Ah, the paper mountain. It clogs our lives with clutter and makes it impossible to find anything in a hurry! But, have faith: It’s never too late to clear that paper stack on your desk, catch up on unopened mail, or clear your overflowing receipt drawer. Your time is precious, and sometimes it’s easiest to just stuff everything in a drawer or on top of your desk and deal with it later. But the truth is, controlling the growth of your paper pile means less time spent later when you have a question about your last credit card bill, seek reimbursement from your insurance company, or prepare for tax season. Waiting until the last minute to organize yourself will result in frustrating hours spent away from what you love.
Just a few simple steps can bring your organization to a better level of efficiency. Once you’ve spent that initial time creating organization, it just takes a little time each week for upkeep. Take time now to save time later!
First, your organization transformation begins with gathering the right tools. A great start is a filing cabinet with straight tab file folders. Label the folders: medical records, estate plans, insurance policies, mortgage, auto records, taxes, investment records, pay stubs, bank statements, utility bills, purchase receipts, and the like.
If you need a clear desk to focus, keep an “active” folder in the front of a filing cabinet. Keeping the “active” folder up front hides it from view, but makes it easy to pull out when ready to take action. If you need an in-your-face reminder of incomplete work (especially paperwork), clearing your desk may actually be detrimental to your efficiency. In this case, set up an inbox/outbox system on your desk. Try using two horizontal boxes that sit flat on your desk. Fill the inbox with “active” work and the outbox with completed work. Whether you work more efficiently with files on your desk or need a clear space to focus, organizing paperwork while keeping active paperwork easy to access is essential.
Next, arrange a time, once a month, to file your completed work. Schedule an alert on your phone or calendar to remind you of the appointment you made for yourself to file. It shouldn’t take more than ten minutes if you keep up with your pile each month. Keep in mind, lost documents cost time and they can also cost money. Start moving that paper mountain today!
- Go paperless. The more you can pay online, the better. Stopping paperwork from coming into your home is the number-one way to combat the paper mountain (and better for the environment). Resist the urge to print something that you can easily find online.
- Do a major clearing yearly. Most paperwork, even that in a filing cabinet, is still live. Shred expired auto insurance paperwork, leases from five apartments ago, and paystubs once you’ve received the W2 in the mail.
- Make tax season easy. Keep all your taxable documents in one location, so when you’re ready to do your taxes, you have everything you need to file at your fingertips. Plus, if you’re ever audited, having your records organized can save you headaches and more. Keep your tax returns with backup documentation for three to seven years. The IRS can assess additional taxes within three years of date of return and can audit your taxes for up to seven years. Without proper documentation, the IRS can disallow even legitimate expenses.