Turn Those Piles into Files

You come in from a meeting and you are tired. You bring in the mail but don’t have time to mess with it right now. You are afraid if you file the paper away you will forget it. So, everything gets dumped on the desk or countertop.

Meanwhile, your desk or countertop becomes one big inbox with piles everywhere. Some paper has been there so long that it has actually stuck to the surface or has fallen behind the desk or is so buried that unless there is some trigger to dig for it, it is forgotten. The clutter is overwhelming and slows down your productivity.

See if some of these tips work for you:

  • When you bring in paper, do a quick triage. What is obviously trash or needs shredding? What needs action soon? What do you need to take some time over and ponder? 
  • Have a trash can and shred box nearby and get those papers handled right away
  • Have a landing pad for all items needing action soon
  • Have a basket or bin for magazines or articles you want to read and ponder. When that basket gets full, acknowledge that you have more than you can handle and either set aside some time to read or dispose of some of the material
  • Have a folder or box for ads or upcoming workshops or events that you are considering
This should corral most of the paper but still very little has gone away.
Here comes the hard part:
  • Schedule regular times on your calendar to pay bills or check on bill pay. Then after paying, immediately file or get rid of paid bills
  • Weekly, at a scheduled time, take care of any receipts or invoices that need entering or filing. If possible, scan these items and get rid of the paper
  • Chose a couple of items you want to read and ponder and either look through them now or remove them to another location to read later. After reading them either dispose of them or file them
  • Schedule a time at least monthly to look through ads and coupons you have saved and toss any that have expired or that no longer interest you. Look over any upcoming events and see if some no longer appeal to you or have passed their due date. Dispose of all expired items.
  • Empty the trash can and the shred container
While you may never get your desk completely clear of paper, do realize that paper you keep has a purpose and when that purpose is completed, the paper should go somewhere else besides on your desk.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing the Office Using the Zone Plan

It is the beginning of a new year and January is Get Organized Month. I would love for my whole house to be magically clean and organized. However, the reality is that I am the one that has to make that magic happen and it would be crazy to think that I could do it all at once. That is why for years I have been maintaining my home using a Zone Plan. This plan has me touching everything in my home at least once a year. (http://timespaceorg.com/services/) 

The first zone I work on each year is my office. In the past year files have gotten overfull, project bins are hanging around even after projects are completed. New items have come into my office and it is now feeling a bit crowded. Now is the time to follow the program and work my plan on the office.

1. What is bothering me in this zone?

  • Clutter and unfiled papers
  • Projects not in bins
  • Files too full
  • Too much laying around and screaming “DO ME”
2. How do I want my office to look and feel?
  • Look clean and uncluttered
  • Look and feel welcoming
  • Have empty spaces to allow for growth
  • Feel productive
3. What do I need to do to make this vison come true?
  • Sort and label all loose papers
  • Clear out all desk drawers and desk surface
  • Purge files and put into a project bin all I will need for taxes
  • Shred and archive papers
  • Declutter and organize bookshelves and the storage credenza
  • Set up bins for current projects and purge old projects
  • Deep clean room
4. Schedule times to do each task
  • Pull out calendar and see what times are available for work
  • Schedule reasonable times for each task and dates/times to work
  • Write on calendar the dates and times 
By the end of the month, I will call whatever has been accomplished “good enough” and move on to the next zone. The office is now ready for regular maintenance until the next year. I always reward myself by buying a fresh flower for my desk.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Paper Management – Now Where Is That Stuff I Need For Taxes?

If you are like many of us, you are just now getting around to panicking about if you have all that you need for taxes – and where those papers might be.

What do you need and not need is always a question. I suggest first looking at your last year’s return to see what you needed then.

Probably Needs:
1. income documents (W-2 and 1099 forms)
2. expense documents
3. documents for any additional income like rental income or alimony
4. cancelled checks, receipts, or a spread sheet for additional expenses – this would include gifts to charity and medical expenses
5. If you paid estimated taxes, a summary of estimated payments and cancelled checks

Dont’ Need:
1. receipts for prescription drugs – instead go to your pharmacy and ask for your 2012 printout
2. receipts that are not tax related – like for snacks or groceries

Now, where is all this stuff?

I recommend having a hanging file at the back of your active file cabinet and labeling it taxes. Every time you receive a tax related paper – tax on car or house, donations, professional membership fees, bank fees – drop it into that folder. Don’t take time to sort by category when the paper comes in – just immediately drop it into that tax folder. When tax time comes, pull out your folder; look at last year’s tax preparation and check off what you have.

For receipt documentation, keep the receipts in envelopes by month. I also suggest you enter the amounts into QuickBooks or a spread sheet every week. At the end of the year, total up from the spreadsheet and then put the receipts into a large manila envelope. Label this envelope with the year. Since most accountants agree that you need to save the documentation and receipts for 7 years, each year when you archive the past tax papers, shred the receipts that are in the envelope for 8 years ago.

If you keep car mileage for your business, place a  car mileage book in the car. At the end of the year, tear out the sheets for the past year and total the amount that was logged. Drop the mileage log into the same Manila envelope as the receipts.

Preparing the tax papers for your CPA will still not be fun, but at least the process will not be stressful and panicky.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Finacial Organization: Keeping Records Up To Date and Organized

April is Financial Literacy Month. Part of being financially literate is learning more about what you need to do to improve your financial state.

Step one is to organize your finances.

