Small Business Week: How to NOT Overbook Your Calendar

Recently, a friend/client/networking partner had to cancel a morning meeting because she had overbooked her Tuesday.

Another client had to reschedule a document drop-off with me because he “ran out of day today.”

No judgement here.  Been there, done that.

In her text message to me, the overbooked friend/client/networking partner asked me to write a blog about how to not overbook our schedules!  So, friend, in honor of National Small Business Week, here it is!

When do you work?  Where?  How?   Workdays and work places have changed, due to worker and industry preferences.  A “typical” workday is anything but typical, more than half the workforce works for themselves or small businesses, and many of us work from home (or Starbucks, or someone else’s home, etc).

As the lines of work and home blur, it’s difficult to keep all our commitments straight!  So, to help get the most out of your schedule, without resorting to teleportation or cloning, here are a few ideas:

  • Check your schedule regularly, with an eye out for potential snags or trouble spots. Don’t wait until tomorrow to plan for tomorrow. or until next week to plan for next week.
  • Schedule recurring events.  Actually put them in your calendar / planner / etc.  Yes, you will probably remember.  But then again, you may not.  Just write them down.
  • Better yet, Just write everything down (or make a note in Outlook or Google Calendar, or your planner, or however you track such things).  I can’t be trusted to remember things unless I write them down.
  • Determine realistic time estimates for your regular tasks.  Have you noticed?  We tend to underestimate how long our favorite tasks take, and overestimate how long dreaded tasks take.  We assume the easy stuff will go quickly, but get snagged or run late when something goes wrong.
  • Factor in commuting time between meetings where applicable,  and multitask your travel time.  I’ve been leaving a more generous time cushion between client appointments, to accommodate conversations that go a little long, traffic troubles, or a quiet moment to eat my lunch on the way to the next appointment.
  • Keep your calendar and contact information up to date and with you at all times, so if you do find yourself overbooked or running late, you can do the polite and professional thing and call ahead.
  • Do not feel you have to explain yourself.   No one needs to know that you need to leave a meeting on-time to get to a 6th grade soccer game.
  • If you do double book yourself or if life gets in the way, just OWN UP, APOLOGIZE and reschedule.  Make that call with solutions in mind, as in “I’m very sorry, something unexpected came up and I’m going to be late to our 1 o’clock meeting.  Would you like to push it to 2 pm, or reschedule for a different day?”
  • Meetings.  Ah, meetings.  Meetings, by definition, involve other people.  And talking, and planning and note taking and assigning tasks.
    • Don’t be ‘that guy’ or ‘that woman’.  You know, that one with the late, rushed and loud arrival. Be early, be prepared, and be quiet until there is something to say.
    • Don’t like making pre-meeting small talk?  Smile politely, then make a show of reviewing your notes, or making new notes (even if it’s your packing list for vacation, or an email for later).
    • After the fact:
      • Set an alarm to keep from getting chatty.
      • Factor in processing time for your notes and action steps from the meeting, before heading to your next activity.

As you move through your week this week, keep your schedule in mind, and try a tip or two to make that next workday or meeting go more smoothly!

How Are You?  No, Really. How Are You?

Getting and staying organized requires focus, motivation, a plan, energy and probably a few more things, if I think about it.

It requires Action. Vision.

And sometimes a healthy meal and comfy shoes!

Getting organized can be a challenge for some people, but its really challenging if you are already feeling off, or at a disadvantage.

Good Self-Awareness and Self-Management are powerful tools in life. They help us be our best self and do our best work.

Know any toddlers? I’ve known a few. And I know some adults who may occasionally think or act like a toddler, myself included. Toddlers lose their cool sometimes. We all do. But toddlers, and the rest of us, are more likely to melt down if they are overwhelmed, hungry, tired, thirsty, bored, in need of a washroom, cold, uncomfortable or just plain sad (to name a few).

In my Organizing Coaching classes, we learn about self-management. To be fully present and focused on my client and our organizing coaching sessions, I have to make sure that I am ready before we begin. I manage my physical needs, and also mentally prepare. I can’t help others until I’ve helped me.

