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Archive for the ‘Helpful Articles’ Category

tax20time20bluesTax time doesn’t have to bring on the blues. Think about all the green you could be saving, yes, saving. Follow these steps from to put more money back in your pocket.

Organize Your Records

Good organization may not cut your taxes but it can help you save money in the long-term. Keep all the information that comes in the mail in January, such as W-2s, 1099s, and mortgage interest statements.

Collect receipts and information that you have accumulated during the year.

Enter the amounts from all these documents into a computer program like Quicken or total them by hand and give the list to your tax preparer.

Make sure you know the price you paid for any stocks or funds you have sold. Know the details on income from rental properties.

You could save $300 to $400 with your tax preparer plus plenty of your time. In the event of an audit, you could save on assessments and penalties because you’ll have all your back-up on hand.

Find the Right Forms

The library won’t always have all the forms you need. Go online to view and download a large catalog of forms and publications at the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site, www.irs.gov, or call 1-800-829-3676 to have them sent to you by mail.

Need a state form or publications? Visit www.taxadmin.org/fta/link/forms.html.

Itemize

It’s easier to take the standard deduction, but you may save a bundle if you itemize, especially if you are self-employed, own a home or live in a high-tax area.

Contribute to Retirement Accounts

If you haven’t already funded your retirement account, do so by April 15. That’s the deadline for any kind of IRA, deductible or not. If you have a Keogh or SEP, though, and you get an extension, you can wait until your extension deadline to put money into those accounts.

Consider a Home-Office Deduction

In the past, many taxpayers have avoided the home-office deduction because it has been regarded as a red flag for an audit. If you legitimately qualify for the deduction, however, there should be no problem. Check with your tax advisor. You could save thousands of dollars.

Provide Dependent Taxpayer IDs on Your Return

Be sure to include the Taxpayer Identification Numbers (tax lingo for social security numbers) for your children and other dependents. Otherwise, the IRS can deny the personal exemption for each dependent and the child tax credit for each child under age 17

After you have a baby, be sure to file for a social security card right away so that you have the number at tax time.

You could save hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the number of dependents and your income.

Pay on Time

Pay on time and you can avoid interest and penalties. The IRS doesn’t really care when you file, as long as you request an extension using Form 4868.

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We don’t like to think about it, but let’s face it when it comes to security issues, we’re better off taking proactive steps to ensure we’re safe than face the consequences. While we often take a stand when we’re securing our home, we tend to be more lax when it comes to securing our workplace.

Maybe that is because we assume it is someone else’s responsibly. The fact is, security is everyone’s responsibility and the steps you take now can keep you and everyone you work with safer.

Here are some basis tips to get you started. They will not only make your workplace more secure, but help prevent theft as well.

  • Challenge visitors or individuals walking through your office. Try to determine who they are visiting by asking if they need assistance.
  • Do not let anyone into the building with your access keys or card as you enter after regular business hours.
  • If you find a building entry door propped open after normal hours, close it immediately and do a walk around the building.
  • During the winter months when it gets darker earlier in the day, consider using a “buddy” system when you leave the building at night.
  • Take your keys out of your pocket or purse before leaving the building. Ladies, don?t try to find your keys in your purse once you reach your car.
  • Keep valuables in your car hidden and doors locked.
  • Never leave your reception area unattended or entrance doors propped open.
  • Always keep valuables out of sight, including purses, cash and stamps. Lock them in a desk drawer or file cabinet if possible.
  • Place small pocket calculators or recorders in desk drawers when not in use.
  • Do not allow unknown or unexpected service or repair personnel free access to your office space.

Beware! The following are some common pretenses used by thieves to gain entrance into offices or to distract you:

A thief may engage you in conversation while mentally making a survey of your office and return later. – A thief may call and fabricate a reason for you to leave the office so that an accomplice may enter. – Be aware of solicitors. Even though some of these people are legitimate, others are only “casing” the area for a potential future burglary.

It bears repeating: Security is everyone’s responsibility. Take these proactive, preventive security measures to ensure the safety of your office and property.

As always, if you notice any suspicious activity, call 9-1-1 immediately.

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We are all so incredibly busy and it seems that when we complete one task there are always many more waiting. To follow are some easy tips that can actually give you back some of the time you crave so you can “get busy” enjoying life.

