Wednesday 2 August 2017

What to do, who should do it

One of the greatest challenges faced by a large number of my clients is paperwork. We know the theories: action, file, junk. Separate and action. But how many of us actually want to do this, and does the thought of the work involved make your blood run cold?

It's like any other vital life activity. If it has to be done, you have three choices: (a) do it yourself or learn how to do so, (b) pay somebody else to do it or (c) muddle along without anybody doing it at all. The same applies to paperwork as to ironing, cleaning, gardening and other areas of maintaining a comfortable life.

If you choose option (c), the consequences can range from the inconvenient to the illegal. Ignoring the letters from HMRC will result in stress, fear, panic and possibly financial loss if you're fined for failing to submit your return; and failing to tax and insure your car is definitely a bad idea.. Ignoring the needs of your garden isn't against the law, but might make you unpopular with the neighbours, and it's not easy living cheek-by-jowl with a jungle. Ignoring the laundry could cost you a fortune in new clothes.

The point is, we are not all book-keepers, gardeners, cleaners or whatever - but we expect ourselves to be. Some of those skills will cause you no difficulty at all; others might send you screaming for the hills. The trick is to identify how vital (or not) those unwanted responsibilities are, which of them fall naturally and without pain into your own scope of interest and skill, and whether the peace of mind and time bought by outsourcing them is worth it.

I worked with a client some years ago whose hatred of paperwork borders on the pathological. Her in-tray was a dumping ground for tomorrow, and tomorrow never came. She's brilliant at her vocational job, a wonderful mother, a delightful friend and a superlative hostess; but she was constantly distressed by her hatred of and inefficiency with dealing with paper - whether it was for business or household. We did some major decluttering of her desk, and she was delighted when it was all brought under control (and she ended up with a very small pile of 'action' items on the desk); but when I next visited, that 'action' pile had grown, and nothing had been actioned.

So she got help. Not from me - I'm a troubleshooter rather than a long-term PA - but from a lovely local girl who loves paperwork. She took huge pride in taking my client in hand, taking on all the hated admin jobs, and relieving her of the burden of stress, allowing her to get on with the business and the mothering and the entertaining that she was best at.

Now, you may say "that's all very well, she had a business, she could afford it" - which is true. However, that doesn't change the fact that we all have to face up to options (a), (b) and (c) at some point. Moreover, you don't need a full-time secretary to keep basic household paperwork under control; an hour or two each fortnight might suffice. If (like me) you have no interest, ability or motivation for gardening, a few hours each month costs (on average over a year) around the same as a night out at the cinema plus dinner and drinks. For peace of mind, I'd sooner have the gardener than the night out.

And then there's option (a). Learning to do it yourself may well not be such a huge issue after all. I've set up systems for clients using (for example) spreadsheets which they have then continued very ably to populate without help from me or anybody else. An outside pair of eyes on a new process, a little computer training, some shortcuts and ideas, and who knows? - you might even enjoy it. There's nothing worse than struggling with a computer programme because you don't know how to use it to its fullest advantage. You wouldn't expect to drive a car without lessons, would you? Why do we expect to use computers without help?

Take a bit of time to review those jobs that are causing you grief.
  • Does it have to be done? Will the world end, or at least will your health or finances suffer, if you simply don't do it? If the answer is no, then save yourself the aggravation and remove it from your life. You have a finite number of years and days and minutes on this earth; use them wisely.
  • If it has to be done, due to financial or health consequences if you don't, can you learn to do it yourself? Don't muddle along and get discouraged; ask an expert (even if it's simply in a book). Ask for recommendations among friends, on social media or elsewhere. "I need to learn to do x. Can anyone recommend a book / a trainer / a consultant who could help me?" One of the biggest benefits of social media, for all its irritations, is the potential for sharing and support. Use it.
  • And if you decide that it must happen but that you really can't, under any circumstances, bear doing it yourself, find out what the real costs are - and what you're able / willing to pay. If the cost of a couple of bottles of wine will buy you an hour of a cleaner's time, how would that feel? If you sacrificed that evening out I mentioned in exchange for a few hours' gardening, which would you prefer? And in the time you might reclaim by outsourcing, you may be able to invest some of it in people or activities that are more precious to you.
Life's too short to spend being stressed - or distressed - by things you don't do because you really hate doing them, or things that you think you can't do because nobody's ever shown you the easy way. 

  • Get clear in your head the difference between can't, won't and don't know how
  • Be honest about whether the activity is vital, important or optional
  • Once you've worked out those two elements, you can make decisions about whether you do it, outsource it or leave it
And don't forget to ask for help! If you're ready to take action on streamlining your life, your surroundings and your workload, contact me today for support, motivation and practical help.

What are you waiting for?

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