So, if

  • your focus has dimmed;
  • your motivation has lagged;
  • your planning failed; or
  • your energy has run out;
  • it may be time to ask yourself some questions.

Is it time to eat something? Something healthy?

Is it time for a cold or hot drink?

Do I just need to step away from this project for a moment and take a walk around the block to get some clean breaths?

Am I bored? Could I use some music or a partner to help this project go more smoothly?

How do I feel in this space?

Is this space too cold? Hot? Drafty? Smelly? Too dark? Too bright?

Is this project difficult? Am I uncomfortable because I am being called upon to do difficult work?

Am I upset now because of something bad that happened earlier or yesterday or last week?

The answers to any of these questions can give us an idea of why we’re feeling out of sorts, and also the ways to rectify the situation.

A friend and client shared a powerful tool she learned in Recovery, HALT. When we feel like our resolve or focus or calm are slipping, we can ask our self if we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Addressing these challenges first can help us continue to make good and positive choices.

When we’re working through our organizing projects, or our work day or just life in general, we can’t always fix every discomfort we have. But increasing our self-awareness and improving our self management helps us put names to our challenges. And then we can begin to make them better.

Tax Season Has Ended – Whew! 5 Lessons We Learned.

I truly believe we can learn from every experience, if we’re paying attention.  Every day, every moment, every experience.

Along that line of thinking, I just wrapped up a call with a good friend / network partner, and the last thing we did was Review and Recap what we had discussed and what our next steps were.

So, let’s Review and Recap what we have learned from this tax season, just ended, and what we can do to make next season more organized and less stressful!

 

  • I could have started preparing  a lot earlier. “  Start early.  There is really no reason not to.

ACTION STEP: Take a few simple steps now to make next April go much smoother!

 

  • “I keep too much paper!”  Everyone does, it’s true.

ACTION STEP:  Call me!  Or, read my other blogs on paper management and change the way you save paper.

 

  • “This process would go a lot smoother if I made a file folder at the beginning of the year called ‘Tax Documents: Current Year’, and added to it through the year as pertinent documents came in.

ACTION STEP: Make the folder, title it “Tax Documents: Current Year”, and USE it!

 

  • “I should adjust my withholding, then I wouldn’t owe so much next April.”  And if you’re self-employed, like me, perhaps you said (as I did), “Perhaps it’s time to start sending in quarterly tax payments, instead of one lump sum.”   Yes, you should.

ACTION POINT: Talk to your HR department, or if you are self-employed or own your business, discuss your options with your CPA.  April 14th of next year is too late to make positive changes for this year.

 

  • “Wow, A lot of people must procrastinate about their taxes.  My usual accountant barely had time to speak to me last week and those other places were a zoo. I could do my taxes myself, but not if I wait until the last minute.”   Yes, all true.  Lots of people procrastinate. Don’t be most people.  Refer to the other learning points above, and …

ACTION POINT:  Book your appointment for next February NOW!

So, take a few actions this week to make your 2016 more organized, and your tax season next year go more smoothly!

What Was That?  Three Types of Paper, You Say?

The Second Tuesday of March is National Organize Your Home Office Day.

Over the past 13 years, I’ve learned a lot from my clients and experiences in home offices.  Why are Home Offices a Challenge?

  • Home offices are still evolving, as more workers move out of brick-and-mortar offices.
  • With a blend of both home and office, there is just more paper to deal with, plus the boundaries between professional and personal papers blur.
  • Industries often provide Document Retention Policies, with clear instructions about what papers to keep, and how to confidentially get rid of documents when they are no longer needed (consider medical records in a hospital).  However, personal papers do NOT come with document retention policies, and we have to create them.

Most of the papers we have in our homes and offices fall into three categories:

  • Active;
  • Passive; and
  • Archival.

Your home office undoubtedly contains all three types, and each type requires different handling and storage.   Here ‘s what you need to know about each type:

ACTIVE PAPER

Active Papers are defined as papers that require some action to be taken.  Examples of Active Papers are: a bill to pay, a greeting card to send, a form to complete and send back to school.  The actions required might be a bit more complex, too, for example: a sports schedule to be entered into your calendar; a business card from a new contact that needs to be entered into your contacts and also an email sent; a reminder to call someone or make an appointment.

