In my previous post, I talked about applying taskonomy to kitchen organization. Instead of organizing objects by their name or physical similarity–taxonomy—a taskonomic approach organizes objects by the way they are used.
Today I’m discussing how I used taskonomy to revamp my overly precise but neglected system for paying bills. Paying bills used to be a real chore. (Yes, I hear you saying that I could solve my problems by signing up for online bill payment. I have several reasons for handling this the old-fashioned way, one of which is my aversion to having money automatically removed from my bank account.)
First, I collected bills from their basket, the checkbook from my purse, and pens, stamps, and mailing labels from the drawer. Inevitably I forgot to get envelopes for the annoying bills that require me to use my own, so I always had to make a trip back to the desk to retrieve those. (I don’t usually pay bills at the desk, since it’s full of computer, but the home-office setup is a subject for a different post.) Simply collecting the materials took five minutes. After spending the next 30 minutes writing checks, I placed the statements in separate files: one for utility bills, another for mortgage payments, one for auto insurance and separate one for home insurance, one for each of the credit cards, and one for each of our investment accounts. But it took so long to file them that I was much more likely to stack them in a pile and file them later. Much, much later. The piles did nothing for my home decor, and when I needed to find a particular statement, it was never with the others. Twice a year, in desperation, my husband and I would sort through the stacks, put the statements in order, gripe about the missing ones which were inevitably the Most Important for Tax Purposes, haul three bags of trash to the dumpster, and consider calling a marriage therapist.
After yet another marathon file-and-shred session, I finally admitted that the system required more time and self-discipline than I had. Just as taskonomy had brought order to my kitchen, I suspected that it would also work for bill-paying. Inspiration came in the form of Marla Cilley‘s book, Sink Reflections. Following her suggestion for a “portable office,” I bought a plastic accordion file with thirteen dividers and a deeper front pocket. In the front pocket, I placed a pen, return-address stickers, and blank envelopes. A smaller insert pocket held stamps. Just behind that section, I placed my mortgage-coupon book and bills to be paid. I labeled the other 12 sections by month. Finally, I wrote on an index card a monthly checklist of the regular bills. Now, when I am ready to pay bills, everything is in one place. I can pay bills at the kitchen table or while waiting to pick up my kids from ball practice. Once a bill is paid, I check that item off the list and file the statement in one of the monthly slots. I never lose a statement, and my husband can find the ones he needs without help from me. At the end of the year, I throw away the statements I no longer need and file the others in the official cabinet.
Like the taskonomic pantry arrangement, this system for organizing bills has worked for over two years. So this January, instead of spending a day sorting and shredding, I’ll be seeking new projects for taskonomic redesign.
Kim Wolfinbarger is the recruitment coordinator and an adjunct instructor for the School of Industrial Engineering, University of Oklahoma. Her research interests include usability, product design, industrial ergonomics and design for special populations.