Spring. The time of year we start thinking about new beginnings. The winter weather is behind us, the flowers are blooming, and the parkas are getting packed away and replaced with shorts and t-shirts. It’s also a great time to start thinking about new beginnings in our homes and offices.
Spring cleaning comes to mind, but before you start your cleaning process, plan on doing some de-cluttering and organizing. No need to clean around things you don’t need to keep.
One of the quickest ways to give our surroundings a breath of fresh air is to reduce clutter and open up our spaces. If you are surrounded by clutter, your will be more stressed, less focused, and less productive. On average, people who are surrounded by clutter and are disorganized lose nearly an hour of productivity every day.
De-cluttering and organizing is a great start on the road to a healthier, happier you.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Don’t try to do everything at once. Like any project, being thorough and taking the time to do it right is the best way to go. Do one room at a time, working from the door to the opposite side of the room.
- Enlist a buddy. Getting rid of our “stuff” is easier if an honest and objective friend helps us through the process.
- Take some “before” pictures. You’ll want these for later to remind you of your incredible progress.
- Set up six areas or boxes for each de-cluttering project: KEEP, THROW, GIVE (if you know someone that truly would like the item you are getting rid of), SELL, DONATE, and REVIEW (if you just can’t make a decision, but want to remove it from the space).
- Keep a few things in mind as you start this process:
- Only keep things you use, make you happy, and serve a purpose.
- If you’ve made a bad purchase, let it go. Keeping a bad purchase doesn’t make it a better purchase.
- Your “stuff” does not define who you are. Letting go of things you don’t need that others can use, allows you to share your wealth with others. It’s far better to give something away than to let it remain as clutter in your home or office.
- With your boxes and a positive mindset in place, go through the room, touching every item and making a decision about what to do with it: KEEP, THROW, GIVE, SELL, DONATE, and REVIEW.
- Remove everything that’s not in the KEEP pile from the room. Plan a time to dispense with all other categories.
- Thoroughly clean the area that you just de-cluttered and put the KEEP items back in place.
- Take an “after” photo to help remind yourself of how far you’ve come.
To ensure that you don’t get back in a cluttered and disorganized state, these two tips will help with ongoing maintenance:
- To keep clutter from creeping back, devote an hour a week to staying on top of your newly opened up space. Whether it’s an hour every Saturday, or 15 minutes four times a week, devoting time to keeping your space in order will pay huge dividends.
- Keep a DONATE box or bag close at hand. Once you decide you really don’t need something, immediately put it in the box so it no longer takes up valuable space in your everyday life.
Congratulations on taking steps to a calmer and simplified life!
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“Clutter is postponed decisions.” Barbara Hemphill
The month of March is National Clean Up Your IRS Act month. My first thought was “Wow, doesn’t the IRS have enough influence in our lives without having an entire month dedicated to us “cleaning up our act” in support of them?” Actually, according to the event’s sponsor, the American Society of Tax Problem Solvers (www.astps.org), this month is designated to focus on resolving problems with the IRS before we file our current year’s taxes. I’m certain Barbara Hemphill would agree that if we’re thinking about times to NOT postpone decisions, filing our taxes would be at the top of the list.
Why do we procrastinate preparing our taxes?
- We don’t know how to start or what to do once we get started, so we just don’t start at all.
- We think tax preparation is going to be difficult and complicated, so we push the unpleasant task off in favor of something easier or more rewarding.
- We tell ourselves that we perform better under pressure, so we wait until the very last minute.
- We can’t find the documents we need to prepare them properly.
In most cases, and especially when it comes to filing taxes, procrastinating doesn’t solve the problem, it just postpones the stress.
So what can we do to better prepare for tax season?
- If you are enlisting a tax preparation agent, ask them for their suggested record retention schedule. If you are filing the taxes yourself, search on-line for a record retention schedule that fits your needs. This record retention schedule from SMEAD offers some guidance: http://www.smead.com/hot-topics/records-retention-guidelines-1394.aspSet up a simple, usable filing sytem.
- Make a checklist of all the items you, or your accountant, will need to file your taxes: W-2s, 1099s, bank/investment statements, work-related expenses, mortgage expenses, charitable donations, etc. Gather documents and have them convenient when tax preparation time is at hand. Update this list on annually to make filing that much easier.
- Identify any major events in the previous year that will need special attention: bought/sold property, job-search expenses, new family additions, etc.
- If you don’t already have one, set up a filing system that makes it easy to keep track of these documents throughout the year, thus reducing the panic and scramble some tax time.
