This post is sponsored by Intuit Small Business.
I am not a person for whom super-organized routines come naturally. I might hit snooze one or two (or five) times. I might manage to get out the door in 10 minutes, or there might be a dragged out, hour-long debate with my husband about our extremely non-urgent vacation plans.
Even when I try, I just can’t seem to follow my own rules at home. But as a managing partner at The Financial Diet, a role in which I work on a wide variety of projects, I have found that adhering to some routines is essential.
So in the spirit of sharing my hard-learned lessons, we’re partnering with Intuit Small Business to bring you some of the routines that have helped improve my work life and that I hope will be helpful to others (even if you don’t run a business). One of the most important rituals I’ve developed is checking our Quickbooks Online account, and I’ve found that especially because I’d used TurboTax for my personal taxes in the past, it felt very intuitive. With that, here are my 5 tips for staying organized at work, whether you run a business or simply want to feel more together.
1. Checking goals before requests
Here’s one of my favorite work-related memes: “Adulthood is just two people emailing each other ‘Sorry for the delayed response’ back and forth until one of them dies.” It rings (sadly) true because it’s so easy to let entire days be absorbed by responding to messages without getting any meaningful work done.
As simple a ritual as it may be, I find it helpful to resist the temptation to check any messages first thing in the morning. I instead check my schedule for the day (if not my entire week) first, then my list of priorities, then my email. I find this is the only way to stay sane and prioritize. I also set up my inbox to show all unread emails on top, and I deliberately mark emails as “unread” if I can’t respond to them immediately. This way, I won’t forget them, but I also don’t feel obligated to deal with them in the moment.
2. Ripping off the Band-Aid
There are so many intimidating and unpleasant tasks in adulthood, and my natural inclination is to put something off until the task morphs into this monstrous thing that feels far bigger than it should. (See: filing your taxes, confronting a big bill, having a difficult convo.) I am more “flight” than “fight” by nature, and I deeply understand the temptation to just kinda shove something out of mind and hope for the best. But as a business owner, that’s not an option.
One ritual I’ve tried to incorporate is to “rip off the Band-Aid,” i.e. deal with the things that intimidate me as soon as I can. This could apply to many things, but as far as work goes, the most important for me is making sure TFD has enough money in the bank at any given time — and thus confronting our financial situation with brutal honesty. Our bank balance quite literally represents the rent, bills, groceries, and livelihood of our employees and contractors. It’s a sort of terrifying amount of responsibility, and one that I never want to take lightly. So I check our Quickbooks Online account at least once every workday to ensure that we have enough cash and that there were no fraudulent charges made. There have been times where the balance is stressfully low, but simply facing reality always feels better than just avoiding it.
When it comes to managing our finances, using trusted tools like Quickbooks has made getting over my fear of addressing finances much easier. I started managing TFD’s finances two years ago with zero experience in accounting and found it to be a lifesaver. I taught myself to use it when I joined TFD, and that is much less of a humblebrag than it is a testament to how user-friendly it is. In fact, I found it surprisingly fun to come up with logical categories for all of our expenses and use them to create nice reports and graphs and so on. It made a major difference in our ability to understand our business and make smart decisions.
I also use it for accounts Payable/Receivable and can’t imagine how I’d keep track of all our invoices. Recently, they added a payroll feature, Quickbooks Online Payroll, that was upgraded to include a full suite of employee management services, including workers compensation, healthcare benefits, and embedded time tracking (Tsheets) that integrate seamlessly with QBO. You can also use it to do penalty-free tax filing and auto payroll, so if your taxes this year were a headache, consider switching to QBO so it’s easier next year!
3. Reimagining my to-do list
I realized at some point during an organization-related meltdown that the reason I was never getting through my list is that all of the points depended on other people taking actions. When you’re managing any kind of project that requires some cooperation or assistance from others, you can’t just “get stuff done” no matter how much motivation or focus you have.
To remedy this, I’ve started organizing my project management tool to have two columns: A) “Waiting On Me” and B) “Waiting on Someone Else.” So with one “To Do” item such as, “Find venue for TFD event,” it might start in Column A but as soon as I email a bunch of vendors for quotes, it gets moved to Column B. Once they all respond, it moves back to me, but then I have to get approval from my teammates/sponsors, and it gets kicked right back to Column B. It helps me view work less like a Sisyphean effort to get to the end of the list (which will never happen) and more like a team sport in which we’re just passing a ball back and forth.
4. Looking at least three months ahead
One of my biggest challenges in transitioning from a traditional employee to a business owner has been making peace with the fact that there’s no such thing as a “salary” for a business. As an employee at past jobs, I could generally assume I’d continue to get paid the same amount, every month, for as long as I kept my job. A business, on the other hand (or a full-time freelancer), might bring a ton of money in one month, and zero money in the next. Having a fantastic summer is absolutely no guarantee that we’ll have a fantastic fall. And TFD, being a niche publisher with custom advertising, is especially precarious because not only is every single item we produce a unique unit (a somewhat insane concept in the context of most businesses, which center on mass-producing identical products), but every one of our client relationships is unique and must be either renewed or replaced on a semi-annual basis. There’s really never a good time to rest on our laurels.
As such, it’s extremely important that every day, we look at what we have coming up a week out, a month out, and a quarter out. I’ve found this to be helpful in my personal life as well. Otherwise, things can really sneak up on me, and before I know it, I’m stuck buying overpriced plane tickets for a wedding or dealing with any insanely over-booked month.
If you’re a small business owner or full-time freelancer, learn more about how you can use Quickbooks Online Payroll here.
Image via Unsplash