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Get Ready for Annual Year-End Cleaning

This coming week I celebrate an annual tradition. Perhaps you want to join me. I clean up my office.

Everyone in my office is excited, especially Bryan. Bryan, you see, has an immaculate desk. I - on the other hand - have piles. Piles and piles. I'm the kind of person who feels that if I can't reach something immediately, I'll never remember it. The result: stuff all over the place.

It's gotten out of hand. So, during the last week or so of the year - when others are on vacation and the phones aren't ringing, and things are much quieter around the office, it's a good time to make sure I can see my desktop - and finally get rid of the dust.

You may want to pick up on my tradition. You'll feel better, and you're likely to find the business card of that key prospect you wanted to follow up on. So wear comfy clothes - jeans preferably. Go to the office when no one's there. Play some lively music and start cleaning.

First, let's get our equipment ready:

1. Two trashcans: One for trash; one for recyclable papers. As you pick up each piece of paper, make a decision. Is this something I really need? If you do, make a pile. If not, toss it NOW.

2. A shredder: Unfortunately, it's not safe to throw some stuff in the trash. I get dozens of pre-approved credit card offers and documents containing confidential information. Shred, shred, shred.

3. Small Post-It notes and a pen: For those documents you're going to keep, put a Post-It with the name of the file. Go through a whole stack this way and then make the files all at once.

4. Scissors and stapler or Scanner: Sometimes you only want one article from a newspaper or magazine. Clip what you want and toss the rest. Scanning eliminates paper altogether.

5. An address database/contact management system: Have a pile of business cards on your desk like I do? Decide which names are important and enter them into a contact database. If you have an electronic business card reader, it makes the process faster. Toss the rest.

6. Computer backup: Clean up your computer too. Get rid of all that stuff on your "desktop." Create computer folders and an organizational system that works for you - I make folders by topics (like "Speaking Engagements," ''Columns") and then subfolders by year. Clean up your hard drive and transfer old files to a portable hard drive. Then defragment your hard drive over night.

7. File folders and file drawers: You need a place to put your files, don't you? Ideally, have at least one file drawer in easy reach from your desk.

8. Label maker: Files look better with printed labels. Label makers cost less than $30, and we all love the one in our office.

Next, figure out what you absolutely MUST keep. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Financial documents: Tax returns or any tax filings, bank statements, bookkeeping records. My bookkeeper advised me to retain for a minimum of five years the receipts, bills, or other documentation for items I deduct from taxes.

2. Legal documents: Contracts, business licenses, county tax papers, critical correspondence with suppliers or customers, and anything that might involve a legal action on which the statute of limitation has not run out. Some legal papers, such as your company's incorporation documents, you should hold on to for as long as you're in business.

3. Personnel records: Payroll records, insurance documents, performance reviews, and anything else that might be necessary in an emergency, if an employee ever has their wages garnished, or if you later face a lawsuit. But be careful to protect privacy and ensure against identity theft. Legally, you're required to shred employee applications from those you did NOT hire.

4. Bids: You naturally hold on to supplier's bids until the work is finished, but it's also useful to retain even losing bids for the past year or two to keep track of pricing.

5. My columns: Hey, some things are obviously worth saving.

So clean off your desk - you'll feel better and more energetic about facing the new year. Happy holidays!


Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2009

Rhonda Abrams is the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books for entrepreneurs. Her newest is "Successful Marketing: Secrets&Strategies." Register for her free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com. Or follow her on Twitter at RhondaAbrams.

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