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Make life easy by being organized (In a few simple ways)

18 Aug

Most people procrastinate and forget dates especially for things they don’t think are extremely important. We also get into the habit of losing things like receipts, passwords, etc. I can help you with that.

Introduction

I’m going to start off by setting the tone for this post. It’s a long post, it’s going to be written over the course of a few days (because I don’t like 10 hour blog writing sessions), so it’s going to be a long read. If you’re going to invest the time to read this, I’ll ask you to do everything I tell you to do immediately as I tell you to do it. No excuses, I don’t care if you don’t have Excel, use notepad for all I care or google a free version of a program like Excel. If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it, you’re going to tell yourself “I’ll do it when I have time” or “Those are really good ideas” and that will be it. Forever. You’ve set time aside to read this? Then you have time to do it.

Step One: A Calendar that pokes you when it’s time to do something

The most important step to this “program” is the calendar. I religiously use my calendar and put anything in it that could possibly be planned. I get my work schedule, I throw it in. Then I base my gym schedule around that, so I put that in after. Then I know I want to put time aside for my own reading and teaching myself new things (like Russian and Personal Finance thanks to Ramit Sethi’s courses) and I further put that schedule into my calendar. Then I’ll throw in a few hours on the weekend to remind me to go outside and have fun or I’ll go crazy. The best part about this? The calendar is on the computer, which we all use all the time, so I can always see it. Plus it actually bugs me periodically to remind me when to do things because nobody actually wants to check their calendar to figure out when they wanted to read a book. Computer calendars also have other benefits, like organizing all of your emails and even allowing you to have a detailed contact list which you can assign tasks to just like CRM software (Customer Relationship Management, software that sales/service industries use to follow up with contacts and customers) which is GREAT for networking and freelancing.

I compared tons of calendar clients. I tried Google’s calendar, Thunderbird with Lighting (Mozilla’s email and calendar program) and Outlook and more. Google Calendar was too inconvenient and it was browser-based, so if you don’t have an internet you can’t really use it (Blackouts happen.); Thunderbird with Lightning was great, and I found the Thunderbird email client to be the best, but this is about Calendars and thought it was easy to use it doesn’t sync to other devices and doesn’t let me have a detailed contact list that’s easy to use and assign tasks/follow ups with. To my great surprise I actually found Outlook to be the best Calendar/task program I have ever seen.

I: Using Outlook as a Calendar

Get Outlook. I don’t care what you have to do, just get it. If your computer doesn’t come with it and then you have to pay for it, I highly suggest you buy it. If you can’t afford it, or if you don’t care to synchronize between computers and other devices, then use Thunderbird and download the addon called Lightning.Why is Outlook good? 1. It runs in the background/taskbar which makes it convenient to open up and always downloads emails. 2. It syncs between devices and you can invite other people to view your calendar to set up meetings, hangouts, stuff like that. Good for RSVPing to events. 3. It has a detailed contact menu where you can create contacts and add tons of info and even schedule tasks with them, which is really handy if you’re a freelancer, and if you’re not then it’s still a great tool for networking. 4. It has every option a calendar could ever have, and it looks great. 5. I don’t feel like listing more, but there’s tons more.

Now open Outlook and follow the profile-creation wizard. Go ahead, do it, it takes about 10 minutes. Alright, Outlook has a decently steep learning curve and since it’s extremely customizable I want you to go through ALL of the options/preferences menus at the top of the program. This takes about an hour and a half, and you’ll be able to tune outlook to exactly how you want it. If you don’t know what an option is or means, leave it default. I highly recommend you add ALL of your email accounts to it, because this helps you email any contacts you ever list, and is much more efficient than constantly logging in to yahoo or gmail to check your emails. At the very least, going over all of the options helps you remember where the options are when you get used to the program and want to change other things.

