In my most recent newsletter, I covered the topic of clearing your desktop. Now, let’s talk about maintaining your paperwork. I find that one of the most problematic types of paperwork is bill-paying. I have written a few questions that would like you to answer for yourself, so that you can be sure your bill-paying system matches what you actually do.
- Where do you put your mail when you bring it in the house?
- Do you have a designated spot for unpaid bills?
- How often do you pay bills?
- Do you need reminders?
Now, let’s go through a few possible scenarios, and create a setup to match.
Jody brings her mail in the house at the end of her workday. Her two kids are with her, since she just picked them up from daycare. She walks into the kitchen and she leaves the mail on the kitchen counter. Her intention is to later move the pile to her desk, which is in the other direction from the door. Jody does not have a designated spot for bills, so sometimes bills get lost and she misses a payment. She does pay her bills twice a month.
- What works: timing
- What doesn’t work: no designated spot
- Solution: for Jody, the solution is to match where she places her papers with what she actually does. Jody could keep a cute tray in the kitchen area for setting all of her mail, the take it to her office to sort once a week. The key to making a system like this work is to keep the paperwork moving. If Jody fills up her tray, and never looks at the contents again, then she is back to where she started.
Frank is retired, but has always hated paperwork. He has a home office, and takes his mail there each day. But, most of it goes unopened, in a pile on the table that sits next to his desk. Frank tells himself that “someday” he will catch up on his mail. He pays bills when he thinks about it, which sometimes results in late fees.
- What works: location
- What doesn’t work: schedule
- Solution: Frank needs to designate a frequency for paying his bills, and stick to it. Then, when paying his bills, he needs to pay all of the bills that are due before his next scheduled date.
Nick is a young, single guy who lives alone. He works long hours at a construction job, and has a 1-hour commute each way, so he has little energy at the end of the day. He puts all of his mail into one bin, and opens it on the weekends. Nick relies on his memory to pay his bills, and has nothing to remind him when a payment is due.
- What works: location
- What doesn’t work: no reminders
- Solution: Part of Nick’s problem is cash flow, so he has to pay bills more often and has trouble keeping up with all of the dates. One solution is to set up text reminders on his phone, for payments that are due at the same time each month (rent, credit card payments, phone, etc.). For the bills with varying due dates, Nick could set up an automatic payment to his credit card, and then pay that one bill each month. He could also use a bill-reminder app.
Here are some more ideas for thinking through how to create your own reminders. What is your most difficult organizing challenge? Let me know…I’d love to write about it!