Posts Tagged ‘office’

The Cure

Fortunately, regaining control over your environment and sanity is easier than it seems. Remember the first rule of clutter — “the less you have, the easier it is to organize.” The paperless society is still a long way off — I can't guarantee that you will ever be able to eliminate paper from your life completely, but you can certainly reduce the size of the piles. Let's start by going through your old files and doing some cleaning out. I believe strongly that if you don't have a good reason for keeping it, get rid of it — but a lot of folks are afraid to ever throw document away because they might need it again “someday.” How do you define “someday?” I suggest that my clients as themselves some basic questions about why they are keeping their paper:    

  • Is the information relevant to my life, personal interests, or job?
  • Has this information become outdated? Can I find a more current document?
  • How easy would it be to replace this if I needed the information later?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if I got rid of it?

That last question leads us to the subject of purging financial andlegal records. This is a sensitive (and somewhat scary) issue, becausethere could be some harsh consequences if you throw somethingout too soon. I agree that it's better to be safe than sorry, but fear is poor organizing guide. If you simply take the time to educate yourself about how long you are legally required to retain each document, you'll never go wrong. 

Records Retention Guidelines

In recent years, an entirely new new field of studycalled “records management” has arisen — dedicated to helping peopleunderstand how long they must keep certain documents. Based on theinformation gathered by this industry, I have compiled standardschedule for purging your files. But please understand that this is acomplicated issue (especially in today's litigious society), and each situation is unique. Many professions settheir own legal guidelines for records retention, and you may have someunusual or extenuating circumstance in your life — so check with youraccountant or attorney before pitching out any important legal,business, or financial paperwork.

You must keep the following documents forever (yes, forever!):
 

  • income tax returns
  • income tax payment checks
  • annual financial statements
  • books of account
  • corporate documents
  • stock records
  • retirement and pension records
  • licenses, patents, trademarks, and registration applications
  • investment trade confirmations and statements that indicate buying and selling
  • documents substantiating fixed asset additions
  • important correspondence
  • legal documents
  • CPA audit reports

Hold onto this paperwork for six years:

  • bank reconciliations and voided checks
  • canceled payroll and dividend checks
  • personnel and payroll records
  • purchase records
  • sales records
  • travel & entertainment records
  • supporting documents for tax returns
  • property records, builder contracts, and improvement receipts (if tax related)
  • sales receipts (if tax-related)
  • utility records (if tax-related)
  • medical bills (if tax-related)
  • other bills (if tax-related)
  • vendor invoices
  • supporting documents for tax returns
  • accident reports and claims

Keep these records for three years:

  • monthly financial statements (for internal purposes)
  • credit card statements
  • utility records (for internal use)
  • employment applications
  • expired insurance policies
  • medical bills (in case of insurance disputes)

You should retain these records according to the following guidelines:

  • car records (keep until the car is sold)
  • credit card receipts (keep until they have been verified on your credit card statement)
  • insurance policies (keep for the for life of policy)
  • mortgages/deeds/leases (keep for 6 years beyond the life of agreement)
  • pay stubs (keep until they have been reconciled with your w-2)
  • property records, builder contracts, and improvement receipts (keep until property sold)
  • sales receipts (keep for the life of warranty or the life of the item on large purchases)
  • stock and bond records (keep for 6 years beyond selling)
  • warranties and instructions (keep for the life of product)
  • other bills (until the payment is verified on the next bill)

Safely Disposing Of Paper

Just because you cleaned it out, does not mean that it goes in the trash! Did you realize that once you put something in a garbage can at the curb, it becomes public property? And reports of identity theft are increasing every day. When someone else gains access to your personal records (social security number, tax id, drivers license number, address, bank account information) and pretends to be you, the results can be disastrous. Using your identifying information, this person can take out loans, run up credit card bills, and run up a tremendous amount of debt — all in your name. And most times, you never know until you get the collection letter. It can take years to clear up the legal and financial problems this causes you, and it can temporarily ruin your credit.

