Time to begin year-end tax work

Too early to suggest working on your taxes? Absolutely not!

Once Thanksgiving hits, the rush to year-end becomes more hectic.
Start organizing your records now. Pull together and sort income and expense documentation – whether stored digitally or physically. Evaluate 2018 deductions before it’s too late. Tax questions? Call your accountant or tax preparer in the next two weeks before they’re buried by work.

To help you get started, here are some tips from the experts:

Tax preparation checklists are available from a number of public sources, including Nerd Wallet, H&R Block, TurboTax and others. The best come from your accountant or tax preparer. In either case, rely only on credible sources. For example, avoid irs.com. Remember: all government websites use the suffix .org.

Taking small steps now will ease the pain of tax return preparation later. Open your calendar and find 30 or 60 minute appointment blocks for specific tax-related tasks, like gathering records, sorting records, scanning receipts, or calling about your tax questions. You’ll be glad you did.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2018]

Reduce Work Hours and Meet Your Goals

Is it really possible to reduce your work hours and still accomplish what you need to get done?

Absolutely!  If you’re willing to reform your habits and work routine.

A new year offers the opportunity to step back and take a fresh look at how to run your practice.  As someone who likes the idea of starting over and trying something new I am here to encourage you.  Please read on.

business-office

Are you in a rut?

It’s human nature to follow a routine. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  For example, following set procedures for responding to client email, docketing deadlines, or checking conflicts are helpful time management and malpractice avoidance techniques. The problem arises when we form work habits that are self-defeating or even life-threatening.

Working long hours can kill you

Several years ago I reported on a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine that found people “who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day.  Those who work between 10 and 11 hours per day have a 45 percent higher risk.”

For those of you who champion working hard and putting in long hours, these numbers are a sobering wakeup call.

Sitting is the new smoking

In 2016 came the admonition: get off your duff to improve your health.

While deadlines may sometimes dictate longer hours, sitting in your chair for 10 or 11 hours a day shouldn’t be the norm.  Long hours translate to physical stress, little or no time to exercise, and eating habits that are often less than stellar (like grabbing fast food on the way home.)

The truth is that none of us can maintain a “7-7-7 schedule” (7:00 am to 7:00 pm seven days a week) without suffering the consequences.  Even if you buy a treadmill or standing desk.

Resolve in 2018 to make changes

If I am describing you, stop.  You can do better, and you’ll be happier for it.  Here’s how to cut back the amount of time spent in the office and still accomplish what you need to get done.

Learn to say “goodbye” and “no.”

Two of my favorite words.  And they should be yours too.

Find it hard to turn people away?  I understand how you feel.  Lawyers face economic pressure: I don’t really have a choice.  I need the money.  And emotional pressure: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.  

Next time you want to say “no,” but are struggling, follow this simple advice.

Overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate?

This is a good news/bad news scenario.

Let’s start with the “bad news” first.  You have too much to do and can’t get it done.  You may be paralyzed or depressed.  You don’t know where to start.  Call the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).  They provide free and confidential help with issues just like this.  They can also connect you to resources that can help relieve the pressure.

On the “good news” side, having too much to do means you can afford to be more picky about clients and cases.  Time to cull the herd:

What are your priorities?

What do you want to make a priority?  Create time that is sacrosanct to tackle what you want to get done by blocking out time on your calendar.  Treat this time as if it were a client appointment – take no calls, do not read email.  Stay off the Internet unless the task at hand involves being on the Internet.  Give the matter your undivided attention.

Multi-tasking is for the birds

Or rather, bird brains.  Literally.  It’s just about the worst thing you can try to do.

The idea that we can juggle ten things at once is a myth – we simply can’t do it.  Here is one of the better explanations I’ve read about why multi-tasking doesn’t work.  It was the inspiration for this post.  If you want to do something well, not start over ten times, remember it afterward, and get finished sooner, then single task!

You can control client expectations

Learn to shape and manage client expectations – from the very simple (availability by phone, ability to accommodate unscheduled appointments) to the more complex (meeting client deadlines).  The Professional Liability Fund (PLF) offers sample client brochures that explain office and billing practices.  Consider ordering the OSB-accredited webinar, Seven Steps to Building Better Client Relations.