Although filing taxes isn’t always fun and rewarding, the consequences of not filing can be expensive and stressful. Don’t postpone your decision on filing your taxes. Figure out what time and tools you need to finish your taxes and get the return done on time, potentially saving money, and certainly saving you some unnecessary stress.
I just finished reading Porter Knight’s “Organized to Last.” It’s a quick and fascinating guide to conquering clutter.
One of the “ah-ha” moments for me was the relationship between space, stuff, and time. Loosely decoded: taking up space by leaving stuff out doesn’t mean we will make time to deal with it.
For example, let’s say I needed to mend a pair of pants, so I leave the pants and the sewing kit in the middle of the kitchen table with the thought that if I put everything away I’ll never get around to mending them. However, what probably happens is that I would move the pants and the sewing kit several times because I didn’t build the mending project into any time schedule and I actually needed the dining room table to eat on.
Just because the stuff was out didn’t mean the task got done any quicker, but my dining space was taken up with my mending stuff because I didn’t make time to complete the task. In addition, I was frustrated every time I had to move things in order to eat.
Instead, envision open space (room to work), stuff in a safe home (so you’ll know where to find it when you’re ready to work on it), and a plan to schedule the time to accomplish the tasks on your list.
As business owners, we need to look forward and figure out what we want our businesses to accomplish in 2014. Although different in nature to our personal New Year’s resolutions it is as important for the health of our businesses to make resolutions that will guide us to success.
- Take care of yourself. For a business to thrive, it needs a healthy leader. Taking care of yourself takes many forms, both physical and mental. Whether it’s hitting the gym a few times a week, participating in leadership forums, or forcing yourself to take a much-needed vacation, take care of yourself so you will be there to take care of your employees.
- Realize that sometimes less is more. Focus on doing a few things well versus doing a number of things part way. Having 15 goals for 2014 may sound like an excellent business strategy, but having five goals that are strategic and attainable will more than likely be a more successful approach.
- Learn how to delegate. No matter how fantastic, one person can’t do everything at an expert level. Many things can be delegated: website development, Quickbooks maintenance, cleaning services, marketing, etc. Identify the things you don’t like to do, or don’t feel you do well, and find someone that does. Those people will generally be better and faster at it than you will.
- Review office functionality. Annually review job descriptions, processes, and communication patterns and make changes to procedures accordingly. Maybe your Office Manager has changed and they no longer make the mail run or input information in Quickbooks. If so, adjust the job description accordingly. If your business has expanded and you now have two outside sales representatives, review their territory allocations and document it. There are many changes that business should make as they expand, contract, or change. Ensure changes are documented and communicated accordingly.
- Go mobile. According to Televox, a global technology provider, 94% of smartphone owners will look up information on their phones, make sure your website is compatible with mobile phones and tablet devices.
- Review compliance with Labor and Industries. Nearly every business that employs at least one person needs to comply with Labor and Industry rules and regulations. If you haven’t already, commit to going to a Labor and Industries seminar and educate yourself on requirements for compliance. Do you have an Accident Prevention Program? Do you have a Hazardous Chemical Program? Do you hold and document monthly safety meetings? Figure out what you need to do to be compliant before Labor and Industries pays you a visit.
- Refresh your website. Customers look to your website to get a feel for what you do, how you do it, and how professional your organization is. Check your contact information for accuracy. If you have any links from your website, make sure they work. Update photos where applicable. Most importantly, have someone you know and trust use your website. Sometimes we are too close to our own business to ascertain whether the website works for the general public.
- Get ready early for tax time. Whether we owe money or are getting money back, there’s a great sigh of relief when we’ve finished our taxes. Check with your accountant as soon as possible to ensure you have what they need to complete your taxes in a timely manner. Ask your accountant about record retention so you can set up filing systems and purge paperwork as you are pulling together paperwork for this year’s filing. Also, review your current business model with your accountant to ensure your business is categorized correctly, possibly an LLC may protect you on a personal level.
- Find a new way to engage with your customers. If appropriate for your business, consider developing a Facebook page, Twitter account, or newsletter program. Communicating with your customers the way THEY want to be communicated with will be the most valuable use of marketing dollars and time. If possible, find an expert to help you through this process.
- Network your heart out! No matter what your business is, we all know someone who knows someone that could use our services. Be the first person that comes to mind when someone says “do you know anyone that . . . . .”
A theme running through these resolutions is personal engagement. Engage with your employees, customers, and most importantly, yourself. Figure out what has been working, what needs to be done, and who should do it.
Although these resolutions will take effort and may require a bit of a change in habit and mindset; when they are put into practice, your business will be more successful and you will be a more successful, and happier, leader.