As a kid, April 15 was a holiday in our house. It was the day my accountant mother could breathe again after over 3 long months of helping her clients. I may have learned a thing or two along the way, so I’m happy to share some tips on how to get organized before heading to your accountant’s office, or, if you’re one of those brave souls who tackles the task on your own, before you sit down at the kitchen table amid a sea of paperwork. In either case, the key is starting early… as in January 1 early.
Taxes can get pretty complicated depending on what kind of return you have to file. Do you have a business? Dependents? Itemized deductions? There are already a lot of great sources of information out there about which documents and information you need to gather. Instead, let’s focus on how to move through this year proactively so that when April 2020 rolls around, you won’t be scrambling to find all this documentation.
The first thing you should do is have a dedicated folder where you can file any paperwork that you may need come next April.
Know which documents you need to keep in each folder and make lists. If you need help with this, your tax preparer should be able to help you create a customized list based on how you file and the specifics of your financial architecture. Otherwise, here’s a great general resource: https://www.rgbrenner.com/resources/what-do-i-bring-to-my-tax-appointment/
Attach these lists to the front of each folder. Cross off items as they go into the folder.
Documents come in all year, so this is a great way to keep yourself informed at a glance. A few notes:
Now that you’re filing, try to stay ahead of the record-keeping by doing it monthly. This effort will help both you and your accountant simplify the process come March or April, so you don’t have to scramble to collect all the information and dollar amounts in a last-minute rush.
Pick your poison to start an electronic or written file for keeping records of expenses. I’m a lover of Excel, but some folks prefer Word or even handwritten lists. If you’re in the latter camp, I recommend buying a dedicated ledger book to record line items. Keep separate files for personal and business. Once a month, go through your saved receipts and enter them into your record. Remember to categorize the type of expense for each receipt.
As you can see, it’s all about establishing a system that you can easily maintain throughout the year with minimal effort. It’s so easy to get behind with all the personal and professional obligations we balance. If we can stay aligned with the system and find an hour a month to maintain it, then when that April 15 holiday inevitably rolls around again, we can face it head-on with confidence and careful preparation.
Over the past 3 years, I’ve called three different NAPO colleagues to help me with my own organizing projects. Each time it was a fantastic experience. Not only did I get stuff done, I really got an appreciation for what it feels like to be the client AND as a result, I am a better Productivity and Organizing Consultant!
I hired professional organizers (or PO’s) to help me:
Here are some key takeaways from these sessions:
I was thrilled by what I got done: cleaned out an overwhelming amount of stuff so I could close down my mother’s apartment, became very tech-comfortable, and am feeling stylish and well-dressed like never before. The gratitude I feel towards these organizers is immense.
I close by urging all PO’s who have never hired another Professional Organizer to do so. Everyone can improve their productivity and up their level of being organized. And you’ll have much greater understanding and empathy for your clients!
There are a lot of social networking sites out there. There’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; but what about Pinterest, “The World’s Catalog of Ideas”
Pinterest members can create an unlimited number of themed virtual pinboards of products and ideas that they are interested in such as organization for example! In turn, these virtual boards can be followed by others and “pins” can be “repinned” onto their own boards. As social networking sites are pretty much all interlinked, your ideas can be shared with a wider audience that just those who are users of Pinterest.
As with almost everything, there are positives and negatives. No worries though, the positives far outweigh the negatives! Those negatives seem to vanish after the learning curve.
Let’s get those pitfalls out of the way first. I’ve been a Pinterest user for several years now and quickly learned the following things:
Now for the good stuff, otherwise known as the power of Pinterest!
– For example, create a board for your pantry which could use an overhaul! Give it a fun Name like Giddy Up, Tidy Up My Pantry!
– After creating the board, use the Description area as a place to keep measurements of the heights between shelves as well as the length and depth of the shelves. Add in any products that you think you’ll want, that are on the top of your head, so that you won’t forget to look for them later. Having this quick reference guide will come in handy as you are doing your shopping!
– Then decide if you want to keep the board a Secret! Maybe you’ll want the big reveal to show off on your other social media! You can share your secret with anyone you want though, these are your Collaborators.
However you decide to use Pinterest just have fun with it. Search for me at Open Doors Organizing Services…and keep an eye on that clock!
Trying to know everything about the Internet is as impossible as reading every book ever written. Like the spooky spider webs (real and synthetic) that accent our autumn décor, the fingers of the world-wide-web stretch and reach into sometimes unexpected corners of our lives. Schools, grocery stores, medical offices, places of employment and social groups – it is hard to find areas of life that are not touched. Yet, while technology races to manage our world, how well are we managing technology?
No matter where you find yourself in this digital age — ahead of the curve, just keeping up, or lagging behind — step away from the shivers you feel about getting caught in the web. Here are suggestions of some free tools and applications that I, myself, have found useful. They have helped me create order and ease in different areas of my daily life.