Take a break. You can’t always be working at optimum productivity. Instead, you should shoot for working in short bursts at your most productive times.

Set a timer for each of your tasks.

Eliminate all distractions. This includes the phone, email notifications, and having multiple web browsers open on the desktop. Distractions should be avoided, but sometimes a bit of music in the background can help you focus. Of course, it doesn’t need to be heavy rock music, but a bit of Beethoven may do you some good.

Love what you do. Enjoying what you do is the ultimate way to increase your productivity.

Complete your most dreaded tasks first thing in the morning. Whichever activity you are dreading the most is probably the one you need to complete first thing in the morning.

Just start. Often times, starting is the hardest part. Once you get going, you will quickly get into a rhythm that could last for hours.

Everyone has a certain time of the day in which they are more productive than others. Find out when your prime time is for productivity and optimize your work schedule accordingly.

Keep a notebook and pen on hand at all times. This way, you can write down your thoughts, to-dos, and ideas at any time. The key is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. This way, your subconscious mind won’t be reminding you about it every other second.

Write a blog to chronicle your own personal development and achievements. This keeps you accountable and always working towards self-improvement and personal growth.

Plan out all of your meals a week ahead and make your grocery list accordingly. This will also save you quite a bit of time and money.

Step away from the computer. The Internet has become one of the number one distractions. To increase your productivity, try to do as much of your work offline as possible.

Write out a to-list each day. Sometimes the night before is best so you start off with a plan when you wake up.

As you go throughout your day, repeatedly ask yourself, “Am I currently making the best possible use of my time?” This one simple question can be an excellent boost to your productivity.

Get plenty of sleep. When you work online, sleep can become a long lost memory. However, it’s important to get plenty of sleep so that your working hours can be as productive as possible.

Exercise. Research has shown that midday exercise boosts productivity and morale in the workplace. Take a short walk at lunch to maximize your productivity.

Organize your office. The piles of paper around your desk can be a huge barrier on your productivity. Optimize your time by organizing your office, setting up a system, and dumping the junk.

Outsource as much as possible. You can’t do it all and trying to perform tasks that are outside of your experience level can be time-consuming and costly if you make mistakes.

Use a Tivo or DVR to cut an hour-long television show down to just 40 minutes.

Turn off the TV. The average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Over a 65-year life, that’s 9 years glued to the tube. Turn off the TV and you are sure to get more out of life.

Listen to educational audio books while you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, or cooking dinner. Audio learning has the power to add hours to your day. Not to mention, your cranium is sure to thank you for it.

Auto-pay your bills. This will save you time and eliminate late fees and increased interest rates.

Tell other people about your goals and you will instantly be held accountable.

Learn to say “No”. We can’t do everything and therefore we must learn when to say no in order to save our sanity.

Go on an information diet. Most of the world lives on information overload. We must eliminate mindless Internet surfing. Stop reading three different newspapers a day and checking your RSS feeds multiple times a day. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done. The key is to limit yourself only to information that you can immediately take action on.

Find a mentor. By modeling after those who have already achieved success, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.

Write your most important tasks and to-dos on a calendar.

Set some exciting goals. Without worthy goals, you will never be motivated to get things done.

Learn keyboard shortcuts which can be fun and more productive.

Get up early before anyone else. Nothing beats a quiet house.

Don’t multitask. Research has shown that multitasking is not productive. For optimum productivity, focus on one thing at a time.

Reward yourself for finishing a big task.

Shop online whenever possible to avoid going to the store. This applies to both office and home products.

Batch similar tasks like blog writing, phone calls, email, and errands into a single batch. You will save time by completing similar tasks in one session.

Speed up your Internet with a broadband connection. This is the number one Internet time-saver.

Improve your typing speed to save time.

Get rid of time wasters. This includes Instant Messenger, video games, Flickr, checking your stats 10 times a day, television, and extraneous Internet surfing.

Protect yourself from unnecessary phone time with caller ID.

Many employers now offer direct deposit. If yours does, then be sure and take advantage of it and save yourself from a number of trips to the bank.

Prioritize your tasks ahead of time. By listing your tasks in order of importance, you can make sure that you finish all of your most important tasks during the day.

