Monday, June 26, 2017

My Paperwork System and Routine

As a lifelong productivity and organization nerd, working on paper clutter is an ever developing system.  For those of you just in the neophyte stage, here's the system that works for me and my life.

Weekly Routine
It starts in the kitchen.  This is our little island.

When mail, school papers, etc. come into our lives during the week, they're usually processed  here.  And by processed, I mean dumped unceremoniously into the drawer.  Even obvious junk mail.  (I'm not the one who gets the mail...)

Every Saturday morning, while my husband grocery shops, I complete my paper routine.  My habit cue is getting out of the shower.  The routine has taken me some time to curate.  It use to be JUST working on bills and budget, but in time, I added dealing with ALL the paper clutter at once.

After reading a book this spring on creating routines, I wrote a "program" for completing the process.  It's basically just the step by step functions of the routine.

I use the app 30/30 and timed all parts of the routine out.  It takes me about 92 minutes to get through the whole routine once a week.  That's WORST case scenario.  I can usually do it all in 40 minutes or less, unless we've done a lot of shopping (because that means I have a lot of purchases on the card to itemize).  Adding and categorizing purchases takes me the longest chunk of time in my routine.  I start the timer, and it moves automatically through the routine as I do. My game is to try to beat the timer in each category.

Step 1:  Empty all of the papers from the island drawer and bring them to my desk.  Since school has only been out a week, we just returned from camping, and the end of the year was crazy - my routine has been off.  I had about 4" of papers when I dumped the drawer out today.  (I'm good, but I'm not perfect.)

This is my office nook.  The kids call it my "play area" because it is my corner in the playroom, and they've been trained to avoid this one corner.    My space is probably about 5x6 or 6x6.

Across the way is the kids' craft area.  This is unstaged real life, here.  Drawers out, cash register opened.  (Note: The desk is getting painted this summer, white to match mine because matchiness makes me happy)

My file and paper storage amounts to just this little file box (about 6x12), the handheld scanner, and the hanging file thing on the wall (to the left of the desk under the C in the above picture).  I'm playing with scanning papers I'm afraid to throw away, but, the scanner doesn't have a solid place in my workflow, yet.

The files folders:
- 1 folder for each person in the family
- Receipts (which I now scan, so I could get rid of that one)
- Auto
- Health Insurance
- Credit Report (could go digital)
- Home Maintenance
- House papers
- Camper (empty)
- Taxes

Step 2:  Sort the mess into piles

Garbage (right into the circular file)

Process: bills to pay, papers with dates to put on my calendar, payments to check on, things to scan

File: Kids' papers, receipts

Shred: anything I know I don't need but still has personal information on it

Step 3:  Go through the Process Pile
I start with the non bills and just add anything I need to - field trips, pictures, etc. to my calendar - because I have 3 kids in activities and things can get hectic.

Then I move to paper bills which for me are just medical bills or any upcoming activity fees.  I write those out and then set the envelopes aside.  Then I open my budgeting software (I use YNAB) and enter any payments I just made where they need to go.

If I need to scan or shred anything after writing bills out, I move the statement/paper to that pile.  I save scanning and shredding for the later part of my process for that reason.  Batching processes together rather than skipping from one thing to the next.

Then I go through my whole budget/banking process which includes checking on all of my accounts - IRA, HSA, credit card bills, and updating things in YNAB.  There are ways to automate this, but I like to do it manually so I can see and interact with every dime we spend.  The pain of doing that is important to me.  Ha!

Step 4:  Shred and file
I turn to the shredding pile and feed the shredder.  (My shredder is the small black thing hidden in the corner).  Next, I file any papers in my folders in my storage box, and I have a "Follow up" folder that I keep in my white hanging file sorter.  Things RARELY go in that file - mostly medical payments that I'm waiting to clear my HSA.  I shred those when I've verified that they've cleared.

Step 5:  Scan
If I have anything to scan at this point I do that.  For example, today I scanned a few receipts for our opt out payment for the Youth Football fundraiser.  I probably won't need them, but I can access it if needed.

Step 6: Put everything away.
That's it for the weekly system.  At the end, all bills are paid and accounts are rectified.  I put my file box away and tuck my portable scanner back on the shelf.

Annual Paper Routine:  Summer
Once a year, when I have some down-time (summer), I go through all the files in the black file box.   Usually I find that I can shred a lot.  In terms of the kids' school work and art, I look at everything and decide what to keep.  They each have a single file box with a folder for each year of their schooling.  I file the "keeper" stuff in their boxes and return them back to the basement.  I have toyed with the idea of photographing all art projects on a white background and making art books each year.  However, schools don't do as many projects as they use to, so coming up with enough for a book a year might be difficult.  

So that's my ever-evolving system.  I know the scanner and cloud are going to change the way I do some of the paper-business, but I'm not sure how yet.  For now, this works for me.

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