Simplify – Keep, Delete or Delegate?

How many of you have ever felt overwhelmed – like there was just not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done? I know I have in the past, and at times still do – usually because I put something off until the last minute and then other stuff pops up. But this is within my control, I have no one to blame but myself – and it’s not the focus of this article.

Instead, I want you to think about what you can get rid of. What eats at your time and either doesn’t add value, or even though it adds value it stresses you out. When do you feel overwhelmed – is it Sunday night because you “know” Monday is going to bring a host of new problems, or is it Friday because “there is just no way you can get everything done before the weekend”? Or is it something else entirely? Whatever it is, write it down – I’m going to share how I was able to reduce my stress/anxiety, and hopefully some of these tools will work at least equally well for you.

Make a list of what you, and only you can do – this is going to be the baseline of what you keep. Some examples are paying the bills, projects at work, taking care of the kids, etc; but be realistic – this should not mean only you can do it because no one else will do it the way you like. If the only reason you’re not delegating is because it’s not getting done the way you like, ask yourself is it really that important to have things done your way, or is it something you can let go and accept it may not be “perfect”, but it’ll work. Often I’ve found we get in our own way by telling ourselves things “must” be done a certain way; when the reality is there are other options if we keep an open mind.

Next, make a list of what you absolutely hate doing – and be honest. Looking at this list what can you get rid of? If you have children, is there anything you can assign to them as chores; or perhaps hire help. If you can’t get rid of it, can you set aside specific times to get it done, and be done with it? For example I hate maintaining my yard, cooking, and reading e-mails. So I have a “yard guy”; I cook on Sunday, making a week’s worth of meals (usually in the crockpot, eating the same thing every night for dinner); and I’ve built reading e-mails into my work calendar (I check it 3x’s/day, that’s it).

I use work lists, it helps me organize my thoughts around what needs to be done; but I don’t expect to accomplish everything in one day. I note which 3 or 4 things are the most crucial to accomplish, and the rest is there for when there are lulls – appointments cancel, dead time waiting for a meeting to start, etc. I also like to combine tasks – for example walking the dogs while waiting for laundry.

We all have time-wasters, those things we know don’t add any value yet can’t seem to get enough of. Facebook, games on the phone, etc are just a few examples; and they can eat up a lot of time if you let them. Rather than try to eliminate them completely, set a timer – allow yourself 5 – 10 minutes of mindless activity to reset, and stick to it. I got rid of cable because I used to love reading, yet I would feel obligated to catch up on shows because I wanted to get something for all the money I was paying – leaving me little time for what had once been a passion. It’s been over a year since shifting to Netflix (significantly cheaper) and I’ve found myself back in the groove reading, while still enjoying the occasional, guilt-free, show.

At the end of the day the only one who knows what you absolutely have to do is you. It’s up to you to decide how you want to spend your time; and if you decide to delegate or sub-contract (hire a housekeeper, landscaper, etc) take the time to understand how it will affect your budget. You may have to give something else up, so only do so if getting your time back is truly worth it. I reduced my phone’s data plan to free up cash flow, and to prevent myself from getting on the internet every time I had a free second. What can you do to regain an hour a day?



Check Yourself!

This year my son turns 18, which by any measure is a major milestone; but I’m finding it especially noteworthy as I consider what it means with regards to my estate planning and his disability. When he was younger I was able to delude myself into thinking there may be a miracle cure, he’d suddenly wake up one day and no longer have the cognitive delays he’s had since birth. Some of this is hyperbole, I’m certainly being melodramatic – but it has been weighing on my mind.

Specifically what will happen when I’m gone. Having lost my spouse to a sudden illness, making the toughest choice I’ve ever had to make taking her off life support; I understand nothing is promised. I have an estate plan, I completed it the year after my wife died; but so much has changed in the intervening years – now it’s time to revisit the plan and make the appropriate changes.

Many of my readers will experience similar thoughts and feelings, if you haven’t already; the question is what are you doing about it? It’s much easier to turn a blind eye and say “I’ll get to it”; but let’s be honest – for a myriad of reasons we never do. Me, I’m waiting until after my son’s birthday; for a couple reasons. First, I’ll be applying to the VA for his “helpless child” status; an unfortunate moniker which nonetheless will enable him to receive my Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) when I’m gone. For those of you who are not familiar with SBP, it provides a spouse and/or child(ren) with up to 55% of the veteran’s pension.

The other reason I’m waiting is because I need to make the decision about becoming his Guardian. As a minor this is automatic, but after he becomes 18, should I choose to pursue this option, I will need to prove to a judge he is incapable of taking care of himself. In my son’s case this isn’t as simple as “yes” or “no”. I’ve always, and regardless of if my decision is for guardianship, will continue to be, a proponent of alternatives to guardianship. That’s a topic for its own blog, but needless to say I have some major decisions to make in the next few months.

