Don’t touch that paper more than once

February 4, 2010  /  Lifestyle

Self-help books can certainly get you in the mood to rethink how you organize your life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone from habits-of-effective-people guru Stephen Covey to the famously prolific Stephen King has inspirational ways to increase your efficiency and free up the cluttered sectors of your life. But when it comes to efficiency, one of the best bits of advice is a saying so simple and homespun it’s almost profound: Don’t touch a piece of paper more than once.

What this saying refers to, of course, is a scene that has played out in homes and offices for centuries: Piles of paper accumulate on desks and dining room tables, the piles are arbitrarily dumped into bags when company comes or shoved into drawers when the clutter’s unbearable, and a fair amount of our lives is spent sifting through those piles multiple times, looking for scraps of paper we may never find.

Consider instead how uncluttered your life would be if you held up that piece of paper the second it came into your possession and immediately made the decision to file or scrap it or otherwise do that actionable thing that makes that paper irrelevant. And this is where the idea of finding your bills and paying them efficiently intersects. Missouri-based blogger Chett, inspired by the 4 Hour Work Week, explores the book’s concept of “batching,” which essentially means grouping like tasks together so that you’re not “arranging your work area, getting the materials needed, and getting in the right frame of mind” every time you need to do something. And in Chett’s case that something was getting organized to pay bills. Beyond the physical set-up obstacles, Chett and his wife came up with a very shrewd way to help consolidate the process:

“We called each one of the companies that we make payments to i.e. utility companies, phone companies, mortgage, insurance, etc. and ask that the payment dates be changed to dates between the 21st and 26th of each month. Every company was willing to accommodate our request. In the future we will sit down to pay bills once each month. When we finish we will immediately know what residual income is left over and can make plans accordingly. This process should also make debt reduction easier as you can immediately see how much extra you can apply to your smallest payoff to eliminate that debt.”

Chett correctly observes that mastering personal finance often has less to do with understanding numbers and more to do with finding a process that works for you. Batching could be your thing and, certainly, so could gathering all those document piles in your life and touching a lot of that paper for the last time.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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