What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Start a Business: Part One

Whether it’s something you’ve dreamed of since childhood, or it came as a total surprise later in life, good business ideas happen.

They come in all shapes and sizes, with their own unique sets of needs and learning curves. There are a few things we can do to secure a business’ potential to grow and thrive, but they must happen in those pivotal early stages of development.

According to Chris Guillebeau, entrepreneur-turned-author of the best-selling $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future, getting a new idea off the ground has never been easier.

Forbes interviewer Dan Schawbel got Guillebeau to elaborate on how today’s technology has presented vast and far-reaching platforms that allow shared ideas, goods and services to coalesce.

Coupled with consumers being more primed to make online purchases, this new landscape creates what Guillebeau refers to as “a perfect storm of economic convergence.”

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

There are many ways your business can fail before it’s standing on its own, and getting hung up on minor details is a sure-fire way to halt progress.

Many agonize over the catchiest name for their business or the cleverest URLs, getting caught in a viscous and unproductive cycle without achieving anything to make the stress worth it.

Set a short, definitive timeline for your startup, and don’t let worry over website layout or logo design keep your project from growing past its infancy.

Your business will change rapidly as you learn, and names or web domains are no exception. Leave room to grow!

Baby Steps

A lot of startups lose steam not out of lack of creativity or capability, but by pushing too hard or too fast at the start.

We want our business to mature by leaps and bounds from the very beginning. But as we have to crawl before we can walk, also must we stumble a bit in the learning process before it’s possible to run and sustain a successful business.

Set small, consistent goals. Pursuing a career of your own creation can be one of the most rewarding journeys, but it takes many small steps to get to there.

Moves like attaining your federal Employee Identification Number to protect your private identity, making sure the relevant permits and licenses are acquired, or setting up a business bank account to avoid unnecessary liability are more important than even a name.

Jeff Haden, contributing Editor for Inc. magazine, goes into more detail about the manifold, yet fairly easy to obtain prerequisites for legitimizing your business. Haden is a big proponent of laying the groundwork and economizing on time in the early stages of development to allow for greater pay off in the long run.

“Instead of spending hours playing with accounting software, dreaming up potential expense and income categories and creating fancy reports with no data, spend that time generating revenue,” he suggests.

Budgeting

As children, it is difficult to envision the end game of a project when there is an insurmountable obstacle in our way.

One such obstacle facing today’s entrepreneurs in their adult life is the ever-dreaded need for startup capital.

The good news is, you can do your business an overwhelming amount of good if you can budget carefully, be mindful of resources and perfect your pitch.

Here are a few ways to nurture your business that won’t break the bank:

Know where you can consolidate

Starting a business requires certain concessions be made to keep the venture afloat. This can mean cutting back on luxuries like additional employees, office space or an entire service or product until the revenue can support it.

Resources can come from anywhere

While raising capital is never fun, we live in a time where there are multiple ways to acquire funding: angel investors, government grants through the Small Business Administration, bank loans, even friends and family.

Crowdsource

Don’t forget crowdfunding. Social media makes it simple to raise startup cash and connect with like-minded individuals who want to contribute.

But remember, there are plenty of cautionary tales of high-profile startups that have crashed and burned, so be sure you can deliver. Nobody wants to be the next Plastc.

Keep Working Hard

The best part of all this work? You get to invest in your business with the capital you’ve raised.

“Once you start realizing some revenue, you can invest in yourself and build the business you imagined piece by piece rather than all at once,” adds Jayson Demers, a regular contributor for Entrepreneur.

You’re bound to break a sweat, but the journey is a rewarding one and can mean a lifetime of constant improvement and success.

Come back next month for part two of our series on crucial startup mindsets.

Passive Productivity: How Device Lights, Strict Schedules & Multitasking Are Killing Your Output

While there are many workplace worries that can be fixed by a good workout or healthy snack, there are far more insidious forces threatening to vanquish productivity.

Unfortunately, the forces that work against our productivity are often those forces which we love the most: our smartphones and tablets, minute-by-minute planning and an emphasis on multitasking.

However, as we’ll show in the next few sections, those widely accepted entities often are the very things that undercut our productivity and leave us feeling physically and mentally exhausted.

Lights Out Means Lights Out

Well into adulthood, some of us find ourselves unable to resist “just five more minutes” of our favorite distraction before bed.

In a world where communications and interactions are increasingly taking place via any number of electronic gadgets, the pre-bedtime winding down process now involves several hours of social media, emailing and voraciously checking new notifications.

