Nothing I have to share is going to make your date with Uncle Sam on April 15th pleasurable. There is something about preparing for one\’s taxes that is the emotional equivalent of being called to the principal\’s office when you are in grammar school. (I presume you let a pro do the actual return.)

Let\’s take some of the sting out of the process. If you have all of your receipts and papers organized, the process is reduced to a few hours of mechanical arithmetic. Let\’s get started with these easy to follow steps. You will find detailed instructions in all of my One Year to… books.

Space & Time

Be sure you set aside a few hours for tax-time work. If you work in fits and starts it\’s not only going to take longer, you\’ll probably make a mess in several spots around your home.
Clear the area you have chosen as your designated work zone. You won\’t be able to concentrate on your paperwork if the area looks like Katrina just blew through. A good way to tackle this is to set the timer for 15 or 20 minutes. I like to say you want to move as if your hair were on fire. That is the Image you need to make your ‘Speed Elimination\’ a success! What are you looking for? Here are a few of the usual suspects:

  • invitations to events that have passed
  • magazines, newsletters and periodicals older than two months
  • newspapers older than two days
  • expired coupons
  • receipts for miscellaneous items you can\’t deduct on your taxes
  • department store sales that have passed
  • duplicate catalogues
  • Now is not the time to find an old love letter and drink in the romance. Set it aside. It was lost in the debris. It can wait a few hours to find a place of honor.

    Cemetery or Power Source

    I\’m thinking about your file cabinet. This is where you want to store your business files after they are created. What most people have is a cemetery in their cabinet drawers: a monument to past interests, accomplishments and projects. Take some time to clear this out. Your best friends will be a shredder and some sturdy garbage bags.

    Create a separate area for material you need to hold onto but not deal with on a regular basis. A prime candidate is ‘tax back up\’ material. Save your return forever but hold onto the back up papers for 3 years if you are a private citizen and 7 if you file as a corporation. Caveat: those are the Federal guidelines.

    Each state has its own time requirements. The state of California, for example, requires you to hold onto this material for 4 years. Check with your tax preparer, tax attorney or CPA to be sure you are doing what they suggest.

    Tools make the man … or woman

    You want to work with office tools that make you more powerful. Here are the basic items I get for all of my clients:

  • manila folders (I save colors for projects)
  • long tabs
  • hanging file folders
  • one box of ‘box bottom hanging file folders\’ in the two inch wide size
  • a label maker
  • There are famous organizers who say you should file every file folder alphabetically. I say cluster related items into categories. You will save space. That\’s what box bottom hanging folders allow you to do.

    Here\’s a practical example. Let\’s say you have a large family and everyone drives a car. If you have a folder for each vehicle, they will be scattered throughout your system. If you create a category called ‘Automobiles,\’ you will have all the cars in one area … in alphabetical order of course! It might look like this:
    Automobiles (your tab name)
    Now all of the paperwork (repairs, purchase, insurance etc.) for each vehicle is in one folder and all vehicles are in one area of the file cabinet. If you have a lot of material you can use more than one box bottom. Just don\’t go wider than two inches: the material will be too heavy and the folder will tear. We\’re trying to save time not make more work down the line!

    The Bottom Line

    If the world of organization has been an area of challenge for you, consider this: getting organized is just a skill. If you wanted to play a musical instrument like the piano, master a sport like tennis or learn how to dance, what would you do? You\’d read some good books, find a qualified teacher, practice and hope to reach your individual potential. Getting organized requires the same steps. It isn\’t solely for those who seem to have been born with a natural proclivity for order. Learning a new skill is one of the best ways to keep our brains active and stay youthful. There\’s no time like the present to begin the journey. And “One Year to an Organized Work Life,” “One Year to an Organized Life” or “One Year to an Organized Financial Life” will help you create a file system that will make you powerful at home and certainly more valuable at your place of employment.

    New York City native Regina Leeds has brought order to home and work environments across the United States since 1988 when she started her company, Get Organized! by REGINA. Currently based in Los Angeles, her clientele run the gamut from movie stars to business people and housewives. Regina regularly travels throughout the United States to assist her clients. Regina is the author of two books: The Zen of Organizing; Creating Order and Peace in Your Home, Career and Life and Creating a Place Without Losing Your Space: a Couples Guide to Blending Homes, Lives and Clutter.