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Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by a seemingly never-ending stream of life's little admin tasks? Are there things you know you should be doing but somehow never find the time or keep forgetting?
That's how I felt a year ago. I'm generally a fairly organized person, but these little (and often repeating) tasks seemed to fall through the cracks. I'm not talking about big jobs around the home, I mean the little stuff: checking your backups, reviewing your credit reports, scanning and filing your mail, clearing out your email inbox, canceling unused subscriptions, etc.
My approach to these had been pretty ad hoc - I'd think of something that would need doing and either break my focus to complete it immediately, or more likely put it off until later. Sometimes it would make it onto my to-do list, but somehow I just never seemed to get to things.
So a year ago, at the start of 2020, I decided I wanted to focus on getting on top of these little tasks once and for all! I suggested the idea to Diana and she was on-board, so we made that one of our New Year's Resolutions for 2020.
After doing this for 12 months, it's been a huge success, so I think now is a good time to share this idea so you can decide whether adapting and embracing SYLO days would help you too.
The approach is simple. Once a month, we dedicate an entire day to these tasks. We lightheartedly refer to this day as a Sort Your Life Out (SYLO) day, to reflect the fact that these are intended to be basic life hygiene tasks - things that might otherwise never quite make it to the top of your to-do list.
We're fortunate that a combination of life on the road and being self-employed means we can work a fairly flexible schedule - we can choose which days we work, and which days are our "weekends".
Since some of our SYLO tasks might involve contacting companies who are only open during the week, we decided to make the first Monday of every month our SYLO day. It's still flexible though, so if that day doesn't work for us one month, we can always shuffle it around. And yes, we're not perfect - we've missed it once or twice, but soon regretted it as the next month's SYLO day is even busier!
If you can't dedicate a full day, or a weekday isn't going to work for you, that's OK. The core concept is having a regularly scheduled time to address these tasks, so pick a schedule that works for you.
Your list of SYLO tasks may look very different from ours, and that's absolutely fine too. I'll share some of the things that we focus on during our SYLO days to give you some ideas for things you may wish to consider.
Each SYLO day we each have our own list of tasks to work through. Some of these are recurring tasks - things we try to stay on top of every month which generally fall into the following topics:
Let's look at each one in a little more detail and explain what we cover.
As full-time RVers, we rely on the Escapees Mail Service to receive mail. This is our legal and mailing address, and all our mail ends up there...in Texas! We've worked hard to minimize the amount of physical mail we receive (partly because we have to pay to have it forwarded), but some mail is unavoidable. So, we try to have the mail forwarded so it arrives just before our monthly SYLO day, ready to sort through.
Even before we became RVers, we were already using a mail-service: Traveling Mailbox. We used our mailbox address as our mailing address wherever possible - including for banks, credit cards, etc. Most companies that need to know your legal residence address (e.g. DMV, financial institutions) will also let you specify a mailing address. Traveling Mailbox would scan all our mail and send us a notification by email - giving us the option for them to open it and scan the contents, or forward it on.
Once we have our home base, we fully intend to use a mailing service (probably Traveling Mailbox) again. Not only did it mean we didn't have to deal with all that physical mail, but also meant we could easily receive mail even while traveling.
The only reason we switched to Escapees Mail Service is because they also let us use that address as our legal domicile - something we needed as RVers. We've been very happy with Escapees though, although we don't use their Mail Scanning Service any more (we did for a long time) because we just don't receive enough mail for it to make financial sense.
Instead, we digitize all our documents ourselves using a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i document scanner. I bought this almost 7 years ago but it's still going strong, and makes quick work of scanning letters, invoices, tax forms, etc - you can load multiple pages, it scans both sides at once in color or black & white, and produces a searchable PDF.
Diana and I each have our own preference for filing these. Diana stores hers on Google Drive whereas I keep on my laptop and synced to my own private cloud using Seafile.
In additional to physical mail, it's also a great opportunity to get on top of your email inbox too. Diana has helped me realize the benefits of Inbox Zero, and I'd encourage you, if you haven't already, to focus on sorting out your digital life just as much as your physical one!
Speaking of backups, I suspect this is something that most people know they should be doing regularly but aren't.
Have you heard of the 3-2-1 Backup Rule? This says that you should have (3) copies of your data, store (2) of them on different storage media, and (1) of these should be located offsite. And don't forget that backups need to be kept updated as your data changes!
Ask yourself what would happen if your computer was stolen? Or if the worst happened and your house burned down? If you're using a password manager or multi-factor authentication, do you have a backup in case you lose access to your password manager or your phone is stolen?
Cloud backup services (including Google Drive and Apple iCloud) can be great options, but they often have storage limits and you need to trust that your data is kept secure and private.
Another challenge is finding the bandwidth for uploading all that data to the cloud, especially as RVers! By way of example, each of our weekly YouTube videos might involve ~30GB of data that we want to backup - that's going to take a long time on a cellular connection, not to mention storage limits on cloud services.
