Need to organize your paper documents, give Shoeboxed a try.

Italy vacation 2014

After a long time since our last long vacation, we finally found some time to get a three week vacation to Italy. Thuc put together an amazing literary to visit many places throughout Italy.

Note: I’m not done adding commentary to the images below.

Layover in Amsterdam and Rome. We took a half day layover in Amsterdam to visit the city and get a preview. I love the people, orderliness, and politeness of the people. Definitely will have to come back again soon. In our last vacation, we took a 6 hour layover in Rome and got a chance to whiz through the city. This time, we took more time to visit the landmarks.

Photo Jun 17, 9 07 02 PM

Positano in the Amalfi Coast. After a few days in Rome, we took the train to Salerno and then a ferry to Positano. I’ve always wanted to visit one of those cities hugging the mountain next to the sea. Our bed and breakfast was situated at the highest point in the city. After a very expensive cab ride up, we finally figured out how to use the local bus. The first night, we walked down 1700 steps down to town for dinner. When I got up to pay, my legs gave out and I hobbled back to the bus stop.

Photo Jun 17, 9 08 41 PM

Capri From Positano, we took another ferry to visit the Island of Capri. It’s another beautiful place with very high end shopping. Photo Jun 17, 9 10 44 PM

Florence We took the ferry back to Salerno and then a train to Florence. We weren’t big fans of the city but I loved the statue of David. It’s incredible to see in person.

Photo Jun 17, 9 12 54 PM

Tuscany After a frustrating lesson that you can’t hail a cab in Florence, we finally made it to the car rental shop and got a Fiat to drive to Tuscany. It’s been 15 years since I drove a manual and was a fun adventure to drive out of Florence and then into the countryside. Photo Jun 17, 9 14 41 PM

Pisa We stopped for a bit just to take a snapshot of the leaning tower of Pisa. It was definitely a sight to see but we wished we had more time to visit the rest of the city.

Photo Jun 17, 9 17 23 PM

Cinque Terre We made it to Cinque Terre by train. We stayed in the middle of the five towns. Photo Jun 17, 9 18 38 PM

Milan On the way to Venice, we took another stop in Milan to visit the city. It was definitely the most modern of all the places we visited in Italy. Photo Jun 17, 9 19 53 PM

Venice Our last destination was Venice, my favorite of all the cities.

Photo Jun 17, 9 22 35 PM

Back to Rome We took a long train ride back to Rome and spend a few days before we flew out. Photo Jun 17, 9 25 19 PM

What Point B’s transition to employee ownership means to me

My company recently transitioned to a 100% employee owned firm. The three founders transitioned their ownership to the employees. To learn more on what the transaction means, watch this brief video below.

I wanted to take a moment and write a short post on what this means to me and go a little deeper than the promotional video above. Point B is 5th firm I’ve worked. I’ve had a chance to work for small companies and large companies. I’ve worked with different titles, organizational models, bosses, partners, and so on. I’m healthy skeptic and always want to know “what does that really mean?”

Passion for life

What attracts me to Point B, particularly now that we all literally own the company, is the passion that the owners have for the clients, company, and life. Earlier in my career, I thought that you had to put your head down and just work work work your way to mastery. As I mature in life, I realize that experiences makes for a better consultant. If there’s one thing that gets all Point B owners jazzed up, it’s travel. We are all lovers of life. That just sounds silly but the people here love living life. That passion comes across in the work that they do and in the ideas that they have. I’m finishing up this post as I’m about to head off to a three week trip to Italy. All the way up to the moment I’m about to pack my backs and to the moment I’m going to get back to work, my peers have my back. Many have provided great insights to my trip itinerary while others are rooting me on. It’s not just encouraged, but expected.

Ownership mentality

Even before the ownership transition, Point B’ers always had an ownership mentality. From day one, the expense policy was use your professional judgment. That was a weird experience. I didn’t need a 20 page policy on what I can and can’t expense? When you treat everyone like professionals, they act like professionals. They don’t “max out” their benefits, they are stewards of the firm’s resources. It was a very tough mindset shift to go from doing what others tell you to do to doing what feels right. It takes a lot of heart to work in an environment like that.