Give yourself a break with this easy time management technique

Form a new habit for 2018.  Check your calendar first before making a time-related promise to a client.  If there is no “deadline” per se, determine when you can reasonably fit the project into your schedule.  You gain nothing by promising a quick turnaround if you can’t keep your word.

In a pickle? Triage!

If you’re in a pickle – a deadline is approaching and you know you can’t meet it – start triaging.  Call your client.  Call opposing counsel if necessary.  Negotiate a new due date.

I know facing up to deadlines is hard.  I also know many lawyers hesitate to call their clients or the other side because they fear being yelled at.  Know this: your clients and the other side are far more understanding than you give them credit for.  Everyone has been there.  They get it.  It turns out that waiting is not really that big of a problem ninety-nine percent of the time.  And if you need support making these kind of calls, just give a ring to the nice folks at the OAAP.

Get back in control

Getting help may be just the ticket to get your workflow back in control.  Consider temporary staff or a contract attorney.  Questions?  Call your friendly practice management advisor at the PLF for help.

Leaving early?  Good for you!

Last but not least, ditch the guilt of leaving early – it is your well-deserved reward for good planning and efficient work habits.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2018

Postscript

Have I given this advice before?  Absolutely.  But a reminder never hurts.  Especially if you know, as I do, that we all feel discouraged from time to time.  Never forget: you can start over and you can make a change.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Best of 60 Tips in 60 Minutes – 2017 ABA TECHSHOW

Yesterday I shared the Best in Mobile Apps for IOS and Android from the 2017 ABA TECHSHOW.  Today: the Best of 60 Tips in 60 Minutes with ideas on:

  • Blockchain Technology [A direct payment solution that bypasses banks]
  • Document and Workflow Automation
  • Document Indexing
  • Email
  • eSignatures
  • Facebook Advertising
  • Hardware Hacks
  • Lawyer Websites
  • Meeting Apps
  • Microsoft Office
  • Mirroring Content from Mobile Devices
  • Mobile Scanners
  • Note Taking
  • Online Collaboration
  • Online Intake
  • Organization
  • Outsourcing Tasks
  • Practice Management Software
  • Productivity
  • Proofreading
  • Saving Money
  • Scheduling Assistants
  • Security
  • Social Media Management
  • Slide Presentations
  • Spam
  • Timekeeping
  • Travel
  • Virtual Assistants
  • Web Conferencing

For a recap, click here or on the image below.

Get Your Financial House in Order Now

thFor the last few years I’ve shared an
annual tradition with you: getting financial records organized for year-end.

This entails gathering up receipts, identifying deductible expenses, updating your accounts, running reports, and possibly pre-paying some 2017 bills.  Whew!

Fight the Urge to Procrastinate

With all the responsibilities that vie for our attention this time of year, it’s easy to push aside the task of gathering, organizing, and updating financial records.  Don’t succumb!

Getting organized for year-end is an absolute necessity – especially for the sole practitioner.

Step 1: Get Started

If needed, begin with a little background reading from the experts:

General Tips on Tax Preparation

Tax Deductions FOR SOLOS AND HOME-BASED LAW PRACTICES

Step 2: Learn How to Organize Tax Records

Step 3:  Begin the Process by Chipping Away at Organization and Prep

I don’t recommend a marathon session of tax organization and prep.  The only time it makes sense to do this is if you’ve procrastinated and you’re up against a filing deadline. The point here is to avoid that.  It’s too stressful!  And as we all know: when you’re up against a deadline the odds of making a mistake rise exponentially.  Let’s not go there.

Instead, open your calendar and schedule some dates to start gathering and organizing records.  30 or 60 minute appointments will allow you to chip away and make progress:

First appointment

Assuming your accounts are reasonably up to date (income and expense entries are current), do a quick check. Does it make sense to pre-pay 2017 expenses [bar dues, professional liability coverage, rent] or contribute to your IRA/retirement fund? Make this assessment early to take advantage of 2016 deductions.

Second appointment

Prepare to organize your records.  Physically gather receipts.  If necessary, schedule follow-up appointments to finish the process.  If your records are digital, use this time to pull all receipts into one 2016 expense folder.  If you have unscanned receipts, catch up on your scanning.

Third appointment

If you are paper-based, label a manila envelope “Personal Expenses.” Start sorting your paper receipts.  For now, anything that is a personal expense goes into the “Personal Expenses” envelope to be dealt with later.  If your records are digital, create a file folder labeled “2016 Personal Expenses” and segregate personal receipts.  Once you’ve achieved this basic separation, start organizing your business expenses.  This can be done a variety of ways – see the reading above.  While date order is good, it is preferable to sort by expense category first, then by date.  If necessary, schedule follow-up appointments to finish the process.