Great, now Outlook is set up. Click the calendar menu on the left and once that comes up take a nice good look at what you’ve got. You can view each day, week, or month as a whole. You can break down by hours of the day. You have a preview of the next few months at the top left. Holidays are already added. I recommend always viewing in the “Month” view, with the details option set to “high”. Do that, then grab your schedule for next week and put it in. You double click the day you desire to put in whatever you want (like your next work day). First, look at all the options. You can make the day an all day event, or for a specific time. You can have emails sent to you automatically reply as “Busy” or “Out of office”. You can make the event regularly occur (Like if you’re a salaried employee on a regular schedule you can have it persist all month/week/year or whatever). You can invite contacts to the event. The most important part? The reminder. Set up your event the way you want to and make sure you set the reminder up, and give yourself enough time to get ready for the event.

Example:

This is how I do it. I get my schedule for work and I pop up my calendar and put in each day with the exact hours. I double click the first day and the wizard pops up. I immediately check off the all day box because work isn’t 24 hours long. Then I change “Busy” to “free” and set the category color because it’s pretty and helps me identify slightly quicker when looking at my calendar what type of event I’m doing. The category color I choose for work is Blue, and I even relabeled it as Work. Then I set the reminder time as Two Hours. I set it this long because it takes me an hour and a half total to get to work, including shower/shave/dress/make myself look manly and handsome/travel. So when I get my reminder, and it pops up 2 hours before a shift, I know I got half an hour to finish doing whatever I’m on so I can start to get ready for work. Once this is done I go in and set the time of work for the day to the exact hours I’m scheduled for. Once that’s done I hit save, and that’s it. It takes 10 seconds. You can make notes, like if you’re closing that night or if there’s a meeting or something like that. I do this for every day I have scheduled and then I go in and add my gym schedule, which I base around my work schedule. Then I add my allotted time to do financing or read. It’s important to add everything to the calendar that you could ever want to schedule, because reading that book on Personal Financing that could change your life is important, and if you don’t set these reminders you’ll probably just read it when you feel like it which would be a whole lot less time than if you scheduled it. PROTIP: Give yourself 15 minutes gravy-time for every event you schedule for JUST IN CASE, like traffic, explosive diarrhea, construction on the main roads, etc. I have found this to be a life saver about once a month.

Now do exactly what I do, and religiously devote yourself to this calendar. You procrastinate a lot, everyone does, and scheduling out things you might think are even slightly important will prevent you from procrastinating a LOT. Make sure to add people to the contacts list (we all have a stack of business cards we’ve been given somewhere, add them in!) and use all of Outlooks other features whenever possible. Condensing everything in this program will help a lot.

Step Two: How to never forget login/account information for anything ever again

Losing account information is regular. Forgetting passwords happens all the time. I’m going to make sure you never lose your account information ever again and even give it to you at your fingertips whenever you want it.

First, get Excel from Microsoft. Or just use the free Google version, or whatever. A text document for all I care, but it’ll be much easier in Excel. Title the document “Passwords” and open that bad boy up. You’re going to title each sheet (See bottom of the document) “Tier 1”, “Tier 2”, “Tier 3”, “Emails” and “Misc”.

Identifying the “Tiers”: The Tier 1-3 sheets identify how important each account is. Your bank account is much more important than your facebook account, which is way more important than that random forum account information. You break your own tiers up, “Tier 1” is the most important (Banks, Financial stuff, anything with significant value). Tier 2 is your somewhat important stuff, like your social media stuff (facebook, linkedin, wordpress, etc). Tier 3 is the stuff you sign up for that you don’t really care about, and the stuff you’re most likely going to forget. The email sheet should have the login information for your emails, and the misc will have any possible password/login/combination that might not fit into another category (For instance, some of my safes with long combinations).

