Posts Tagged ‘priorities’

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

Know Thyself, Know The Season

Do you spend every holiday grumbling about all the work that you have to do? Complaining about the cooking, shopping, decorating, and entertaining? I hate to seem unsympathetic to your plight, but I don't understand ruining the joy of the season with a lot of bitching! If you dislike an activity so much that all you can do is whine about it, why do it? If your answer is, “Because it's a holiday tradition,” my response will be, “So what?!”

The first key to creating a peaceful holiday season is identifying those holiday rituals that you enjoy and those that you don't. When you spend your precious time and energy on activities that you don't find rewarding, you are destined to become frustrated and cranky — and probably make those around you unhappy, as well. So go ahead and be honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes before the season even starts. Make a list of every possible holiday “obligation” that you can think of. Your list might contain (but not be limited to) the following:

  • send greeting cards
  • bake holiday goodies
  • decorate the house
  • shop for gifts
  • wrap gifts
  • make the holiday meal
  • attend church services
  • go caroling
  • volunteer
  • visit extended family
  • visit friends
  • spend time with spouse
  • plan family get-together
  • spend time with kids
  • decorate the tree
  • clean house
  • shop for food
  • attend a concert/play
  • watch holiday TV
  • visit Santa
  • look at lights
  • host a party
  • attend a party
  • take a walk in nature 

 

Now, here's the fun part — circle those items that you enjoy doing and absolutely don't want to miss this holiday season. Then cross out those that you hate, despise, and dread. Be honest here! If you loathe baking, don't try to convince yourself that this year you will turn into Donna Reed with a batch of homemade gingerbread — ain't gonna happen! And you can get very specific if you need to. You might love visiting with your parents, but can't stand seeing your critical Aunt Louise. That's fine — make visiting your parents one activity and seeing Aunt Louise another. It might be a good idea to have everyone in your family make their own lists — everyone has different ideas about what activities are joyous and which ones are miserable.
 

Fitting In The Joy

Which items did you circle? Did you feel so strongly about some activities that you double-circled them or put a star by the side? Those are your true priorities — no matter what else happens this season, you need to make time to fit them in. Notice I didn't say “find” time — you have to MAKE it happen, actually scheduling that activity into your calendar! If walking around your neighborhood with your family singing carols and looking at holiday lights is a priority, sit down together and pick an evening and have everyone block it off. It's as simple as that.

At the start of the season, decide which activities are the most important.  Of course, you'll have to be realistic about what you have time for — you might need to limit each person to three priorities instead of eight. And you may have to do a little trading with your loved ones — “I'll go to Christmas Eve services with you, and in return I'd like for you to go for a nature walk on Saturday with me.” Creating harmony in any situation is about compromising — just don't allow yourself to bend so far that you give up all of your priorities for someone else's. Each person should feel that his or her needs are being met.

Let Go Of The “Have-To's”

The big question now is “how do I fit in my priorities when I've got chores to do?” It can seem hard to make time for the good stuff when you have so many other obligations. Those “have to's” will absolutely kill you! But why do you “have to”? Are you being graded on how much you accomplish during the holidays? Will you be judged if you skip out on the cards or parties or baking this year? (and why do you care what others say about you in the first place?!) A simple “no” should suffice — especially if you run across an activity that everyone in your household has crossed off of their lists. Remember, the only things that you “have to” do are pay taxes and die — putting up a Christmas tree isn't required!

Let me share a story to illustrate. A while back, my husband and I had a really rough year and decided to skip out on the traditional family Christmas get-together for the first time in our lives. We chose to go on a trip by ourselves — cross-country skiing in the middle of nowhere in Colorado — instead of spending the holidays with relatives. And since we were going out of town so early in December, we only put up minimal decorations and didn't send any greeting cards. We worried and worried that we were going to offend someone with our crass insensitivity — but do you know what happened? Everyone we talked to (family included) said, “Boy, I wish I had the courage to do that!” It turned out that 90% of the people we knew had considered doing the same thing at one point in time, but had never been able to walk away from the pressure of the “have to's.” Well, we had a marvelous time (one of our best Christmases ever), everyone loved hearing about our trip, and we now take a holiday vacation every other year.

The lesson here? Just because you think that you “have” to, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else feels the same way. Most people are overwhelmed by the holidays and would like for them to be easier — but no one seems willing to make the first move. Be honest with folks about what you want and don't want this year, and you may find your to-do list dwindling all on its own!

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

Asking The Big Questions

In everything that you do throughout the next 24 hours, take a second to ask yourself “why.” For example, as I was organizing one of my clients on Monday, I caught her folding up each piece of mail she had opened and putting it back in the ripped envelope, before then placing the envelope in her action files. Not only was her to-do stack was twice as thick as it needed to be, but she had added three steps to her process — re-stuffing the envelope, having to empty it again when it was time to tackle the to-do, and throwing the envelope away. When I asked “why?” my client stared at me with a blank look. The response was, “I don't really know.” I pointed out that she could save time and effort if she tossed the envelope immediately, and kept only the important part. I watched the lightbulb go on over her head as she said, “You know, you're right!” My client is not stupid, she had just gotten into a habit, doing things the same old way every time, without questioning whether or not that way made sense.

