paper management

Is It Time To Declutter Your Desk? (Part 2)

In the last blog (http://www.itstimetogetorganized.com/what-does-not-belong-on-your-desk/) we explored why cluttered desks make it hard to focus on the task at hand and what you can do about it. When you have to push things aside to find a clear spot, you know it is time to tackle the desktop clutter. Statistics show that co-workers admit to being judgmental and assume that the owner of a messy desk is lazy. While we would not necessarily jump to that conclusion, that is the general feeling of the people with whom you work.

When clean space on the top of your desk is hard to come by, it may be time to take a look at the offenders — the items on your desk that are usurping valuable space. Unless they’re paying rent (which of course they are not) they belong somewhere else. It is your desk, isn’t it?

Before jumping into this project and bulldozing everything in sight on your desk, take a step back and decide what to do with these items. The “keep” items need a permanent home. (Your desk is their temporary home.) Moving everything to the right place requires thought ahead of time and a plan of action. You may decide to tackle this project on off-hours — later in the day or on a weekend — to minimize the interruptions that invariably come up. It will require focus.

Now that you have a better understanding of where items might be relocated, it is time to begin. We have already discussed tips in the previous blog on handling: Loose Papers, Post-It Notes, and Reading Materials. Now we will move on to other things you may find on your desk:

Project Files

  • Keep the current project on the desk top — Other on-going projects can be relocated to a nearby desk drawer or placed on the desk in a step (or tiered) organizing unit. As long as they are not in the way and do not throw you off track, both options are fine.

Meeting Notes

  • Decide where they should go. Most people have no idea what to do with them so they end up under piles in various corners of the desk. If they are no longer needed or are now in electronic form the answer is obvious. Consider adding them to the folder belonging to the specific project.
  • Create a folder and label it “meeting notes”. Now you will know where to look when you next need the information.
  • Scan them  to an electronic folder with a descriptive name and throw out the paper notes.

Business Cards

  • Gather them together and decide which ones to keep.
  • Add a few phrases on the back of these cards reminding you where you met, what the other person was wearing, what you discussed, or if there was any follow up. These clues will help you remember the discussion.
  • Place the cards in one location such as a small box. That is a far better solution than leaving them scattered all around your desk and credenza where they can be lost. When we work with clients, we find them on top of the desk and every other flat surface in the office plus thrown in drawers. Many people return from a networking event or meeting and do not know what to do with them.
  • Enter the cards into contacts. Include the notes you made on the back of the card. Microsoft Outlook and other CRMs include note sections where you can provide information about the person and the meeting. Use a scanner when there are a large number of business cards. It is a lot faster.

Mail

  • Confine incoming mail to a box that sits on the corner of your desk. Without a home for mail, it will end up strangling your desk (and maybe you, too).

Items To Take Home

  • Designate a place somewhere else other than the top of your desk for your keys, wallet, smart phone, articles to read, documents, a briefcase and/or a purse. These types of items belong in a desk drawer or in a filing cabinet where they are out-of-sight and safe.

 Personal Items

  • Clients typically want to know what is acceptable. Of course, a photo or two is a nice addition to your desk and helps you remember why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening.  We recommend displaying a few special pictures — that’s all.
  • Take away most, if not all, decorative items that sit on your desk. Donate or take home most knick knacks, especially if they have no meaning and you do not remember where they originally came from.
  • Rotate your personal items regularly to keep your desk looking fresh and interesting.

Cords and Electronic Devices

  • Designate an out-of-the-way spot so they do not need to be continually shifted about while you are working. Also, it will be easier to remember your cell phone or tablet when you leave the office if they are in the same location every time.

Printers and Scanners

  • Find a spot off your desk, if possible, for your scanner and printer. Or, at the very least, relocate them to a corner of your desk. These items are often big and bulky and take up valuable desk space. Just be sure they are handy to reach.

Supplies

  • Extra pens, pencils and notepads are annoying if it is necessary to move them from spot to spot every time more desk room is needed. Instead, stash them in a drawer, move them to a supply cabinet or give them away if you are unlikely to use them.Many organizations or schools can always use these types of supplies and are grateful. And, yes, they are a tax deduction.

Cleaning Supplies

  • While essential for keeping a desk clean, storing unattractive bottles and cans on top of your desk is not a pretty sight. Find someplace else.

