Posts Tagged ‘information management’

A Faster Way To Compute

Ask anyone whose sun rises and sets on the keyboard of a laptop, and they'll tell you that the electronic age is both a blessing and curse. Automation a wonderful thing — a huge time-saver and a great tool for simple-living. But become neglectful or complacent about your technology and it will turn against you — causing your systems to crash, your data to disappear, and your life to be full of virtual woes. Any gadget is only as good as the systems you set up for using it — cell phones, computers, email, the internet, even iPods and DVDs. The trick to successfully managing your various electronics and media is not allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by it all — breaking routine maintenance responsibilities down into bite-sized chunks.

  • back up your computer files to either CD-Rom or an external drive
  • set up folders in your email program for each type of to-do or topic
  • set up filters in your email program that instantly sort each email into the appropriate folder
  • download the latest virus protection updates
  • clean the junk spam out of your email in-box
  • create a set of electronic folders on your hard drive that mirror your paper filing system
  • relocate any electronic files that are in the wrong location to the correct folders on your hard drive
  • rename any confusingly-labeled document to make more sense and be easily located
  • move any miscellaneous items dumped in “my documents” to the correct folders on your hard drive
  • remove unused and outdated programs from your computers
  • run a virus check and firewall update on your system
  • start a spreadsheet keeping track of the logins and passwords you use for your favorite websites
  • empty your recycle bin on your hard drive and in your email program
  • put the contacts in your address book into an electronic database
  • return all CDs, DVDs, and software discs to their cases
  • place an internet order for something you've needed but haven't had time to pick up at the store
  • post to your Twitter account or Facebook fan page
  • write a short blog
  • send an email you've been putting off
  • update your cell phone contacts to match your electronic database

See how easy that was? Wink

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

A Faster Way To Do Your Work

There's so much to do at work — just keeping your on top of your daily duties and keeping your boss off your back is a full-time job in and of itself! Of course, you know that you could also be more efficient and productive if you were better organized about paperwork and administrative issues — if you're ever going to get ahead, you have to find ways to accomplish routine everyday tasks faster and with less effort. The good news is that the right office systems and routines naturally make everything easier — that includes meetings, paperwork, phone calls, marketing follow-up, and data entry. You know that old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”? Well that's what it's all about — investing a little bit of energy up front to create a system that works for you will save a lot of unnecessary work down the road!

  • set up a file box for papers that require action — “to read,” “to pay,” “to contact,” “to enter,” etc.
  • sort through your incoming mail, tossing the trash and separating “action items” from “filing”
  • file a stack of papers — any stack of papers, just pick one
  • shred a pile of “trash” papers with sensitive company information on it
  • go through your desk drawers and return excess supplies you've been “hoarding” to central storage
  • set up stacking trays on your shelves for storing different types of paper and project materials
  • set up dividers in your drawers to break out different office supplies (clips, staples, pens, etc.)
  • clean obsolete reference information out of your filing system
  • input the business contacts from your latest networking event in your address book or computer
  • input any upcoming appointments, deadlines, or other responsibilities into your calendar
  • clean out your email in-box, saving anything worth referring back to in a folder on your computer
  • make a follow-up or marketing phone call you've been putting off
  • adjust your computer monitor to the right height so you don't have to bend or strain your neck
  • adjust your chair to the right height so your feet are flat on the floor and thighs parallel
  • place your telephone is within easy reach of your non-dominant hand for easy message-taking
  • rearrange your work area so all the equipment you use regularly is situated close to your desk
  • rearrange your work area to eliminate any glare on your computer screen
  • review your calendar each evening, making yourself aware of any erely meetings or appointments
  • review your to-do list in the morning, planning what you will tackle the next day
  • clear your desk before leaving the office, so you start with a clean work surface in the morning

See how easy that was? Wink

Breaking Free

There's nothing about the act of bill-paying that's any more inherently onerous than, say, filing or making follow-up phone calls or taking care of any other to-do — why then do we dread it more than other tasks? It's funny the effect an outlay of cash has on people. We love to spend money in the abstract — but when the time comes to ante up, we panic. A good deal of financial procrastination is simply buyer's remorse — we don't want to face our spending habits, those impulse buys and unnecessary purchases that now seem so foolish.

But even without regretting the purchase, there's still stress involved with bill-paying. You might worry about rising interest rates or dropping home values, the security of your paycheck or how much is being withheld to cover taxes — or any of a number of other issues that are entirely beyond your control. So much of what happens in the world of finance these days seems out of our hands, and uncertainty is always unnerving. The good news is that you don't have to worry about getting your bills paid on time, not with the right system (and as Forrest Gump says, “That's good! One less thing!”) Here are a few tips for making that monthly round of check-cutting a lot less stressful.