The most important thing to know about Active Papers is to ACT ON THEM, and then move them on.  So, pay the bill, send the card, complete the form, enter the info, make the call, send the email.  And them move the papers along, either into Passive storage, Archival storage, or the shredder or recycling bin.

PASSIVE PAPER

Passive Papers are Active Papers whose actions are complete.  Now, they require no further action except for retention for a predetermined amount of time (for reference or just in case), and then safe and confidential disposal.  For example, you may decide to keep one full year of receipts, paid bills, statements and the like until you file your taxes for last year.  Some people may feel more comfortable keeping 2 full years, and that’s OK, too.

The important thing to remember about Passive Papers is the “keep for an amount of time and then dispose of them” part of their definition.  Often my clients and I unearth grocery receipts from 4 years ago, maintenance records for cars they no longer own, or the electric bill from 7 years ago.  None of these papers have any bearing on our life today, and are just cluttering up our office and files.

Set up your Passive Paper files to store each month’s info together (no more micromanaging your filing), decide how long – 1 year or 2 years – to keep your Passive Papers, then put an annual date on the calendar with your shredder for old Passive Paper destruction.

ARCHIVAL PAPER

Archival Papers are the papers you will need in 5, 10, 20 or more years.  Archival Papers may include, but are not limited to: mortgage papers, car titles, certificates (birth, marriage, sacramental), passports and original social security cards, etc.

There are two tricks to handling Archival Papers.  The first is to be able to identify what is TRULY archival.  A couple questions to ask yourself:  Who else needs to know this info? Will it have bearing on my life or decisions in a year or 10 or 20?  Will someone ask me for this information some day?  How important was the transaction attached to this information?

Very few papers actually make it to Archival status, so you don’t need to dedicate too much space to them.  But the other important tip you need is to keep your Archival Papers SAFE. Invest in a portable fireproof safe, or a safety deposit box at the bank.

Invest a little time to day and this week to restore order in your home office.  Consider the various piles of paper in your space, determine what type of papers  you have, and plan your work and storage accordingly.

Leap Day! What to Do With An Extra, Bonus, Cherry-On-Top Day?

Leap Day!  I’m publishing this blog today because I can!  We only get this opportunity once every 4 years, so I’m taking it!

Turns out, it takes we Earth Dwellers 365 and a quarter-ish days ( 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 47 seconds to be precise) to fully orbit the sun, so every 4 years we need to add a day to catch up with those quarters.  We’ve known this for 2000+ years now, though Leap Day has moved around within the year at the whim of various leaders over the last 20 centuries.  Time really is relative, and a human construct.   This is the ultimate Time Management Blog!

2016 is a Leap Year, today is a Leap Day.  I know it still feels like a Monday,  and may look like every other day except on the page of your calendar, but today is a Gift.

My question to you is:  What Can You Do With An Extra Day? An added bonus, cherry-on-top day?

I asked myself – If I had a day all to myself, an added bonus, cherry-on-top day, what would I do?

And it turns out, I would probably spend it doing the things I already love.

  • I’d get up early, like always.  Not because I had to, but because it helps me be my best self.
  • I would talk with loved ones, and spend time with my husband and sons.  Time with them would be essential to making an added bonus, cherry-on-top day the best day it could be.
  • I would prepare and share and eat really delicious food.
  • I would still organize, though perhaps just my own home or time or brain for that day.
  • I would still be productive because, honestly, I don’t find sloth enjoyable.  I get pleasure out of getting things done, so my added bonus, cherry-on-top day would still be productive.
  • I would read, go to Mass, go out in nature, take a nap and watch a really great movie.
  • I would drink tea and eat girl scout cookies and write, just like I’m doing right now.
  • I would be surrounded by music of my choosing.
  • I would live in a clean, uncluttered space, and still clean up after myself, because a added bonus, cherry-on-top day, and every other day, deserves that respect, as do I.
  • So long as no one was getting hurt, I would let those around me do what they choose, too.Here’s what I would not do:
  • I would not argue with anyone.
  • I would not talk on the phone.
  • I would not watch the news.
  • I would not shop, or spend much money.
  • I wouldn’t hear about people shooting each other over sneakers in a Mall, or how some crazy guy killed people in my beloved hometown of Kalamazoo, because those things wouldn’t happen.I realized, as I pondered this whimsy, that every day is a gift, an added bonus, cherry-on-top day, whether its a Leap Day or any other day.  Imagine how powerful this blog and every day could be if I changed the “I would’s” to “I will”.

