By now you have a financial organization notebook, chronicling your goals and what gets in your way. You’ve also set up physical files to store your important financial paperwork. One area that my clients seem to trip up is in the managing the flow of “stuff” that come into their lives related their finances. For some, it’s actual bills that appear in their mailbox. For others, it’s the electronic notifications of bill payments and financial statements. Regardless if you prefer to handle paper or its virtual equivalent, here are a few financial organization tips that I’ve found to actually work.
Touch It Once
A wonderful mentor from my MIT days had a steadfast rule. She was an extraordinarily busy professor, serving as the head of her department and contributed to multiple committees. The amount of work that flowed in and out of her office was prolific. Yet, no matter how busy she was, her office was immaculate. How did she keep the paper monster at bay? Her mantra was: touch it once. While it may take some practice to get this ideal, I suggest that you use this simple rough sort:
- Toss It
- Shred It
- Keep It
Figure out which category that piece of mail or email falls into. Once you know that, the rest will fall into place.
Now that you’ve narrowed the pile of “stuff” to things you actually need to keep or do something about, now what? Well, you’ve got some choices. It really hinders on what the next action is. You could:
- Do It: take care of the task immediately. I recommend doing this if it will take you two minutes or less. Examples are write a check, quick response to an email, file it.
- Delegate It: give the task to someone else. Is there someone else who could do it for you, like a spouse or trusted person like a Daily Money Manager or bookkeeper?
- Defer It: schedule a time to do it later. For those clients who like to pay their bills once a week or twice a month, I suggest a folder to store it until you can spend dedicated time. By committing to a time on your calendar, this folder won’t have the opportunity to get out of control.
If you want to read more in-depth about a system that could help tame this beast, I recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen.
Probably the best financial organization advice I can give you if still you feel overwhelmed by a paper or email monster is: focus on identifying the next action. What’s the next step? By breaking it up into manageable chunks and simply focusing on your next action, you’ll feel better.