Have you ever wondered why we get and keep all the paper that we do? I do all the time. What are we afraid of if we don’t have it? Are we missing out on something? Will something bad happen if we don’t have it? Will you be able to find it again if you file it?
There are three things to keep in mind when you need to file your paperwork. If you have piles and piles and you don’t know where anything is, consider these concepts.
Tip One: Identify why you need to keep your paperwork organized. What benefit will it bring you? Knowing the reason you do something can be a big motivator. Many people find that they save time by having a home for everything and everything in its place. If you know what to keep and what to let go of, you can have a certain peace of mind, you do not need to continue to ask yourself if you need something.
Tip Two: Pre-sort your paperwork using the FAR method. File, Action and Recycle. File the paperwork you need to archive or need to keep for reference – remember that much information can be found on the internet. Action items are those items you need to take action on. Keep these separate from your filing in a hot file. Reduce and recycle the rest – get off mailing lists of companies that you will never purchase from and recycle the rest.
Tip Three: Chose one way to organize your paperwork and stick to it! If you’re not sure which type of system to use, use your dominant Processing Style to your advantage. Your Processing Style, also called learning style, influences how you process information in the world. People are familiar with three main processing styles – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. But there are many different ways to process information, including emotional, intuitive, cognitive, verbal, and more. People do not usually process information only in one style, they usually use a combination of styles, but some will be more dominant than others. If you know your strengths, you can use organizing strategies that utilize that style. Some questions to ask yourself to find your preference:
- Are you a visual processor? Use color in your filing system, using one color for each major category.
- Are you an auditory processor? Talk out loud as you file – you’ll remember where you put things more effectively.
- Are you a kinesthetic processor? Place your main categories in different locations to help differentiate files.
- Are you an intuitive processor?
Trust your instincts – you’ll do what’s best for you.
Is the paperless office just a fantasy for you? Do you struggle to find files on your computer like in the “”real”” world? How can you organize your digital files?
One of the goals for any organizing project is to make it easy to find things when you need them. Thankfully computers have great search capabilities and by keeping a few tips in mind, it can be a snap to find any file within a few minutes, if not seconds.
Tip 1: Use your desktop carefully.
Generally speaking you want to keep your desktop clear, just as you would your physical desk. Your desktop is not the place to file reference material, just as your desk is not either. You may want to keep a few project files on your desktop that you are actively working on. The key here is actively working on.
Do not keep files on your desktop that relate to a project that you may work on someday. Do not keep digital files that are archive material on your desktop. Keep it clear so you can focus on the work at hand. Also consider putting shortcut icons in the task bar if you have a PC for the programs that you use most and take their corresponding icons off the desktop. To organize further on the desktop, group your icons using Fences by Stardock (http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/).
You are probably in one of three places regarding your taxes:
1) You have a system set up that you use and that works for you. Great! Keep reading and see if there are any tips that you can use to tweak your system and make it even more efficient and easy.
2) You have a “sort-of” system that still engenders a level of panic as tax day draws near. Stay calm, help is at hand.
3) You have the “ostrich head in the sand” approach and haven’t filed taxes for a number of years, or are consistently filing extensions, franticly searching for receipts, and always missing deductions. It could take some time to organize your records, but once you have a system set up, it will be easy to sort your records and make tax time a breeze next year.
Preparing for your taxes is a large job. And the best approach with large jobs is to break them down into manageable components and work steadily on them. Fortunately, with taxes, that’s easy to do.
There are three basic steps to organizing your taxes:
The first step is to decide which categories you need to track. This will depend on your situation and an accountant is the best person to advise you on your exact categories. Having said that, for individual taxes, it is usually not very complicated. Have a place for your income related tax information – W2’s and so on. If you only have a single stream on income and you claim the standard deduction at the end of the year, that’s all you need. If your income has multiple streams, create different categories for income, e.g. W2’s, rental income, dividends, etc. If you claim an itemized deduction, you may want to separate the deductions into different categories, e.g. charitable donations, home mortgage interest, medical, etc. Check IRS for categories that are likely to apply to you. The IRS has all of its forms and publications online so a little research yourself can produce the likely categories for you. Click for instructions for Schedule A on your 1040.
Do you have more paper clutter than you know what to do with? Can you find a specific piece of paper when you need it? How do you manage the information contained in all the paper you have?
Control your paper clutter – FAR your mail: File, Action, Recycle.
If you have piles of paper, try doing a pre-sort first. It’s easier to keep only a few categories in mind to start with. I use the FAR method, adapted from Julie Morgenstern’s FAT method. She uses File, Act, Trash. I take her trash and put it in the recycling. Now we’re going FAR with our mail! This initial pre-sort can be done very quickly into two piles and the recycling bin.