While the temporary catharsis of such activities is widely acknowledged, the effect on your rest can be a costly one, both to your health and productivity the next day.

One such byproduct is blue light, according to the research of Forbes Contributor Travis Bradberry.

This is a big one that most people don’t even realize harms their sleep and productivity. Short-wavelength blue light plays an important role in your mood, energy level, and sleep quality,” Bradberry pointed out.

He goes on to say that blue light decreases the natural production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Afternoon sunshine contains decreasing amounts of blue light, which allows our brains to start producing melatonin. By nightfall — when our brains aren’t expecting any blue light — staring at a screen bombards us with direct exposure to it. This can wreak havoc on our natural sleep cycles, Bradberry explained.

“This exposure impairs melatonin production and interferes with your ability to fall asleep as well as with the quality of your sleep once you do nod off,” he wrote.

In other words, shut off the gadgets and gizmos after dinner and give your mind a well-deserved break from the glowing spreadsheets and frantic emails.

In-flexibility Training

Too much organization can be a bad thing.

With a mountain of an agenda containing tasks ranging from the mundane to the herculean feats of creativity and ingenuity ahead of you, it’s easy to want to control every moment of the day to maximize productivity.

This tactic, however, usually burns us out before the day ends.

While scheduling your whole day to go according to a master plan, might, in theory, provide a manageable framework for your day, it leaves little room for the inevitable interruptions or emergencies that crop up at a moment’s notice.

“When you’re too tightly scheduled, you can end up undermining your productivity, because if one thing goes wrong, your schedule could be disrupted for the rest of the day,” notes Gwen Moran in her article for Fast Company.

Remember, success is the culmination of preparation and opportunity and part of that preparation is reserving time that may become game-changing later on when plans don’t work out and quick, decisive action is required.

Be flexible and get the hard stuff out of the way early. Dealing with the most difficult tasks when your mind is at its freshest ensures that the rest of the day can be dedicated to less pressing projects that allow you to breathe without burning out.

Singletasking

“It turns out that 98% of the population doesn’t multi-task very well,” entrepreneur Lisa Quast wrote in a Forbes article.

Study after study has revealed no significant productivity benefits from this daunting pseudo practice. In fact, multitasking is little more than rapid task switching, which can be just as detrimental to your brain as it is to your productivity.

In an interview by Entrepreneur’s guest contributor Lisa Evans, Devora Zack, author of “Singletasking: Get more Done – One Thing at a Time” reveals staggering statistics about multitasking: “[It] not only lowers productivity by 40 percent but it also shrinks our brains.”

Wrapping It Up: Be

Habits that curtail productivity can be somewhat elusive to identify when there isn’t any one specific remedy.

Every entrepreneur has their own way of solving problems or managing tasks, but the basics sometimes start outside of the workplace and won’t always be readily apparent.

Be mindful of potential productivity killers. If your sleep is fitful, your mind is muddled and you feel like multitasking effectively is impossible, there are solutions.

Focus on creating a relaxing bedtime routine absent of electronic light, allow for flexibility in your schedule and flip the value metrics on multitasking versus singletasking.

These three simple steps should create a significant change in your work life.

Four of the Top Office Trends for 2017

Open offices, tree houses and video games.

All three have been big office trends in the past, a reflection of the new work world where management tries to use workspaces as a platform for employee freedom and creativity.

While most of the trends we see on a day-in/day-out basis are focused on office organization and planning, it’s much more than that. Philosophies of leadership transform over time, as do concepts of teamwork and idea generation.

So, to get a comprehensive view of what this year’s hottest trends are, we turned to several different reliable sources and built a list of four of this year’s most popular office trends.

HR Will Get a Boost

You’ve probably heard of the term “big data”; it’s the new way to process large chunks of information, then use those findings to create business strategies.

According to Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman, this trend has affected many parts of the workplace, but HR hasn’t been one of them. The purpose of HR is, after all, to make people feel like more than just numbers, right?

“Data scientists, one of the most in-demand positions for the past two years, haven’t been much of a presence in HR-related tasks,” Dishman wrote.

She goes on to say that data can help in three different areas: measuring the onboarding process, tracking morale and testing out different types of workplace management.

Workplace Organization Will Continue to Evolve

Open workspaces are now old news, but the emerging nuances within this arena continue to evolve.

Recruiting.com says we can expect this trend to continue this year.

“Now that employers have substantial insight into how the work environment affects their employees, design thinking is emerging as a new major trend in HR,” the site wrote.

