Note: Step 7 is expanded in chapter 3 of my book, Welcome to Non-Overwhelm! Conquering biz and life chaos, starting today (link at the end of this post).
Hey, fellow business owners!
It is February.
If you’re in the northern hemisphere, like I am, you’re probably asking, “Will this yucky weather e-v-e-r end?”
(And for my Aussie buddies: you have summer weather. So never mind. Ha!)
To cheer things up a bit, let’s have a little fun.
Here’s a post where we can learn something but not work toooo hard getting there.
In this ‘Non-overwhelm’ series of posts, I’ve addressed everything from setting up company processes so they work best for you to closing up shop (!) at least one day a week.
Yeah, that second one makes some people’s hearts go pitty-pat a little tooooo fast!
Today, I focus on lassoing and hogtying that pesky administrative stuff we all hate.
Let me show you how I reached non-overwhelm in this area
STEP 7: “Wrangle your admin and paperwork!”
I’m a lazy perfectionist. And I come by it honestly.
My mom was a neatnik, and my dad was lazy and messy.
When I was a kid, and would f-i-n-a-l-l-y get tired of my junky bedroom …
… I’d dump stuff in the closet and quickly pop the door closed.
To keep everything from falling out, don’tcha know.
Instant tidy bedroom
My perfectionist side got the cleaned-up space.
The lazy side got it done quickly.
As you might imagine, my mom caught on to my scam.
I came home from school one day, and she … she … had taken a day off work and cleaned my room!
All my great junk was gone!
Clean bedroom and closet, however.
Fast forward to Grownup Land
In the ‘adulting’ world of work, the perfectionist in me wanted all the admin and paperwork tasks tidy.
The lazy side had to find fast, productive ways to get there.
So … grown-up efficiency, I guess. Not lazy. (Oh, yeah … I’m going with that.)
Let me help you get there, too, as I share some of my journey.
Discovering I’d cleaned up my act (no pun intended)
In 2018 – long after I began forcing admin/paperwork neatness on myself – a friend asked me to accept a board position with a local not-for-profit.
Deb thought my (don’t laugh) o-r-g-a-n-i-z-a-t-i-o-n-a-l skills would help us as we worked on a committee together.
Wow. I had arrived.
Here’s the real story (Shh! Shh!)
Some organized people … well … we just don’t want to scramble later.
We don’t want to look something up again.
We don’t want to worry about getting it done.
So, we just do it.
Building in Step 7 non-overwhelm
Wrangling our admin tasks begins with having the right lasso.
A comfortable place to start
When I order something online, I save my receipt as a portable document format (PDF) file before I leave the order screen.
If the company’s emailed receipt doesn’t make it to my inbox, I still have proof of purchase.
If I’m doing online research for your project, I often save entire web pages to PDFs for later review.
“How do you turn online stuff into PDFs?”
Enter the CutePDF Writer
If you’re in a situation where you don’t have a “save to a PDF” option, the screen capture program CutePDF Writer can do this for you.
The free software is enough for my needs, but CutePDF.com has more.
For a more detailed look, check out my post:
Making tax time easier
This is one area where business owners rreeaallyy need help getting to non-overwhelm.
My examples are for the U.S., but I am neither an expert on gathering tax data nor advising on preparing returns for income taxes. Please check with your preparer. I refer to a CPA (certified public accountant), but you might use another resource. My note about the IRS refers to America’s tax authority – the Internal Revenue Service.
For me, the ultimate in non-overwhelm is controlling tax records.
Many people are in this boat with me.
(“Hello, I’m Kathie, and I hate working on taxes. Can I sit in this boat? In this spot right next to you? Scooch over, please. Thanks!”)
Stumbling on these helpers was a game-changer for me.
I hope you can use them, too.
Here’s what I use to control – a-l-l year long – the tax-time paper chase.