So to protect yourself from this threat, be sure to dispose of your important records properly. Any piece of paper that contains account numbers, your social security number, or any other sensitive information should be shredded. If you only have a small amount of paper to destroy, consider visiting your local office supply store to pick up a personal shredder — they run as little at $20 or $30 these days. If you generate a large quantity of “shredable” paper, or just don't want to sit there feeding in one page at a time, think about using a mobile shredding service. These companies will come to your home or office and shred your documents on-site for a fee.  Just be sure that you choose a reputable company that provides you with a certificate or letter guaranteeing that your paper has been shredded unrecognizable.

Heading It Off At The Pass

Now that you've cleaned out all the old paper, your next goal is to keep from accumulating so much of it in the future. You may not realize it, but we receive approximately 1,500 to 1,800 pieces of junk mail each year — solicitations, flyers, sales letters, and other unnecessary bits of clutter. Ridiculous to the point of being obscene! You may think that you have no control over the mountains of unwanted paper that come to your home or office, but you're wrong. You can request to have your name removed from the lists that solicitors buy — effectively cutting off up to 75% of the paper that enters your life. I know, because I've done it myself, and I get next to no junk mail anymore. Contact one of the following organizations:     

  • DMA (PO Box 9008 / Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008)
  • Stop Junk Mail Association (800-827-5549)
  • Private Citizen (800-cut-junk)
  • Criss-Cross (8050 Freedom Pkwy. / N. Canton, OH 44720)
  • Consumer Research Institute (PO Box 612 / Ithaca, NY 14851)

Welcome To The Digital Age

Storing paper documents can take up a lot of space — have you ever considered getting rid of the hard copy? I'm talking about scanning the ones that you want to keep and storing them on your computer. Certainly, you should keep hard copies of some documents — contracts, legal papers, and anything requiring an original signature. But just think about all the other papers you own — copies of articles, reference items, reports, some correspondence, maybe even client records. Document imaging software has become ridiculously cheap these days — and you can store 100 times more paper on a disk or CD-Rom than you can in a file drawer. Just make sure that you keep a backup copy of anything important in a fire safe or safe deposit box.

Strengths And Weaknesses

When delegating a job, keep in mind the person's talents, area of specialization, and schedule. And set yourself up for success by delegating to someone who can actually complete the task! Handing a job off to a person who is missing a key ingredient (time, skills, resources, experience, or willingness) will only frustrate you both. Also keep in mind that the quickest way to turn someone off to a delegated job is to give that person an assignment that is substantially below his or her skill level. Delegate a project to the most junior person who is capable of successfully completing the job — it's silly to waste $30 an hour on an administrative assistant when a $10 an hour temp could complete the work.

When choosing which jobs to farm out, you need to remember that delegation can be used as a very effective training and educational tool. Delegate interesting projects in addition to drudgery — especially if you are trying to groom a new assistant, up-and-comer, or someone you want to be able to take on more and more challenging tasks as time goes by. Frankly, you will wear your team members out and dampen their enthusiasm for assisting you if you only give them the “dregs.” You want delegation to serve as an opportunity to help the other person grow and expand their skills, as well as a way for you to get menial chores done. If you challenge your delegees today, you'll keep them interested in the work — and also be able to give them more difficult assignments in the future (without worrying that they will be overburdened!)

Delegating The Right Way

In order to delegate successfully, you need to follow a system — one that keeps both you and the delegee on track. Let's start with your side of things, as the delegator. When you assign a project to a colleague or employee, how do you remember exactly what you asked of them? When you gave them the job? Your agreed upon deadline? There's nothing more frustrating than handing a job over to someone and forgetting that you delegated it, or when you delegated it, or when it was due back to you. You can keep track of what projects you give to whom by keeping a simple delegation log, in which you record these important details. This is especially important when you've delegated multiple tasks to numerous different people. Simply review your log each week, see which items should have been completed, and follow up with your folks. You'll find yourself facing fewer missed deadlines and experiencing a lot less stress. The last thing you want when you delegate a project is to wake up at 3 AM thinking, “Oh no — did I ask my web master to update my newsletter yet, or not?” We all suffer from mid-life Alzheimer's at times, so write it down!