We should see further development of multipurpose work areas, modular desks and “furniture with multimedia capabilities,” the site explained.

Other emerging areas to look for? Enhanced health and wellness programs, more standing workstations and stress management programs.

Caring for Remote Workers

This trend comes courtesy of HR Daily Advisor, and we think it’s an important one.

A recent Forbes article noted that more than 30% of the American workforce are freelancers, earning a 1099 instead of the traditional W-2. Many of these freelancers work from home, and, it’s safe to say they don’t receive the same kind of treatment as someone working in the company’s offices every day.

Employers like Dell are starting to realize this, contributor Al Zink, and are exploring ways to offer their remote workers (“distributed talent”) effective care.

“How do we extend culture and benefits equality to provide an ‘umbrella’ of culture to remote employees or satellite offices while allowing for some local customization of programs and policy,” Zink asked. “When you visit different locations and facilities what exactly are the values and culture and how are they implemented?”

Zink says 2017 is the year that leaders will put a lot more thought in how to effectively manage their remote teams.

A Shift in Performance Management

Companies are starting to see the flaws of the traditional model of yearly performance reviews. In lieu of this standard, they’ve chosen to explore new ways of performance management.

According to Human Resources Today, this is one of the biggest trends in today’s workforce.

“HR professionals encourage managers to move towards a coaching culture that prizes skill development, regular feedback and growth opportunities,” Catherine Spence wrote. “This type of coaching relies on asking open-ended questions, providing hands-on opportunities to develop new skills and allowing teams of workers to self-coach through stretch projects.”

This idea of continuous feedback is something contributor Dan Schwabel discussed in his recent article about 2017 workplace trends.

In his opinion, this type of employee feedback is more appropriate for Millennials and Gen Z workers.

“Professionals today desire instant feedback, a behavior they’ve adopted from the instant gratification they receive on social networks,” Schwabel wrote. “Younger generations are especially impatient and are unwilling to wait a whole year to learn about their strengths and areas of improvement.”

Schwabel referred to a Robert Half study that revealed that a quarter of the workforce believe that “annual performance reviews don’t help improve their performance.”

Change Effects All Parts of the Workplace – Even the Furniture You Choose

If the trends of the past 10 years have taught us anything, it’s that new workplace trends start with ideas and trickle down into how an office is designed and furnished.

Stop by our website to look at what we can offer for your ever-evolving workplace.

The Five Best Startups of the Past Ten Years

It’s hard to believe that just a decade ago most people were wielding flip phones and mass use of the internet was barely passing its 10th birthday.

What’s just as staggering is the number of new technologies that have stormed into our daily lives during that time. VR? Didn’t exist. The iPhone? Barely existed. The Internet of things? Nope.

And think about all the startups that have popped up during that time. It seems like every week a real-life version of the Pied Piper was popping up somewhere in Silicon Valley as baby-faced developers pounded away at their keyboards.

As an ode to the men and women whose creativity and drive built some of the more well-known names in tech, we’ve compiled a list of five of the best businesses borne out of the past 10 years.

#1 – Betterment

CEO Jon Stein started Betterment back in 2008 because he ran into a problem. As a financial advisor, he was great at telling other people what to do with his money, but when it came to his own finances, he nor his colleagues had any idea what they should do with their money.

So, Stein launched Betterment, the original robo-advisor that has grown into a full-service financial institution offering investments, retirement accounts and trusts.

Betterment made this list because they are one of the vanguards of decentralization, right along with Uber and Airbnb. They took the power out of the hands of the big institutions and put it in the hands of the people at a fraction of the cost.

#2 – Uber

Another true disruptor, Uber started in 2008 and launched its first rides in San Francisco in May 2010. Since then, Uber’s services have expanded to more than 500 cities worldwide.

Some have taken to the emergence of DIY cabs with open arms – Uber fares tend to be less painful than what you’d pay for a taxi. Others, not so much – cab unions across the world have put up protests at the first whiff of their city’s Uberization.

Either way, the cab service has now become a household name. Uber has also branched out into a number of ventures, including package delivery, meal delivery and carpool services.

#3 – Fitbit

Another San Francisco company, Fitbit grabbed the Internet of things and sent it for a run around the block.

The wearable fitness device, while it has competition, has become the standard name and product in the Internet of things’ fitness niche.

The company has launched several lines of fitness trackers – the Force was an early favorite, along with the Flex and the sleek Alta.