• CutePDF Writer (mentioned earlier)
• Business expense spreadsheet (my own, low-tech lasso)
• Scanner (for capturing hard copy receipts to PDFs)
• A CPA (coaching throughout the year, electronic filing, etc.)
Tax prep: Business expense spreadsheet
If you don’t use a specialty scanner (e.g., the Neat system) for minor receipts, an easy-to-use spreadsheet might lasso most of that data.
Think about this for a moment:
[Business miles] + [Business meals] = 90% of minor company expenses
Am I right?
I’m not talking about equipment and office furniture.
This is the business lunches. Trips to client sites. Networking meetings.
The mileage for all three – as well as money spent
on business meals – is deductible.
You don’t need receipts for expenditures < $20.
BUT, you must keep good records to prove they’re
deductible, in case you are audited.
Who wants to wrangle all those itty bitty receipts?
“Anyone? Anybody here? In this boat with me?”
I’m pretty sure you said, “No.”
By the time December 31st rolls around, this puppy has the totals my CPA needs.
Trust me: there’s no way you’re going to remember, months later, how many miles you drove in your chariot to a seminar, or what you paid for the networking lunch.
Tracking-as-you-go is worth it.
When you shut the computer down on New Year’s Eve, BOOM!
You’ve completed a bunch of the year’s tax prep.
Print the spreadsheet periodically, and leave room to add new items by hand.
Yeeeeees! Actual handwriting!
No battery is required.
When you have a few minutes, update your electronic copy.
Remember to keep up throughout the year
Keep up with your spreadsheet’s mileage, food costs, and descriptive notes (listing other meeting attendees, for example) throughout the year.
‘… throughout the year …’ is essential.
You can’t get to non-overwhelm if you
return to my junky bedroom mode.
HINT: Create a template spreadsheet, including recurring meetings.
Save a copy as your file for the current year.
You’re ready to go, and you still have your template for next year.
If you don’t attend a recurring meeting, leave it on the spreadsheet. Make a note about why you didn’t attend and remove all data (mileage, food cost, etc.) from your totals columns.
If you remove the meeting from the spreadsheet, you’ll spend time trying to figure out, “Why isn’t it here?”
Yep. Been there. Big time waster.
Tax prep: Scanner
For government forms mailed to you, scan them into electronic folders (e-folders) when. you. receive. them.
To stay motivated to keep up, remember:
The moment you capture
something electronically, you’ve
completed part of your annual tax prep.
The e-folders go to your tax preparer.
You may reduce your bill
Ask your CPA how they want your e-folders titled. It helps them find your data faster.
This simple step may reduce your bill, plus help you at the office, too.
At year’s end, you have
• Paperwork corralled for your records.
• Information ready to go to your CPA.
• A backup of the electronic tax files.
Something you probably weren’t expecting me to say
Keep the hard copies of everything until you receive your ‘refund’ or proof someone accepted your tax payment.
If the e-copies die, you can always – ugh! – re-scan.
You know, just in case:
Aliens mess up The Grid and dump your tax info.
– OR –
You delete the e-folders and empty your computer’s trash.
Been known to happen.
Been known to happen to me. 😐
Tax prep: a CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
When tax time rolls around, upload (to your preparer) scanned copies of your:
• Business expense spreadsheet.
• Government forms.
When they complete your returns, save an electronic copy with your scanned files.
This is a great way to store everything in one place.
Paying a CPA is probably worth the $
It is for me, at least.
Your tax professional can keep you on track all year, prepare your returns, and file them electronically.
When I said “Yes” to the CPA idea, my
non-overwhelm quotient got a huge boost.
If I checked in with an IRS guru, I couldn’t understand what they told me.
“Yes, Mrs. York, you’ll need Form # to ensure the mcgillicuddy
improvements on your basenorthm are properly yunkst.”
See what I mean? Makes absolutely no sense.
“Yeah, but what about that $49 tax software?”
I don’t care how foolproof those packages have become. If you mess up the answer to one question, you can be lookin’ at penalties.