But you also need to create some structure for your delegee. Don't ever hand a job off with the instructions, “I need this back when you finish.” Give your delegees a firm deadline along with the assignment. Although the ultimate responsibility for completion of the job lies with you, you don't want to waste all of your time chasing after someone saying, “When will you be done?” Similarly, you shouldn't have to guess what kind of a finished productyour assistant will hand you when the final deadline comes around.Communicate the exact result you expect before you delegate the job and agree on a goal with your delegee.That might seem obvious, but few people do this really thoroughly — and they pay the price later. Giveyour helpers enough information to go on so they don't have to keep coming back andasking you for more information every step of the way. The whole pointbehind delegation is to save you time — and that doesn't happen ifyou're always on the phone or in meetings clarifying requests.

Bite-Sized Is Better

It can also be overwhelming to a delegee for you to hand them a huge request and expect them to manage their time effectively without a little guidance. And you certainly don't want to wait until two days before the deadline to see what kind of progress your assistant is making. It's better to set milestones for completing each phase of the project. When you break a job up into smaller “bite-sized” pieces, it's much easier for the delegee to handle, you have set up a series of natural follow-up points throughout the project, and you can check in with your team member at each sub-deadline for a status report.

A lot of people fail to follow up on delegated projects until the very end because they don't want to seem pushy or overbearing. Of course, there is a fine line between checking in and micro-managing. Once you feel the person has a firm grasp on the expected result,allow your delegee enough freedom to decide how to accomplish the job.Delegation is about letting go of a task you didn't need to do in the first place — and as long as it is completed in a satisfactory manner, who cares HOW it was accomplished? But on the other hand, you shouldn't have to guess how far along a delegee is in a project, at any point in the process. Ask your people report their progress at regular intervals — these milestones are the perfect excuse for a meeting or written report. This allows you to discuss any problems the person has run into, any additional resources he/she might need, and make any adjustments to your project schedule.

Don't Squash Their Enthusiasm

No one likes to work hard on a job for someone else and receive none ofthe glory. So be sure to give credit where credit is due!People often think that the only real motivator in this world is money, but that's simply not true. It's been proven that people are more likely to break their necks to do a good job in return for intangible rewards like praise than they would even for a raise or a promotion. Your delegees will work harder for you in the long runif you give them a pat on the back — don't be stingy with the compliments when you feel that a job has been well-done. I promise that you won't give your folks a swelled head, just a swelled sense of accomplishment and pride in their work (and an incentive to help you out again in the future!)

The Incoming Tide

Most of the to-do's in life come attached to a piece of paper — registration forms to fill out, bills to pay, correspondence, invitations, school calendars, things to read and file. When you receive a document that requires some action on your part, what do you do first? Put it in a stack on your desk, where it will sit for weeks or months, until you receive another piece of paper reminding you about that to-do that you forgot? If you just take a second to get organized when a new document first enters your life, you can almost guarantee that it will get “to-done” on time. Start by sorting your current to-do's according to the action required. Ask yourself what you need to do with each item to get it off of your plate. Then create a set of “action files,” based on your answers. Each day, take 5 minutes to go through the day's incoming mail, placing each document in the appropriate file. Your action file should sit out in a file box or rack, placed in plain view, wherever you go through your mail. It will include categories like:

  • “to pay”
  • “to file”
  • “to contact”
  • “to buy”
  • “to read”
  • “to enter in computer”
  • “to put on calendar”
  • “to reconcile”
  • “to give to _________”

You can also put handwritten notes into your folders (ex: a list of people to call in the “to contact” file) if an action item doesn't come with a corresponding piece of paper. Now each document has a set place to live until you tackle it, and you can easily see exactly what types of to-do's are on your plate.