While heart rate monitors and tracking devices existed as Fitbit grew, the company’s combination of slick-looking wearables and a user-friendly app helped it sprint past the competition.

#4 – Tile

Tile is a great example of a company that took funding and used it well.

The small Bluetooth square can be attached to just about anything. When that “anything” is lost, you activate your Tile and it emits a beeping melody that helps you locate it.

Tile’s owners relied heavily on crowdfunding to start the project back in 2013. Another competitor, Trackr, popped up around that time. However, it was Tile’s reliable performance that led the company to take charge of its niche.

The company sold 2 million Tiles between 2014 and 2015, an impressive feat for a tech startup. The company is already in its second generation of devices.

#5 – WhatsApp/Instagram

Thankfully, the days of SMS texting are pretty much behind us and messenger apps rule the day.

Among the world’s most popular is WhatsApp, a company started in 2009 and acquired by Facebook in 2014 for nearly $20 billion.

Instagram revolutionized photo sharing, gaining 300 million users within four years of launching. Like WhatsApp, Instagram was bought by Facebook, but at a fraction of the price: $1 billion.

We’re Not a Startup, But We Are a Leader

Office Planning Group has been in business since 1969, a time when most of the employees at the companies we mentioned above weren’t even born.

We’re okay with that because we’ve used those nearly 50 years to build a reputation as a reliable office planning company. We built that reputation by listening, planning alongside our clients and handling all phases of our projects.

If you want to learn more about what we do, head to our About Us page.

 

A Look at Some of Our Recent Office Planning Projects

Every year we continue business in Louisiana is another opportunity to help local companies find office solutions that fit their team’s workflow and bottom line.

As a result, we have a diverse project gallery we’re proud of and want to highlight some of our recent projects.

Bruno and Tervalon

Bruno & Tervalon LLP is a CPA firm based in New Orleans and is the largest minority-owned firm in the state. They’ve been in business for nearly four decades, making them a trusted name in the city.

They came to us wanting to update their headquarters by transforming their open workspace into a mixture of private offices and collaborative work areas.

We took some time to come up with a custom design that considered their desire to create private workspaces while maintaining collaborative common areas.

The result is an office that’s a great example of how a company can create a hybrid workspace with elements of traditional design and open concepts.

AMTRAK

The rail system has always been an important part of our state’s commerce and transportation and that’s why we were proud to work with Amtrak to update their offices.

They came to us with a problem that many big companies face. Their technology was up-to-date, but their office design lagged behind.

Cramped cubicles and drab colors gave off an outdated impression and they wanted to change that. Amtrak wanted new and fresh, not old and worn.

We went in and overhauled their cubicles, management offices and common areas. We chose darker wood tones and black chairs for offices and meeting rooms and light, airy colors for open-area workspaces.

Through our creative use of modular furniture and systems cubicles, we were able to provide Amtrak the modern and efficient workspace they wanted.

 LSU Healthcare Network

Louisiana State University’s healthcare system was looking for a way to add more cabinet space to one of their eye care clinics.

Because they were working with a limited budget, they couldn’t go through with plans to have built-in cabinetry solutions.

Knowing how important it was for them to update their office with additional storage, we proposed a plan that scrapped the built-in option and added more storage space by implementing systems furniture of varying heights.

However, finding a budget-appropriate solution was just part of what would make this job successful.

Because the office was a hub for necessary eye care and medical procedures, it was important to management that there wasn’t any down time or temporary workspaces that made patient care and processing more difficult.

Thankfully, we were able to provide them a comprehensive plan that included a weekend install that didn’t interfere with normal operations.

The dominant color? LSU’s famous purple.

Loyola University School of Music

Another installation we’re proud of took place at Loyola University’s School of Music, home of musician and actor Harry Connick, Jr.

The music department was building a new classroom and had some unique requirements. Each workspace needed to be ultra-functional, a space for a sound board, monitor and other sound equipment.

At the same time, the workspaces needed to be in line with modern music classroom design.

We came up with a solution that provided plenty of functional desktop space and enough room for two chairs.

We Work With You From Beginning to End

We’re proud of the projects we’ve mentioned in this post because they reflect our dedication to work with our clients from beginning to end to come up with a solution that meets their functional needs and their budget.

Our workflow starts with a consultation that includes a free space planning session. During these interactions, we lay the groundwork for a smooth installation process.

From there, we move to a more detailed analysis of how our initial planning sessions meet your needs and what should be modified to create a workspace you’ll love.

