Beat the Tax-time Blues with File Organizing Power By Laura Stack, The Productivity Pro®


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When it comes to preparing for tax time, I recommend a five-step process, which I call my “5-P System”

  1. Purge: get rid of outdated information
  2. Plan: map out your new system
  3. Place: get everything set up
  4. Put: file in the appropriate place
  5. Purchase: hire out what you can’t do yourself

Here’s how to use it: 

1. Purge

Throw away or recycle any unnecessary duplicates, outdated draft copies, and otherwise unnecessary materials before they turn into a huge mess and an intimidating chore.

2.  Plan

Decide what you need to keep for taxes and have a clear understanding of what needs to be saved:

  • Paycheck stubs
  • Bank statements, credit card statements and bills that document deductions
  • Tax returns
  • Warranty info and receipts for big-ticket items
  • Receipts for retirement contributions
  • Investment statements
  • Home improvement receipts

3.  Place

Start a checklist of things that you’ll want to have on hand when you file your taxes.  Some of these won’t be available yet, but there are others that you’ve been accumulating throughout the year.  Keep a dated file folder marked “Taxes,” where you put all tax-related receipts as you come across or receive them.

4.  Put

Move all old (previous year) tax returns and related receipts and documents to archive files in a safe, out-of-the-way place. I remove all files I want to keep for history (bank statements, credit card statements, charity donations, etc.). Then I put each year’s records in a white cardboard archive box, label it with the year, and store it in my basement.

5.  Purchase

Once you have all your documentation assembled, get help!  Hiring a bookkeeper is essential for me since I own a business, but I know several people who use one to help with all their receipts, statements, and bills.  Your bookkeeper can compile a tidy and professional set of files that will make life much easier when you need to access financial records, either for tax time or otherwise.

© 2010 Laura Stack. Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces. She is the bestselling author of three works published by Broadway Books: The Exhaustion Cure (2008), Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). Laura is a spokesperson for Microsoft, 3M, and Day-Timers®, Inc and has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, and the New York Times. Her clients include Cisco Systems, Sunoco, KPMG, Nationwide, and 3M. To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401. Visit to sign up for her free monthly productivity newsletter.

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Return to February 2010 eTalk (US edition)
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