Mishele Vieira, Los Angeles based Certified Professional Organizer® helps business owners and individuals who are overscheduled, overwhelmed and under-organized. She founded Away With Chaos in 2002 where she provides hands on custom solutions that help people to get organized, through setting up systems, optimizing space and work flows, and letting go of things to make room for what matters most in their home, work and life. We asked her to think about tax season and the particular demands of this time. Mishele offers three key tips that should help all of us keep track of that never ending pile of papers.
1. Create a System to keep track of all the paper. As an independent contractor or small business owner, your taxes are probably a more complex than in days gone by as an employee working at a company. Rather than the "shoebox" approach, create a filing system that is unique to your specific working/tax situation. Use hanging folders to easily drop in the documents that you will accumulate for the year such as receipts, credit card and bank statements, deposit slips, 1099 and/or W-2 forms and all of the items you will use to complete your taxes. Use one folder for each category and label it clearly to avoid misfiling. Statistics show that the easier something is, the more likely it is to get done – locate the system in a file drawer in your desk, or a file box conveniently located in your home office. It will be helpful to have everything together and in one place.
2. Take advantage of technology. A place to track your income and expenses is an important component of being prepared for tax time. An Excel spreadsheet will work for some people. Also check out some of the Apps available for PDA's and other digital devices that will help you keep track of appointments, travel, mileage, and other expenses. A business accounting software program such as QuickBooks or Quicken will help you keep track of your income and expenses and will make it easier to pull together all of your numbers when you go to prepare your taxes. Have a professional set up the program for you initially and show you how to use it.
And of course, there's now iPhone and iPad apps to help you file, like the free TurboTax app.
3. Resolve to stay caught up. Having just completed your 2010 tax filing, you may be feeling a bit taxed yourself, and perhaps you may be a bit behind on your tax organization for 2011. If you fall into this category resolve to catch up right away-even if this means scheduling a marathon session or two. The IRS requires that you create timely documentation for certain tax deductions. And staying caught up will allow you to keep accurate records, indentify challenges as they arise, and enjoy peace of mind. Consider scheduling regular admin sessions i.e. every Friday afternoon or Saturday morning to work on updating your records, filing your documents, and keeping up with your tax pre-preparation. You'll be glad you did next April when you are preparing your 2011 taxes.