With plans finalized and decisions made, we move into the project management phase by working with you to get the best prices on furniture and cubicles, as well as finding reliable vendors who help us get the job done on-time.

If you want to learn more about who we are, head to our About Us page to learn about our team. Our president, Jerry Maxwell, has led our company since 1995 and VP Peggy Maxwell has been with us since 1979.

CEOs Are Reading These Books & So Should You

You can learn a lot about a leader by the books they read.

Many of the country’s top CEOs are voracious readers and occasionally they reveal their favorite reads. The beauty of this type of learning is that there is no secret – you or I can pick up the same books they read.

In this post, we’ll talk about four different books recommended by a well-known business leader or CEO.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business” by Clayton M. Christensen

Whenever a company finds success, it can be hard to switch things up, especially if you’re doing everything right. But, there comes a point where profit, Harvard’s Christensen says, can choke out the innovative sparks that lead to the long-term success you want.

“The best professional managers — doing all the right things and following all the best advice — lead their companies all the way to the top of their markets in that pursuit… only to fall straight off the edge of a cliff after getting there,” the Harvard Business Review wrote.

Steve Jobs loved Christensen’s book. The HBR says some of that adoration stems from the fact that when Jobs was removed as the CEO of Apple, his replacement, John Sculley, focused more on profit than on passion.

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. The products, not the profits, were the motivation,” Jobs was quoted as saying in the HBR article. “Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything.”

 “Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales From the World of Wall Street” by John Brooks

Two legendary business leaders say this book is a powerful tome: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. In fact, according to Inc., it was Buffet who recommended the book to Gates.

“Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates read Business Adventures at Buffett’s recommendation and says the 1969 collection of Wall Street tales remains his favorite business book to date,” John Rampton wrote.

But be forewarned, Gates said in a 2016 CNBC article, this book isn’t a bite-sized compilation of bullet points meant to vault your company into massive success.

Quite the opposite, actually. Brooks, a former reporter at The New Yorker, digs into his stories and generates compelling narratives meant to instruct through example.

“Unlike a lot of today’s business writers, Brooks didn’t boil his work down into pat how-to lessons or simplistic explanations for success,” Gates told CNBC. “You won’t find any listicles in his work. Brooks wrote long articles that frame an issue, explore it in depth, introduce a few compelling characters, and show how things went for them.”

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande

This book is a favorite of Jack Dorsey, the man behind Twitter and Square.

According to Business Insider, Dorsey quotes the book often and, at the time, included it in a welcome kit for all new hires at Square.

One of his favorites? A Gawande quote about venture capitalists choosing the right startups, BI says:

“One needs a person who can take an idea from proposal to reality, work the long hours, build a team, handle the pressures and setbacks, manage technical and people problems alike, and stick with the effort for years on end without getting distracted or going insane. Such people are rare and extremely hard to spot.”

Gawande, a surgeon, wrote the book because, as Inc. points out, he believes “clearly written guides and checklists are required for completing complex tasks to the best of your ability.”

Feel like you need a solid system to help you get through the day? “The Checklist Manifesto” could be exactly what you need.

Wrapping It Up: A Few Final Thoughts

Reading these books won’t guarantee your business or professional life will magically elevate itself.

While each individual book may provide you practical ways to manage one part of your life, making reading a consistent practice in your life is what will, most likely, create the change you seek.

If you’d like a longer list of CEO’s favorite books, look at this Inc. article called “25 Books Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Other Top CEOs Recommend.”

Are Professional Groups on Their Way Out? Three Reasons Why They’re Still Worth It

Will 2017 be the year of professional groups? If you’re a Millennial, probably not; too old school.

The generation that makes up 24% of the American population has made a decisive move away from traditional professional organizations. Where are they going? To newer websites like FounderSociety, YEC and Levo; all online communities that focus their curation and capital on Millennials.

John Rampton, a businessman and contributor to Entrepreneur, was well aware of the distaste for traditional professional groups two years ago.

“The value millennials put on social capital is fueling the reemergence of younger professional organizations that bring quality to a space diluted by Facebook posts and constant, but distant, connections,” Rampton wrote.

Despite this mass migration away from suited-up conferences, many professionals young and old still swear by the manifold benefits of a good old-fashioned professional association. We’ve put together their top three reasons why these groups remain relevant.

Job Prospects

Finding the right job, as the old saying goes, is more about who you know than what you know. We’ll admit the adage isn’t applicable to remote workers who use freelance sites to win work, but when it comes to the suit-and-tie workplace, it still holds true.

