January 23, 2012

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Paper Chase

Organizing Your Office Keeps You Out of the Rat Race

Carolyn Campbell

January 23, 2012

Randall Pinson needed to organize his office. As the owner of Rocket Auctions, a surplus liquidation business, and Stellar Mindset, an e-commerce consulting company, Pinson wears many hats. “There were chaotic piles around my desk,” he says. “When I get stuff, I have a hard time prioritizing it, assuming I will get around to it. My piles reached a point where once a month I would have to shred, file or take action. This became a whole day process.” Pinson’s cluttered desk took a mental toll as well. “If you are surrounded by clutter and don’t have a clean workplace, your brain has to work harder to put a project together.” While Pinson’s businesses are mainly online, he felt embarrassed if someone walked into his office unexpectedly. “I knew it wasn’t normal for someone to come into my office and cringe,” he says. Pinson sought the expertise of Linda Isom, owner of Clearing Space by Design, a professional organizing business. She says office disorganization is common, especially in small businesses where owners take on multiple tasks. “Disorganization can undermine a company’s credibility,” Isom says, adding that quick information retrieval is critically tied to business success. “When a client requests something, you need to find it right away. The organized business saves time, money and productivity. You can provide excellent customer service because what you need is right in front of you or you know where to get it.” Isom and other Utah organizers offer the following suggestions to get your office back in shape. 1. Consider a professional organizer. Only 10 percent of people are “born organized—the rest have to learn,” says Isom. With multiple demands, a business owner becomes reactive instead of proactive. “They get a little defensive and allow the needs of the business and the demands of the employees to establish their workday. If your business has been organizationally challenged for a while, it helps to hire a professional organizer to offer a different perspective and tailor-made solutions for its specific challenges.” 2. Establish what stays. “Start with items you know you have to keep, those ‘for sure’ things, such as your computer, your phone book, your paper. Then add items that you use regularly—daily, weekly, even monthly. Consider not keeping items that you might use or that you once used,” says Laura Lawrence, owner and CEO of Harmony Within. Marcia Warner, CEO of A Better Way Organizing Solutions, adds, “Keep things in your immediate space that you are currently dealing with and working on at this moment. If you keep articles and books for someday down the road, you will become inundated, overwhelmed and never get around to looking at them.” 3. Ask insightful questions. Ask yourself, “Do I use it or will I use it again? Do I need it? Do I love it? Do I have space for it? How easy is this to replace should I need it again? Is it of good quality?” Answering these questions can give you insight to what you need to keep, says Laurie Reeve, professional organizer with Simply in Order. When something arrives at your desk, ask, “Will I ever need this again?” suggests Lawrence. “Then ask, ‘If I do need this information again, is there another place where I could get it—a co-worker, the Internet, a company database. If I absolutely need to keep it, where is the best place to put it where I can find it?’” 3. Keep necessary IRS records. Keep IRS records until after the statute of limitations for a particular year has expired, advises Isom. “You don’t want to be caught empty-handed if the IRS contacts you,” she says. 5. Choose a method to keep contacts. Put contacts in an electronic contact management system, rather than try to keep business cards, says Warner. When deciding which contact information you should keep, Warner says keep information that will either build your business or add to your personal life. “Keep those who uplift you, encourage you or send you referrals, rather than those who degrade you. Maybe a client you are always trying to make happy is not the right client for you.” 6. Pare down the historical or sentimental items in your office. “Choose one or two things that mean a lot to you. Honor those things, so that they have a place on a shelf, rather than keeping 15 or 20 trophies or plaques, says Lawrence. Today, Pinson says he’s relieved to be organized. “[I am able to] walk into my office and just get to work. With everything in its place, I no longer have to stare at all of my problems at once. I have mental peace of mind.” Retention Guidelines Know When to Throw Out Your Docs Item How long to keep it Bank Reconciliations and Statements Three years Canceled Checks Three years Correspondence with Customers and Vendors Three years Duplicate Bank Deposit Slips Three years Employment Applications Three years Monthly Accounts Receivable / Payable Aging Reports Three years Petty Cash Vouchers Three years Physical Inventory Tags and Records Three years Purchase Orders and Receiving Reports Three years Sales Records and Journals Three years Bank Reconciliations and Statements Three years Canceled Checks Three years Correspondence with Customers and Vendors Three years Duplicate Bank Deposit Slips Three years Employment Applications Three years Item How long to keep it Accounts Receivable Payable Ledgers Seven years. Accounts Receivable / Payable Year End Aging Reports Seven years. Bank Statements Seven years. Canceled Checks Seven years. Customer Invoices Seven years. Expired Contracts & Leases Seven years. Interim Financial Statements (monthly or quarterly) Seven years. Inventory Summaries Seven years. Loan Payments and Schedules Seven years. Payroll Records & Tax Returns Seven years. Time Sheets Seven years. Personnel Records after Termination Seven years. Vendor Invoices Seven years. Vouchers for Payment to Employees for Reimbursements, Allowances, etc. Seven years. Sales Tax Returns – State regulations vary. Check with your tax advisor for the required retention period for returns and supporting documentation. Seven years. Item How long to keep it Annual financial statements Indefinitely Contracts & Leases Still in Effect Indefinitely Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws Indefinitely Company Policy & Practice Manuals Indefinitely Board meeting minutes Indefinitely Employee pension records Indefinitely Insurance Policies (including expired policies) Indefinitely Charts of Account Indefinitely General ledger Indefinitely Depreciation Schedules Indefinitely IRS audit reports Indefinitely Real property documents Indefinitely Annual Financial Statements Indefinitely Contracts & Leases Still in Effect Indefinitely Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws Indefinitely Company Policy & Practice Manuals Indefinitely Board Meeting Minutes Indefinitely Employee Pension Records Indefinitely Insurance Policies (including expired policies) Indefinitely Item How long to keep it Real Estate Records Keep these for as long as you own the property, plus three years after you dispose of it (according to IRS guidelines) and report the transaction on your tax return... Securities Keep these records for as long as you own the investments, plus the statute of limitations on the relevant tax returns. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) Don’t dispose of any ownership documentation until the statute of limitations expires. Completed Tax Returns Many tax advisers recommend that you hold onto copies of your finished tax returns forever. Why? So you can prove to the IRS that you actually filed.
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