Last-Minute Tax Organizing Tips

By Carmen Coker

In the words of Dave Barry, “It’s income tax time again…time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta.”

Filing taxes = huge pain. We all know it. We all go through it once a year. And while there’s no way around tax season, there is a way to make the process less stressful – preparation. A little bit of preparation can make a huge difference in your tax filing experience, whether you do so weeks in advance or at the last minute. Not only can it help you get your tax refund faster if you qualify, but it can also help you avoid the high levels of stress normally associated with finishing your taxes.

If you’d love to come out the other end of tax season unscathed, then here are the best organizing tips to help you do just that. Think: T–A–X–E–S!

(1) Tally: Decide how many hours you need for tax prep. 

First, choose a final date, such as “I want to be done with my taxes by April 10th.” Then work your timetable backwards from that date, planning around your work schedule, family responsibilities, and extracurriculars.

Second, think about how long it has taken you in the past to complete your taxes. If six hours of tax prep has been enough previously, then this year will likely be no different unless you had major changes in your life. So pencil in two hours on your calendar for three days between now and April 10th, or maybe one hour each evening for the next week.

(2) Assemble: Gather all tax-related documents.

Search your files, baskets, and bins. Your objective? To find any and all receipts, canceled checks, and other papers that support an item of income or deduction. Plus, be on the lookout for important tax forms like W-2s and 1099s in the mail.

Don’t forget about the charitable donations you’ve made over the last year! TurboTax ItsDeductible™ is a free software that tracks and adds your donations year-round and accurately determines the value of your donated items.

(3) X-cessorize: Compliment your tax prep efforts.

I’m not talking shoes and purses here! It’s all about storage. Now that you’ve got each and every one of your tax documents assembled, they must be organized in one central location, so as not to get lost.

There are lots of different tax organizers that can keep your tax papers in order.  If you’re not into fancy-schmancy, then you can dress ‘em down with the oldie but goodie manila envelope.

(4) Evaluate: Assess how you want to file your return.

Will you prepare your return personally or will your accountant? Are you eligible for free help at an IRS office or volunteer site? Will you purchase tax prep software or e-file online?

There are many possibilities to consider! Weigh them all and find the option that best suits your needs. These variables may require modifications to your tally and time line. If so, refer back to #1.

(5) Schedule: Make a date to officially file your return.

If you’re doing your own taxes, make an appointment with yourself. If a tax rep is doing your taxes, promptly make an appointment with that individual. In either case, schedule asap – before the calendar fills up – and schedule a date several days ahead of the April 15th filing deadline, just in case a contingency comes up and you need more time to complete the filing process.

Remember: It’s never too early to start tax prep for next year! Looking ahead prevents a last-minute tax crunch and all the pressure that comes with it.

How do you get organized for tax season? I’d love to find out! Please share your thoughts, experiences, ideas, and other comments below.

Carmen Coker is a former US Air Force officer turned professional organizer. Thousands of busy people have benefited from her expertise featured by CBS, NBC, and Real Simple magazine – now it’s your turn! If you want to get organized and calm the chaos in your life, go to CarmenCoker.com for her free video how-to called the Secrets of the Super Organized™.

Create a Study Corner

With studying, as with so much else in life, it’s all about location, location, location. For learning outside the classroom, it helps to have a dedicated study space. Here are some ideas on how to make yours:

  • Get out of sight (and sound): make your study corner in a place that’s far from TVs, video games, or gathering places for your family or roommates. Keeping visual and audio distractions to a minimum can give you room to think.
  • Net/Paper access: if you study with your iPad or laptop, then your study space is more effective if it’s wi-fi enabled. This could be at home, or in a quiet bookstore coffee shop, or even in some outdoor places. Wherever you go, though, you’ll want a comfortable surface to put your writing materials and notebooks.
  • Comfort: you will be spending quite a bit of time in this spot, so make it a comfortable, organized one.

Regular Office Cleaning Makes The Job Easy

I once worked with an engineer who had used the same office for his entire career and was near retirement. His personal mode of organization: Piles. He had a wrap-around desk covered with stacks of paper three feet high. Along with that, he had commandeered a long folding table and placed it near his office door. That, too, was piled at least 3 feet high with papers. So from the outside looking in, I could never tell if he was at his desk. I had to walk into the office and follow the path around the loaded table and into his buried workspace. I often wondered if being surrounded by an entire career’s worth of work gave him anxiety or a sense of accomplishment.