Binders

  • As much as we find binders very handy, they take up a lot of room on a desk. Move them to a bookcase or arrange them on a shelf above your desk, if you have one.

Bonus Tip: Take a few minutes before you leave at the end of the day to clear off your desk and make it presentable. When you walk into the office the next day, you will be able to find what you need and can get down to work right away. There will be no down time and you will be off to a good start of the day. How nice!

 

 

 

 

 

Get Your Taxes Ready NOW For Next Year

While you are working on this year’s taxes, keep in mind what you can do now to make next year’s preparation easier. Even though it may be months and months away, there are actions you can take now to organize your taxes and make the process smoother throughout the year and at tax time.

• What worked well and what could be “tweaked”? If it took time to gather credit card statements, designate a “home” to keep them in one place during the coming year. Separate by card number.

• Set up specific file folders – paper or electronic – and drop or scan documents for next year’s taxes into them throughout the year.
Suggestion: Devote an easily accessible filing box or accordion folder exclusively to next year’s taxes.

• Highlight tax donations in your checkbook and on credit card statements as you check them monthly. (Suggestion: Use different color highlighters to differentiate categories such as for home maintenance and tax deductions.)

• Scan tax receipts using a mobile scanner (such as Neat Receipts or SnapScan. Makes it easy to export data into programs such as Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax.

Even though tax season may be months and months away, take these time-saving actions now.

 

Close Out The Year: Try This Checklist

  • Start gathering your papers and electronic files needed for taxes. Yes, now. Credit card and bank statements, receipts, anything you will need to take to your accountant. And, speaking of your accountant …
  • Meet with your accountant to review your situation and determine what, if any, actions to take before the official close of the year.
  • Pay outstanding invoices and avoid back dating checks in January.
  • Decide if money owed you now should be paid this year or in January. There may be advantages to moving the revenue into the following year.
  • Archive 2012 email. If your inbox is filled to the brim, here’s your opportunity to reduce your email volume. And compressed email takes up less space. It’s a win-win.

Maintain Your Organizing

If you have recently organized your office, you know the type of work it takes to accomplish this feat. Are congratulations in order? Most definitely yes! And what a wonderful feeling! At long last you can put your hands on a document quickly without wasting time searching. The clutter is gone, old files have gone to storage, current files are in a nearby drawer, binders on the credenza are labeled and the sole project on your desk is the one you are working on currently.

And here’s another plus: You can invite clients and co-workers without feeling embarrassed by the appearance of your space. The message is loud and clear that your office is totally functional and you are in control.

Now can you cross that project off of your list? Well, yes, but not the part about maintaining the organization. Just because your office is in ship shade at the moment and you are able to be highly efficient, does not mean that the organization will stay that way on its own. Some people forget about the effort needed to keep your space clear. If you let it go, your office will be back to square one in no time at all. It will be messy and cluttered and will require all of your energy to navigate — energy you would prefer to put toward your job.

What can you do to ensure that your office stays tidy and neat? Try these tips:

  1. Designate a time — daily or weekly — to put everything back in its place. You may need to spend 15 minutes at the end of the day or an hour every Friday afternoon. Then add it to your calendar and be sure and do it.
  2. Decide your tolerance level, that is, at what point do you stop to sort, file and make decisions on papers that have no home. Maybe it is when the inbox is full.
  3. Ask a co-worker to “shadow” you while you get your office back to its organized state. His/her presence in the room is sufficient reason for you to stay motivated until your work space in back in working order.
  4. Change organizational systems that are not working instead of struggling with them. Sometimes a system needs revamping even though you were sure it would work when you set it up. A perfect example is a tickler system. Your colleague raved about how well it works but not for you. You are clearly disappointed in the way it performs. Instead of giving up and leaving the papers scattered about, try a different filing system. Keep trying different until you get to one you like and know you will use.

These tips will go a long way toward maintaining your hard-earned organization. True, they will require effort but the benefits in productivity are well worth it. You’ll feel less stress because you are free to focus on your tasks.

There is good news, however: It’s a lot easier to maintain systems and processes once they are established. It will take a lot less time to keep on top of papers, files and anything else that lands on your desk from here on in.

 

 

 

How To Reduce Unwanted Mail

I don’t know about you, but I dislike the piles of junk mail that show up in my mailbox unsolicited. I sift through the junk immediately keeping my eye out for important pieces of mail, hoping I do not overlook something important. Before even stepping into my house, I typically fling into the trash:

  • —  Magazines and catalogs I have no intention of reading.
    —  Coupon flyers I have no intention of cashing.
    —  Special offers from local retailers, land companies, real estate firms, etc. I have no intention of using.

