7th Step to ‘Non-Overwhelm’: “Wrangle your paperwork!”

by | Feb 5, 2020

Hey, fellow managers!

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?”

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 my 5 Steps to ‘Non-Overwhelm’ post (April 2018), I promised to address two additional ways to keep our companies – and our lives – on track:

6. Shutting down the business at least one day a week (May 2019 post).
7. Wrangling your paperwork (this offering).

Today, I focus on lassoing and hogtying documentation – from a real-world standpoint.

Let me show you how to get to non-overwhelm in this area.


STEP 7: “Wrangle your paperwork!”

I’m a lazy perfectionist. And I come by it honestly.

My mom’s 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.

Instant tidy bedroom

My perfectionist side got the clean room.

The lazy side got it done quickly.

Busted!

As you might imagine, my mom caught on to my scam.

I came home from school one day and she … she … had 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 paperwork neat and tidy.

The lazy side had to find fast, productive ways to get there.

So … not lazy, I guess, but grownup efficiency.

Let me help you get there, too, as I share some of my journey with you.

Discovering I’d cleaned up my act (no pun intended)

In 2018 – long after I began forcing paperwork neatness on myself – a friend asked me to accept a board position with a local not-for-profit.

She wanted my (don’t laugh) o-r-g-a-n-i-z-a-t-i-o-n-a-l skills to help her keep everything straight.

Wow. I had arrived.

Here’s the real story (Shh! Shh!):

Some of us who are organized 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

Paperwork wrangling begins with having the right lasso.

An easy place to start

When I order something online, I save my receipt as a portable document format (PDF) file.

If the company’s emailed receipt doesn’t make it to my inbox, I still have proof of purchase.

When I’m doing online research for your project, I often save entire webpages to PDFs for later review.

“How do you turn online stuff into PDFs?”

Enter the CutePDF Writer

The screen capture program CutePDF Writer can save pages as PDFs.

The free software is enough for my needs, but CutePDF.com has more.

For a more detailed look, check out my post:

Capture an entire webpage. No scrolling!

Making tax time easier

[My examples are for the U.S., but I am neither an expert on gathering tax data nor can I advise 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? Great! Scooch over, please. Thanks!”)

Stumbling on these helpers were game-changers 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 fancy-schmancy scanners for minor receipts (for example, the Neat system), you may like my somewhat low tech version: a spreadsheet for keeping expense data handy and the totals calculated.

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’ll assume you said, “No.”

Here’s a sample of my business expense spreadsheet.

I use it instead of tracking a bazillion pieces of paper (each with a total <$20).

By the time December 31st rolls around, this puppy has the totals my CPA needs.

Sorry if this doesn’t look too great on your screen. Having some issues ….

I’ve removed the attendees’ names for my January 15 meeting on the sample, but you can bet they were placed on my spreadsheet in – hello! – JANUARY.

If I’m audited and I can’t prove this is a business expense? It isn’t.

Trust me: there’s no way you’re going to remember, 11 months later, who attended a meeting and how many miles you drove in your chariot to get there.

Tracking-as-you-go is worth it.

When you shut the computer down on New Year’s Eve, BOOM!
A bunch of the year’s tax prep is done.

Print the spreadsheet, periodically, and leave room to add new items by hand.

Yeeeeees! Actual handwriting!

No battery needed.

When you have a few minutes, update the 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.
Just sayin’.

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 have your template for next year.

If you don’t attend a recurring meeting, make a note to that effect … but leave the meeting on the spreadsheet.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time trying to figure out, “Why isn’t it here?”

Yep. Been there. Big time waster.


Tax prep: Scanner

For those hard copy receipts and the government forms mailed to you, scan them into electronic folders (e-folders) as. you. receive. them.

To stay motivated to keep up, remember:

The e-folders go to your tax preparer. The moment you capture
something electronically, part of your annual tax prep is done.

This 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 ALL the paperwork until your taxes are filed.

“WHAT?!”

If the e-copies die, you can always – ugh! – re-scan.

You know, just in case

Aliens mess up The Grid, and it dumps your tax info.

– OR –

You delete the e-folders and empty your computer’s trash.
Been known to happen.
Unfortunately, it’s been known to happen to me.

Tax prep: a CPA

When tax time rolls around, upload (to your preparer) scanned copies of your:

• Business expense spreadsheet.
• Receipts.
• Government forms.

When they complete your returns, save an electronic copy with your scanned files.
This is a great way to store your tax paperwork.

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 h-u-g-e 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.

“What about consumer tax software?”

I don’t care how foolproof those packages have become. If you mess up the answer to just  o-n-e  question, you can be lookin’ at penalties.

Guess how I know? Yeah.

And it was to the tune of several thousand dollars.

The few hundred I pay, now, is worth it for the peace of mind.

The non-overwhelm.

OH! There was a question with our return a few years ago. Our CPA contacted the IRS, took care of it all, and didn’t charge us anything.

All within a few hours.

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 are not an expert, so it’s perfect.

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 if you hand everything to them in neat e-folders.


Everyday documents

OK, let’s talk about your everyday world of documents.

A big part of keeping paperwork straight is safely storing e-files.

If work vanishes for some reason, it should be … a minor blip on the 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

Scenario

You open a blood-sweat-and-tears-to-create diagnostic report.

Oops.

Somehow, you managed to corrupt the file.
Because, you know — it has to be something you did.
Right?

You open your backup copy.

Oops. It’s corrupted.

What in the world …?

This time, it’s not you

The computer’s sick, and you are the victim.

Let me encourage you to keep a third copy – offline and away from your computer – for those times the electronics are at fault.

When you figure out it’s not you, you’ll still have a good 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.
This is a hard save I’m talking about, 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 didn’t use my next idea … 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 new pages (super-draft-toner-saving) every 15 minutes or when you make a change.

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 pages as you work. Re-key (not re-think) if you lose a file.

You can do it!

Keeping paperwork under control gets easier as it becomes second nature.

Your future non-overwhelm is worth every minute it takes.
I promise.


Join the Conversation

I’ve packed a lot into this post!

Will you please take a moment to share your thoughts about these suggestions, or maybe add to the narrative?

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


If you missed the first post in this series, here are Steps 1-5 to ‘Non-Overwhelm’

Check out the 6th step, which is about learning to say ‘No’ and keeping your sanity!

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Kathie York, CSQE
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