Have you been diligently slogging through your paperwork this month? Have you gathered together the tax info, submitted and received forms, shredded outdated information, and created a filing system that you can maintain going forward?
If so, good job! If not, check out my last blog for a helpful framework on the ART of filing.
Most likely, one of the reasons you struggle with paperwork is because you are just inundated with too much of it. Despite the fact that we live in the digital age, physical paper still abounds. Here are the three best strategies to reduce it.
Strategy #1: Autopay
Autopay has been the best tool for me personally in reducing the amount of time I spend processing bills and paperwork. I used to sit down once a week to process all incoming bills. What a headache that was! Now I never have to do that.
How does autopay work? Just sign up with the payee (utility company, cell phone, even credit card) to have your bill automatically deducted on your due date each month from the account you select, either a bank account or a credit card.
Reap the benefits:
Avoid the drawbacks:
Note: When setting credit cards up for autopay, start by having only the minimum due paid automatically. That way, you won’t worry about forgetting to make a payment and incurring late fees, but you also won’t have to worry about your bank account being overdrawn by a giant payment. As you get more used to automatic payments and saving up funds to cover them, you can switch to having the full balance automatically deducted.
Strategy #2: Paperless
Are you worried about going paperless? Don’t be! You’ll still get bills and statements, but they’ll be sent via email instead of snail mail.
Unless they affect your taxes, you probably don’t need to save copies of the bills because you can access them online. Check with the payee to see how long you’ll have online access to the records.
If you want to save the bills for yourself, file them digitally. Set up an email folder called “Bills” (creative, right?) and save the emails there, or download copies of the statements (or save the emails as pdf files) and store them in a folder marked “Bills 2019,” creating one folder per year. Resist the temptation to print them out!
Strategy #3: Opt Out
I love opting out of receiving mail! Why? Because it puts me in control of what information comes into my home.
As a bonus, it’s an immediate way to reduce so much waste: wasted paper, wasted ink, wasted stamps, wasted money, wasted effort (both in getting it to me and in getting rid of it.
So how do you opt out of getting all this mail? These are my favorite tools:
The mail won’t be reduced overnight, but if you stick with using these services, you’ll see a dramatic reduction of incoming mail over the course of a couple of months. I used to get stacks of mail, but now only have a few pieces of mail each day and occasionally I get no mail at all. When the catalogs and solicitations start creeping into my mailbox again, I use PaperKarma again to banish them.
I’d love to hear from you!
What is your best strategy to reduce the time you spend with paperwork?
Do you enjoy getting catalogs or do you find they create dissatisfaction and “wanting?”
With the old year over and tax preparation looming, February is the perfect month to tackle the piles, both physical and digital, of records that have accumulated over the past year (or years!).
I’ll admit it, I do not love dealing with paperwork. As with other necessary tasks I don’t enjoy, such as laundry, my approach is to handle paperwork quickly and get it over with.
I find that the biggest hurdle people face with paperwork is knowing how to create a framework for separating, storing, and acting upon all the different types of papers that enter our lives.
To solve this problem, use my simple acronym to help you create an easy, 3-part file system:
ART = Archive, Reference, To Do
A is for Archive
Goal: Safely store these documents so you can get to them when you need them but in a place where they won’t clutter up your daily space.
What goes into your archive? Records you need to keep but you rarely need to access, such as
Store these securely, but not necessarily close at hand. I store these types of things in a safe (for the documents) and in an expanding file case (for tax returns). You could also use a hanging file box or a banker’s box tucked away somewhere in your home. If you already have a file cabinet, use the least-accessible bottom drawer as your Archive drawer.
R is for Reference
Goal: Organize reference information so filing it is quick and retrieval is easy.
Reference papers come into your home regularly but are not frequently used, although you might have to refer to them at tax time or when you need to look up information. Some examples of reference files are:
Whenever possible, go paperless with these types of files. If you need to store records for tax purposes, just download the statements and keep them on a server with a backup copy elsewhere.
Many reference files are also “replacement” files. For example, when the new insurance policy arrives, shred the old one and replace it with the new. This way, you’ll keep your files up to date instead of wasting space by storing outdated information.
Store reference files somewhere that’s relatively easy to access, so as to make filing easier and more likely to happen. I use an expanding file case that sits on a shelf under my desk within easy reach. If you have a file cabinet, the top or middle drawer would be a good place.
Some reference files might be needed for your income taxes. If so, having them neatly organized here will give you easy access when it’s time to prepare your taxes. Once the taxes are done, store the supporting reference files with the returns in your Archive area.
T is for To Do
To Do papers are the items that seem to give people the most trouble. They can’t be put away because we need to act on them but then they pile up and sometimes even get lost!
Goal: Organize your To Do’s in an easy-to-reach place so you actually DO them!
To Do’s are things such as:
As with Reference, go paperless with as many To Do’s as possible. For bills, take it off your To Do list by setting up auto-pay. When the e-bill arrives, just note the payment date and check that you have the funds in your account.
How to store To Do’s? A desktop file (best without a lid) keeps them in view without being unsightly. Other options are stadium files and wall pocket or cascading files. Unlike a single (usually overflowing) inbox, these storage solutions allow you to categorize your To Do’s by type (e.g. bills, forms, reading, travel), due date (e.g. dates of the month 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, 22-31), or time it takes to complete the task (e.g. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, ½ hour, 1+ hour).
Now you’re ready to turn your papers into a work of ART!
How’s your paperwork shaping up this tax season? Are you all electronic, all paper, or somewhere in between? I’d love to hear your comments and answer your questions.