Joining a professional organization, Rampton pointed out, is like signing up for the most effective job alert you can find.

“Your freshly-formed network can connect you with individuals and companies searching for someone with your specific talents or, if you’re hiring, introductions to top candidates when they begin looking for open positions,” Rampton wrote.

Levo, one of the most popular new-era professional groups, points out the websites run by professional organizations often have powerful job-search tools members can use to pinpoint the perfect job.

“Many professional organizations have websites which members can customize with their resume, career interests and location preferences. The site targets certain job openings based on the profile and sends them to members,” Levo’s Madeline Stilly wrote in 2012.

Mentoring

Most experts agree that one of the most valuable facets of a professional organization is the chance to learn from fellow professionals who have plenty of experience to share.

The real power behind these mentor relationships lies in the vast database of members most legitimate organizations have. Because groups tend to have national and even international members, there are thousands of people who are able to connect with you.

While Millennials may not buy into professional organizations, they do understand the value of mentorship.

“Mentors are a crucial aspect to career success, and these national communities build databases and communication tools for early careerists to find an experienced mentor in their area,” Stilley wrote. “Members are able to connect with others who are serious about the profession and want to build a network.”

Learning

The leading associations in your field have a tremendous amount of financial and professional resources, and, as such, they can provide access to information non-members wouldn’t be able to get without paying a considerable amount.

Kelly A. Cherwin, director of editorial strategy for HigherEdJobs, provided a taste of which educational materials are available to members of professional associations.

“Most associations provide an enormous amount of access to resource information such as: case studies, articles, white papers and books written by experts in your field or area of interest,” Cherwin wrote. “Also, major journal, magazine and newsletter access is provided as a part of your membership privileges.”

Along with this onslaught of digital information are in-real-life conferences where thought leaders delve into the industry’s most relevant and current nuances.

“Millennials who join a professional organization gain access to educational resources like industry research, newsletters, seminars, courses and events where leading industry thought-leaders share insight into the latest trends, innovations, technology and best practices,” Rampton wrote. “Members further their careers by staying ahead of their competitors.”

The Verdict: Professional Organizations Are Worth Every Penny

The benefits of professional organizations are undisputed, but they often fall flat when professionals see the cost of joining. Many of the premier professional associations charge members hundreds of dollars per year. The American Institute of CPAs, for example, starts their regular yearly membership dues at $255.

Is it worth the cost for cash-strapped Millennials or industry vets? We think the answer is clear. Yes, the education, networking and job opportunities professional organizations offer are well worth the dues you pay to stay in the group.

Organization Apps

apps_labeled for usageIt’s February and that resolution you made about enjoying an organized 2017 is a literal mess.

Your office is spotted with scraps of paper and a mound of to-be-completed invoices. The floor is pockmarked with coffee spills and a random napkin or two. This past week you were late to a couple of meetings because you got lost in other tasks.

You may have given up on yourself already, but we haven’t.

You’ve still got 11 months left to nail your New Year’s resolution and we’ve found four apps that will help you get it done.

Dropbox (Browser and app)

If you haven’t started using this beauty of a cloud storage solution, drop what you’re doing and sign up for Dropbox right now.

There are those who will scoff at DB and hail the virtues of Google Drive. We have no complaints there, but we will say this:  Dropbox gets the upper hand because you don’t have to be logged into your Google account to access your files.

If you’ve ever had to deal with Google’s crazy log-in/log-out process to get from one account’s Drive to another, then you know what we’re talking about.

Dropbox gives you drag-and-drop capabilities and allows you to share documents and folders with just one click. This solution may not worked in a highly-regulated office environment, but it’s a godsend for startups or freelancers.

Basecamp (Browser and app) 

There are plenty of great team-management tools out there – Asana and Basecamp are at the top of the list in terms of function and fanfare.

We give Basecamp the edge because its browser interface is easier to navigate. New tasks can be created instantly and are fully customizable, thanks to Basecamp’s stripped down functionality.

Team members are added with ease and project updates can be sent out as soon as they happen, every couple of hours, every day and more.

If you’re running a team of developers or writers, Basecamp provides that simple solution you’ve been wanting. Asana has an aesthetic edge, but we believe Basecamp’s functionality makes it the best way to manage a team, set tasks and create deadlines.

24me (App only)

If you’re looking for a magic wand to organize your non-work life, 24me is about as close as you’re going to get.

The app combines task management and calendar functions to give you an all-in-one virtual personal assistant whose functionality is just as elegant as its UX.