When You Shop: If you keep your cell phone with you, use it to store your shopping lists. Simply take a picture of your refrigerator grocery list before leaving the house or have a family member text you a picture of it when you’re at the grocery store. Create your list in an “app” such as Remember The Milk. And toss all those plastic loyalty and club cards. Use an app called Key Ring and they will always be with you when you need them.
Appointment Management: Phone calendars are wonderful for helping keep track of appointments and deadlines. They even offer the ability to set alarms. Go a step further and set up a shared calendar for your family in Google so you can know who needs to be where and when.
Travel Help: Have you ever been traveling and needed to find a gas station, restaurant or restroom? Don’t want to end up in a less than desirable location? Use the Yelp app to find something local and reviewed by others. Want to catch a movie on the fly? Try the Flixster app to find what’s playing now in your current location.
Files at Your Fingertips: Whether used for business or not, this can be more handy than you might think. Try creating a medical file in Evernote or Dropbox with snapshots of test results, medications and procedures. Bring an iPad or tablet to your doctor appointments and pull them up so your doctors can scroll through them easily. Similarly agendas, contact lists, and meeting notes for your association or social club meetings can be saved online. Even if you prefer bringing printed copies, storing them in Google Drive is a great backup plan. If you get into a bind and are caught without the printouts, you can log in to your Google account and access the notes on your phone or tablet without having to stop home.
I challenge you to choose one new techno-solution this month and see if it can help you streamline an aspect of your life. Don’t wriggle helplessly in a web constructed by someone else. Use technology to create your own web of control and order. Replace your fear of the Internet by spinning a web of your own design.
Believe it or not, it only takes a few steps to get your online files organized. Below are seven steps to help you save countless hours and avoid those embarrassing situations that come from searching for lost files. Let’s get started!
1. Start at the Root
Determine where you want your file system to live on your computer. Having all your files and documents under one ‘root’ folder on your computer will make it easy to locate your files. Many single Windows users have all their folders, files, and documents stored haphazardly in the ‘Documents’ or ‘My Documents’ folder on their PC. If this sounds like your system, then you might want to consider starting from scratch. The easiest way to do this is to save all your current folders, files, and documents to a new folder and name it something like Archive_2015 or any appropriate name that’s easy to remember. Now you can start to create a new file structure with broad categories without losing any of your current information. After your new filing system is created, you can move previously created files and documents to the newly created system on an as needed basis.
2. Create a File Structure
File structure is the backbone of your filing system and it begins with using folders for general categories. Think big when creating filing categories and limit the number of folders to a critical few. Describe the contents of the folders with short commonly used, meaningful terms. Start broad and get more specific as you add files and documents to those broad category folders.
Examples for business folder names:
Examples for personal folder names:
Health & Wellness
3. Use Sub-Categories
After you have created your folders using broad categories, you will want to create files with sub-categories. Sub-categories are used to organized those files and documents within your folders. You may have a folder called ‘Projects’ and within that folder are several files or sub-categories called Project-A, Project-B and Project–C.
4. Determine a Naming Convention
It’s important to name your folders and files consistently and logically. Storing multiple drafts of the same document can get confusing, and a naming convention is one way to avoid that confusion. Also, adding a date at the end of the file name is a great way to keep track of multiple documents, and the addition of initials at the end of the file name will add clarity if more than one person is working on the same document.
Naming convention examples:
5. ‘Save As’ You Go
File your documents in the proper location by using the ‘Save As’ feature. ‘Save As’ allows you to save and file your documents as you go, so they will be placed in the correct file or folder from the start.
6. Clean Up Your Desk Top
Evaluate what you really use and delete those icons or shortcuts that are outdated or infrequently used. Note: deleting a shortcut is not the same as deleting a file, folder or program from your computer. Deleting the shortcut will simply remove it from your desktop. A program like Fences is a great way to automatically sort out all those remaining icons into organized, easy to see boxes and categories. The program can sort the categories for you or you can create your own categories.
7. Backup Your Files
Have a regiment in place to regularly back up your files. If your hard drive fails or is damaged and your only source of backup is your computer, then you risk losing all of your business transactions and correspondence. The rule of thumb for data protection is “if you need it to run your business, then back it up.” Having all your files saved to a ‘root’ will make that process easy.
“I’m just a paper person!” Do you ever hear or say that when it comes to keeping a calendar, to-do list, or records? I know I have been saying that for years, always preferring to collect my life and thoughts on paper.
The reality is, if we dare open our mind and heart to try something new, there are numerous apps for our phone that will truly make our life so much easier. Yes it does take a small investment of will and time to learn them, but in the end — I promise it is worth it.
To start my own journey in breaking through my paper comfort zone, I investigated the benefits of using a calendar app on my phone, instead of using a paper calendar. Below is my comparison chart showing reasons it might be worth making the switch. If you already embrace the paperless possibilities in today’s world, this may be the perfect article to pass on to a not-yet-tech-savvy friend!
Now it’s up to you to try a calendar app for yourself and move past the paper person persona! Challenge yourself to try it for a week, starting today, and see how it can revolutionize your life!