Legacy

In the video, I shared the importance of leaving a legacy behind. For me personally, a paycheck isn’t enough. There will never be enough raises and bonuses will never be enough. At the end of the day, it’s a feeling that the work you do is impactful and makes a difference is what matters to me. Beyond that, I want to create something that future generations can benefit from and create opportunities for others to seize. Looking back at early in my career, there were a handful that took the moment out to create opportunities, mentor, coach, and accelerated my career. At Point B, I’m surrounded by many of those people and now look forward to grabbing the torch and carrying that on.

Selfie

Got a chance to grab a selfie with one of the founders, Darran Littlefield on a visit to Olympia, WA.

Daniel and Darran

Using Shoeboxed to organize for tax time

The April 15th deadline is fast coming up and I still have yet to sit down and file my taxes. Fortunately my receipts are scanned, tagged, and archived with Shoeboxed. Throughout the year, I’m stuffing my magic blue envelopes with my receipts to be scanned. Periodically, I check in to make sure they’re tagged for things like charity deduction. I’m always feeling confident that my records are well maintained in the event of an audit. If you already feel like you’ve missed the chance to be organize for this filing season, now is a perfect time to get your house in order for the next filing season.

Aside from all the productivity gains and organization, the biggest benefit of using Shoeboxed is the peace of mind. I keep a stack of blue envelopes near my inbox. As things come in, I add them to an envelope. When it feels like it’s getting full, I’ll slap it shut and mail it off. A few days later, they’re digitized and part of my electronic records, safely kept in the cloud.

A few learnings:

  1. Be consistent and develop a routine. That ensures that you are getting all your documentation in.
  2. Be diligent with keeping your receipts and get them in your envelopes before they get lost.
  3. Receipts wear out quickly, especially in your wallet. Get them sent in sooner than later before the ink fades.

In a recent tweet, I shared a picture of myself stuffing envelopes. I was doing my weekly ritual of sitting down and organizing my documents when I realized that I was wearing my Shoeboxed shirt while stuffing my envelopes.

A few other questions I’m getting recently:

Can I get the originals back?

Yes, you can opt in to have your originals shredded and recycled. I do that because it’s one less thing for me to maintain. By default, your documents will be sent back to you.

Doesn’t it take too long to get the documents scanned?

If I need something immediately, I’ll scan it myself, snap a shot of it with my camera (which can also upload directly using the mobile app). But for the most part, these are documents that I just need organized and safely put away.

Five services I use to automate life

My life of services I use continue to evolve. Below are five that are currently on my list, with the top three being on my list the longest. I’m extra excited for four and five as recent additions.

  1. Shoeboxed - I’ve written about Shoeboxed many times and it continues to be one of my core services. All my paper documents get shipped off to be imaged and stored on Evernote for future retrieval. This service alone saves me many hours of scanning, archiving, and retrieving paper documentation.
  2. Evernote - This is my digital brain. I store everything on Evernote both current and past information for retrieval. The imaging capabilities and OCR allows me to search for files, documents, and notes.
  3. Dropbox - Cloud storage is a tough space to be in. I have accounts with Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, iCloud, and DropBox. Among all of these services, Dropbox continues to be my go to service because it integrates so well with many different apps. It acts as the link between my different machines, enabling me to keep a single copy across multiple devices.
  4. Fancy Hands – I’ve always wanted but couldn’t justify a personal assistant. Fancy Hands is the solution to that. I’m able to send my tasks to Fancy Hands from their website, app, email, or by phone. In my short time using this service, I had a birthday card sent out and researched some articles on a speaker I saw. I’m excited to use this service to scale up my calendar management and to shift many of my task items off to a more dedicated team. They can put time and attention on things that I probably would let slide or not have focus on.
  5. If This Then That – IFTTT is the mother of all integrations. I use this to link and automate my services. For example, I have a recipe setup to turn off my lights every work day at 9:00 AM just in case we forget to turn them off when we head off for work.

My five principles for work and career

As my career has progressed, I’m spending more time mentoring, coaching, and guiding others. Where I once was the naive fresh out of college grad, I’m now the experienced. These are my five key principles that have guided me in my career.

As a career consultant, I have worked for five different firms and consulted on more than 30 projects. In addition to my own experience in my own company’s career model, I’ve seen other companies during my consulting engagement. I’ve heard client employees struggle with their careers and I’ve seen successes. In nearly all my experiences, I’ve found my five principles to hold true.

I’ve never publicly shared these principles before, only some during my mentoring sessions. I will preface that these principles have worked for me in the past ten years but as we all know, the world is evolving and they may not hold true moving forward. The rate of change and the speed of competition will only increase. I would argue these five principles are going to be the baseline for the future and that to be successful in that future, you have to go above and beyond these.