Surprisingly, if you asked for information about any project he’d worked on, he’d find it in 40 minutes or less-without messing up any of his stacks.

Like all things, offices tend toward chaos awfully fast. It doesn’t take long to find yourself buried in paper like my friend. The best solution is regular, consistent upkeep. If you set aside time each evening to clear your workspace, place papers into their proper folders, and file it all away, you’ll always start your day with a clean desk and room to work.

Perhaps you don’t create a lot of clutter in a day. If cleaning your desk each evening seems like overkill, schedule a weekly cleaning. Be sure not to let more than a week pass before you organize your space. If too much time passes, the job starts to look daunting. That’s when we start to procrastinate, and then we really have problems. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen your desk, here are a few steps to help you find it.

Start with the drawers. If you haven’t cleaned your desk in a while there’s a good chance that some of the things in your drawers are outdated. Perhaps you can throw some things out to make room for the stuff on your desk. It’s difficult to find things in an over-crowded drawer.

Clear off the surfaces of your desk and shelves. Remember that your goal when cleaning a desk is to eliminate as much clutter as possible. Keep a recycle bin close at hand and toss out as many papers as you can. Organize the rest in hanging folders in your drawers. Label your folders in the front of the folder so you can quickly find your important papers later.

Use your walls. You’ll discover that your walls make a great place for organizing. Using shelves and hanging organizers can keep some of your workspace cleaner.

Clean everything. Now that you have open surfaces, wipe them down with a disinfectant. Hold your keyboard upside down and use canned air to blow it clean. Wipe your monitor clear of smudges and other gunk that tends to collect there. Use a disinfectant wipe on your keyboard, your coffee mug, your phone, even your writing instruments.

Maintain a regular cleaning schedule. Now that you’ve done the heavy lifting, make sure you never have to do it again. Consistent cleaning and organizing will eliminate hours of big projects later.

Is there something we’ve missed? We’d love to hear your suggestions.

 

 

The Basics of Organizing

You can say a lot about organization specifics – the best way to organize a junk drawer, great strategies for handling bills, or the proper order for your medicine cabinet. Sometimes, though, it’s just handy to live by basic organization principles and apply them where needed. Try applying these basic organizing rules to your daily life:

  • Everything Has a Home: or, as the old saying goes, a place for everything, and everything in its place.
  • Decide Quickly: it’s easy to spend more time thinking about the easiest way to accomplish a task than it would take to do it the hard way. Pick a strategy and get it done.
  • Delegate: you can’t do it all – don’t be afraid to let others help you.
  • Be Honest about Time: it takes time to plan, time to communicate, and time to execute. In your schedule, give your self enough time to plan and give every project a time cushion – you never know when a short simple project will hit an unexpected snag.
  • Follow the Rules: just as children perform better and are happier when given boundaries, when you develop and follow your own rules, you spend less time arguing with yourself and more time accomplishing your goals.
  • Establish Accountability: let someone else know of your goals, whether it’s a trusted family member or a professional co-worker. It can provide some powerful motivation for keeping with your plan.

Like the old proverb of giving a man a fish, if you apply these rules in your daily life, you’ll stay organized for more than just a day.

Do you have any organizing rules you live by?

 

 

Business Card Bombardment!

As a self-employed business owner, aside from working with clients in their homes, I spend a lot of time in my home office. It’s wonderful to get out of the office and network with new people who can help you and your business grow. However, while a lot of networking can help both you and your business grow, it can also create a dust covered growth on the corner of your desk…yes, stacks and stacks of business cards!

It’s not atypical to arrive home from a networking session with a dozen to a couple dozen business cards. Don’t panic…we can work through this together! Follow these simple steps when you get home from your networking event, so you have the people that the cards belong to fresh in your mind. Don’t stress about this too much, the process should be quick and painless!

1) Lay out the cards in front of you and first pull the ones that you want to take immediate notes on, if you haven’t had the opportunity to do so at the event. Write down anything of interest that you talked about with a person, even if it’s a hobby that the two of you share.

2) Take 3 sticky notes and jot the following three words down, one on each. Grab 3 rubber bands as well to group the cards together in each category.

  • Contact – If they are someone to call or e-mail about an upcoming opportunity.
  • LinkedIn – If they are someone who you don’t need to talk to about anything at this point but simply want to add them to your LinkedIn account to stay connected.
  • Referral – If they are someone who you think could help another one of your contacts.