Why am I writing all this? To show you I “get it”. I understand how difficult it can be to verify asset titling and beneficiary designations, and why you may not want to make that call to the estate planning attorney to get your documents in order. But believe it or not, doing so WILL help. In some ways I can’t wait to get mine done, ensuring my son’s first and third party trusts are established so he has one less thing to worry about when I’m gone.

Losing someone is difficult, there is so much to be done it’s often hard to conceive how you’re going to accomplish it all. Why add to this by making your family and loved ones try to figure out what you would’ve wanted? Have the tough conversation, and get your final wishes in writing – it’s a whole lot less unpleasant than not having anything when the unforeseen happens. My wife and discussed extreme measures, and although it didn’t make the decision easier when I had to make it; I’m glad I knew what she wanted – because I knew ultimately I was honoring her. So take a look at your documents, if it’s been more than 4 years since you had your estate plan done (or you haven’t gotten around to it yet) reach out to an attorney. I’m here for my clients should they need the moral support, and I’m sure many of you can rely on your Advisors as well.

Clutter & Chaos, or Collections & Tranquility

I’m often told “I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know where to start” by my clients; and it’s understandable – without systems in place it’s easy for anything to get out of control. I will admit to some OCD-like tendencies, perhaps because of spending so many years living on a submarine and having no room for anything. There were several years where I was hot-racking, sharing 2 racks between 3 people; out of necessity you learn how to pack and bring only what you absolutely need. Add to that my training as a Lean Six Sigma Green belt and it’s a wonder I don’t have my everything in my house labeled and it’s location identified (I don’t, I promise : p ). I am NOT a professional organizer, although I do know a few and will gladly recommend them if asked.

When my wife passed away I was overwhelmed by how much she had left behind that I didn’t see the value in – they weren’t my hobbies or passions; to me it was just “stuff”. I didn’t want to get rid of anything at first, because it reminded me of her, but it also really stressed me out. So I started by moving anything I was absolutely sure I would never use – like a sewing machine and food mixer – to a corner of the living room. These were eventually sold on Craigslist, several months after I started the process. And (5) years later I still have things of hers that I’ll never use, like clothes and knick-knacks; I’ve kept because they remind me of her; but now they have a place that makes sense to me and I don’t feel overwhelmed.

But what about everyone else, where can they start? When you get to the point where you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s really difficult to overcome inertia – and it can feel like you’re not making any progress. So let’s begin by addressing what to do before it gets to this point, and many of the same steps can be taken at any time – it’s never too late.

For me, the easiest place to begin is getting rid of loose papers. If it’s documentation I need to keep – like tax records, my son’s IEPs, etc; I scan and digitally back them up. I can always print them again if needed; then it’s off to the shredder. Paper can take a LOT of space, and it doesn’t take very many loose pages to give the perception of a mess. It’s also fragile – susceptible to water damage, tearing, fire – you get the idea. With the availability of the free cloud resources, Google Drive for example, there are plenty of places to back your records up. And documents do not take much memory. This has the added advantage of allowing you to keep things indefinitely. I know many people who don’t want to get rid of their documents, just in case.

Next thing to consider is anything you haven’t looked at in a while – to start let’s say > 1 year. This could be boxes in the attic or basement from when you moved, or even a storage facility you’re paying for but haven’t been to in a while. I think it’s safe to say most of us have something like this. This isn’t the holiday ornaments you only break out once/year; it’s the items that don’t seem to fit in your home now, or things you put into storage a while back because you didn’t know what else to do with them.

I’m a financial planner, my career and profession is centered around helping people get the most out of the money they have. In my opinion it’s easy for storage facilities to shift from a very useful tool to a money pit – if for no other reason than someone has the wrong size and could be saving themselves a little on the monthly fee. More often it’s because people have forgotten what they put in storage. If it’s family heirlooms or antiquities you’re protecting until your young children are old enough to understand the value, that’s one thing. But if it’s IKEA furniture bought when you got your first apartment and stuffed into storage after you got married let’s look at getting rid of it and invest the money spent on the storage facility towards your future.

The same goes for your house, it’s easy to accumulate stuff – especially the longer you live somewhere. So start small, especially if it feels overwhelming. Rather than tackle the entire room, pick a dresser or shelf and work on that. Let yourself see that you CAN have an impact – even if it’s just getting rid of clothes you never wear or creating a clear space on the shelf. Take small steps if this is uncomfortable. Bag clothes up and put them in the closet or somewhere out of sight, then in 2 – 3 weeks if you haven’t missed them, drop them off at a charity thrift store or call for a pick-up (tax deduction).

No, this isn’t going to make you rich; but that’s not the intent. It’s one less thing you need to think about, it’s going to free up some bandwidth. We all can only fit so much into our brains, and then something has to give. And it’s important to understand this isn’t an overnight solution, it’s not meant to be. For some of us it could take months or years, depending on our circumstances. And I’m not suggesting you live like a monk, if you enjoy a collection of something that is not the same thing as being overwhelmed by clutter. And there are professionals who can help – not just empty a house, but creating better habits and understanding why you feel the way you do. At the end of the day it’s a question of your comfort, no-one else.