We have so much to accomplish and stay on top of these days that weoften run on autopilot, engaging in behaviors without recognizing the purpose behind them. But the key to REALLY simplifying your life is awareness. You have make conscious decisions about what you will do (and not do) — otherwise, you're sure to get off track and find yourself wasting precious energy on activities don't actually do anything to improve your quality of life. Do you find yourself flipping channels, completely zoned out, not even paying attention to what's on TV, when you could be engaged in a more rewarding pursuit? Shuffling the same pile of magazines around your office  month after month without ever actually reading them? Stashing more and more boxes of junk in an expensive storage unit, rather than cleaning out the stuff you don't use? Running out at the last minute for a missing dinner ingredient because you didn't planahead? Picking up after your kids when you could put that energy into teaching them to be responsible for themselves? Why?

What Benefit Do You Get?

If you can't identify a specific benefit you get from that behavior, it's quite possible it isn't serving any purpose in your life. For example, if I ask why you brush your teeth every morning, you will respond by saying, “so I don't get cavities” — good! But if I ask why you clip coupons that you never remember to take with you when you go shopping (that subsequently expire and have to be thrown away 2 months later) — and you tell me, “I might use them someday,” that just doesn't cut it. You're not getting any value from the time and energy invested NOW, so you have two choices — either stop that activity and put your resources into something more meaningful, or change your habits so that you DO get some form of payoff. It's really that simple.

So in this example, you could set up an expandable wallet with individual sections for the different types of coupons you collect (groceries, household items, personal items, eating out, car care, whatever). After clipping, you could file them in this wallet and stick it in your purse or car so you always have it with you. When you plan your weekly shopping day, you could go through the wallet as you write up your list, pulling out those coupons that you know you will use. Then each week, you could also toss out those coupons you ended up not needing. In an ideal world, you would never forget to use a coupon again, and you would save at least a little money at the store. But it sounds like a lot of work to me. Is all that effort really worth the $5.86 you will save? Perhaps, after looking at the time investment versus the payoff, you'll might determine (like I have) that coupons simply encourage you to buy a lot of stuff you don't need (just to get the discount) and give up on the whole activity altogether. Or you may find that you pocket an extra $150 every week and systematizing your clippage is the best decision you ever made. The point is, it will be a conscious choice, based on your values and goals.

Is There An Easier Way?

Finally, ask yourself if there isn't an easier way to accomplish the task that you're performing. Do you really need to spend a half an hour in the morning arranging 27 decorative pillows on your bed, or would simply smoothing the comforter be good enough for the room to feel “tidy?” Then let 'em go! Does it take you 12 tries to get out the front door, because you always forget your keys? Then hang a hook by the door so your keys have a home from the moment you walk in — and they are always right where you expect them to be. Why run a different errand every day (dry cleaning, returns, the library, getting that picture framed) when piling all of your to-do's into a “going out the door” basket and making one trip a week (an organized, geographically-planned trip, complete with directions and confirmation of the store hours) would be much less time-consuming? And why do you keep throwing away the same solicitations and catalogs over and over again, when one phone call would get you off of their mailing list?

I'll end with another favorite quote of mine from “The Mosquito Coast” — “For Father there were no burdens that couldn't be fitted with a set of wheels or runners or a system of pulleys.” That's sort of how I feel about simplifying your life. There is no challenge so overwhelming, no time-waster so ominous, no frustration so severe that you can't find a solution. Of course, the solution may involve setting up a simple system, or it may require you to rewire your brain and rethink your lifestyle — but it's always worth it in the long run!

A Faster Way To Clean Out

Cleaning out is often exhausting work — especially for those who haven't done it in a while. It's easy to walk into a room filled with clutter and become completely overloaded by the task at hand. You try to empty the whole space at once, don't even come close to finishing it all, and end up feeling like a failure  — will you ever be able to see the floor again? Rather than overdoing it (and subsequently paralyzing yourself with frustration and despair), why not set yourself up for success — by tackling just one small pile at a time? If you simply make use of those odd free moments (say, two or three times a day, every day for a week) — you will make a bigger dent in the mess than if you devoted your entire Saturday to sifting and sorting and cleaning out!

  • start a box of items to donate — every time you find something you don't need, toss it in
  • check your desk for dried up pens and markers and throw them out
  • sort through your Tupperware and remove any bowl or lid that's missing it's mate
  • try on clothes you haven't worn in the past year and get rid of anything that doesn't fit
  • gather up a pile of library books / rented videos and return them from whence they came
  • look through your shelves and pull books you'll never read again to donate to the library
  • clean the trash out of your junk drawer
  • remove the extra empty hangers out of your closet and take them to your dry cleaner
  • get rid of old or yucky makeup in your cosmetic drawer
  • put all those purchases you've been meaning to return in a box and schedule an errand day
  • pull out any torn / worn underwear and socks — either turn into rags or discard
  • toss empty bottles of household cleaners, car care items, and gardening chemicals in the garage
  • go through your magazines / catalogs and toss all but the most recent issue
  • throw out expired food from your refrigerator and pantry
  • sort through your recipes and toss those you're never going to get around to making
  • when you unpack your holiday decorations, discard broken ornaments, lights, candles, etc.
  • create a pile of borrowed items to give back to your friends and family
  • clean out batteries and light bulbs that no longer work
  • toss expired items, empty bottles, and used-up grooming supplies in your medicine cabinet
  • put all your “donates” in the car and drive them to the nearest charity drop-off point — now!

See how easy that was? Wink