3) Set up time in your schedule within the next few days to focus on each group.

So what is there to do now, now that you have gone through them? How do you go about storing them? Well, that depends on your personal preference. Consider the following options:

If you and your smart phone are attached at the hip, then consider one of the business card scanning apps out there. There are so many, so it’s best to check out the ones available to your phone, read the reviews, and decide which one is best for you. After you scan all of the cards, you can toss them in the recycling bin if you so choose!

If you would like to keep the cards (some of them are really great looking!), then consider filling any binder with plastic business card pages designed to hold business cards. You should be able to find these in any office supply store. Or, go old school and get a Rolodex! Keep either in order alphabetically or by occupation.

However you decide to handle your business cards, remember that the main point of collecting them is keeping in contact with new people who can help you. Oh and don’t forget to dust your desk once in a while!

Thanks Naomi for sharing these great tips!

Setting Boundaries for Your Small Business

How you organize your time, work space, and personal life are key ingredients to your small business’s success.

How successful you are in your chosen workspace depends on how well you’re able to set boundaries around your work life. If you previously worked for someone else, most of your working life was probably decided for you-what time to start work, where to sit, how your day is structured, and much more. When you work for yourself, it can feel liberating to set all of your rules-but rules are, nevertheless, still necessary.

Setting some basic boundaries around your work life will help your define your business. This is especially true if you work at home. Consider the following:

Space

  1. How will you set up your desk?
  2. If you work from home, how will you define your work area?
  3. What supplies do you need regularly, and how will you order them?

Time

  1. What are your work hours and days going to be?
  2. Are you going to work evenings or weekends?
  3. How much work do you want to take home with you?

Interruptions

  1. How will you deal with your kids wanting to play when you have an important project?
  2. Will you take personal phone calls during your work day?

Remember, it’s your business-you get to define how you want it to work. Think about what worked (and what didn’t) at your last job, and use that as a starting point for how you’d like your business to be set up.

Joshua Zerkel

On-The-Wall Organizing

Happy Family by UrbioIf you ever attend a junior high school dance, you’ll learn a lot about organizing. First: People sort automatically. The “popular” girls will be huddled in a corner away from the speakers giggling over their shoulders. The athletic boys will have their own section with a convenient wall to hold them up while they pose. Then there will be the rest-sorted even further by interests and habits, but mostly by perception. And only the bravest will be huddled around the refreshment table.

But the biggest thing these awkward kids could teach us about organizing is: You can fit a whole lot against a wall. See that wide-open space in the middle? Yeah, that’s the dance floor.

In our homes and offices, we tend to reserve the walls for paint and a few special pieces of art, and our work surfaces become cluttered with the business of the day. Evidently, work surfaces aren’t meant for working. Like these youngsters, we could certainly make better use of our walls. A few shelves or a bookrack can turn special trinkets into display pieces instead of desk clutter.

Gadget Wally Organizer by KangaroomEven the things that were never meant for display can have a spot on the wall. You can keep all your gadgets, from video game controllers and cables to smartphones and remotes, neatly organized and easy to find in the Gadget Wally Organizer. With its unobtrusive neutral color, various pockets, and pouches, it will clear the clutter on a desk or in a drawer in just a few minutes-keeping it permanently off your desk, and on the wall where it’s easy to find.

If you want to turn your wall organization into a beautiful blend of art and order, check out the Happy Family wall organizers. These beautiful magnetic vases and bins attach to specially designed plates or to a metal door and give you an impressive assortment of shape and design that both intrigues and organizes.

Do you find yourself buried in mail, magazines, coupons, or schoolwork? Make sense of it all with beautiful, understated Mesh Wall Pockets. They look great empty, and when they’re full, they won’t look nearly as cluttered as your countertop.

Panel Bin 9 Pocket by SafcoIf you enjoy crafting, or just have odds and ends that you can’t find a place for, the Panel Bin 9 Pocket is a great so44260lution. It mounts easily on the wall giving you nine bins with spring-loaded, see-through lids to keep you from losing that special rivet or set of buttons.

Managing your time is easily done on the wall too. If you have a big week ahead you can keep the whole group informed with the Magnetic Dry Erase Weekly Planner. It provides ample space for your daily events and gives you room for notes or a shopping list, so you don’t forget the important things. Plus, it wipes clean so it’s ready for the next week.

So if your workspace could use a wide-open area in the middle, take a hint from the kids at the junior high school dances and stick a few more things to your walls.

