  You might name this file something like “BackupRestoreTest,” so that you can actually verify the backed-up data is actually readable.

One more tip along these lines.  I learned the hard way a while back that MS Outlook does not backup along with most Microsoft data files, like Word and Excel.  You need to surf out to the web and find a neat little utility that MS created to make a backup of your .PST file, which is where your emails live.  http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=9003  Without this, if your email flakes out or your drive crashes, even if you’ve backed up your “My Documents” files, your email could be gone forever. With this little utility, you’ll have a copy of your email files under “My Documents,” which can easily be restored.

One last thing…if you’ve ever gotten a Word or Excel file that you couldn’t open from someone who has a newer version of those programs, then you need a quick little patch on your software that you can get by going to http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=3&WT.mc_id=MSCOM_EN_US_HP_CAROUSEL_121LSUS007870.  You’ll never have to ask someone to save a file to your lower version again.

There are a lot of people using online services for everything, including websites, blogs, photo storage and mail, but much of that can and should be backed up as well.   If something is really important to you, and you would experience hardship or personal history (like photos) if disaster were to strike, you should probably be asking about backup, and maybe more than one type of backup for the same data.

OK, I know this whole post is basically about insurance, and most of us don’t have enough of that either, but hopefully there are some good resources and vendors here so you’ll get off the fence and make a decision about backing up your personal data.  Wish me luck as I go to learn about all the goodies on my new computer!