Posts Tagged ‘getting organized’

A Faster Way To Organize Your Finances

Did you know that the average American spends more time planning for his next vacation than his retirement? Most folks are more concerned with how much they're getting back in a tax refund than the money they're losing each month on late fees and account errors (it saddens and amuses me when someone who shells out hundreds of dollars a year in completely preventable interest payments and overage charges bitches about the IRS robbing him blind!) It's not that people don't care about day-to-day bookkeeping — they just let it pile up, then get overwhelmed looking at that stack of receipts and bank statements. But tackling your bookkeeping a bite at a time is a lot less painful than trying to swallow the entire month's finances at once.

  • lay all of your credit cards on a copier and make front / back reproductions to go in your fire safe
  • balance your checkbook (and that means down to the penny!)
  • move last year's bills and statements into archives from your active file system
  • clip coupons from the Sunday newspaper or search for coupons online
  • organize your coupons into categories in a portable coupon wallet
  • review the grocery circulars for the best bargains and plan your shopping list accordingly
  • pay your bills, either online or by mailing in a check
  • sign up for online banking to cut down the mail you receive
  • enroll in automatic bill-pay to avoid late fees
  • reconcile your credit card statement for the past month
  • review your bank statement for errors
  • set up an electronic bookkeeping system like Quicken or Quickbooks on your computer
  • download the last month's transactions into your bookkeeping system
  • download the last month's account statements and save them on your hard drive
  • input a week's worth of income and expenses in your bookkeeping system
  • call your service providers and vendors to change your billing date to a consistent time each month
  • make a list of the fees you pay on your current accounts, and mark the ones that can be eliminated
  • sort through your wallet and clean out your weekly receipts
  • sign up for “daily deal” websites like Groupon and Living Social
  • create a spreadsheet for keeping track of coupon and gift certificate expiration dates

See how easy that was? Wink

Centralizing Your Communications

Your command center should be a high-traffic area of your home, where people are constantly passing by. Just make sure you have enough room for a desk-type flat surface, storage for files and some basic office supplies, and hanging space on the wall. Usually, a nook in the kitchen or just off of your main living room is the ideal spot. Now let's make it functional! In this hurried day and age, parents and children often pass like ships in the night – and sometimes the only way to stay in touch is by leaving notes for each other. Set up a bulletin board or magnetic dry erase board, designated JUST for communications (no posting of class pictures or drawings the kids did — you can find another spot for those). This is where you leave messages for other family members — a reminder for Johnny to take his soccer uniform with him to school, a grocery list (and the appropriate coupons) for hubby's shopping excursion, Sally's permission slip for today's field trip, whatever. Just be sure to regularly clean off old messages to keep your board from getting overloaded.

While you've got your hammer and nails out, get a good-sized wall calendar and put it up right next to your bulletin board. The goal is to record every family member's schedule in one centralized place — so you can review the entire household's activities with one glance. Write each person's appointments, deadlines, and other responsibilities with a different colored marker — blue for mom, green for dad, red for Sally, and purple for Johnny. It helps if you have a “family planning session” at the start of each week. Ask each person what they have coming up in the near future — extracurricular activities, days that your kids need a ride somewhere (as well as days you have to work late and can't pick them up), school project due dates, birthday invitations, vacations, dentist appointments, etc. Everything should go on the calendar.

The Paper Side Of Things

Another part of your command center is your incoming paperwork processing system. Set up a hanging file box or rack and create a folder for each type of “to-do” that you regularly encounter — “to file”, “to read”, “to pay”, “to call”, “to sign and send back to school”, etc. Every day — as the mail comes in, as you bring papers home from work, as your children give you a new pile from school, take a minute to sort each item according to the next step you need to take. Put each document in the appropriate folder (and throw all the other junk away). Now you're ready to tackle your many responsibilities in an organized fashion — just sit down once a week and go through each folder, taking care of all your to-do's in order.

If you don't already have a file drawer at your command center, it's also a good idea to setup an expanding organizer for your important papers. You can create one system for “fingertip files” — those things you refer to often, like phone directories, class and team rosters, babysitter instructions, pre-printed grocery lists, etc. But you may also want to keep a separate system for those “monthly” files that you access when you pay bills and go through your to-do's — utilities, mortgage, health records, school paperwork, files for your hobbies, etc. If everything is accessible from one location and you don't have to run around the house looking for supplies, files, and your schedule — managing your household responsibilities will go much faster and be a lot less stressful!

Creating File Categories

What causes the downfall of a filing system? Chances are, it wasn't much of a “system” to begin with. More likely, it was just a random assortment of individual files that really had no connection to each other (aside from the fact that they lived in the same drawer.) To create a truly effective filing system, you need to start with a plan. Simply slapping a label on a folder won't cut it!

Look at your current filing system (or that pile of paper that you've been meaning to file for months) and start sorting your documents into broad categories. “Finances” might be one, “Utilities” could be another — at work, you might be looking at “Marketing” or “Client Files.” At this point, we're not focusing on detail — quite frankly, I don't care if it's a credit card bill or a bank statement right now. We'll worry about those distinctions later on.

