On the quest to minimize paper I will share with you a tip that helps me a lot. I have a designated holding zone. This is where I put things that I don’t need now, but am not quite ready to do something with or get rid of.
Remembering the proven statistic that 80-85% of all papers put into files are never referenced again it helps to explain the purpose of the Holding Zone. Think of it as a step on the path to the recycle bin, but with the opportunity to retrieve it if need be. When I do my weekly office organizing session I work to make all the paper go away. But there are always a few things that I am not quite ready to toss and don’t want to put into my reference files or my action system. My solution is to pop them right into my holding zone.
It is important to go through the holding zone ever 2 or 3 months to see what can be moved out (filed, recycled or act on) so this area remains functional, otherwise you’ll just end up with an out-of-control mess. (To get into the habit, I recommend you calendar “process holding zone” every other month.)
The holding zone can be a file, a bin, a basket or a level of a letter tray. I use a letter tray because that’s easy for me. What kinds of things do I have in my holding zone? Here’s a sampling:
The certificate for the two hours of tech support I won at the silent auction
Notes from a project that I completed but want to keep around for a bit just in case
A sample of a marketing campaign from a local theater that I liked and might want to do something with
An idea for a product that I might want to do something with
Once again, remember that if the system isn’t easy, it’s too hard. Find an out of the way yet accessible place and set up your holding zone today.
If you follow my blog or get my weekly tip you’ll know we’ve talked about the importance of scheduling time to go through your papers on a weekly basis. Today I’ll share with you the most important tip to process your papers most effectively.
The Secret: Each time you pick up a piece of paper during your paper processing session ask yourself:
How can I make this piece of paper go away?
Put the contact information into your smartphone – you’ll be able to find it when you need it and you won’t have to keep the card or scrap of paper
Put the events on your calendar including details – you will know you have it scheduled and you won’t have to keep the flyer
Make an Evernote – if you have a note with something you need to remember – put it where you can find it. As we talked about last week, EVERNOTE is a fabulous application that crosses platforms and can be accessed from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Put a corresponding to-do on your task list and place the paper in your “working on now” pile
And then there is always file, shred, and recycle.
When you reduce the paper in your office your productivity soars. The more paper you eliminate the easier each future weekly processing session becomes. Remember to ALWAYS ask yourself “How can I make this piece of paper go away?”
Once again Tax Day has come and gone. For me it’s about 8 focused hours. I sit down to prep, our CPA Steve appears at our door, we work together for a couple hours, he leaves…we are done! We’ve had this routine for years. Steve always chuckles and tells me I’m his most organized clients. The secret – it’s not what I do that day, it’s the little things I do all year long. Here are my top tips for taming tax day:
The Annual Check Register – I don’t know many people that keep check registers these days. Most everyone just counts on their on-line balance. But I still do. And I start a new register on January 1st each year. That way, when it’s tax time I have many answers all in one place, my auto-pays, donation checks I may have missed, household expenses, medical bills – most of the things I pay by check I need when I pay my taxes. On Tax Day I go through my register and it helps me to prepare my Medical, Donation and Household expense totals.
Dedicated ONE Place for Tax Receipts – As you walk in the backdoor of my home I’ve created a command center. It is the designated spot for mail, and each family member has a cubby. There are also a couple of shelves for general use. On one of those shelves I have a 3 drawer bin. One of those drawers is labeled taxes. During the course of the year any and everything I need for taxes goes in that drawer. Goodwill receipts, on-line donation receipts, medical bill receipts, prescription receipts, and anything else relevant. On January 1st I empty it out and put it in an envelope for totaling on tax day.
Pull Records on January 1 (or 2) – Each year I start my records fresh on January 1st. That way last year and this year are never comingled. I put all of the prior year’s records into a Bankers Box that gets stored under my desk. After Tax Day the box goes into storage in my basement. I most comfortable keeping 7 years of boxes (ask your tax advisor what’s best for you). Steve left last night at 7pm. My box went to the basement as he walked out the door. I pulled the box that was 8 years old and it will go off to my towns next free shredding day.
Dedicate One Spot for Year End Tax Statements – Regardless of what it is, if we need it to do our taxes it goes in one spot. That way we have everything we need when we need it.
Tell your Teenagers What a W-2 is – This is the 2nd year in a row that we couldn’t finish our taxes 100%. We were missing one thing. Last year it was our older son’s W-2. This year, our younger sons W-2. If we don’t tell them what it is and that they need to give it to us we don’t have it. Bummer.
(In New Jersey where I live the % deductible for medical is substantially less than the Federal %. Ask your tax preparer about your states limit. It is definitely worth it for me to track this. It may or may not be or you.)
Imagine 1000 sticky notes that are organized and available at the click of a mouse. Meet Evernote. Evernote is a cloud based application that can be accessed from just about anywhere – your PC, your Mac, your iPhone, your iPad and/or your Android phone. And it’s FREE! Go to www.evernote.com and download it. Play with it. Basically, all you need to know to get started is that you make a note – give it a title and Evernote saves it. Then when you want to find it you can search on any word in the note and it will pull it up for you. Later, when you get more comfortable with it, you can take pictures into your notes, cut and paste links and photos into your notes, and even do voice to text input. Here are some ideas about how I use mine:
Favorite lists: books to read, restaurants to go to (each city has its own note), wines to try, nail polish colors I like