1. You own your career, no one else

Everyone company has their own career model. Many will be more prescriptive and share the formula to success. These models are designed with the intention that you will work your entire life for this one company. You’ll build skills for the next job title or role and move up a pre-defined path.

That’s all fine and dandy until you decide that you don’t like the company anymore, or you want to change career paths.

What you need to do is to create your own career path, one that exists outsides of the artificial constructs created by companies. Then, manage your own career path in parallel to the company you are working for. If you have to fill out a career development plan, use your own first, then fill out the form or follow the procedure to check that box off. In all cases, your own career plan trumps all.

Your career plan should identify the skills you need and the course of action to get those skills. When possible, use your company’s existing infrastructure to get those skills, whether it be on the job training, formal classroom training, or reading. If that doesn’t exist, fund it yourself. Ask if you can take an external workshop. If your request is denied, take time off and pay for it out of your own pocket. An investment in yourself will yield the greatest return. If you can’t get specialized software (e.g., Photoshop), then buy your own copy. If you don’t have the hardware or tools you need, buy your own. Do that it takes to make sure you acquire the skills you need to go where you want.

2. Create and share your portfolio

My brother is an artist and like all artists, he has a portfolio of his work. In the business world, that’s much less common. A few years back, I decided that the best way for me to get a job was to show what I could do in the interview. Anyone can talk about what they do, I wanted to show what I have done.

Early on, my portfolio was simply a three ring binder with hard copy prints of my work. This included print outs of presentations I’ve made and delivered, copies of reports I wrote, or pictures of workshops I conducted.

As technology advanced, my portfolio now resides in a PowerPoint presentation in a DropBox folder that I can access on any device (laptop, tablet, or phone). As technology advanced and this became more common place, I migrated back to the physical portfolio. Instead, I’ve printed out artifacts of my work and laminated them. They now exist as a packet of physical handouts that people could touch and feel.

When I’m meeting someone, or interviewing with someone, I’ll keep the portfolio handy. In about 60% of my meetings, I have a reason to pull the portfolio out to show something that’s relevant. It has to be natural. It has to resonate with the person you’re talking to.

3. Be your own PR

If you’re reading this and you have your own PR resources, then you don’t need this. If you’re like 99% of us, there’s no such thing as personal PR. Instead, you have to manage this yourself. What PR does is it creates a perception and perception can be a very powerful agent.

Doing good work will only get you so far. What’s important is that good work is known, recognized, and shared with others. Sharing your work shouldn’t feel tacky. It should feel natural and wanted. But just yapping about how great you are isn’t going to cut it. Besides the obvious that your work has to have some value, talking about it only has value if someone listens and then is willing to share it with others.

You should create your own fan club. If the words coming out of your mouth is worth one point, then the words coming out of another person’s mouth is worth 10 points.

Why is it important that people know who you are and what you’re capable of doing? So that you can do more of what you love and you can contribute more of what you’re capable of doing. This is not a bad thing. Done right, it actually makes the world a better place. There’s no point of doing great research and discovering great discoveries and never sharing them with anyone.

All of this only works if you can back up what you say about yourself. If you can’t, people will be very quick to call you out and you’ll do more damage than good. If you can back up what you say about yourself, then you need to reach out to as many people as you can. Give them a reason to talk about you. They should leave feeling like they’ve met someone that can help them rather than feeling obligated that they should help you. When the first happens, you’ve just became a go-to person. You’ll be top of mind when a need comes up.

4. Connect the dots

In Steve Job’s Stanford commencement speech, he said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Spend time connecting those dots. Take time to let the people that’s helped you in your career that they’ve made a difference in your life. The more you connect those dots, the better chance you’ll have that more dots will connect later in life when you look back.

Mistakes you’ve made shouldn’t look like a tarnish on your history. You should be able to look back and see those mistakes as simply a path that got you to a better place.

If you believe that the dots will connect, then you won’t be afraid to veer off the path and take on new challenges. The unknown will be scary, but you’ll have confidence looking back that ever dot was an unknown.

5. Go where the ball is going to be, not where it is now

The best way to win in competition is to go where the competition isn’t. If you spend your life chasing the ball, that’s what you’ll be doing, chasing the ball. What you want to do is go where the ball will be.