Once you've complete that step, pick one of your “major category” piles (any pile) and let's sort through it again. This time, I want you to think about breaking your paper smaller subcategories. For example, your “Finances” stack could be divided into “Savings Account,” “Checking Account,” “Student Loan,” “Visa,” etc. This time, you want to be as specific as possible. Don't tell me that they are “bank statements” — tell me which account they belong to and break each out into a separate pile. We don't want any files “bunking” with other files — everyone gets his or her own separate folder.

The trick to developing a workable reference file is choosingcategories that make it easy to a) know where to put a piece of paperand b) know where to find it again. The problem is that most peoplefocus entirely on the “where to put it” side of things — they don'tenvision the day when they will need to retrieve that file. Then, whenthey go hunting for a specific document, their mind is thinkingdifferently than on the day they filed it — so they can't rememberwhat they labeled the folder. As you are deciding on a category for apiece of paper, ask yourself where you would look for that piece ofpaper when you need it again — this will help you create a logicalfile label that makes sense to you both now and down the road

Labeling

After you've completed the sorting, each major category of paperwork should be assigned a different color (your choice) — and then we're going to put each of its subcategories into an individual hanging file folder. So in the home filing example above, “Finances” might be green, and each of your accounts gets a separate green hanging file folder. Then perhaps “Utilities” are in red, and each different service (“Gas,” “Electric,” “Water,” “Trash,” “Phone,” etc.) is assigned a separate red hanging file. It might seem like a small thing, but color-coding your system will save you a huge amount of time in filing and retrieving papers. Being able to look in your file drawer and see distinct bodies of information broken out by color just makes sense to your brain. And when you know that your financial statements are in green and your utility bills are in red and your car papers are in blue you don't even have to think — your hand just naturally goes to the appropriate section your file drawer.

Now that everyone has their own colored folder, we need to label each file. When creating your labels, move from general to specific. Don't tell me you are filing paperwork for your “Visa Credit Card” — call it “Credit Card: Visa”. When you arrange your folders alphabetically, all of the “Credit Card” files (no matter how many you have) will be together alphabetically in your “Finances” section, rather than scattered hither and yon. Our goal is to keep related files in close proximity to each other. Do this again and again for every grouping of files until you have labeled every file in each major category.

Setting It All Up

All you have to do now is put the files within each major category in alphabetical order, and then put the major categories themselves into the drawer in alphabetical order. Whenever you need to find a document or put something in a folder, just look first for the correct major category (identified by both the labels and the color) — then it's easy to put your hands on the correct file without a lot of searching.

Remember that we're setting up “reference” folders — these files contain documents that don't require immediate action, but that you do need to access regularly. They could be client files, financial records, phone lists, health records, marketing resources, personal hobbies, you name it. But the one thing each piece of paper has in common is that you have to be able to find it quickly on demand. In order to make that happen, here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you set up your system:

  • pick a category that is broad enough to encompass more than just acouple of pieces of paper — it's quicker and easier to search through afew thicker folders whose contents are all related, than a dozendifferent “onesie and twosie” files which have nothing in common witheach other
  • choose one type of filing system and stick with it — it doesn't matter if you file chronologically, alphabetically, or another way — just be consistent and do it the same way, all the time, throughout your entire system
  • when your files get overstuffed, it's time to divide that category out into a couple of smaller subcategories — if your “Client File: Marjory Jones” folder has gotten way too big, you can break it out chronologically (“Client File: Marjory Jones 2009”, “Client File: Marjory Jones 2010”) or topically (“Client File: Marjory Jones Communication”, “Client File: Marjory Jones Contracts”, “Client File: Marjory Jones Expenses”, etc.) so that the documents are still all together, but you have fewer pages per folder

Follow these simple yet effective steps for creating reference files, and you'll discover that your system takes most of the work out of filing (and retrieving) your important documents.

Calculate The Financial Cost

Disorganization is an insidious but often unnoticed drain on your wallet. The money leaks start as dribbles, but over time, become a flood that sweeps you away. You can't find your electric bill to pay it until a week after the due date — 20% finance charge. You throw your mail in a pile, unopened on the desk, and an early conference registration deadline passes you by — $50 late fee. You misplace a gift card from your birthday and don't find it until it has expired — $25 you could have saved. You shove your bank statements in a drawer without looking at them and overlook an error in your last deposit — $100 lost. It's a simple equation — the more organized you are, the more money you save.

Reclaim Your Wasted Space

How often do you acquire something that you really didn't want,  need, or care about? Could be a magazine, a brochure, a free giveaway at the store — you accepted it unconsciously, now it's taking up valuable space that could be used for some better purpose. The piles are squeezing us out of home and office, and without a good system for staying on top of it all (read that as “throwing away the 90% that is junk and keeping the 10% that matters”), we quickly find ourselves buried in clutter. It's become so bad that many people buy homes larger than they need to store stuff they've never even looked at — and pay the storage industry thousands of dollars a year to babysit unopened boxes of who-knows-what. This is a serious epidemic!