    So, to repeat my earlier question,

    What Would You Do With A Gift Day? An added bonus, cherry-on-top day?

    And what is keeping you from treating every day like that Gift?

    Intentionally spending your time how you want, with whom you want, and in the productive endeavors that suit you best?

Clean Up Your Tech for National Clean Off Your Desk Day!

my portable office

my portable office

The Second Monday in January is National Clean Off Your Desk Day! If you look around, though, you may notice that desks and work spaces look vastly different than they did a few years ago!

My “desk” or “work space” is often just my smart phone, as I work through my days out with clients and at meetings.

Even in my actual office, I move between my laptop, IPad and smart phone as I work and connect with clients, or friends and family.  Here are 6 ways to organize your new and evolved “office”!

  1. Keep your tech items (laptop, tablets, smart / mobile phones) charged. Tech items are only good if they actually work.  Last year, my old IPhone battery slowly stopped holding a charge.  It became nerve-wracking, knowing I could run out of battery life at any moment.  Once I got my new phone, I realized how much I had stressed over the lack of battery life!  Save yourself some mental energy, and: make a habit of charging your stuff; keep extra chargers and cords in obvious places (like your desk at work, or in your car); and if a dying battery is a real concern of yours, invest in an external battery charger / power bank.
  2. Keep your tech items updated. Updates matter, and exist (in theory) to keep our tech items running smoothly.  Last Fall, I set my IPad and IPhone to automatically update, instead of trying to remember to update as needed (which I always forgot to do).  Again, one less worry.
  3. Keep your data up to date.  Create a habit of adding phone numbers and contact info into your phone as soon as it comes in.  Any time I receive a call or text from a new phone numbers, I add the contact to my list.  My habit is to not answer any calls from unknown numbers, too, so adding contact info helps me effectively decide what calls to answer and which to skip.  In addition, I connect my IPhone to my laptop multiple times a day to keep all the data current. I’m sure there is an automatic way of doing this, too, so I’ll need to research that!
  4. Clear your email clutter. This time of year, I have “Unsubscribe x 5” at the top of every day’s to-do list.  As I log into my personal or business emails, I un-subscribe from 5 unwanted ad emails, instead of just deleting them.  I am already noticing cleaner in-boxes!
  5. Clear your device / smart phone screen clutter. Clear screen clutter by keeping your most used apps on your first screen, deleting unused apps, and making folders for similar apps (like “travel” or “games”).
  6. Clean Your Tech, like actually clean, today!  Wipe down your cases, screens, keyboards, ear buds, etc.  Because, well – ewwww!

So how will you Clean Off Your Virtual Desk today?  Get to it, and good for you!

The Super Special Secret to Organizing Success (Ok, it’s not a secret)

starting-line-running-trackYou’re busy.   You’ve got a home and life, work or volunteering or family, or any combination of those.  I would guess that you’re not sitting around, doing nothing.  Our days are filled.

But we know we want to make a change.   We want to get more organized, get a better grip on our home or finances or work life or time.  We want to make a change.  We NEED to make a change.

But that feels scary.  We know we have to carve out time, space and energy to do something different, something extra, to make progress.  We have to get a little uncomfortable, push ourselves a bit.  But where?  How?  If I’m going to get uncomfortable and push myself, I want to KNOW it’s right, KNOW that I’m doing the exactly right thing.

And there, friend, is the rub.  We need to do SOMETHING, but we may never know that we are doing the exactly right thing.   But here are strategies to start your Whole-Life or Just-One-Little-Corner-Organizing Project. Multiple strategies, because different strategies work on different days or with different projects.