Guess how I know this? Uh-huh.
And it was to the tune of several thousand dollars.
The few hundred I pay, now, is worth it for the peace of mind.
OH! I almost forgot: there was a question about our return a few years ago.
Our CPA contacted the IRS, took care of it all, and didn’t charge us anything extra. This happened with my mom’s estate, too.
Now, that’s non-overwhelm!
The best part about using a professional tax preparer
While they are working on your returns … you are not!
You may be surprised how much time you spent worrying about this chore.
“But, aren’t they gonna charge me a lot of
money to go through my receipts?”
Well … let’s hope not. You’re handing them everything in neat e-folders. Ri-i-i-ght?
OK, let’s talk about the everyday world of documents.
A big part of achieving non-overwhelm here?
Safely storing your files on your computer and perhaps with an online backup service.
If work vanishes for some reason, it should be … a minor blip on your radar.
Not an overwhelming, “How can I possibly re-do all of this?”
Help is on the way
These three ideas have saved me a ton of time and heartache over the years … once I figured them out.
You’ll notice a common theme, and remember I come from an IT background when I suggest:
Never trust your files to an electrical cord or a battery!
Save extra copies of critical files
You open a blood-sweat-and-tears-to-create diagnostic report.
Somehow, you managed to corrupt the file.
Because, you know — it has to be something you did.
You open your backup copy.
Oops. It’s corrupted.
What in the world …?
This time, it’s not you.
The computer’s sick, but you are the patient.
Let me encourage you to keep a third copy – offline and away from your computer – for those times the electronics are to blame.
When you figure out it’s the computer’s fault, you still have one good copy of the file.
Save with different names
Physically save your files every 15 minutes (or when you make a change).
Don’t trust your software’s behind-the-scenes ‘Save’ feature.
I’m talking about a hard save, using your mouse
or your keyboard shortcuts.
An easy way to distinguish your incremental files from each other is to add a number to the filename.
For example, you could do this as you save copies:
File such and such – 1
File such and such – 2
Saving the same document twice with the same name is too risky.
If the file dies … and you don’t have a backup program working continuously … let’s hope you use this next idea.
Otherwise, you’ve lost everything.
Print draft copies
Another big time saver is having printouts of your work.
You can review without a computer, and you have a hard copy for reference.
Remember: our eyes weren’t created for computer screens.
Don’t even think about proofing your copy on a screen!
You’ll miss important errors unless you read from paper.
Save and print (super-draft-toner-saving) changes every 15 minutes.
Even if your file gets dumped and somehow you’ve lost your electronic copies, all you have to do is re-key from your printouts.
You do not have to re-think all your hard work.
A quick review and a challenge
Many of my examples in this post revolved around tax time.
And while capturing those data is an ongoing project throughout the year, we need to build in non-overwhelm for our daily online and on paper efforts, too.
Beyond capturing webpages for offline review and keeping your scanner handy:
Try my three ideas for at least two months.
They kept me on schedule with a publisher, even during a software meltdown.
Here they are, again:
• Save extra copies of critical documents off of your computer.
• Save incremental electronic edits with slightly different filenames.
• Print new changes as you work. Re-key (not re-think) if you lose a file.
You can do it!
Keeping administrative tasks and paperwork under control gets easier as it becomes second nature.
Your future non-overwhelm is worth every minute
it takes to see what works for you.
Join the Conversation
I’ve packed a lot into this post!
Will you please take a moment to share your thoughts? Use these ideas as prompts or bring your own. Do you have a story about:
• Losing valuable data, and what you did to recover it?
• Ways you easily capture information?
• Keeping things neat around your office?
Please share this post, subscribe so you won’t miss other offerings, and add your input in the comments section.
Let’s all learn from each other!
Please Email meif you have a question about this article or need help with a tech or text project
We’ll have a quick 15-minute chat. No invoice.
Hope to hear from you soon, and see ya next time,