Plug Any Drains In Your Time

Clutter can also be found in your schedule — this type of disorganization is particularly irritating and frustrating, because it's eating up precious minutes of your life that you can never regain. You know you're experiencing time clutter when you seem to always be running late, no matter how hard you try to get out of the house on time — when you go 90 miles an hour every day, but can't manage to get caught up — when “time wasters” like procrastination and interruptions keep you from ever completing a project — when you're always putting out fires, functioning in “reactive” mode instead of “proactive” mode — and when you can't focus on your real priorities because your to-do list is always full of busy work. It's time to get off the treadmill!

Stop Wasting Emotional Energy

How often has the stress in your life been related to disorganization? Your mood is greatly affected by how smoothly your day goes — have you ever had your entire day spin out of control because spent 20 minutes searching for your car keys or misplaced a document or were late for a meeting? It's depressing to see nothing but piles and stacks around you — the mental toll is just as great as the more tangible costs of disorganization. But once you realize how much disorganization is costing you, you have a reason to want to change. The idea of cleaning out all the clutter, setting up storage systems, and revamping your schedule may seem overwhelming — but I guarantee you that getting organized is way less challenging than continuing to attempt to function in the middle of chaos.

Keep the vision of a clutter-free and chaos-free life in front of you for motivation as you move forward with your organizing efforts. And just recognize that this is going to be a process (possibly a slow one) — it's not going to happen overnight. But if you commit to your goals and stick with it, just another small change every day, you will see progress. It's never too late to get organized!

Quit With The Excuses Already!

It's fine to keep things that you don't use everyday — I don't believe in the “you haven't touched it in a year, it's out of here” rule. But I don't want you convincing yourself to keep an item that gives you no real benefit and is just taking up space! After you've been doing it for a long time, holding onto clutter becomes a habit — and habits (especially bad ones) are hard to break! It's easy to continue justifying  your failure to clean out  the excess and unused with a variety of different excuses. “It was expensive.” “It was a gift.” “I've had it since I was a child.” “I don't just want to throw it away.” “I might fit into a size 6 again.” “But what if it comes back in style?” Yeah — right. I'm here to respond to each of these rationalizations with a bit of cold, hard reason — hopefully allowing you to see that you can let at least a few things go and you'll be none the worse off for it! Wink

  • is it beautiful, useful, or loved? (artist William Morrison developed the most effective way to determine if an item truly serves a purpose — ask yourself if the object is “beautiful, useful, or loved” — I teach this phrase to my clients like a mantra, repeated over and over and over (actually, they get a bit sick of it after awhile!) — all of your most treasured belongings seem to fit into one of these three categories — and if an object isn't beautiful, useful, or loved, then why are you keeping it?)
  • but it was expensive! (you may say that you are keeping an item because you spent a lot of money on it, and you can't stand to see it go to waste — I hate to burst your bubble, but if you aren't using it now, isn't it still going to waste? — keeping something simply because it was costly is not a good enough reason — these objects are nothing but high-price reminders of purchasing mistakes you made in the past — better to let it go and move on, and perhaps you can sell it to recoup some of the expense)
  • I might be able to wear it again (does keeping a garment that is too small encourage you to lose weight or fill you with shame because you still haven't reached your goal?  — we already heap enough guilt onto our heads every day without creating additional pressures — isn't it healthier to focus on feeling better about your appearance now? — why not take your old wardrobe to a consignment shop, then spend your profits on clothes that fit and make you feel attractive just as you are?)
  • get off the guilt trip (another rationalization that I hear fairly regularly is, “Aunt Mildred gave that to me, she would be so disappointed/hurt/angry if I got rid of it.” — I can only respond by asking, “Who runs your life? You or your Aunt Mildred?” — the idea of keeping something that you have no use for, just so you candrag it out when your relatives visit, seems a bit dishonest — and I firmly believe that once you receive a gift, that item is yours to do with as you see fit, even if you choose to discard it — we place too much importance on “stuff” as it is, without creating an unnecessary sense of obligation)
  • I've had it a long time (not to be rude, but so what? if it has no sentimental or historical value, I'm not convinced that longevity is the best reason to hang onto something you don't really care for anymore or use — your lifestyle and interests change over the years, and it's entirely natural for some of your belongings are going to become obsolete — they've had a good life, but now it's time to let them go and focus your energies on your current interests)
  • I don't just want to throw it away (clutter is not an either/or proposition — you have many other options besides just throwing an unwanted item away — find a local charity that will accept a donation, sell the thing on Craigslist or at a yard sale, give it to a friend or family member who could put that item to use — if it's still in functional order, you can always find someone who would love to have it and give it a second lease on life)

If you are still having a hard time letting go of your clutter, youmight try an alternative approach. Judith Kolberg, former head of the NationalStudy Group on Chronic Disorganization, suggests that you treat yourbelongings as “friends, acquaintances, and strangers.” Friends arethose items that you like having around — ones that really meansomething to you. Acquaintances are objects that come into your life,stay for a short time, are enjoyed, and then leave again. And strangers are easilydiscarded — you have no strong feelings of devotion toward theseitems. This method works particularly well for people who have powerfulemotional attachments to their belongings.