Would you like to reduce the pounds of junk mail that weigh you down? Would you like to open your mail box and find only first class mail?

Below are opt-out websites that will help make this happen.

1)   www.directmail.com — there is no cost to take you off lists.

2)  www.dmachoice.org — choose particular companies in the following four categories from which you still want to receive mail; eliminate the rest for five years or permanently.

  • Catalogs
  • Credit Offers
  • Magazine subscriptions, newsletters, periodicals, promotional mailings
  • Other Mail Offers such as: donation requests, bank offers and retail promotions

3)  www.OptOutPrescreen.com — the official consumer credit reporting industry website for consumers to opt in or opt out of credit or insurance offers for five years or permanently.

It will only take 15 minutes. Do it today. Go on the websites to minimize the amount of unwanted mail. You’ll love opening
your
mailbox.

How To Get Your Taxes Done by April 15th

If you have put off taxes, and many people have, there is still time to buckle down and finish them before April 15th. Asking for an extension just prolongs the misery and weighs you down. You know they need to be done so why not just get on with it? Now. There is no more time left to procrastinate.

How to start? Here are 10 easy-to-follow steps:

1) Set up a date to meet with your accountant, if you use one.
2) Schedule time on your calendar to work on your taxes (and only your taxes in this allotted time). Be sure to keep the appointments.
3) If your accountant has given you a worksheet, read it through carefully it so you know exactly what is needed.
4) Pull out all of your papers and divide them into categories. Print the documents that are on the computer or copy them onto a USB or CD for the accountant.
5) Sort the papers again, this time into subcategories. For example, you might begin with a stack labeled clients and gradually whittle it down to a number of individual clients.
6) Write down your questions so you do not forget to ask your accountant or a knowledgeable source.
7) Call for the documents that are missing.
8) Label each stack of documents, using binder clips to separate them. While all of these stacks may not be needed for the accountant or the IRS, it helps to stack them in an organized pile.
9) Put in as much energy and time as needed to finish the job on time. Forego weekends and week nights, if that is what it takes.
10) Make sure the government office signs a receipt and returns it to you. Keep the receipt in your tax file. If the IRS later on says that they never received your taxes, you have the proof that they were sent. This happens more than you may realize.

Now sit back and relax while your friends and colleagues scurry around in panic mode trying to meet their extension dates because they put their taxes off. And you didn’t!

How to Sort Paper

 

Most everyone finds it challenging to keep track of the sheer bulk of paper even in this electronic age. If you are not happy with the mess of paper on your desk or if you can’t find what you need quickly, you may be delaying making decisions. These tips will help guide you through the maze.

First, schedule several hours of non-work time to organize papers in your office.

Clear a workspace area for sorted papers.

Follow the F.A.T. System for sorting paper, notebooks, files, and binders.

  • File: “F” stands for File. Label one of your boxes “File” and sort the following into it:
      — Keep active to-do’s close at hand
      — Move files used less often to other areas.
  • Act: “A” stands for Action. Designate a box for Action items and use it for papers on which you need to do something (e.g., send an email, process a file, make a phone call, discuss with someone, etc.). This means that you perform the necessary items on this piece of paper TODAY. Once you’ve completed these items, the paper should be filed, re-routed to someone else or discarded.
  • Toss: “T” stands for toss. Be brutal. Can it be retrieved again? Is it out-of-date? Does someone else have the information? Purge, purge, purge.

Imagine doing this same process daily except, of course, on a much smaller scale.

Now you’ll have control of your paper instead of it controlling you!

Could you wallpaper your office from your stacks of paper?

How is your desk looking today? Are your papers in order or are you having difficulty finding what you need?

Sometimes a messy desk just means that you’re not tidy and that you can still find what you need quickly. Or,

sometimes it indicates that you avoid making decisions.

Which one are you?

Here are a few reasons why you may put off handling those piles:

… I’m too busy. I’ll do it later. I’m not sure what the paper is.

… I don’t know what to do with it.

… I am not ready to handle it until I can do it perfectly.

… I don’t have the right tools.

… I’m not sure what the answer is.

… There is no clear cut action.

Tell us why you think you delay decisions and what your thoughts are about co-workers who have piles of paper in their office?