Organize Your Receipts Before Tax Time and Beyond

When I started my business almost 11 years ago, as part of the Accounting section of my filing system, I had a folder for each vendor I spent money with regularly (e.g., gas, light, Office Depot, etc.). When I found myself sticking receipts in a To Be Filed folder, I knew my system was too tedious. I was procrastinating about filing everything, and that told me I needed to simplify.

Here is a simple solution that works for me.

  • Create a home for all receipts for each month. This can be a file folder, tray, basket, or whatever works for you. I have a drawer for Accounting and keep everything nice, neat, and out of sight.
  • Create a home for all pay stubs from clients. For all checks you receive for the month, keep these pay stubs separately and in the front of the folder for that month.
  • Keep everything with that month’s bank statement. When the bank statement arrives, use a jumbo paper clip to keep all receipts and pay stubs for that month behind it. When I reconcile for that month, I put a big R so I’ll know it’s done.

This system is simple so it’s easy to maintain.

One thing though, I had to figure out a way to quickly find receipts for higher-priced products in case I needed repair, etc. I created a contact in Outlook called “Big Ticket Items.” In the text area of the contact I have a 2-column table that is similar to the one below. If I ever need to find a receipt, I’ll know which month/year bank statement to pull.

Date Purchased Description
5/15/2008 HP Laptop, Best Buy
5/29/2008 Office Telephone, Office Depot – ATT
8/6/2008 Luggage at TJ Maxx
8/23/2008 Headset for ATT phone, Office Depot
8/29/2008 Took iPhone back and got BlackBerry, AT&T

What system have you developed that works for you? Let me know. If you’d like more training on how to get organized, visit my Website. I also have a before/after organizing story and a page of records retention suggestions on how long you should keep files before destroying.


Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert

Cure Email Addiction: 15 Things to Try

Addiction in the case for email can be defined as a compulsive behavior engaged in in spite of its harmful effects. If you’re hooked on email and find yourself checking it even when you’re working on something important and need to stay focused (including sleep), you’ll have to commit to breaking the habit.

For those of you who get lost in email to the detriment of important work and a life, here are 15 things you can try to get back in control. Specific computer steps are for Outlook, but you can apply the same techniques to your email client. If you can’t, now is a good time to switch.

  • Clean out all that mess! An Inbox with hundreds or thousands of messages represents missed deadlines, unfinished work, or broken promises. Stop keeping junk you will never need again. Get into a meeting with your Inbox and start purging, creating a filing system for the keepers, and learning tips and strategies for handling each message as you open it. If you stop using your Inbox as a database, calendar, to do list, tickler file, or filing system, you’ll be able to keep it to one screen, and you’ll feel more in control.
  • Shut your computer down. Before you start working on something important, have dinner with someone special, or turn in to get some much needed rest, shut your computer down. The less convenient it is to check email, the better.
  • Don’t start your email client when your computer starts. In Windows, right-click on the Start menu, click Explore, find your Startup folder, and move your email client out of it.
  • Make the default view in Outlook the Calendar (or Tasks). Click the Tools menu, Options,Other tab, Advanced Options, Browse, click Calendar (or Tasks), OK.
  • Turn off the option of automatically checking for incoming messages. Click the Tools menu, Options, Mail Setup tab, Send/Receive, untick Schedule an automatic send/receive, OK.
  • Deactivate the new message alert (the ding). Click the Tools menu, Options, Preferences tab, Email Options, Advanced Email Options. In the When new items arrive in my Inbox section, untick Play a sound.
  • Cancel the New Mail Desktop Alert. In the Windows notification area (where your computer shows the time), right-click on the Outlook icon. To clear the checkmark, click Show New Mail Desktop Alert.
  • Make it inconvenient to open Outlook. Remove Outlook from the System Tray (to the right of the Start button). Right-click on the Outlook icon, and click Delete (this does not delete the software). Then remove Outlook from the Start menu. Click Start. If the Outlook icon is there, right-click on it, and click Remove from this list. To open Outlook later, you’ll have to find it. Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Microsoft Office, click Outlook.
  • Work on one computer and use another one for email. This will be an inconvenience, but try it until you kick the email addiction.
  • Stop using a BlackBerry or PDA around the clock. People have lost their minds thumbing when they should be thinking. No matter how much I love email, I don’t want to be tied to it 24/7/365. I don’t want it finding me wherever I am, constantly interrupting me from something that is most likely more important. Box up your BlackBerry or PDA and ship it to yourself with 3-5 day ground delivery. You’ll find that life goes on. If this isn’t feasible, turn it off and leave it in your car when you get home (if you have a personal cell phone, leave the work BlackBerry in your desk at night…don’t take it home).
  • Find something else to do. Make a list of all the things you’ve always wanted to do…focusing on things that are realistic and affordable. Create a step-by-step action plan to get some of this done, whether it’s learning something new, expanding a hobby, doing some volunteer work, and so on. Get away from the computer and replace it with something that will make you feel good.
  • Concentrate on breaking the habit. Wear a rubberband around your wrist. Going forward, every time you realize you’ve stopped working on a project and jumped back to email, stop. Pop yourself. Then remove your hands from the keyboard, take a deep breath, then retrace your steps. Back up to what you were doing before you checked email. Do this each time, and you’ll start to change. (It’ll take you approximately 21 days to break the habit, so don’t give up.)
  • Establish a routine for checking. Once you ease the addiction, establish a routine that works for you. Bear in mind that your boss, co-workers, and clients want answers fast, but don’t be foolish in thinking you should be available the instant a message arrives. You are not 9-1-1. Include in your routine a day of no email and pick up the phone instead…Fridays is a popular choice.
  • Don’t let them visit after they send the email. If someone knocks on your door with the dreaded “Did you get my email? I need to see you for a minute,” mention how you work, and get back to that important thing you were doing. You don’t want to replace something that can be handled quickly (email) with something that could suck up too much time (visits, phone calls). But you’re going to have to pace yourself so you can get everything done.
  • Work smarter. Organize everything around you (desk, computer files, Inbox, clothes closet), streamline how you work, and learn the technology you touch every day. If you do all these things, you’ll end up with extra hours in your day. Now you can get more things done and stay on top of email too.