Getting It All Done

How do you make sure that these action items actually get acted on? Don't wait until you have time. You might say, “I'll get to it when I have time” — but you'll never have time! It's amazing how your schedule seems to fill up with a million other activities, how you have space for everything except the tasks you don't like doing in the first place. Administrative work like “to-do's” and filing and bill-paying aren't fun, but they are necessary for keeping your life running smoothly, for keeping you organized. If you want to get them done, you must make time.

Schedule a regular weekly appointment with yourself , maybe an hour or two, once or twice a week — and block off that slot for “admin time”. During admin time, your goal is to go through each folder in order and try to complete every item inside. If you can't complete that item for some reason, put it back in the folder and tackle it during your next admin period. And if you finish one step (say, paying a bill), but then realize that you have another step to take with that paper (perhaps calling to correct a billing error), move it to the appropriate folder for that next step.

You will, occasionally, run into to-do's that have very strict deadlines — bills to pay, registering for a conference, sending in a permission slip for your kid's field trip, disputing a charge on your credit card, etc. As you sort through incoming paperwork, note any item that has a specific due date (especially if it is going to arrive before your next admin day), and record it in your calendar — along with a note of the folder in which that document is stored. These tasks are to be taken care of as part of your routine that day — treat them as a priority and get them done first thing in the morning, before you get busy or distracted.

If you follow this system, you will have no reason to miss a deadline or pay a bill late — and you don't have to continually worry, “When will I get it all done”, because you know that any to-do's will be taken care of during your next regular admin period.

Learn How To Say “No”

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn't want to do for your job — work late, take on a new project when your plate was already full, or attend a completely pointless meeting? You probably felt it would be disrespectful to say no — so you agreed, even though doing so caused you tremendous stress. Why are we so afraid of the word “no”?

“No” means that you understand and accept your own limits, and don't want to do a shoddy job by taking on too much. It's an indication that you recognize where your talents lie and want to put them to the best use. “No” is actually a good word! The trick is to say “no” without feeling guilty or making the other person think that you are unwilling to help out. Instead of seeing a situation in which you are being forced to disappoint another person, turn this into an opportunity to be of service. The best way to tactfully dodge a request while still making a contribution is to offer an alternative solution:

  • offer to help later — “I'm sorry, I don't have time right now. But I'll be free Friday afternoon, if you still need me.”
  • offer another resource — “I'm busy, but I have a colleague who has been wanting to get involved. Let me call her for you.”
  • offer to take on a different task — “That's not my strong suit. But I would be happy to help out with (drawing posters, setting up the meeting room, working out a budget, etc.)”

Stop Carrying The World On Your Shoulders

So much work-related stress is caused by the thought, “If I don't do it, it won't get done.” Yes it will, if it's really important. Somehow, somewhere, the company will find someone to take care of it. I promise that, no matter how fabulous you are at your job, you're not completely indispensable!

Ask yourself, “If I got hit in the head with a tree tomorrow, how would this job get done?” When the answer is, “So-and-so would help out,” you can  feel more comfortable asking “so-and-so” to help out now (before you end up in the hospital!) If the answer is, “It wouldn't get done — it's not that important,” then ask yourself if that task is worth your time in the first place. A life and death situation (imagined or real) sure gives you a sense of perspective! You just have to keep in mind that there are different degree degrees of “no,” and you should be able to find one that lets you maintain control over your time while still assisting the other person.

It's going to be hard for you to set these kinds of boundaries in your work life — especially if you've been accustomed to letting other people dictate how you use your time. As you reclaim your schedule, you will hear comments like, “You never had a problem working weekends before.” Your answer is simply, “My situation has changed. Sorry, but I can't do it this time.”

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