When the industry is jumping on board the latest fad, you should be already out there looking for the next thing. If you’re chasing the latest trends, you’ll be in with the hoard of competition. Instead, be the person that’s out there by your lonesome. Take the trend to all digital. Everyone is going mobile, everyone is going digital. Now would be the best time to start practicing your penmanship and start writing letters, supporting our good old USPS. In a world where everyone sends electronic messages, the one person that sends in a hardcopy letter stands out.

Anytime you see an industry go all in on something is a great time to go the opposite direction. It’s an opportunity to be different.

Closing Thoughts

These principles have worked well for me the last ten years. Take that with a grain of salt. I’m already gearing up for the next ten years and I anticipate retooling myself to change with the times. Let me know what you think. What has worked well for you.

First impressions of the Surface Pro 2 as an alternative to laptop and tablet

When Microsoft first announced the Surface, it caught my attention. Here is an opportunity for a new approach to tablet computing. Unfortunately, after a week with the Surface RT, I returned it. I knew that it wasn’t going to be popular and really quickly there will be many for sale on Craigslist. Microsoft later reduced the price.

A year later, I’m here, typing away on this blog post on my Surface Pro 2. What changed my mind was that the Surface Pro 2 was a multi-purpose utility tool. As a laptop, it reminds me of my x-series ThinkPad, small, light, and compact. As a tablet, it acts more like a Wacom Cintiq than a real light tablet like the new iPad Air. When I’m at my workstation (the kitchen table), I’m barely tapping into the full capability of the machine. My 27″ monitor caps out at 1080 resolution. Surface Pro 2 can go 4K. With a bluetooth mouse and keyboard, it’s a real workstation.

The ability to use the pressure sensitive pen is a selling point for me. I’m an aspiring designer but not yet at the Wacom Cintiq level. But with the penning option, I’m able to sketch out ideas previously done on paper while I’m mobile.

I’m only a week into using the Surface Pro 2. These are my initial takes as I experiment with using this device exclusively. Below is a capture of my workspace. The Surface Pro 2 is connected to a low cost 27″ ViewSonic. With bluetooth, I also have a Logitech keyboard and mouse. On the left is my handy Jabra speakerphone for making calls.

Photo Nov 09, 11 38 22 AM

Display – The Surface Pro 2 comes with a 10.6″ display supporting 1080. With the docking station, it can connect up to two 4K monitors. I need to test this out and will accept any donations for 4K displays. On a day to day basis, the screen is a little small compared to 13-15″ laptops. In desktop mode, it’s really small.

Touch Cover Keyboard – I’ve been really stubborn and refuse to use the Type Cover keyboard. I believe with enough practice, I can get pretty close to typing on a regular keyboard. In fact, this entire post has been written on a touch cover keyboard. My belief is that we should start practicing to type on touch screens as the future is in adaptable input screens (like Star Trek). Edit: I ordered a type cover for day-to-day work while I practice on the touch cover. My typing speed is limited to about 30WPM on the touch cover and I need to be up to 60 to stay productive.

Windows App Store – This is not a review of the app store. Most reviews are hung up on the limitations of the app store and quality of modern apps. I am a believer that modern apps are the future. Unfortunately, people are slow to adopt Microsoft’s vision and the selection, but most importantly the quality is a little subpar at the moment. The reason I chose the Surface Pro 2 is that I can live in this duel world of legacy and modern until that transition is compete. I do find myself preferring modern apps to the desktop apps.

Pros:

  • This is a powerful machine. I was able to load up Steam and play Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat with full graphics. Again, this is an all out workstation crammed into a tablet form factor.
  • Multi-purpose. As a single device to replace a laptop and tablet, it’s ultra portable and light.
  • With my upper end configuration, I have plenty of memory and storage space.
  • While the keyboard covers are expensive and don’t come with the device, they can easily be swapped out enabling future upgrades.
  • Power adapter is a little big (it’s a laptop) but comes with a really unique design with a USB port for charging other devices.

Cons:

  • No cellular options like LTE. This device is WiFi only.
  • As a tablet, it’s pretty heavy and the 16:9 aspect ratio is awkward in portrait mode.
  • The screen size is really small for day to day computing. Better make sure you have external monitors handy.
  • Magnetic power plug is hard to plug in. You have to align it just right for the magnets to engage.
  • Only one USB port is limiting but you really should stop plugging things in and start using bluetooth.
  • Cameras were not updated to 1080 in this rev. Surface Pro 3?

