The Mystery of the Empty Desk • 7 July 2008 • The SnowBlog

The Mystery of the Empty Desk


I was surprised at the comments a couple of posts back about my empty desk. I don't really notice it - but since you've mentioned it, here's why. It comes down to batching, just like with my email. I don't open post until I'm ready to deal with it - and usually that means I open a week's post in one go, unless it looks like a cheque! We don't accept unsolicited paper submissions, so there are few huge stacks of paper from them, and the hard copy ones we do get - bound copies and manuscripts alike - go straight in the recycling. That's right, prospective authors and agents - straight in the recycling. Anna lives 4000 miles away and she reads all manuscripts before me. I am not posting them overseas. If there's an SAE enclosed I'll scribble a 'please submit by email' note to the covering letter and return it. But please, just email them. 

Most post is bills, which is why I open it once a week when I've got Sage open. The bills get logged on Sage (accounting software, as you'll probably know) and then filed in my Invoices Pending black folder (black for the colour of death; money flowing out of the business. Boo. I may be over-dramatising, or at least embuing my filing system with too much symbolism.) There are thirteen dividers in said black folder: one for every month plus a 'queries' tab (or an 'I'm not paying this, cheeky sods, billing me for something I never got' tab). The invoices get filed in the month they're due, and that month gets looked at once every two weeks when I am ready to pay bills. As the bill is paid (always by cheque, for my paper trail which makes bookkeeping so much more simple, and to keep the money in the account just a day or two longer. I know, I am idiotic. It's a known weakness) it's recorded as such in Sage and the invoice is moved to the blue (colour of the sky, hope, release) Receipts folder, with 'paid' and the cheque number scribbled on it. 

Stuff that needs filing upon opening (insurance and legal docs, VAT and tax stuff,) goes in a 'to be filed' folder which is the middle of my in trays, and gets attended to by filing docs in the right lever arch folder when it's full. Stuff which needs doing (prize entry forms, the occasional retailer order, things to be signed etc) goes in my 'in tray' which is the top shelf. Long term stuff that I want to keep on hand, plus stamps for some reason, go in the bottom tray. If the occasional bill sneaks through my defences, it goes in a clear plastic wallet in my intray, ready for batching. 

I have a set of auto-reminders in my Remember the Milk to do list which pop up on a schedule, too. 'Bookkeeping', 'Filing' and 'Pay Bills' pop up every other Monday. 'Bank rec: current account' and 'Bank rec: Barclaycard' pop up every month when the statements are due in. I have a number of these auto reminders - 'sales reporting', 'pay commission', 'update bibliographic agencies', even 'hoover', 'put washing on' and 'check cat food levels'. The more I can get written down and scheduled, the less I have to carry in my head. It sounds so anal, written down like this, but it stops me waking up in the middle of the night because I've forgotten to renew my tax disc / haven't got any milk / forgotten to do the VAT return. 

I don't really struggle with paperwork, then, since there's a system and it's pretty much automatic, or second nature, now. I use the same sort of batching system with email, and think that *is* kind of a big deal since I get so much more email than post, and regularly delight myself with seeing my email at zero (I know, I'm a simple soul). But, weirdly, all of this goes out of the window with our personal paperwork: utility bills, rates, bank statements and so on. They're all on direct debit, and Andy pays most of them, poor thing, but I just HATE filing personal paperwork. I don't see why it's different in my head from company stuff, but it is - like having a main course stomach and a pudding stomach, it is just different. So I don't do it. Witness the Basket of Shame, otherwise known as Amber's Rending Box: 


The poor cat can hardly stand on it any more, as it's so full. She'll have to resort to destroying the carpets instead. 


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