Avoid having to cook everyday by cooking your meals in bulk so that you will have plenty of leftovers.

Learn to speed read.

Use Windows hibernation feature to avoid the slowdown of exiting and restarting Windows.

How do you save time? We would love to hear your comments.

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To think it all started with a pen.

“When in the course of human events…we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Eventually 56 delegates, including two future Presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, would sign our Declaration of Independence. John Hancock, the most recognizable and flamboyant signature, was reported to have defiantly said, “The British ministry can read that name without spectacles, so let them double their reward!” The truth is much less dramatic. He was simply the first person to sign and there was plenty of room. The youngest signer, South Carolinian Edward Rutledge was only 27; the oldest, Benjamin Franklin, 70.

There were other, lesser-known but equally dauntless men who risked their fortunes and lives that day when they picked up the quill. Born in Northern Ireland, George Taylor emigrated to Pennsylvania in his early twenties. A working man, George had little interest in pursuing a political career after signing the Declaration, preferring his work as Ironmaster at a local furnace. Button Gwinnett was unsuccessful at both farming and business, yet this British transplant eagerly fought for American independence from his own homeland.

With the stroke of a commonplace quill pen, history was forever changed that steamy July day in Philadelphia.

For nearly a thousand years, the feather pen had been used to record the routine – daily merchant records, correspondence…and the remarkable-Shakespeare’s plays, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

While expensive quill pens were made from swan feathers, the goose feather pen was more common and likely the type used by our Founding Fathers. Interestingly, the feather from the left wing was preferred because it curved outward, away from a right-handed writer. Because of their delicate nature, the pens lasted only about a week. To sharpen it, the writer used a special knife – the pen knife.

The idea of creating a pen that contained its own ink had been sought for centuries. Although several patents were given to various types of fountain pens, it was insurance salesman, Lewis Waterman who developed the first practical pen with an internal ink chamber in 1884. He was tired of ink splotches ruining his insurance contracts. The birth of the ballpoint came in 1938 when a tiny ball bearing was fitted to the end of the pen so ink could easily roll on to the paper.

Today, we have stick pens, retractable pens, roller ball pens, gel pens, liquid ink pens, multicolored pens, refillable pens, and customizable pens, not to mention markers, highlighters, and more. Pens are so common we scarcely think about them, yet wars have been won, lost and averted with their stroke.

Next time you pick up an ordinary pen to sign your John Hancock, think about the extraordinary power it can wield.

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While backpacks are incredibly handy to help kids carry schoolbooks and supplies, they can also be harmful if improperly fitted or overloaded. With so many sizes, shapes, and styles to choose from, selecting one for your child’s frame and needs can be confusing. But considering about half the students aged 9 to 20 experience back pain from backpacks, it’s important to make sure yours makes the grade. Use the following tips as your guide.

SELECTING

  • Look for two wide, padded shoulder straps. This helps evenly distribute the weight of the backpack and increases comfort. Narrow straps can dig into the shoulders.
  • Select backpacks with a padded back. Padding in the back offers extra protection against book edges and sharp, poking objects.
  • Get a waist belt. A waist belt helps anchor the pack to avoid swaying while walking and helps distribute the backpack weight better.
  • Look for multiple compartments. This further distributes weight and makes it easier to find smaller items that might otherwise get lost in the chaos.
  • Think small and light. Find the smallest backpack to accommodate your child’s folders, books, and school supplies. The backpack should be no wider than your child’s torso and constructed from a lightweight, nylon-type material vs. leather or traditional canvas.

Although many students like the ease of wheels, some schools don’t allow them because they pose a tripping hazard. Check with your school first.

PACKING

  • Pack with care. Put your heaviest items in first, on the bottom and closest to the back. Organize smaller items in the compartments.
  • Lighten up. Packs should weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of your child’s body weight. Preferably on the lighter side. For example, if your child weighs 70 pounds, the pack should weigh between 7 to 10.5 pounds.
  • De-clutter. It’s easy to keep shoving extra papers, folders, and other items into a pack, but a few ounces here and there quickly add up to pounds. Regularly cull through the pack to eliminate old papers, unneeded school supplies, or video games. Carry only essentials and store the rest in the school locker.