Bottom Line:

Surface Pro 2 fixed the biggest complaint from the first one which is battery life. It’s effectively an all day device. It could replace your laptop and tablet, but really make sure your workstyle and workflow will  accommodate this. I jumped into rev 2 because I’m an early adopter. For everyone else, I recommend waiting for Surface Pro 3. Remember that iPad 1 and 2 didn’t really change much until the new Ipad introduced a high resolution display. Always wait for the 3rd gen device to jump in, unless you have deep pockets or want to be at the front of the wave.

In a couple weeks, I’ll do a follow up review on my longer term usage.

Traveling with the Yellow Book

I used to be a government auditor. The audit bible was the Government Accountability Office (GAO) book on Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS). It was also known as the Yellow Book for its yellow jacket.

Shortly after working at the California State Auditor’s office, I got married and went on my honeymoon in Jamaica. I brought the Yellow Book along as reading material. I love to geek out on technical material.

It became a running joke with my audit friends. Little do they know I actually read up on the standards when I take it along. However, I do so much less now that I’m not an auditor anymore.

En route to Sayulita Mexico via Phoenix. So exited I couldn’t contain the Yellow Book.
20131103-193307.jpg
Shrimp tacos? Sure, I’ll be over here reading up on auditor judgement.
20131103-193318.jpg
Day of the Dead? Audit standards wait for no one.
20131103-193328.jpg
Beach? We’re at a beach? I’ll be over here catching up on standards for sufficient and relevant evidence for audit findings.
20131103-193359.jpg
My Yellow Book has seen better days. I’m catching up on my 2007 edition. Time to get the latest edition (2011) leather bound for the library.
20131103-193410.jpg
Catching up on some much needed sleep. Once you start reading attestation standards, you can’t stop. Good thing the Yellow Book is good for blocking out that pesky light in the sky.
20131103-193416.jpg

How I use Shoeboxed to scan all my documents

I still remember my first flatbed scanner I got back in the 90′s. It was big, connected via parallel port (remember those?) and took a long time to heat up and a long time to scan one page. The world has changed significantly since then. OCR technology has advanced to the point where it functionally works. Search technology replaces the traditional filing system. Where I once spent hours a week scanning documents and then putting them into folders, I now outsource all that work to Shoeboxed.

Meet Shoeboxed. I think of it has the Netflix of scanning. They mail me these blue indestructible envelops and I mail in things I want scanned. It takes a little more than a week after I put the envelop in my mailbox for pick up to when I get the email notification that my documents are ready for viewing. I also use the integration to Evernote to automatically archive all my scanned documents into Evernote. In the note, I get the date of the document (pulled from the receipt transaction date), a dollar amount, and payment type.

My intake and processing workflow:

1. All documents to be scanned goes into a shelf in a small cabinet we have near the door. This is our intake area.

2. Once a week, I sit down and stuff the documents into my blue folders. I paper clip documents that belong together to improve the accuracy document groupings.

3. I place the envelops out the next morning for pickup.

4. I get the email notification from Shoeboxed that the documents have been scanned and ready to use. I check Evernote to see that the files are indeed archived in my notebooks. I have one called SB Receipts and another called SB Other Documents.

5. Once a month, I’ll go through each document in the SB notebooks, tag them, and then move them to the appropriate notebook for future reference.

My retrieval process:

Since my documents are scanned and it goes through OCR processing, I can search the contents of the documents.

  • Search by tags – I have a tag for “2013 tax” to pull up all my tax deduction documentation
  • Search in a notebook – I have a notebook for all my home maintenance documents (and manuals for appliances)
  • Search by date and tag – For medical reimbursements, I search all dates in 2013 and tagged “medical”

I previously wrote about what type of things I send into Shoeboxed to be imaged. Since that time, I’ve trusted Shoeboxed to be my official record keeper for my tax documentation (deductions) and medical reimbursements (FSA). It’s much safer than the file folder I keep in the closet.

It’s also a great way to track all my home maintenance documentation, car maintenance, pet exam records, and warranty receipts. I’ve been historically really bad at keeping receipts. Instead of a literal shoebox, I now send it into Shoeboxed.

Disclosure: I’m a Shoeboxed Ambassador because I really believe in this product. I get a discount on the service to help promote the service. I’ve been using this service for nearly two years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It’s that good. Use this link to get 20% of your service.