Paperwork is a task we can take an all-or-nothing approach to. Such as leaving the filing until it will take hours to tackle or doing all our tax paperwork right before our appointment with the accountant.
The secret is to set aside a small amount of time, consistently. It allows us to keep up with our paperwork with minimal effort. When we look back, it almost seems to have done itself.
Here’s how I used this approach to transform my paperwork sessions from marathon to mini.
I began by examining my paperwork to answer the following questions.
What type of paperwork do I complete most often?
The answer was processing (filling out forms, adding dates to my calendar, answering emails), paying bills, and reconciling statements.
How often does each task need to be done?
Processing—a couple of times a week.
Paying bills—once a week.
Reconciling statements—once a week.
How much time does each task take?
I realised most could be done in blocks of 15-20 minutes.
When will I do my paperwork sessions?
I could regularly attend to my paperwork at the end of the day, Monday to Thursday. I decided on 8 pm after the kids go to bed so I can focus.
There are also two important ‘bookends’ to any paperwork session: sorting and filing. To begin a paperwork session, I spend five minutes sorting incoming papers; to end, I file for five minutes.
8.00 – 8.05
Sort incoming paperwork (5 minutes)
8.05 – 8.25 Paperwork session (20 minutes)
8.25 – 8.30 File (5 minutes)
Of course, sometimes the paperwork overflows a session. I like to relax in the evenings at a reasonable time, so unless something is urgent, I put it off to the next allocated session (a statement can usually wait another week to be reconciled, for example).
Larger tasks also come up (such as updating the budget or preparing a tax return). I set aside extra time, such as a weekend morning, to tackle these. Because my routine paperwork is (mostly) up-to-date, it means everything needed to tackle the larger jobs is ready to go, for example, all relevant tax paperwork has been collected in a folder throughout the year.
Setting up a system and tackling our paperwork in small, regular sessions is a great way to stay in control. It gives us a safety net and the confidence of knowing our bills will be paid, notes will be returned to school, and tasks will be actioned promptly.
How do you keep your paperwork under control?