 

 

 

Digitized Files: How Much Hard Drive Do They Take?

PDFs, Docs, and image files all take space, but how much?

By Joshua Zerkel  

So you’ve gone paperless and are now storing all your documents on your hard drive. Great! By doing so, you’ve likely freed up tons of space in your office by eliminating the need for paper storage. Just because the papers don’t take up physical space, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t taking space on your hard drive. Hard drives have memory capacities, so it’s good to know what kinds of files are filling your storage.

Word Documents (.doc, .docx, .txt): Text documents—whether Microsoft Word, TextEdit on Macs, or other word processing programs—typically contain only text, which is one of the tiniest forms of files that you can have. You can have a book-length Word document that nevertheless amounts to a very, very small file size, unless it also contains embedded images or any sort of imported media inside of it. Typically, however, Word documents are very tiny, usually a in the range of a few kilobytes (kb) to less than ten megabytes (MBs).

Portable Document Format (.pdf): Compared to docs, PDFs can have all sorts of things inside of them. In addition to just text, PDFs often include images or links to other things. This increases their overall file size. If a PDF is a scanned document, it can be an extremely large file size—many MBs. Typically your scanner will come with software that lets you create PDFs, and that software has multiple settings. You can opt to scan things at high resolution, low resolution, black and white, color, single-sided, or double-sided, depending on your scanner. If you’re scanning things at high resolution, in color and double-sided, the resulting PDFs you create can be surprisingly large. So you might want to play with the settings in your scanner, making sure that you’re scanning at the resolution that you need, not necessarily the best possible quality. If you scan something in black and white at low resolution, that may be enough to capture what you need and the file size of your PDF will be much, much smaller.

Image files (.jpg, .gif, .tif): Image files can be of all sorts of different file sizes, depending on the resolution of the image or the overall dimensions. If an image is print-quality resolution—300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher—it will be a larger file size, upwards of 25 or 50 MBs. Likewise if the image is many inches wide, as opposed to a tiny thumbnail, it will be a larger file size. If you use images only for web-based or Power Point presentations, you can save them at a lower resolution (72 dpi) and thus at a lower file size.

Thank you Joshua!  Did you like this article?  Like it on Facebook and/or give it a cheer!

Joshua Zerkel

 

 

Are You Wasting Time Trying to Get Organized?

By Monica Friel

Have you ever been motivated to organize your desk/office space and gotten lost in the details? Have you made a plan to get organized and found yourself wasting time trying to figure out how to print the perfect, color-coded file labels? Too often we find ourselves having good intentions to get organized, but wasting time focused on the wrong things. Here are some solutions to keep you on task when organizing:

Watch the clock. Look at the amount of time you can carve out for the sole purpose of organization and stick to it. Don’t let organizing get in the way of other work that needs to get done.

Tackle the tough stuff. It’s easy to organize where you like to. When you’re motivated to work, begin with the area that’s troublesome and stick with it, but don’t venture into other areas until you meet your initial goal.

Don’t create more chaos. Don’t pull everything out of a supply closet if you don’t have the time to put it all back. Keep everything in the space, eliminate what you can then sort and organize.

Piles of paper= unfinished tasks. Don’t try to finish all of the details of every task while organizing. You will find many things that can send you in different directions, don’t let them derail you.

Don’t focus on the details right away. The files don’t need to be labeled, color-coded and perfected. Creating temporary files is a great way to get started. You can slap a sticky note on the file folder and move on.

Organize only where you need it. When you decide to organize a particular area, don’t wander into other places. Get through what you need to organize and get back to work.

Don’t Over-file. Do you have files for every category possible?  Make chronological files for January thru December each year and file all bills and related receipts quickly and efficiently.

Don’t file alphabetically. File according to use. If you use a particular file frequently, keep it close so you can access it quickly.

Remember, organization isn’t about perfection, its about productivity and finding what you need quickly. Remember these tips to keep organization where it belongs, as a process that leads to better productivity, not a task that consumes your whole day!

Thanks Monica for more great tips!  If you liked this article, give it a cheer and/or like it on Facebook.

Monica Friel

 

How to Minimize Home Office Distractions

By Monica Friel

Working from home certainly has its benefits, but it is not without its fair share of pitfalls. The average person only focuses on work for 11 minutes before being distracted. So how do we combat the never-ending call of household projects, screaming children, visiting neighbors, etc.? There is no way to avoid all of the interruptions that occur, but here are a few tips to help minimize and manage the distraction deluge:

– Create a routine. Having a set schedule in place will help you move more quickly and efficiently throughout your day. Set regular working hours, break times and set time to deal with household matters.