Start now and do everything you need to to break the hold email has on you. If you do nothing else, clean out all that mess in your Inbox. You’ll begin to feel more in control, more on top of things, and the urge to constantly check email will begin to subside. If it doesn’t, call Dr. Phil.

Update 11/29/2008: I just read an article at titled “What BlackBerry Addiction says About Obama’s Brain.” Princeton University neuroscientist Sam Wang, co-author of Welcome to Your Brain, suggested a very interesting way to curb an email addiction. He suggested using email as a reward, such as an indulgence of chocolate that we reward ourselves with for doing something good (perhaps finishing a report you’ve procrastinated about). Email is the chocolate. So hold off checking email until you’ve done something to deserve the treat of it.


Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert

I'd Rather Receive Nothing Than an Online Greeting Card

They’ll start soon. Those pesky online holiday greetings from business associates you may or may not know will start showing up in your Inbox. They claim to be from people who want to “reconnect” with you.


Popping a bunch of email addresses into a box and sending a generic message that makes me have to do something to get it gives me no sense of holiday cheer. They get deleted as soon as they hit my Inbox. And a similar fate happens when I receive holiday cards with only a pre-printed name and not a signature.

How do you feel? I truly would rather receive nothing than to get these things.

Peggy Duncan, Personal Productivity Expert

Don't Let Spam Slow You Down

I’m still getting too many nods “Yes” when I ask seminar and workshop attendees if they’re still getting a lot of spam. If you are too, take these steps to end it.

Use a good provider. If you’re using Joe’s Internet Service with servers in his basement, he’s probably not using the best technologies to block spam on the server side…before it gets to you. Use one of the big boys such as AT&T for Internet access and make sure your Webhost meets the same requirements (e.g., Network Solutions).

Keep your clickable email address off the Web. There is no valid reason for putting your live, clickable email address on the Web. Spambots scour the Internet looking for the @ symbol and all that comes with it. Spell it out with “at” instead of the symbol…people will know what to do. It’s a good idea to Google all of your email addresses to see where they show up. Get them removed! Then sign up for Google Alerts so you’ll be notified if they show up anywhere later. And remember that Google can index any documents, PDFs, and Flash files so keep your full email address out of there.

Get a powerful spam blocker. Technology is available to stop spam in its tracks. I highly recommend Cloudmark Desktop because it works in the background and doesn’t challenge people who want to reach me (a potential client or journalist shouldn’t have to get permission to send me a message).

Turn up the security volume in your email software. I use Outlook 2007 and have my security set at High. To check yours, click the Actions tab, point to Junk E-Mail, click Junk Email Options. On the resulting Options tab, choose High.

Get a new set of email addresses. If after all this you’re still getting a lot of spam (not likely), change your email addresses and start over. I know it’s a hassle, but you can’t afford to spend another minute deleting spam. Or at the very least, get rid of info@, sales@ email addresses…you’re making it too easy for the spammer because all they’ll need is your domain.

Deal with the few that will still trickle in. After you’ve made these changes, you’ll probably still get one or two spam messages a day. It doesn’t do any good to add them to your blocked senders list because they’re coming from a one-use email address. Instead (in Outlook), hold down the Shift key and Delete (it’ll bypass your Deleted Items folder).

Stop using autoresponders. If you decide not to do any of this and you continue to use autoresponders (e.g., out of office replies), you’re autoresponding to the spammers. You’re letting them know that yours is a legitimate email address and the floods will keep rising.

Email is too important and something can easily fall through the cracks if you don’t stay on top of it. In my book, Conquer Email Overload with Better Habits, Etiquette, and Outlook 2007, I include lots of tips, tricks, and strategies for managing your life. And for hands-on training at your place or mine, check out my workshop (also available online).

Peggy Duncan, Time Management Expert