I didn’t send out Christmas Cards this year. Tsk tsk. It’s not because I couldn’t send them or didn’t want to – I just didn’t get to it. I didn’t get to a lot of stuff. I let things pile up and fall through the cracks, and now it’s time to get back on track.
Welcome to the organization extravaganza
Last year, one of my challenges was to organize my digital life. It was a lot of hours of work that I didn’t want to do.
But boy was I glad to have put the proper digital backups in place when my computer suffered a total hard drive failure thanks to a spilled glass of wine. Crashplan got me up and running in an hour.
And when your Google Drive photo folder looks like this…
…archiving and deleting photos and videos is a breeze.
So as much as I hate to admit it (I’m one of those who focuses on how much it sucks to hunker down to do the work), it’s worth doing the shitty things up front. It sets you up to get more done. It makes life less stressful. And it’s so much easier to get back on track when you do slide backwards.
I was excited to finally tackle three areas I’ve long wanted to get a better grip on: things (physical and digital), money, and time. They’re totally different subjects, but the theme is the same. Decide what you want. Do the work upfront and be proactive.
Here’s how the week went.
Things: what to do with stuff
1. Find a physical home for everything. I color coordinated my closet, rearranged bookshelves, sorted through toys (and all of those darn little pieces) and even set up a toy swap. I organized the pantry, wires, medicine cabinet and DVD collection. I sold stuff and donated even more, and before the month is out, I’ll be doing another sweep because for some reason, my house still looks full.
2. Organize, back up and secure digital information. In an age where everything happens online, we have to take digital security seriously. This means backing up and organizing our files, creating strong passwords and implementing proper security measures. It does take time to set up, but it’s not as complicated as you might think.
Free download: get the Digital Clutter checklist. It’s the easy guide to help get you started cleaning up and securing your digital life.
For more detailed organization tips, do refer back to these posts on photo management, preserving kids’ memories and the always popular cleaning up Facebook.
Money: deciding how to spend, save and invest it
“I’m totally leaving money on the table.”
That was my first thought when I looked at our retirement accounts. The money is invested and growing, but I can say with 100% certainty that we haven’t done an effective job letting compound interest (or what Einstein calls the greatest invention in human history) work to it’s potential. Mentally it was hard to roll up my sleeves, get into weeds, and face some uncomfortable realities – like the fact that I’m paying too much in fees, not saving enough in the right places, or not rebalancing my portfolio, um, ever. I spend more money on useless things than I should, I don’t ask for discounts or lower rates, and mostly I don’t enjoy analyzing accounts to see what’s going on.
To be clear, I’m not an irresponsible saver, I just haven’t given this subject the attention and care it deserves. I’ve decided now to approach saving and investing with the same level of intensity that I do with my diet (and that’s saying a lot). I’ve always known how important it is to create an income and investment plan that minimizes taxes and fees, balances risk and return over time, and lets compound interest do the rest. Now I just have to do it, starting with…
- A current financial picture: I logged into every account (15!) and made a list of income, assets, debts, and recurring and variable expenses.
- Setting some preliminary goals. With a trusty old spreadsheet and a tool called Betterment (it provides some guidelines based on age, income and risk tolerance) I put a few numbers together.
- What do we need to retire with?
- How much do I need in short term liquid savings?
- What kind of events or projects do I want to save for?
- Cutting and/or optimize expenses. Where’s the low hanging fruit? Am I spending money on useless things? Examples:
- Negotiate rates and fees (after two phone calls I cut back on cable channels and qualified for a cheaper phone plan for a total savings of $55/month)
- Cancel subscriptions (so long wine club)
The final piece of the puzzle, the “what should our investing strategy look like” part, won’t be solved in a few hours. The details have to be discussed as a family and with an expert. I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes together (and do drop me a note if you’re interested in hearing more).
Time: decide how to spend it
I have a new approach to time management. It’s called chunking which is the idea of setting aside a chunk of time to work on a single activity or a group of related tasks (versus going through a checklist one by one). It forces me to determine of all the things that need to get done, group them together, and allocate a day and time to complete them. I took advantage of a solo cross country plane ride to come up with the following plan:
Step 1: Find preferred method of organization. Some people prefer to use calendars or apps but I’m fond of my trusty Bullet Journal, which is a very cool analog note taking system (the Yoobi journal is only $5.99 and I think it’s just as good as the Moleskine).
Step 2: Make a list of all recurring monthly, weekly and daily tasks.
Step 3: Make a list of all events, projects and priorities specific to the month.
Step 4: Group projects or tasks into chunks.
On Tuesdays, for example, I’ll do nothing but work on Hackerella posts. Thursdays will be dedicated to marketing and promotion. All errands, side projects and weekly tasks are earmarked for the weekends which means that I don’t have to worry about them during the week. It’s pretty great.
Step 5: Every night, before going to bed, write tomorrow’s to do list. And review it first thing in the morning.
Step 6: Reassess and tweak every month, because projects and priorities will inevitably change.
I’m not trying to create a perfect system. It doesn’t exist. I can’t control everything, nor do I want to. I just want to be mostly in charge, like 80% in charge, so that when the unexpected stuff happens, I’ll be better equipped to adjust, respond and move on.
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