1.  Start with a clipboard.  Grab a clipboard, paper and pen, and walk around your house, noting all potential organizing projects, big or small, realistic or ridiculous.   I often start client sessions with this step; asking questions, opening every door, challenging my client to think about what their space will look like when it’s “organized”.  Don’t edit this list yet, and don’t get overwhelmed.  This is just the list.

2. Look at the complete list, and start to pare down and strategize how to get these projects done.  The list is a great place to start, as it will show some commonalities, like how “Shelves in linen closet”  and “container under the kitchen sink to hold cleaning supplies” can both be satisfied with a trip to Home Depot or Menards.

Now, getting down to business…

3. Start with the easiest project.  Some projects are pretty straightforward. Maybe your home office just needs better lighting and a good printer stand with paper storage.  Again, one quick trip to Office Max, or perhaps a walk around your home or office to see if you already own furniture or a lamp that would solve your problem.  Start with easy, if that gets you moving.  Or…

4. Start with the toughest project.  Paper?  That is a tough project.  Toy Room?  Yes, that could be scary, too. I know, decision making is difficult.  But delaying those tough decisions is what created clutter in the first place.  Get tough, maybe even a little angry, and get to it.  Or…

5.  Start with a small project.  The day after Christmas, I tidied a kitchen drawer while I waited for my tea pot to boil. I continued drawer by drawer by cabinet over the next few days,  in 5 or 10 minutes increments.  Every drawer and cabinet has been tidied and purged, in little pieces.  Small projects keep us motivated but not overwhelmed. Or…

6.  Start with a large project.   Bite off the BIG BITE, the BIG PROJECT that will reap really big rewards once it’s complete. For example:  Garage?  It’s estimated that over half of the garages in the US hold clutter instead of cars.  Garages are big projects, but spending a day or two of really big work and effort will pay off with parking your cars in the garage instead of clutter.  Yes, this is a big project, and sometimes we need BIG results.

Ok, friend, let me share a secret.  Each of these strategies started with “Start”.  Yes, just one simple word, “Start”.  There is not secret to organizing or getting things done.  Each of those words is an action word.  Progress requires Action, and Action requires a START! So, the determinant of your success is not which strategy you use, it’s just that you use one and START.

Productivity Challenge: Get Up! Sitting at a Desk is Bad for You! 

“Getting Up and Moving Around at Work” has been my intended topic for this week, but I find it amusing that I’m writing it while standing because my hip is sore. I’m blaming the high heels I wore to a weekend wedding, though it could have been the Cupid Shuffle at the reception!

The research is in, and it shows just how bad prolonged sitting at a desk is for our health, our productivity and our happiness.  Too much sitting increases obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and depression; and decreases metabolism, circulation and energy levels.  This challenge is compounded by the fact that so much of our leisure time is also spent sitting – driving, watching TV, sitting at home computers, eating, etc.  This sedentary and seated lifestyle is taking a toll on our bodies.  On a personal note, last winter I went to the Chiropractor because of intense lower back pain, and sitting too long at my desk was part of the problem.

There is a lot of information out there right now supporting standing-while-working and increased activity during the workday.  Standing up and moving around counteracts those negative physical effects of prolonged sitting.  There are also productivity benefits to standing and moving around (just google “productivity benefits of standing work stations”).  My energy and focus increase, while my stress decreases and my mood improves. Just by standing and moving around.

If you need more convincing, please do your own research – I did and I was amazed.  But how to incorporate this strategy into our day?  Try these:

1. Just Pay Attention. Making a change makes us pay attention to our current situation, and this usually leads to increased engagement and productivity.

2.  Include activity breaks in your blocked work time.  The Pomodoro Technique suggests 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break; I’ve also read 50 / 10.  The premise is that our minds focus for a certain amount of time (25 minutes), and then our mind and our body need a break (and not just switching over to Facebook, or checking our phone).   A break means getting up and moving, stretching, breathing deeply.  My phone’s timer App can remind me to take my 5 minutes, or I can use my microwave timer if I’m home – it’s great because I have to get up to turn it off!  The 5 minute break could be standing, stretching, walking around the office; or if you work from home, play with the dog, toss in a load of laundry, make a cup of tea, etc.  Track your progress with a FitBit or activity bracelet.

