Recently I was invited for an appointment and I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss some extra points. In order to prepare I was scrabbling around for documents and getting into a bit of a nervous panic.
I actually had everything I needed and even knew where most of it was. Still, it took some digging and checking and time to get everything together. I realised that I had become pretty lazy. In this chain where I am at one end but also kind of in the middle, I considered myself the weakest link because I just let things slide over time. This was no disaster, but I could have saved myself at least an evening or two and some time spent worrying by taking some really basic steps.
This could be applied to any paperwork-based agreements or relationships; insurance, contracts, financial affairs, wills, bills and medicals etc.
Read and Understand
Read all contracts and paperwork that is given to you. Even if it’s really boring. Wait for a moment when you feel ready if you need to. If you feel waves of panic washing over you read it like a robot. Read it critically as if it does not apply to you. Does this document make sense? Is there anything missing? Is there extra stuff you didn’t ask for or don’t need? Are your personal details correctly spelled?
If you don’t understand something ask for an explanation (or get the robot to ask). Don’t sign anything if you don’t understand it. This seems incredibly obvious but plenty of people still don’t read. The robot will tell you if you should not sign yet. Listen to the robot.
Gossiping about yourself is totally ok. If you are about to sign something you can ask around at your discretion. What do other people think about this and that? What would they do in your situation? Recently when I took this approach I learned some interesting things; what was happening was completely standard, a new service provider had come in, a law had changed. Impressive amount of info I thought.
Do not be a Robot
Counter to the above usage of robot-like behaviour it can be beneficial to be reasonable at all times. This includes times when it is reasonable to be angry or upset about something. I do not mean that one should be aggressive, but at a certain point the other party ought to be clearly informed that this information is not correct, this is your 6th email/call/discussion and what you expect is this. And yes you are quite annoyed and may take your custom elsewhere.
Use a highlighter so that you don’t have to re-read your documents every time. Most documents are a lot of information that you don’t need right now, so just highlight the useful stuff so that your lazy eyes will land on it without engaging in any actual thoughts. You can read the rest when you need to.
Impossible! Well maybe not, but there is still a surprising amount of pieces of paper that have to be signed with an actual pen and saved for occasions when you are expected to bring them out at a moments notice and wave them in people’s faces. I’ll come back to this.
For the rest, collect everything together in one place. All emails can be in one folder (or converted for saving elsewhere), all electronic files together and arranged in a logical way. E.g. if a file name is ‘2753849672.pdf’ perhaps it’s a good idea to rename it as ‘Study Agreement 2011.pdf’ or something that actually makes sense. Your files should be high enough in your folder structure that you can reach them with a couple of clicks. Make sure that everything is backed-up. If you want to print things out too that’s between you and your printer.
If you are using passwords to protect your data it can be a good idea to note them somewhere very secure where someone you trust can access them if they really need to. You can be cunning about this but not so cunning that your trusted friend either can’t find them or can’t crack your enigma code. Leading me to my next point…
Keep it in a Safe Place
Do not do this. Things in safe places stay safe. Safe from you. FOREVER. File important papers somewhere secure but reasonably obvious to those who know you well, and easy to get your own hands on. Put them in a binder, in a fancy filing cabinet or a tidy wooden organiser. Ideally with a clear label. Just make sure everything is arranged in a way that makes it easy to find what you need – such as chronological order or by document type (all yearly statements together etc.) or by company or category (all health related papers in the green section for instance). In the hideous event that you are unable to point out where your important documents are, your loved one will be able to find them with ease (if they are not in a safe place).
Trust in Me
When I say me, I mean you. Your business contact person may like you, they may even seem to care about your future, but probably they don’t really care because they are just trying to get the work done. Or maybe they are in love with you but powerless to help. The point is, ultimately it’s up to you to keep track of your own life and all the papery things that go with it.
Even when you follow every procedure to the letter things will probably go astray now and then. In such times you can be the one who responds and reminds and keeps everything going. You know your stuff because you need to. Don’t do their work for them; just work with them and work for yourself. Your papery things only really mean something because of you. If you are relying on a partner, take a moment to think of that unthinkable situation that you don’t want to think of. Do you know where everything is? Do they know where everything is?
I agree. It’s obvious that important papers need to be kept somewhere. Somewhere can be in a pile in the cupboard, under the bed, in the house you moved out of three years ago, in the bin five years ago. You don’t really want this. Really you want one or two places where your life in papers lives. If you take that trip to China and are actually hoping to stay there, all you need to take with you is those papers. The rest you can probably arrange by phone later.
Now that you have read everything, had your questions answered, signed, saved and filed in an easy to reach location, you can relax in the knowledge that you know what can happen (because you’ve read the small print) and if it does happen everything can be found by you or your loved ones in a matter of moments.
It’s great to keep your sheets clean; your lovely, papery, important sheets that include terms and conditions and your name on the bottom written in pen.
Now doesn’t that feel good?
Co-founder, The Clean Sheet