– Work from a list. Keep a running to-do list. Decide what your tasks are for the day and prioritize them. With a list, you will not waste any time wondering what to cross off next.

– Work during “off” hours. Early morning is the best time to dive into big projects and do work that requires extra concentration. If you’re a night owl, late nights may be your best bet.

– Minimize technology distractions. Your computer doesn’t need 32 windows and 25 browser tabs open. Out of sight–out of mind. Turn off incoming mail alerts and set email filters with priorities. Go on a social-networking diet and limit the number of times you check those sites.

– Create a distraction-free workspace. Set up office space in your home that can minimize distractions. Is your office on the main floor? Can you move it to another level? Having an off-the-beaten-path office will encourage productivity. Also, make sure your office has a door, so that you can close yourself in to the working environment you need.

– Plan for distractions. We often cram so much into a day that if distractions occur, it can cause a complete derail. Knowing that most tasks take longer than we think, plan for the inevitable. Remember, office workers have their share of distractions to deal with as well!


Thanks Monica for more great tips!  If you liked this article, give it a cheer and/or like it on Facebook.

Monica Friel

 

Being Your Own Accountant

With the recent changes to the world economy, more and more professionals are earning their money through contract work rather than full-time employment. Unfortunately, with self-employment, you have to do your own accounting. Whether your home-based business is your main source of income or just for a little extra on the side, keeping track of your business expenses can save you money at tax time. The IRS has a helpful list of available deductions, including using your home as a business and business entertainment. Once you know what you can deduct, you can start maximizing your savings next year with tax document organizing tools.

 

Organizing Tax Documents

During tax season most of us will spend some time digging through our filing cabinets. Most likely, there will be all sorts of documents from past tax years – medical bills, W2s, interest statements, and, frankly, some things that we’re not sure why we’re keeping. This tax season, go through your old documents and throw out expired statements. Most documents can be shredded after three years, or six years if you run your own business. Check with your tax professional.

 

3 Steps to Clearing Office Clutter

It’s that time of year again, where resolutions have hopefully been started or implemented, and we’re ready to move forward! But before we do, it’s a great idea to do some pre-spring cleaning. Why wait for later to clear out the clutter? After all, a big spring cleaning can be a daunting endeavor. As with most things organizing-related, if you work on small tasks, the overall project can be a lot easier. Let’s start by paring down some of the extra supplies and electronics that might be lurking around your workspace:

What are you really using? Be honest with yourself, your needs, and what you’re truly likely to use. if you can’t think of an actual event or situation that is likely to happen in the near future where you could use an item, it’s time to let it go. If you haven’t ever needed the card stock you’ve been holding on to, you probably aren’t going to be using it anytime soon. Same goes for the t-shirt iron on transfer paper, the thank-you notes pre-printed with your old address, and the label cartridges for the label maker you no longer have. Your electronic detritus can also be pared down – look for mystery cables and connectors, dead hard drives, business card scanners that just didn’t work, and out-of-date devices to give the old heave-ho to.

Recycle or donate the discards. A huge barrier to clearing out the clutter that I see when I work with clients is that they don’t want their castoffs going into the landfill. It’s great to responsibly get rid of the things you no longer want or need – we just need to find the right new homes for your items. For office supplies, check with local schools and non-profits, as they are often happy to take all sorts of supplies, which can be used in their own offices, or as art supplies for kids. Electronics can be a little trickier. If you have something in working condition, it can often be donated to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or your favorite charity. Dead electronics can sometimes be sent back to the manufacturer of the item, recycled with a service like Green Citizen, or given to your local hazardous waste disposal unit.

Store what’s left. So you’ve cleared out the clutter and made some room in your workspace. Now it’s time to put everything that you want to keep away. Start by placing your supplies into groups – maybe the ink cartridges together, the mailing supplies in another group, and so on. Place the groups close to where you’d  be likely to use them – these then become your work and storage zones. Once your stuff is in a zone, then look for ways to store the items – whether in drawers, containers, on shelves, etc.

By clearing out the clutter, you can dramatically increase your productivity – the things you need and use are within easy reach, and it’s easy for you to put them away when you’re done. On top of that, you’ll feel better by knowing that you’re not hanging onto stuff that you don’t need!

Joshua Zerkel