3. Stay hydrated:  I have learned a lot since my first trip to the chiropractor last winter, including the fact that I was chronically dehydrated.  Add more water to your day, and you will get up and move a lot more, to re-fill your water bottle, and to use the wash room!

4.  Run your own errands.  Technology is great and convenient, but often it replaces actual activity.  Yes, you could send someone an email, but you could also get up and walk over to their work space.  Or drop off papers instead of using interoffice mail, or take a walk at lunch instead of ordering in.

5. Consider a standing Work Space, or other options.  The standing work space is gaining popularity (go to Amazon.com and check out the variety of options!).   We created standing work spaces in our home (here is what I am using right now),  and more traditional offices are offering standing options, too.   We don’t need to only stand, though – my massage therapist reminded me that standing all day could have its own negative effects.   So, change up your space, and include both seated and standing options.

Stand Up!  Don’t let that desk chair do you in, Get Up and Move Around to Feel Better and Work Better!

Productivity Challenge: Time Management!

This week’s Productivity Challenge is Time Management!
My associate writes:
“As a small business owner, we wear so many hats and have to stay on top of so many tasks.  
  • There are daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks; 
  • There are “big picture” issues to address – new product lines, new marketing ideas, personnel issues, all of the “where is our company headed?” type-stuff ; 
  • There are “small task” issues – placing orders with vendors, scheduling service calls, handling customer service issues, and even just answering the phone; and then of course
  • There are the “fires” that occasionally pop up that require me to drop everything and handle immediately. There is only so much time, and we work with a skeleton crew – so how can I better organize to stay on top of it all?”
As a fellow business owner, I can totally relate to all of these!  So, let’s tackle them one by one!
Managing the “daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly tasks”.  With these recurring tasks:
  • Keep a Master To-Do List – a running list of everything that needs to get done.  I maintain my To-Do list in Evernote (a cloud storage notebook), so that I can access it from all of my devices.  I can even share my To-Do list (and other Evernote documents) with others, if I have info to share with staff or co-workers.  I have clients who use MS Outlook for the same purpose.   When I finish a recurring task for today on my Evernote list, I cut it and pasted it to the next day, week or month or whenever it is set to recur (For example, daily habits, weekly errands, and monthly billing and client care).
  • Actually block out time on your daily, weekly and monthly schedule for these tasks.  Make an appointment on your calendar, so other things don’t squeeze out these important tasks!  A client mentioned that her bill-paying was slipping and she was starting to incur late fees because she hadn’t blocked the time to manage her daily and weekly bookkeeping.
  • Attach paper / ideas / tasks to your time blocks, too.  For example, my Friday afternoons are blocked for bookkeeping tasks.  As bills come in, or tasks come up that are related to bookkeeping, I add them to Friday’s to-do list and tuck any paper bills in my Friday folder.

There are “big picture” issues to address – new product lines, new marketing ideas, personnel issues, all of the “where is our company headed?” type-stuff .

  • Big picture Issues:  We need to block time to make these big-picture discussions happen, too. They may not need to happen every day, but they are still important.  Have weekly check-ins with everyone involved, in person / Face time or via email, to touch base.  And once in a while (monthly, quarterly, etc.) Think BIG THOUGHTS!!! Set time aside, invite all the players / decision makers, go off-campus, set a time limit, and dive in!

There are “small task” issues – placing orders with vendors, scheduling service calls, handling customer service issues, and even just answering the phone.

  • There are no small tasks.  These “small tasks” are Our Work, whether they happen daily, weekly or monthly.  Communicating with our vendors and our customers – This Is Our Work! Even when these tasks seem small, they are really the most important tasks we can complete.
  • However…. we can still manage the flow of our work, to get more of Our Work done!
    • Phone calls can go to voicemail, or we can keep our calls polite but brief.
    • Emails rarely require an instantaneous response.
    • Do Not Reinvent the Wheel!  Figure out the best way to do something, and do it that way every time.  Those are your Standard Operating Procedures, and they create a uniformly excellent experience.  Start by creating standard email responses to frequently asked questions, and build from there.

