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Tracking My Mileage Without Losing My Mind

Tracking My Mileage Without Losing My Mind

Odometer

    I track where I go — whether I’m traveling by car, train or plane — for several reasons:

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    • I can write off 50.6 cents for every business mile I drive in 2008.
    • I can plan my trips more efficiently if I have a good idea of how often I’m traveling, and where.
    • I can easily backtrack, if need be, even long after the travel.

    But finding a method for tracking travel, especially mileage, that isn’t time consuming, can be difficult. I learned to track mileage from my mother, who, to this day, writes down her mileage and location every time she parks the car on the back of her most recent gas receipt. It gets the job done, but it seems like she has to devote a lot of time to the process, from the actual time spent writing down information to processing it later on.

    When picking a mileage tracking system — or creating your own — there are some very specific factors that you should keep in mind:

    Documentation needs: If you’re expecting to be reimbursed for your mileage by an employer or client, know from the beginning what sort of documentation you’ll need to hand over — will a travel log suffice? will you need gas receipts? will your travel need approval? The same goes for any mileage you intend to claim as a deduction on your taxes. If you’re based in the U.S., unless you get audited, you need only minimal documentation. It’s if you get audited that you’ll need to be able to pull out some paperwork to show that you really do drive extensively for your job. What kind of records, you might ask: Kelly Erb, of taxgirl, says, “The best proof is written records.” The key, Kelly says, is that they have to be contemporary — meaning you tracked your travels as you made them. Electronic tracking is fine as long as you keep up with it in the same way you would keep up a written system. She recommends tracking mileage and the purpose of a trip, as well as keeping receipts for both tolls and gas. Kelly offered up another suggestion as well: “If you use E-Z pass or something similar, you will actually have a printed record of your trips compiled for you.”

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    Other variables: Are you tracking your travels to help make your weekly round of errands more efficient? Or are you comparing your mileage to your spending on gasoline? If you need to track other variables, you’ll have to plan for that fact from the beginning. You may need to include your gas expenses or the number of times in a month that you visit a given location in a month in your tracking system.

    If you’re good about record keeping in general, you may not need to stress too much about tracking miles: say you keep a calendar with pretty precise records of where you are at any given time — business names and addresses. If you don’t detour too often, you can just calculate the distance from one appointment to the next (just plug addresses into either GoogleMaps or Mapquest).

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    But for those of us who would rather keep track of our mileage as we go, several web applications can serve the purpose admirably. Personally, I like Jott. As I reach a location, I can just call up Jott and record a message stating my mileage, my current location and my purpose (which makes things much easier when I need to sort out my business travel from everything else). And because Jott will send my recordings to my email, I can set up filters based on a few words or even run searches for particular locations. The only wrench in my system is the occasional voice recognition issue: I go to plenty of places with apparently unrecognizable names. But I can always go back to Jott and listen to a particular recording again.

    I just drop my Jotts into a spreadsheet — theoretically on a monthly basis, but realistically every few months — with a few formulas set up to figure out not only my total travels, but also my totals within categories. I try to phrase my Jotts in such a way that I can just cut and paste while doing something less than intellectually challenging, like watching television.

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    But I can think of plenty of variations on this theme that depend on how you connect to the internet and which applications you like: you could text messages to a Twitter account, keep files on a PDA or hack your car and a GPS device together so they can keep track of mileage without your interference. The key difference between these techniques and an old-school mileage book (which you can get for free at your local H&R Block office if you don’t like high tech solutions) is that the information is already typed up. With far less effort than handling a stack of receipts, you’ll be able to manipulate your travel information: even the simple task of adding up a total number of miles traveled seems monumental with my mother’s stack of annotated gas receipts. Many people say that the only acceptable method of tracking is using pen and paper, preferably kept in the car. But think how much time adding up those numbers are going to take, while I’m dumping my Jotts into a spreadsheet that will do all the math for me?

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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