Future appointments

You get the drift. Even the most robust procrastinator can generally commit to increments of 30 or 60 minute appointments.  Keep moving.  Anything you do helps advance the cause.

Step 4: Jumping Ahead to the CPA

If you already work with a CPA, hallelujah!  If your CPA is like mine, he or she will automatically send you a tax organization packet, which will go a long way toward helping with the steps above.

You Do your own taxes?

I know some of you are stubbornly independent, as I once was, and you prepare your own taxes, as I once did.  Please: at least contact a CPA for a ballpark estimate of what it would cost to delegate this task.  What can it hurt?  You can still prepare your own taxes if you prefer.

But my taxes are simple!

Kudos! Guess what?  The cost to prepare your return will be nominal.  If your taxes are complex, anything you pay a CPA will be well worth it.

I have used CPAs for business, personal, and trust-related tax preparation and have never been sorry I did.  The prep work is enough for me!  Try it at least once and see what you think.  I’ll bet you free admission to one of my future CLEs that you won’t go back to doing your own tax returns.  Select the Contact page on the menu above to take me up on this offer.

A Quick Thought About Apps

The tech-savvy among may you may be curious about apps, so here are two suggestions: 7 of the Best Apps to Scan, Track, & Manage Receipts and Best Free Finance Apps for the iPhone and iPad.  (The latter is my list of favorites.)

Parting Thoughts

Get started now by scheduling those appointments on your calendar!  I promise you that doing a bit here and there makes the process less overwhelming.  Good luck!

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2016]

My Desk, My Enemy

Desks are the pedestals of our productivity. How we organize the stuff on them has a big effect on how well or if we get things done in a timely fashion. But just as important as these practical concerns is the impact it has on our mental health.

While researching content for a presentation, I came across this older post: My Desk, My Enemy: 6 Helpful Ways to Get Organized.  Written by Dan Lukasik and published at Lawyers with Depression, it contains helpful information that remains relevant.

Organizational Style

Dan begins by describing the four organizational styles identified by Kelly Lynn Anders in her book, The Organized Lawyer:

Stackers organize by topic in stacks. They are visual and tactile and like to give the appearance of order. The busier these people are, the more stacks they have.

Spreaders are visual like stackers, but must be able to see everything they’re working on.

Free Spirits keep very few personal belongings around the work area. They like new ideas and keep reports, books, articles and magazines near.

Pack Rats have emotional ties to things. They like the feeling of fullness around them and like to tell stories about what’s in the office.

These categories are insightful, and describe a fair number of people I’ve worked with. But they fail to recognize what happens when a lawyer is depressed, depleted of energy, and has no motivation to get organized.  Dan calls this “the depressed desk:”

When a lawyer has depression, motivation and organization are BIG problems. A lack of energy blunts motivation. We already know that it’s a good idea to keep our desk together, but there simply isn’t much neurochemical juice to get it done….

We must outfox depression. It would have us do nothing. So we must do something. 

Dan’s Six Simple Solutions [Abbreviated]

  1. Get rid of all those pens. Only keep three or four.
  2. Take home any books that you don’t use on a regular basis. [I would add: do the same with magazines and legal periodicals. Create a “free spirit” space at home if this is your organizational style.]
  3. Hide cords – use twist-ties or coil your cords up.
  4. Only keep on your desk what you need for that day. Then section off your desk and workspace so that everything has a specific space.
  5. Have a dump day.  Pull everything out, put it in a big pile, sort, and toss.
  6. Schedule a date and time to clean your desk.

Read Dan’s original “six simple solutions” here.

Parting Thoughts

It’s easy to be skeptical of simple solutions.  How could tossing excess pens or hiding cords possibly help?  What difference does it make to clean off my desk?  

Trust me, it helps.

  • Eliminating clutter reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Organizing and prioritizing gives you back a sense of control.
  • Compartmentalizing allows you to plan for what you need to do and when.
  • Freeing up space allows you to breathe, think, and work.

You owe yourself, and you deserve, a pleasant work environment.

If you are a lawyer with depression, consider following Dan’s blog and connect with one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]