“Receive billing, event, and birthday reminders, or have the app pay your bills and send gifts to friends. The app even lets you know what time you should leave for your meeting based on current traffic,” PopSugar wrote in a January 2017 article.

Sound like the perfect match? We agree.

LastPass (Browser and app)

Do you ever get that frantic feeling when you’re in desperate need of a certain app, but you can’t remember your password and it’s making a searing ball of stress rise up in  your chest?

LastPass is your solution for that tense personal moment. The app stores passwords for every single app on your phone. And it gets better: LastPass works on your browser, too.

In the realm of free password storage, this app reigns supreme. PC Mag gave LastPass a 5 out of 5 and nearly 100,000 in the Google Play store give it 4.5 stars.

This past November the app’s developers released an update that made the LastPass experience an even better one.

“The breadth of features in this free password manager is amazing,” PC Mag’s Neil J. Rubenking wrote. “LastPass 4.0 remains an Editor’s Choice for free password managers.”

clean office LFRA Few Other Tips

Can we talk about your cubicle for a minute? It’s one of the only things in your office that an app can’t fix.

So, let’s start with your work desk. Take five minutes at the end of the day to tidy things up. Trust us; a little housecleaning at 5 p.m. is worth the slight delay getting home.

On Fridays, devote 10 minutes to your cleaning routine. Do the usual tidying up for five minutes, and then crack open a tube of Clorox disinfectant wipes. Give your desktop, keyboard and computer screen a quick scrub. Dump out your trash and perform a final inspection before charging off into the weekend.

As for your home life, consider taking the first 10 minutes of the day to meditate on what you’d like to see happen at home and at work. Doing this mental checklist before the craziness begins will work wonders on your ability to stay focused and, more importantly, stay organized.

Office Chairs: A Two-Part Series on What Makes Them Tick

office chair 3Office chairs are a curious thing, aren’t they?

We rely on them every day, but you rarely think about how they’re constructed until something goes wrong.

That annoying pneumatic lift breaks and you sit about a foot lower than you should. Or maybe there’s an endless string of squeaks and creaks every time you lean back or move from side to side. The old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” is definitely appropriate here.

Serving as an office chair in the workplace is a thankless job, and perhaps it’s in the name of these faithful pieces of furniture that we decided to learn more about how they’re built, how they work and which ones are best suited for your specific work situation.

The Pneumatic Lift: How It Keeps You Propped Up From 8-5

You can thank compressed air for the way your chair rises and falls when you reach down and adjust your seat height.

Just like drills and nail guns hooked up to an air compressor, your chair relies on highly pressurized air to alter the height of your seat.

The cylinder that connects your chair’s star-shaped wheel structure and the bottom of your seat is where most of the compressed-air magic takes place.

That cylinder is filled with the compressed air, and the lever you use to raise and lower yourself activates a piston that moves up and down in the cylinder. When you want to move your seat up and you push the lever a few times, you increase the pressure in the chamber. As that pressure increases, it forces your seat upward.

If you’re up a little too high and you want to low the chair, you move the lever in the opposite direction. In this situation, you’re easing off the piston in the cylinder, which means the air inside is less pressurized and the seat falls. Simple stuff, right?

How an Office Chair Supports Your Back

We’ve all felt the ache of sitting in our office chair after a long, 10-12-hour day at work. When you stand up, there’s that familiar tight feeling near the base of your spine and it takes about 20 or 30 seconds of walking for things to warm up and loosen.

Spine-Health.com says if your goal is to keep your back comfortable, your office chair should have two important features: lumbar support and a solid backrest.

Lumbar Support

Don’t get your backrest and lumbar support confused. The backrest is the main structure you lean back on when you sit, and the lumbar support is that bump at the bottom of the backrest that supports the base of your spine when you sit down.

“An ergonomic chair should have a lumbar adjustment (both height and depth) so each user can get the proper fit to support the inward curve of the lower back,” chiropractor Rodney K. Lefler wrote for Spine Health.

If you don’t find a chair with good lumbar support, your tendency to slouch in your chair will put stress on your lower spine and flatten out structures in your back that should be curved.

Back Rest

There are two important factors here: seat width and adjustability. Your backrest should be between 12 and 19 inches in width, Spine Health says. In other words, the seat’s backrest should span the width of your back so it can provide a full support profile.

