Upstartist Diaries

7 Essential Documents for Adulting

Our lives and hard drives are filled with clutter. What digital documents do adults absolutely need?  

By adult, I mean an emotionally and mentally mature person (or trying to be!) responsible for doing life’s necessary but mundane tasks. In other words, a responsible person in society.

I haven’t read a single blog post on this topic. All 7 documents are born from my own suffering or costly mistakes, and the subsequent realization that this area of my life must be tracked.

Note: there are countless apps for each of these documents, many of which might serve you better. I prefer simplicity; in general, the less gadgets and apps in my life, the better. All 7 documents should be freely and easily accessible to anyone with a computer or phone. Also, this list represents the needs of one single person. A father or mother would surely have an expanded list! 

1. Monthly Profit & Loss + Asset Spreadsheet 

Each month, I take 1 hour to record how much money I made and paid each month, check my account balances, and estimate my net worth.

I’ve found this spreadsheet most helpful to make sure I have enough cash to pay rent, credit cards, student loans, etc. 

Itemizing your spending for a few months can be illuminating. Once, I realized that I was spending as much money on alcohol as food (while complaining about how expensive fruit and vegetables were of course)! 

For the past few years, my monthly spend has been quite similar so I don’t dig into the details. Still, getting a monthly financial snapshot helps me avoid cash crunches while motivating me to reach my financial goals. Sometimes, the truth of your finances is much better or worse than it seems in your head.

My spreadsheet is stupidly simple:

  • Income – Total Sum
    • Income Source A
    • Income Source B
    • etc
  • Expenses – Total Sum
    • ATM Withdrawals
    • Credit Card A
    • Credit Card B
    • etc
  • Net Income (Total Income – Total Expenses)
  • Assets – Total Sum
    • Checking Account A Balance
    • Savings Account A Balance
    • Brokerage Account A Balance
    • Accounts Receivable i.e. money you expect to receive
    • etc

2. Health History Document 

Every time you visit a doctor, dentist or health care professional, take 5 minutes to summarize your visit. Include any analysis or instructions from your doctor. You can photograph prescriptions and bills and include here too.

This way you can track your last physical checkup, vaccine history, and what treatment/medications work.

I’ve learned this from my parents. After suffering through undiagnosed kidney stones and errant heart beats, they have always told me, “You are your best advocate when it comes to your health.” 

Unfortunately, actors in the health care system are not always incentivized to provide you optimal care. A big part of this is tracking your health, and proactively seeking the best advice from multiple health care providers.

Here’s a recent entry from my last visit:

August 12, 2021

  • visited Family Medical (District 1) to get scald wound cleansed and dressed. Dead skin was cut off. Got DTaP tetanus booster shot
  • Doctor Li advised returning for next 2-3 days for checkup and getting dressed; first few days are crucial to observe for infection. Don’t shower or sweat. Keep wound clean and dry.
  • If area around scald turns red or swells up, you have an infection
  • Costs: 5 minute consultation with doctor ($55), dressing with nurse ($45), 6 days worth of dressing materials ($25). Booster shot ($50)

3. Will (plus, an emergency card in your wallet)

Your will specifies who will be your executor (who will carry out your wishes after you die) and beneficiaries of your assets, financial, physical, digital or otherwise.

It’s humbling and hard to write this document. Unfortunately, I have lost too many friends and family members too soon. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Writing my will made me realize who and what is most important in my life. It’s never too early to do this.

Your home country or state will determine what you need for your will to be valid. For example, in my home state of California, the will must be signed by the testator (i.e. me) and two witnesses who are disinterested (i.e. not beneficiaries of my will). 

I am going to cheat here, and include an additional physical document to carry with you at all times.

Four years ago, I stumbled across a gruesome accident. A man had crashed his motorbike and broken his leg (literally bent the wrong direction), arm and jaw. He had hit an electric pole and was bleeding from his ears and coughing blood. He was in shock, could not speak, and had no form of identification, just a mobile phone. A crowd had gathered, but few knew what to do. 

I will never forget how difficult it was to help this man.

In your wallet, you should have a card that has 1) ambulance number to call in case you’re not responding 2) your emergency contact and 3) your insurance policy number.

4. Journal

I believe everyone should have a digital home to write any and all thoughts, a password-protected refuge to externalize their feelings and life stories. I always feel a little better – or more clear-headed – after writing in my journal.

Read in hindsight, old journal entries provide perspective on challenging activities, issues, or people, not to mention fascinating portraits of my past selves.

Every week, I also set aside 15 minutes to reflect on what few activities and people made all the difference. Then, I can remind myself what I should do more or less of moving forward.

5. Personal Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

I am terribly disorganized and forgetful. This document, more than anything, has saved me countless hours. 

We often face the same problem or situation. Traveling abroad. Backing up your documents. Welcoming guests to stay at your place. Attending a business conference.

This document lists my best practices and “recipes” for health, wealth and relationships and daily life, as well as my quarterly and annual goals. 

For example, the night before a flight abroad, I can simply reference a checklist of everything I need to do:

Short Trip Abroad Checklist

  • Logistics
    • Confirm flight and departure time + check in online
    • Confirm transportation from airport to hotel (i.e. method of transportation, time, amount)
    • Check currency rate (i.e. 1 USD to 1.37 SGD)
    • Submit travel updates for credit and debit cards online
  • Packing
    • Travel ID – Passport 
    • Foreign currency (if any)
    • Foreign metro card (if any)
    • Foreign SIM card (if any)
    • Backup MacBook to external hard drive to be left at home
    • Charger – what plug do you need?
    • Check weather for clothes, shoes
    • Toiletries
    • Weigh baggage

An alien reading this would understand how to run my life. 

This document also helps me systematize hard-earned lessons and clear brain space to solve new and bigger problems. It is constantly updated as life teaches me more lessons.

6. Calendar

A digital home for your appointments and reminders.

As soon as you make an appointment, write it down in your calendar! Done. Precious mental space cleared.

I also keep reminders (i.e. pay credit card, cancel subscription, send invoice) as well as important dates (i.e. birthdays, holidays, anniversaries) so I can completely forget about date related tasks.

7. Network Spreadsheet

Tracks when I’ve last connected with my 150 most cherished family and friends. 

I designate 4 categories of friends:

  • Inner circle i.e. “closest support group” (5 people) – contact every 14 days
  • Superfamily i.e. “intimates you can confide in” (15 people) – contact every 30 days
  • Clan i.e. “friends you’d invite to a dinner party” (50 people) – contact every 60 days
  • Tribe i.e. “casual friendships” (150 people) – contact every 180 days

Their names turn red if I haven’t contacted them within the designated time periods. I set aside a few hours every Friday afternoon to proactively stay in touch. 

Social media gives us the illusion that we are in touch with those who mean the most. Do an audit. When was the last time you connected with those closest to you? Half of those people, for me, aren’t on social media. I need a list to remind me every week about who matters most. 

What are your essential documents for adulting? I’d love to hear them in the comments…

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