WEARING

  • Adjust the straps. Position the backpack snugly, close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist and never more than four inches below. Make sure the straps allow free movement of arms.
  • Double up. Although kids may think it looks cool to casually sling one strap over their shoulder, this doesn’t evenly distribute weight and can quickly strain neck, shoulder, and back muscles.
  • Lift with caution. Your child should be able to put on and take off their backpack without difficulty. Avoid twisting the torso in the process. Bend at the knees, grab the pack with both hands and place arms through the straps.
  • Stand tall. If you see your child leaning forward or backward to carry the backpack, it’s too heavy.

With these basics in mind, your child can wear their backpack comfortably and safely all year long.

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10 WAYS TO GO GREEN AT WORK
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GREENER HOMES ARE IN THE SPOTLIGHT these days, but what about the other places where many of us spend huge chunks of our time—our offices? Some simple changes of habit can save energy and resources at work, and these small steps can be multiplied by persuading the powers-that-be at your workplace to adopt environmentally friendly (and often cost-effective) policies.

1. BE BRIGHT ABOUT LIGHT
Artificial lighting accounts for 44 percent of the electricity use in office buildings.

  • Turn off the lights when you’re leaving any room for 15 minutes or more and utilize natural light when you can.
  • Incorporate it into your office policy to buy only Energy Star-rated light bulbs and fixtures (www.energystar.gov), which use at least two-thirds less energy than regular lighting, and install timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they’re not needed.

2. MAXIMIZE COMPUTER EFFICIENCY
Computers in the business sector unnecessarily waste $1 billion worth of electricity a year.

  • Turn off your computer—and the power strip it’s plugged into—when you leave for the day. Otherwise, you’re still burning energy even if you’re not burning the midnight oil. (Check with your IT department to make sure the computer doesn’t need to be on to run backups or other maintenance). During the day, setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks can cut energy use by 70 percent. Remember, screen savers don’t save energy.
  • Invest in energy-saving computers, monitors, and printers and make sure that old equipment is properly recycled. Look for a recycler that has pledged not to export hazardous e-waste and to follow other safety guidelines. Computers that still work, and are less than five years old, can be donated to organizations that will refurbish them and find them new homes. You may even get a tax deduction (check with your accountant).

3. PRINT SMARTER
The average U.S. office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year.

  • Print on both sides or to use the back side of old documents for faxes, scrap paper, or drafts. Avoid color printing and print in draft mode whenever feasible.
  • Buy chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Also consider switching to a lighter stock of paper or alternatives made from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, or kenaf. Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy remanufactured ones.

4. GO PAPERLESS WHEN POSSIBLE

  • Think before you print: could this be read or stored online instead? Request to be removed from mailing lists for any unwanted catalogs, newsletters, magazines, and junk mail.
  • Post employee manuals and similar materials online, rather than distribute print copies. They provide you with more flexibility as they’re easier to update too.

5. RAMP UP YOUR RECYCLING

  • Recycle everything your company collects. Just about any kind of paper you would encounter in an office, including fax paper, envelopes, and junk mail, can be recycled.
  • Make it a policy to place recycling bins in accessible, high-traffic areas and provide clear information about what can and can not be recycled.

6. CREATE A HEALTHY OFFICE ENVIRONMENT

  • Use nontoxic cleaning products. Brighten up your cubicle with plants, which absorb indoor pollution.
  • Make it a policy to buy furniture, carpeting, and paint that are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and won’t off-gas toxic chemicals.

7. WATCH WHAT (AND HOW) YOU EAT

  • Bring your own mug and dishware for those meals you eat at the office.
  • Provide reusable dishes, silverware, and glasses. Switch to organic coffee and tea, and buy as much organic and local food as possible for parties and other events. Provide filtered drinking water to reduce bottled-water waste – also keeps your office neat.

8. RETHINK YOUR TRAVEL

  • Take the train, bus, or subway when feasible instead of a rental car when traveling on business. If you have to rent a car, some rental agencies now offer hybrids and other high-mileage vehicles.
  • Invest in videoconferencing and other technological solutions that can reduce the amount of employee travel.

