If paperwork is NOT one of your superpowers, you’ve probably had to pay late fees, missed the deadline on a great deal, or had to request a duplicate document. Hopefully, as we start separating your incoming paperwork into action items, correspondence, and filing, you’ll be able to avoid those events in the future.
This week let’s go into more detail about setting up your category system and dealing with action items. By now, you should have an area set aside to deal with the mail, handouts, and bits and pieces of paper as you bring them into the house. You’re figuring out what you can toss up front and you’re getting the shredding system in place for items that need to be destroyed to protect your identity. If you plan to recycle, you should have the beginnings of a better system in place for that as well.
Over the next couple of weeks, set aside a box or a file cabinet drawer to begin your new filing system. We’re going to keep things simple for going forward – we will deal with stacks, piles, and paper storage after we have this new system in place.
Anything that requires you to follow up with an action on your part. Eventually, you’ll be able to process action items twice each month without fear of missing something, but for now, plan on handing action items weekly. Block out this time on your calendar and bribe yourself with some type of reward for accomplishing it on schedule.
During this initial period, you’ll need to set yourself up for success with autopay, paperless billing, and email reminders. Create a spreadsheet or a notebook for recording log-in and password information as you go. If you create a spreadsheet, save a working copy in the cloud (DropBox, iCloud, Google Drive, etc.) Some people like password management saved in an application like LastPass or Norton, so I recommend saving those master passwords in the note section of your phone in addition to the notebook, spreadsheet, and/or cloud storage.
I divide action items into three simple categories:
Highlight the due date or write in the deadline when you receive an actionable item -- which requires you to open the mail when it arrives. If you’re planning to write checks and balance checkbooks, you’ll write and record checks weekly and balance your checkbook monthly. Utilize a paper or electronic calendar for correspondence or for confirmations for appointments or events.
If you decide to utilize electronic systems, payments for most utilities can be scheduled to pay the bill in full each month. For credit cards and other payments with a variable monthly payment I recommend scheduling the minimum payment as an auto-payment. When you make payment before the autopay date, it typically overrides the autopay amount – if you can only make the minimum payment it’s already in place and you avoid late fees.
Once you have finished with an action item, move the necessary paperwork to the filing category.