Creating Order This Tax Season and Beyond

Enjoy this blog post from Cami Lewis, PiP’s Operations Catalyst. One of the things that makes Cami so talented at what she does is her organizational skills. This woman is a wizard and if you’re anything like me, I need all the help I can get! This blog post is a departure from our standard nonprofit-focused posts, although you could certainly argue that being organized as a nonprofit professional will help in your organization’s long-term success. Let us know how your organizational journey goes—tax season and beyond! –– Stacey

Tax season is one time we naturally think about getting organized (usually because we’re trying to find everything we need to file our taxes). So it’s a perfect time to share some tips and ideas to help you do some spring cleaning and get more organized!

Being “organized” can look different for each person.  Contrary to what you might have heard others say, I believe there is no “one right way” to be organized. That being said, there are a few practices that any good organizational system has:

  • Consistency. Whatever kind of system you use, you need to be consistent with the use of it. An easy way to do this is to set an appointment in your calendar for time each day (or whatever interval works best for you) to work your system. Whether it is time to file documents, log time or notes into a client’s file, or work on your internal procedures that need to be completed, make it a “non-negotiable” appointment that you keep as you would an appointment with a client.
  • Repetition. Along with consistency, repetition is what creates a new habit. It’s not so much the length of time, but the number of times you complete an activity that helps rewire your brain and make a new pattern something you do without thinking.
  • Follow Your Instincts. When you are creating a system for yourself, trust your instincts! They will be what you fall back on in the future. The more you try to go against your natural tendencies, the harder it will be to implement and maintain later.

As you are gathering all your documents together for taxes, here are some practical tips to make the job easier, and to set yourself up for an even easier time next year.

  • Side-Open Catalog Envelopes.  These are a game-changer! I purchase a box of white, side opening (that means the opening is on the long edge, or side, rather than the top). I use one envelope for each topic or vendor. For instance, credit card bills, utility bills – essentially how you would file these documents in your file drawer. I write what it is (including the year) in the upper right-hand corner and store them all in a banker’s box for that year. This makes finding information in the future much easier… then, at the same time I create a new set for the current year and put those in my file drawer, instead of using file folders. Assuming you’ve consistently filed your paperwork throughout the year, at the end of the year all you have to do is pull those envelopes out and you have all your information sorted and ready for taxes!
  • Work in Chunks. Pulling all the info together for taxes or any big project can be a daunting task.  Take it in chunks.  Set aside a specific amount of time to work on the project – say 1 or 2 hours – then break that into 30-minute chunks. Work for 25 minutes and then take a break for 5, then back at it for another 25 minutes, break for 5 and so on. This is called the Pomodoro Technique and has proven very effective at increasing productivity and focus.
  • Pay Attention. While you are working, take note of what is challenging during the process and consider ways you could make it easier for yourself by implementing a solution now… by next tax time, you’ll actually (almost) look forward to it!

Finally, while you are getting your financial house in order, it’s also a good time to take a moment to:

  • Assess your effectiveness. Take time to look over the past year.  What things have you done well?  What things could you do better?  What’s working well? Are there areas for improvement? Assessing your effectiveness can provide crucial insights as you plan for this year.
  • Celebrate!  Take time to celebrate your wins and accomplishments this year.  It’s so important to take time for this step.  We don’t celebrate enough… celebrating our successes and acknowledging personal growth helps keep us on track and motivated towards our goals.

Here’s to becoming organized in business and in life!

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