We use a variety of places to backup our data - including paid cloud services (Google Drive and Apple iCloud) and our own private cloud (Seafile). We also use external storage, including a whole bunch of WD 4TB My Passport external drives, and a monster a WD 14TB Easystore drive. If you don't need quite so much storage, you might like the Corsair Survivor 32GB USB Drive - we have a couple of these and they seem really durable.
To keep the contents of our backups private, we use Cryptomator and VeraCrypt. Being in the RV means having a large safe isn't an option, so we want to be sure that a thief wouldn't be able to access all our sensitive data. Cryptomator also lets you store the encrypted vault on a cloud service like Google Drive so you can access your files from anywhere.
So how does that fit into SYLO? Well, although backups for our most important things are automated, once a month we'll check that everything is running smoothly, that the backups can be accessed (and restored) and make sure we have enough storage space, etc. Some of our backups aren't automated (e.g. big backups to multiple external drives), so we do these manually on our SYLO day.
Your backup strategy needn't be the same as ours, but I would encourage you to follow the 3-2-1 Backup Rule and make sure your backups are up-to-date and working correctly - SYLO days are a great opportunity for this.
This section will vary greatly by individual, but the point is to have a regular check-in on your finances to make sure there are no surprises.
Some things we like to include on SYLO days are:
- Download our Credit Reports and look for suspicious activity
- Review investment portfolio (including 401(k) performance)
- Review our budget in YNAB (use this affiliate link for one month free)
- Reconcile our credit card statements & check rotating credit card benefits
Use this section for whatever works for you - maybe checking in on your progress against loan / mortgage repayments, looking for better deals, etc.
I already mentioned backups, but there may be other regular tasks you need to run on a semi-regular basis that keep getting put off. For us, the biggest task is to make sure we're running the latest software versions on our computers, as well as updating our Home Automation system too.
I always recommend staying up-to-date with the latest software versions available - not only do they sometimes provide new and improved capability, but they often include important security updates to keep you safe. While there is always a (very slim) chance that the update breaks something, by doing it on a SYLO day, you've got some time to figure things out if the worst should happen.
Ad Hoc Tasks
In addition to the regular monthly tasks, there are always ad hoc tasks coming up that need dealing with, such as:
- Canceling a membership before it renews;
- Responding to important letters / paying bills;
- Printing updated insurance documents;
- Updating an address / email address with a company;
- and many, many more!
In fact, I tend to have about as many ad hoc tasks as recurring tasks each month.
Before we introduced SYLO days, too often these tasks would either be forgotten, happen late, or involve context switching to deal with.
Now, as long as tasks aren't urgent, we simply add them to our list for the next SYLO day. It's amazing how quickly you can churn through tasks when you're focused, and we find it really rewarding to check things off our list.
Wow, that's a lot of stuff, right? Does it sound overwhelming?
It really doesn't need to be! Start small: what are the most important things for you that need doing each month? You'll soon get into a routine where you can add or remove things from your SYLO list. And of course, you can always add things that need doing regularly but not every month - just add a note to do it twice a year, for example.
So speaking of notes, how on earth do we keep track of all this? Well, once again, Diana and I have each found an approach that works for us.
Diana uses Asana to keep track of her SYLO tasks. It has great support for recurring tasks, sub-tasks, templates and more.
I find Asana to be a little heavy, so I keep a notebook in Joplin. It lets me have a simple list of headings and check-boxes so I can easily split my list into recurring and ad hoc sections. At the end of each SYLO day, I copy and paste the list into a new note, removing all the tasks that I've checked off, and resetting the recurring tasks.
Assuming things aren't time sensitive, it's OK if you don't finish everything on your list - just be sure to prioritize your list each SYLO day so things don't sit permanently on your list without being tackled. Typically, the things that get pushed back to next month on my list are things where I ran into a blocker. Maybe a website wasn't working, or I kicked off a request but have to wait on it being completed - I just leave a note to remind myself next time.
But the point is that it really doesn't matter what you use to take notes, but just stay organized! Whether you use Google Docs, a Moleskin Notebook or something else, that's totally fine. My only suggestion would be to keep your notes and don't throw them out - it's been very useful to be able to look back and see exactly when or what we did on a particular SYLO day.
Since our first Sort Your Life Out (SYLO) day in January 2020, they've become an invaluable part of our routine. It's great knowing that when a little task comes up, we don't have to break focus to deal with it now and instead can just put it on our list for the next SYLO day.
Better yet, we feel we're on top of these basic admin tasks demanded by modern life. It brings an enormous peace of mind to know that we have a good handle on our financial situation, our data is securely backed up, and all our mail is safely filed away.
Spending just one day a month seems like a reasonable investment for the peace of mind and security it brings, not to mention the benefits of dealing with things reliably and promptly - no more missing a cancellation deadline, missing out on special offers or finding out your automated backups haven't been working for the past year!
In fact, SYLO days have had such a transformative effect for us, that we've made another New Year's Resolution for 2021 - we're going to begin SYLO days for our business too. We'll use one day each month to make sure we're up-to-date on all our business admin - finances, emails, backups, etc.
Whether a regular, monthly SYLO day is the right approach for you or not, I hope this blog post has inspired you to find a way to get more organized in 2021. Staying on top of these things and worrying less about life admin gives us more time to have adventures!