9. RECONSIDER YOUR COMMUTE

  • Carpool, bike, or take transit to work, and/or telecommute when possible. If you need to drive occasionally, consider joining a car-sharing service. These are great alternatives to owning your own wheels.
  • Encourage telecommuting (a nice perk that’s also good for the planet!) and make it easy for employees to take alternative modes of transportation by subsidizing commuter checks, offering bike parking, or organizing a carpool board.

10. CLOSE THE LOOP

  • Purchase office supplies and furniture made from recycled materials.
  • Incorporate it into your office policy to buy only Energy Star-rated light bulbs and fixtures (www.energystar.gov), which use at least two-thirds less energy than regular lighting, and install timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they’re not needed.

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USE PERSPECTIVE TO CREATE PRESENTATIONS
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When you and your team have finished writing a top-notch presentation, you’ve got one more step to go. And that’s putting together the finished product so your information is clear, easy to access, and engaging. Just as you’ve created a presentation with your recipiEasy Bindersents in mind, you’ll want to use that same perspective when putting your work together in a presentation binder. With these tips, you’ll be able to put your presentation together so it’s an attractive masterpiece.

Training Manuals Built to Last

What’s the key to any effective training manual from the user’s point of view? Finding information quickly and easily. So when putting together a training manual, make sure it’s simple for the user to navigate. Use dividers to create different sections in your manual, so users can flip to the section they want right away. Label both the front and back of the divider tabs, so no matter which section the binder is already opened to, it’s easy for the user to turn to another section. Avery Index Maker® Clear Label Dividers with Easy Apply™ Label Strips are easy to create right from your desktop. Avery Templates and the auto-fill feature helps you create and print multiple sets of divider tab labels for both the front and back sides of the tabs.

To construct your training manual, you’ll want something sturdy that will stand up to heavy usage and be easy to navigate. The Avery Durable Binder is the perfect solution. In addition to its sturdiness, the binder features patented EZ-Turn™ Rings. The unique shape of these rings ensures that pages lie flat and turn more smoothly than they would on regular round rings, and holds more pages than the same size round rings.

Marketing Presentations that are Truly Professional

Let’s get straight to the point. When you’ve created a marketing presentation for busy people, you’ll want a binder that’s just as organized, concise, and professional as your work. Whether it’s next year’s marketing plan or a competitive analysis of the current market, your users will appreciate reviewing your information in an Avery Flexi-View Presentation Binder. These flexible binders are perfect for shorter, concise presentations. They’re durable and lightweight, making them easy to carry. Plus, they have a stylish graphic border on the cover that frames your work, giving it a polished and professional appearance. To create customized covers, turn to free Avery Templates to get started.

To keep the presentation organized, combine the Avery Flexi-View Presentation Binder with Avery Index Maker Clear Label Dividers with Easy Apply Label Strips. These unique dividers make it easy to create multiple sets quickly because you can actually apply all the tab labels to the dividers in one swoop. Not only are these labels easy to print and apply, they’ll give your dividers a custom-printed look.

Business Presentations that Make a Lasting Impression

Making a new business presentation for a potential client? Show them you’ve created a presentation with them in mind. A potential client wants to feel like the presentation was crafted and customized just for them. So add the details that make a difference. Best of all, you won’t have to go to an expensive outside print shop to get the job done. Start with an Avery Framed View Binder, and create an attractive title page that includes the client’s name and logo as well as your own. Avery Templates make it easy for you to create and personalize your title page. The front cover of the Avery Framed View Binder frames your title page, giving it a clean, polished look. To organize your work, use Avery Index Maker Clear Label Dividers with Easy Apply Label Strips. The clear labels give your dividers a print-shop quality look right from your desktop. For added impact, consider including the client’s logo on each tab divider. Avery Templates make it simple for you to do.

For another extra touch, create a specially designed business card to include with your presentation. With Avery Clean Edge® Two-Side Printable Business Cards andd free Avery Templates, you can create personalized cards in a snap. On one side of the card you can include your contact information, such as your name, company, address, e-mail address and phone number. On the other side, consider adding a customized message to help you close the deal.

The next time you’re putting a presentation together, take a moment to think about the information and final product from the user’s perspective. When you create a presentation with them in mind, your presentation can make a valuable and lasting.

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