How to set it up: For each of the “Tier” sheets I want you to have four columns. “Website” “Username” “Password” “Comments”. They’re pretty self-explanatory. In comments you should put anything relevant, like the email account that was attached to the login, or any user ID numbers that some sites give you. The most important part about this “Tier” system is that you need to use at least one unique password for each tier. That’s the whole benefit of religiously recording the information, it doesn’t matter if you have a complex and unique password for each website because if you forget you can easily look it up. This makes your identity insanely more secure on the internet. Personally, I go well above this and have about 14 passwords each at least 12-16 character in length each using a random string of numbers and letters both capitalized and capitalized. Most people use a password like “Fluffy1” which software could crack in just a few hours, and could potentially leak your credit card/identity and more. Anyway, getting back on track. For the sheet labeled “Email” follow the same category as the Tier sheets. For Misc, just put “Name” and “Password” and use this for anything that’s not a website, like safes. I also record my serial numbers for games, Microsoft office, etc.

Bonus: I highly suggest you record anything that’s ever important, because forgetting things could mean lost opportunities. I have a folder labeled “Resume” and in it I have my Resume, a copy of it in PDF format, a second document detailing all of my references and how long I’ve known then and where I know them from, another document detailing professional accomplishments and certifications, a document for my experience and education (With detailed dates, recorded responsibilities, recorded accomplishments). Basically, anything that could ever be important or asked in an interview. I also use a very similar Excel document format for recording all of my banking information like account numbers and log-in information even though it’s redundant. In addition to that, I document phone calls I make to any account that’s worth money. For more on this system, look at my blog post called “How to negotiate on the phone”.

Step Three: Keeping track of Everything

Once you keep track of all your digital data, there’s only the step of keeping physical copies. I can’t tell you how frustrated I become when something recently purchased that breaks (Like my parent’s Dryer) and they just go out and buy a new one. This system saves you time and money.

First, get something to help organize your physical records. I highly recommend a filing cabinet. You can find room for it and they’re not very expensive for a two tier version. If you don’t keep records organized, you’ll never commit to using it. So keep it organized.

Second, get folders and title folders. “Taxes”, “Law”, “Financial” “Warranties” “Receipts” are a few good ones. Make sure to have a few spare just in case you need to add a folder (Because you never will add a folder if it means going out and buying a whole stack just for one new folder).

Third, start putting everything in their folders. Receipts and Warranty information is extremely important, since most returns/exchanges anywhere require the Receipt and if you’ve had that broken dryer for two years and are unsure if it’s covered, at least you can look it up and it could save you hundreds of dollars. Taxes and information for that are also important, in case you get audited. Then I keep legal documents in a folder simply titled law, for anything that might be important. Additionally, I go through it when it’s tax time and throw out the obviously unnecessary stuff (Restaurant receipts that I know went through alright) and then zip-lock everything else up and write the year on the bag, to make it easier if I need to back track any further.

Bonus: Tracking your finances better

You can track your net worth, your loans and debts, your income, your spending, your savings and investments, all on mint.com. It’s a safe, secure website that works by polling your individual accounts and then using its own system to calculate how much each month you spend on food/gas/alcohol/lottery/etc.

It’s a great system. It doesn’t work well with Bank of America (It doesn’t sync regularly, seems about once a week or so) but it does work and it will poll all of your spending and categorize it. You can set a budget to help yourself be on track with your expenses. You can set goals to help you save. It’s a great system. I can’t stress that enough. I think everyone should at least give it a look at mint.com

Conclusion

That’s about it. If you don’t keep your records, you’ll never use them and you’ll eventually kick yourself in the ass about it. If you don’t make it organized, then you’ll probably never bother to sort through the pound of paper or the hundreds of log-ins just to find that one that you need.

It’s not fun. Record keeping is boring. You’re probably thinking that this system is “over the top” or simply too much for the average person. I don’t believe in the “average” person. If you commit to this system and update it regularly it won’t pile up and it won’t ever seem like a chore. If you use the system, within a month you’ll realize it’s valuable. Within a year you’ll realize that not having this system is extremely irresponsible and silly. It can potentially save you hundreds to thousands of dollars and avoid a lot of headache. I don’t care if it doesn’t even save me money, the lack of headaches is good enough.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Personal Finance, Technology, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

One response to “Make life easy by being organized (In a few simple ways)

  1. longingforbluesky

    August 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks for your suggestions!

     

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