Second, the chair needs to have a way for you to adjust the angle and height of the backrest. Having this ability means you can customize your back rest to the unique angles and structures of your back. This is usually a feature you’ll find in chairs that have a separate seat and back rest.

If the seat and backrest are connected, Spine Health says, “the backrest should be adjustable in forward and back angles, with a locking mechanism to secure it from going too far backward once the user has determined the appropriate angle.”

 

Looking Ahead: How to Decipher Office Chair Levers and Ratings

 

While most of us have a pretty good sense of what our office chair needs in the way of back support, all those little levers as well as ratings given by office-supply stores can be confusing.

 

In our second post of this series, we’ve examined some of the popular levers and what they do, as well as unpacked chair ratings and what they mean for your particular situation.

 

Creating a Better Professional You, Part 2

A more productive you tends to be a more successful you, especially in the workplace.

Bosses notice when employees are high achievers, which leads many of us to try and push hard, at least for a season, in order to catch a manager’s eye and  parlay our productivity into a raise.

employee 1

How do you negotiate on your behalf when you step into your manager’s office for the big ask? It’s a tough question to answer because nearly every workplace is different. Despite these differences, though, there are some general principles you can adopt to give yourself the best chance of getting the raise you’ve wanted.

We’re going to give you four tips: two things you should always do and two things you should never do.

 

#1: ALWAYS Determine How Much You’re Worth

While quick thinking and rehearsed monologues may help you close a raise, they’ll be meaningless if you haven’t done anything over the course of the year worthy of a raise. Our guess is you’ve put in the effort, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

So, how do you go about determining how much you’re worth to your company? Give equal weight to your achievements and the national average for your position, says Shannon Gausepohl, a contributor for Business News Daily.

“Take stock of what you’ve done,” Shannon wrote, “and research how much people in the same field are making before you present the numbers to your boss during your conversation.”

 

#2 NEVER Threaten to Go Elsewhere

Sure, this works in the movies all the time. A hard-worker grinds away and saves the company money while the boss seems totally unaware of her achievements. When it comes time to ask for a raise, the boss is dismissive. The employee threatens to leave to a competitor and then, magically, she has the boss’ attention.

Unfortunately, Harvard Business Review said in a 2015 article, that’s not how things work in real life. If you threaten your boss, he or she will go on the defensive, which, as you’ve probably guessed, isn’t the best way to get them to pay you more.

Think about what will happen if your threat doesn’t work.

“At best, you’ll turn the conversation adversarial; at worse, you’ll paint yourself into a corner if you don’t get the raise,” HBR’s Carolyn O’Hara wrote.

 

boss notes

 #3 ALWAYS Plan Your Request According to Your Boss’ Personality Type

Bosses – and everyone, for the most part — usually fall into two personality types: direct and not direct. You should plan your raise request based on which one best describes your boss.

If she’s a direct person who doesn’t tip-toe through small talk, then don’t waste time with small talk. Send her an email or call her and tell her you want to meet to discuss increasing your salary based on the work you’ve done since your last raise.

If they’re more of an indirect person, it may be best to bring it up during a regular, scheduled event.

“Others might prefer a more nuanced approach,” Fast Company’s Molly Triffin wrote in 2014, “where you broach the salary question in the context of another conversation, like a weekly status meeting.”

 

#4 NEVER Disparage Coworkers or Compare Yourself to Them 

If you were a boss and an employee came in and spent 10 minutes talking about how much better they were than the person on the other side of the cubicle wall, what would you think?

We’re guessing “arrogant” and “jealous” come to mind, two qualities that definitely hurt your chances of getting a raise.

“Avoid comparing yourself to colleagues or complaining that you make less; stay positive and focus instead on how much you contribute,” O’Hara wrote.

The whole concept of asking for a raise is about you touting your own worthiness, not discrediting or disparaging your colleagues.

 

A Few Other Tips…

Aside from what we’ve mentioned above, remember that you should prepare for your ask. Don’t walk in and go with your heart – that’s when things go wrong. Know what you’re going to say and be nimble if your boss tries to knock you off-balance.

Also, be prepared for a “No,” O’Hara wrote. While not getting a raise won’t necessarily help your monthly budget, it can be an opportunity to learn what you can do over the next 365 days to increase your chances of getting a “Yes.”

The new year presents an opportunity for you to tally up new experiences at work. If you plan on asking for a raise, use the principles we talked about here and do additional research on what works and what doesn’t work. If this is your first time asking for a raise at your current job, be confident and calm.

 

In the meantime, come back to our blog for more tips on how to have a more productive 2017!