And then of course there are the “fires” that occasionally pop up that require me to drop everything and handle that immediately.

  • Communication:  I received an email last week from my graphic designer: “I should be done putting out fires by XXX o’clock, I’ll call you then”.    Great way to handle it!
  • Flexibility is critical to time management success.  Having a Master To Do list means if we can’t get to something today, we can move it to the top of tomorrow’s To Do list.  Using Time Blocks are great, but we can block time later in the week just as easily as this afternoon.
  • Let me let you in an insider tip:  If you handle recurring tasks when they recur, manage the Big Picture and Small Tasks regularly – you will:  A. Have fewer fires to put out; and B. Be more prepared and able to quickly manage and put out the fires that to arise.

So, look at your task list today and this week, and consider how to manage your time and tasks to get your important work done!

Productivity Series: What to Do With All the Receipts?

Last week, I started this Productivity Series with solutions for the desk dumping ground! A related question was “What to Do With Receipts? specifically receipts for filing business taxes?” I understand the connection  – I’ve seen dozens of desk cluttered with receipts!
Think about this.  Generally, we need to keep receipts for three reasons:
1. for the information contained on the receipt;
2. as a reminder of a next action to take; and
3. as a physical record of an action, in case you need to prove how money was spent.
Next, think about basic accounting. Money spent moves out of “Cash” and into a different category.  For example, buying a printer at Office Max / Depot moves money from my checking account into my office supplies / assets.
Reason #1: Manage the information contained on the receipt.  How much, to whom, for what?  And make it meaningful.
For example, my business recently spent $$ on:
  • a new printer and toner, a lamp and pens
  • advertising in the form of a charitable donation  / sponsorship
  • gas
  • day-care expenses
  • lunch at Panera
  • annual dues for my professional organization
  • UPS for shipping, on behalf of a client
Each expense I mentioned above would be listed under different Expense categories in my Quicken software.  Office supplies, advertising, Dues and Subscriptions, Meals and Entertainment, Automotive, etc.  These categories are pre-set in Quickbooks and Quicken, and you can also create new ones specific to your business. (I’m not recommending one type of software over another, just reporting on what I know).
Since my friend’s question was about Managing Receipts for Tax Time, I strongly recommend discussing category questions with your Accountant as you set up your system, to make tax time easier. 
Manage your bookkeeping regularly (and if you need help with this, I can suggest a few great people!).  My business books are simple.  I track my expenses and sales daily on a spreadsheet, entering it all into Quicken once a month with my bank statement reconciliation.  My next step is to streamline that process, and enter the daily info directly into Quicken.   Some businesses will need to do this daily, some can stretch to weekly or monthly.   Regardless of how often, We HAVE TO DO IT!
Once the categories are created, and your information for the year is entered, preparing for tax time is a matter of running your reports, and handing the reports and receipts over to your accountant
Reason # 2: Take The Action Required:
For example, in my list above, the actions are to input the information into Quicken, and then with the UPS expense, I need to collect payment from my client, for services rendered and also for the UPS expense.  When I manage my bookkeeping, I need to make sure the two items are entered separately – one for sales, and one for reimbursement.
Manage your bookkeeping, send the invoice, submit the expense report, etc.    JUST ACT!!!
After you record the information, and take the actions required, storing the physical records is easy.
 
Reason #3: Keep your receipts in a monthly folder.   This makes it easier to reconcile your monthly bank statement, and in the rare instance that you actually need to produce the receipt as proof of an expense, monthly files will make your items easy enough to find, without wasting too much time on filing.  Don’t bother with specific vendor files, chronological files should be detailed enough, since you’ve already recorded the information.
Wrap up your receipts with your tax returns, and store them for 4-7 years.  Random receipts for printer toner from 3 years ago should not be floating around your office!!
Imagine how clean your desk will be, with all the Receipts managed and easily filed away!`