  • cut down on your expenses (it goes without saying that the fewer bills you have, the easier it is to pay them each month — of course you need electricity and groceries and a home to live in — but I'm sure that if you examine your statements and receipts, you'll find at least a few recurring items that could be trimmed from the budget — memberships you don't use, subscriptions you don't read, services that duplicate one another, excessive numbers of multiple credit cards, each with just a few charges on it — these bills do nothing but complicate your finances each month — it's time to clean house in the bill-paying sense — if you don't need it, lose it, and make your monetary life a lot easier right from the start)
  • align your bill-paying dates (part of what makes bill-paying such a pain in the neck is having to do it multiple times each month — one round of bills come due on the 1st and another on the 10th, then more on the 15th and a final batch near the end of the month — it's no wonder staying on top of it all takes so much of your time! — what most people don't realize is that most companies can adjust your billing cycle to end on whatever date you like — of course, your utilities and mortgage will always be due at the start of the month, so why not have your phone, internet, credit cards, insurance, and other monthly bills arrive at the same time? — that way, you only have to engage in one round of “pull-out-the-checkbook” each month)
  • pre-pay for the year (with set fees like insurance premiums, memberships, and flat-rate services, you can often save money by paying for the entire year up front — and even if there is no discount attached, you'll still save a lot of time by skipping monthly billing — if you have the money in-hand and know you'll be with that company for at least 12 months, ask if you can pre-pay your account for the year — just make sure that you'll be refunded the pro-rated amount if you cancel your service before the end of that period)
  • consolidate (a number of years back, Matt and I decided that we were tired of having to keep track of so many different bills — we examined our options and decided to pay as many bills as possible with our credit card, so we would only have one check to cut each month — it turns out that almost anything can be charged to your Visa or Mastercard — of course, gas and groceries and haircuts, but I'm also talking about your mortgage, your insurance, and even your utilities — I'm allergic to “convenience fees,” so we only do this if there is no additional cost for a credit card payment — and it only works when you pay the card in full — but it's amazing how much this one change simplified our finances — it also makes budgeting easier, because we can review every purchase for an entire month with one glance)
  • set up auto-pay (another step toward lifting the yoke of bill-paying from our necks was shifting everything to auto-pay — I came to realize that there was no good reason for me to ever have to write a company a check again, when I could have the bill either auto-charged to my credit card or auto-drafted from my bank account — my preference is for the first option, so if a company makes a mistake and takes too much money, I can dispute the charge before the cash comes out of my account — I really only use bank auto-drafts for paying the over-arching credit card bill — a lot of people are scared of auto-pay, because they're worried they'll get ripped off — but if you are reviewing your statements every month and reconciling your accounts like you should be, the chance of this happening is almost non-existent — and if you're not, you're just as likely to have an error go unnoticed, even when you pay all of your bills by check)
  • create a monthly routine (now that you've simplified bill-paying as much as possible, you just need a good routine for staying on top of it all — set one day a month aside for bookkeeping — start by reviewing all of the bills you've received, both paper and electronic, for errors — then reconcile your credit card and bank statements, double-checking to make sure that every bill on auto-draft was paid — finally, write and mail checks for the remaining bills that must be paid manually, if there are any — and don't forget to record those in your register — three simple steps and you're done until next month!)

Getting On The Same Page

I spoke recently about the idea of setting up a “family calendar,” and I'd like to explain that concept in a little more detail — because it's really the only way to avoid scheduling conflicts and last minute scrambles. Start by setting up a wall calendarin a centralized place, so you can review the entire household's activities with one glance. You'll want to 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. Keep this in a high-traffic area of the house (kitchen seems to work well, because everyone goes there daily) where everyone can see it.

However, hanging a calendar is less than half the battle — the most important step is to take the time to coordinate your schedules. Family members these days are often like ships passing in the night — you see each other for a few minutes at a time on the way from one activity to the next, and it's no wonder so many time-management conflicts occur! 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, parties, vacations, dentist appointments, meetings, social engagements, sporting events, you name it. Everything should go on the calendar. If you carry a personal planner or PDA, this is also the time to update your portable calendar with the current info (it doesn't do you much good to plan out the week if you can't see the schedule while you're out of the house!)

Then from that point forward, every time someone brings home a birthday invitation or permission slip for a field trip, write it down. Every time the school sends out a calendar of upcoming days off, transfer it to the family calendar. When your boss asks if you can work late or your child's piano teacher wants to switch from Tuesday to Wednesday, change the calendar. Add the week's chores to the calendar. Get in the habit of putting EVERYTHING related to your family's schedule in one place. You're trying to accomplish two main goals here — to address any conflicts and to avoid last-minute rushing around. So when you know that mom's got to work late and Jimmy needs a ride home from the game, you can instruct him to make plans to go with a friend, rather than having him sit around waiting 3 hours for mom, when she has no idea she's supposed to pick him up. When Susy agrees to bring cupcakes for the school party, dad knows that they've got to go grocery shopping at least a day or two before so there's time to do the baking. When Bobby (don't ask my why I've chosen such Brady Bunch sounding children's names) has to put a diorama together for history class, he's not popping up at the eleventh hour, asking for shoe boxes and paint after all the stores are closed. Your stress level will drop by a factor of ten, just having each person's to-do's and responsibilities written down in one visible place.