  • Keep a folder or basket for all your current bills and receipts.
  • Reconcile your bank and credit card statements monthly.
  • Keep a folder for all your tax information for the year.
  • Keep a folder for your recent copy of your credit report and your credit score.
  • Somewhere – in a folder or on your computer – have a list of all of your accounts. On this list also have your account numbers, online IDs, and passwords.
  • Have a list of all retirement accounts, investments, and life insurance policies.
  • Let someone know where your will, living will, and durable power of attorney documents are located.
  • Have a budget where you track your finances – either in a ledger, an excel sheet on your computer, or with a personal finance software program.

Step two is to set up a good filing system.

  • Have a desktop filing system for current items like bills/receipts.
  • Set up a hanging file system for other financial records.

Receipts that need to be kept for tax purposes
Paid bills that need to be kept for tax purpose
Bank statements
Insurance documents
Pay stubs
Medical costs
Car finances
Mortgage information
Social security and retirement information
Financial investments

Step three is organizing your time.

  • Set a regular time to pay bills.
  • Take time to reconcile bank statements when they come in.
  • Take time to reconcile credit card bills when they come in.
  • Set times to clear out financial clutter

Grocery receipts once recorded in budget
Old paycheck stubs once the tax year has been completed
Utility bills after recording unless you keep for one year to compare cost
Credit card receipts after reconciliation unless it is a big ticket item you wish to

Taking time to organize your finances may seem overwhelming, but if you take the time now it will save you time and stress down the road.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Early Tax Preparation

Paper clutter, when it comes to tax forms can cost you money. If you overlook deductions, contributions, or other chances to itemize, you can lose out. Already you are receiving W-2s, 1099s and year end statements. Designate a folder for all of this incoming tax paperwork – I like to make mine red and it sits in the back of my files.
Whenever anything comes in that might relate to taxes I just drop it in that folder. At this point in time I don’t bother categorizing what goes in there – I just make certain that it gets there.
All year round I place contributions and tax related papers in this folder. It might be the tax on my car tag or the house – in it goes.
I use a computerized bookkeeping system for my work, but it is also important that I have paper backup of what I have itemized there. If I bought a new computer and I entered it into my system, the IRS will not take my word for that. I’ll need my receipt or the deduction will not be allowed.
I keep my business receipts in envelopes – one for each month of the year. This is my back-up if I am ever audited. Some people scan receipts into their computers for safe keeping and that is an acceptable method. Just back up your computer files in case it crashes (remember my computer deduction?).
Get on top of everything coming in now and as soon as you file for this end of year, set up that red tax file to start collecting all of your donations and tax related papers for the upcoming year. It will make the final crunch time so much less stressful.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Zoning Your Office

Zoning your office can increase your efficiency. Organizing your office so that you have needed items at your fingertips can minimize the stress and frustration of not knowing where to locate that needed item immediately when you need it.
I recommend dividing your “office” into 4 zones. Some of the actual zones may not be in the same area as where you do your day in and day out work.

Zone 1: This is the zone that is right at your finger tips. You should be able to reach items in this zone without leaving your desk. In this zone you place the items you use everyday. Depending on what you do, a partial list could include:

  • computer
  • printer
  • phone
  • timer
  • pens/pencils
  • business cards
  • stapler
  • action files
  • current client files

Zone 2: This zone is close and accessibly. In this zone you place items you use weekly or at least often. A partial list might include:

  • reference books
  • 3 hole punch
  • extra paper for computer
  • label maker
  • extra file folders
  • manuals
  • file cabinet

Zone 3: This zone can be farther away and even in another room. In this zone you place items rarely needed. The list might include:

  • extra office supplies
  • extra business cards/marketing material
  • reference files
  • older client files
  • inspirational files
  • items needed for presentations or booths
  • rarely used references
  • last year’s financing papers

Zone 4: This zone definitely should not be taking up any prime real estate. In this zone you place purely archival information. This list would mainly be old tax papers and very old client records. This could be in a basement or attic. Just make certain to clearly label the boxes.

Share with me how you zone your office for efficiency.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Tax folder

This month the working zone is the office. Now is the time you clear out and update all of your files in this area. One of the files you should have is a tax file folder. I suggest that it is a bright color or at least a different color than your other folders. I also like this folder to be either the first or last folder in the drawer. All through the year as anything comes into your office that relates to your taxes you just drop it into this folder. If you have a business and keep up with receipts for your business, you might want an envelope for each month to hold the receipts. Other items you might drop in the folder are your monthly mortgage statements (if you get a cumulative one at the end of the year then you can let the others go), Ad Valorem tax receipt, monthly statements for brokerage accounts, bank statements, HUD settlement statement if purchasing or selling a house, receipts for home purchases that may qualify for energy credits or any major home improvement, college tuition and child care receipts, receipts for charitable contributions, and your end of year-last paycheck stub. About now all of your tax statements are arriving so drop them in too.
When it is time to do your taxes or gather the material for your accountant, you pull out your folder and look over last years tax form to see if you have everything. If you start this folder now (and mine already has items in it for 2010 taxes), life will be much simpler next tax season.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

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home office organization

To keep my home organized, decluttered, and inventoried I divide my house up into zones and tackle a zone each month. January is home office month and at this very moment my office looks like a bomb exploded in it. I am tearing things up and moving things around. Because business is growing and because I continue to learn and bring in more idea files my office was busting at the seams. I am in the process of taking some less used material and some archival files and moving them to a closet in the spare bedroom. I plan (when that zone appears on my radar) to redo that closet with Elfa shelving that would be suitable (will buy the shelving soon though to get that 30% discount). My desk and file drawers are complete but the rest is still in flux. I hope to get another big chunk done this weekend. I am pretty excited about the expected results. I need the breathing room.

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