I’m really anal retentive. It’s kind of a joke amongst my friends and family (and admittedly, an odd trait for a writer/creative type), but for me, it’s a means to an end: results. I create systems that make it possible for me to not think about details that get in the way of making shit happen.
However, some people hear that I’m good at keeping a clean QuickBooks file for my business, or entering meetings and tasks into my calendar, and deem that I’m “process-oriented.” But in my experience, process-oriented usually gets in the way of results. It’s a means of distraction by focusing on the “how” and not the “what.” Whereas creating systems automates The How precisely so you can spend time on The What.
I won’t lie – staying on top of things takes time and energy. And I hate bookkeeping, taxes, paying bills, and keeping things organized as much as anyone. But if you’re a business owner, administrative tasks are a necessary evil. The upside is that if you get ahead of things, create systems, and make time on a regular basis to attend to this stuff, it won’t overwhelm you.
Because here’s the deal: You WILL spend time attending to the administrative side of your business. But you can chip away at it – say an hour a week – to stay centered and on top of things. You can handle it as it comes, so you know where things are and what’s happening, which allows you to do better work and serve your clients from a state of calm. OR – flip side – you can put things off until the last minute, when everything is a mess and you can’t find what you need, and you’re completely freaking out and yelling at people.
It’s your choice: prepare or panic. Both take time, but one keeps you calm and gets your shit together. The other leaves you stressed and out-of-control.
Vote for the prepared state o’ mind. Here’s what works for moi:
Devote one hour a week to administrative work. For me, this happens first thing Monday a.m. It includes paying bills, checking bank account balances, transferring funds, making calls to schedule appointments or resolve issues (everything from haircuts to disputing cell phone charges to chasing down client payments), invoicing, entering transactions into QuickBooks, making sure QuickBooks aligns with online banking, and reconciling bank and credit card statements.
Your BFFs: autopay and QuickBooks memorized transactions. If you haven’t already, set this up for your business (and for that matter, your personal finances). If you’re freaked out that you won’t have enough dough in the bank when a bill comes due, then route them to your credit card (which I hope you’re paying in full each month – and that the card earns you some type of rewards, like airline miles or cash back). Better yet, make sure you have enough dough in the bank to pay your recurring bills! For my business, I always leave at least $1,000 in my checking account, which more than covers recurring expenses that are auto-deducted. To save time in the bookkeeping department, add recurring payments (like a health care premium) into QuickBooks so you don’t have to manually add them. Just enter it once, go to Edit > Memorize Check, and set it to automatically enter on a recurring basis.
Back up your phone and laptop once a week. This is one of the best ways to prevent panic, but you have GOT to make it a habit. I tackle it at the end of the day on Friday, after all my client deliverables are boot-scooted out the door. First, I back up and sync my iPhone with iTunes, then back up my laptop to an external hard drive. Do it in this order – then you have a backup of your phone in two places. If you’re an Apple customer, the Genius Bar dudes will love you like crazy for this.
Block time each week to review your calendar and to-do list. Again, this is something I do every Friday, but you might want to do it on Sunday evening or Monday morning. For me, the end of the week is ideal; after all the deadlines are met and everything is shipped off to my clients, I look at what’s on the docket for the next week (and for that matter, what I’ve planned for the weekend). This is when you add stuff, move stuff around, and delete stuff. It’s a great way to prepare for what’s to come and not find yourself being surprised, running late, missing deadlines, and whatnot.
If it needs to get done, write it down. I put EVERYTHING into Google Calendar, but do what works for you: Evernote, Wunderlist, notepad, whatever. Just make sure you’re being honest about whether it actually works. I know people who swear that sticking Post-It notes all over is their tried-and-true system – and for some of them, it is. Others seem to get overwhelmed by the notes and forget stuff anyway. So get real here.
Consider color-coding your calendar. Dude, I love alliteration – all the C’s in that sentence make me illogically happy. But seriously, I decided to start color-coding (props to Breanna Rose) when I switched to Google Calendar last fall – and I’m no longer overwhelmed by everything on it. At a glance, I know when a week is heavy on client work or on personal stuff, and can plan accordingly. I chose a color for each category on my calendar: client, biz building, administrative, personal, travel, and Chris. (With regard to the latter, that’s my boyfriend – he’s a musician, so I put his rehearsals and concerts in my calendar. It makes social planning much easier. FYI, I usually keep this calendar turned off and just turn it on when I need it.)
Batch tasks and errands. This one I learned from the great Leo Babauta. It’s how administrative work became a weekly to-do for me, and how if I need to go to the grocery store, I think of everything else that needs to be done while out-and-about and add it to my list. Batch it and get it over with. Bam.
If it takes less than two minutes, do it now. Ah, the old “2-Minute Rule.” I have no idea who started this, but it’s made the rounds on all sorts of time efficiency blog posts, so maybe you’ve seen it. Of course, you have to be careful here because you could spend all day doing two-minute things. This is where batching stuff into your “administrative work” time helps catch all of that at once. But sometimes you’re out and about and someone tells you something you need to know. Recently, someone gave me their door code – I whipped out my iPhone and added it in the “Notes” section of their contact info. No need to ask them to text it to me or have to ask for it again – it’s done (and, thanks to iCloud, synced with their info on my laptop). If you’re talking with someone about making plans, grab that phone again, find a date that works, and put it into your calendar. This puts an end to, “Yeah, I’ll email you…maybe we can do next week…check your calendar” and BS that’s all-talk-and-no-action. If you think of something you need at the grocery store, keep a “Groceries” note in your phone and add it right away.
Repeat after me: prepare over panic. Now, not later. After all, you know what they say about the early bird – she gets the worm, the clients, the work, and keeps her shit together. Solopreneurial GOLD.