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The Green Sheet Online Edition

October 27, 2008 • Issue 08:10:02

Get organized - Part 1

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

The end of 2008 is rapidly approaching, and 2009 will be upon us before you know it. As you prepare for the new year by creating budgets and setting goals, take a few minutes to scrutinize your office.

Can you see the surface of your desk? Can you readily locate a client's file when they call with a question? Does your office inspire confidence and reflect professionalism? Is it a place you eagerly anticipate visiting each morning? Or is it a dump? If you answered no to the first four questions and yes to the fifth, it's time to stop, assess and organize your space. Managing your business by getting organized will simplify your life, maximize the time you spend working, lower stress and ultimately help you make more money.

Steps

So, how do you do it?

First of all, be reasonable about your expectations. It's not realistic to think you can solve all of your organizational woes in a few hours or days. Making changes requires time and effort. Acknowledge that this process can take weeks to complete.

Once your expectations are in check, create a plan of action. Take a sensible approach to the tasks that need to be accomplished, determine the tools you will need, acknowledge the obstacles you need to overcome (including your own attitudes and behavior) and establish a timeline to complete the activities on your list.

Then write down your plan, breaking it up into small, manageable steps. Be realistic as you budget the time necessary to get each step done.

If you are a morning person, make an appointment to organize your office for an hour each morning. If you are a night owl, set aside an hour each night. But be careful about your time budget. Not giving enough time to complete tasks will only generate frustration.

Put it in action

Once you make your list of what needs to be done, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get busy. Focus on areas that will give you the biggest visible result quickly to provide positive reinforcement and encourage you to continue the process.

For example, clearing the piles of paper on your desk (or the floor) is more important than organizing the bookshelf.

But everything should have a place. Your client files should be in a central area - consolidated, readily available and enabled with the appropriate security, such as locks on the cabinets.

Your work tools should all be in one spot, so you can pick them up quickly as you prepare to call on a prospect. Keep your briefcase fully stocked at all times, so you can grab it and go at a moment's notice. Not only should everything have a place, everything should be in its place. Keep the things you use every day - pens, notepads, calendars - on your desk. File or put away all completed projects. Label everything including your in/out boxes, filing boxes, file folders, file cabinet drawers and shelves. Labeling obviously helps you easily find things when you need them.

Remember, as you work through your plan, complete each task. One of the easiest ways to get disorganized is to begin multiple projects and complete none.

But you cannot do it all by yourself. Engage co-workers (even family and friends if possible) to help you make the changes required to get and stay organized.

The paper trail

Now that we've looked at some general tips to help you clean up that office, let's look at specific ways to arrange your papers, filing systems and computers.

It is said workers spend an average of 22 minutes a day looking for things around or on their desks. Wouldn't you rather spend time talking to clients and finalizing sales?

Workers waste time primarily by shuffling and sifting through the mounds of paper that accumulate on their desks. A key to avoiding this avalanche of useless paper in the first place is to ask, Where does it all come from?

Subscriptions, catalogs, ads, coupons, memos, faxes, letters, reports and bills are just a few of the obvious forms. Once you know where the bulk of unnecessary paper is coming from, you can take preventive measures to reduce the flow.

For example, cancel subscriptions, request your name be removed from mailing lists and have people send you e-mails instead of memos.

Once you know where all the paper originates, then build an effective paperwork system. Begin immediately by following the Three D's:

  • Do it.
  • Delegate it.
  • Dump it.

Make a decision on each item at hand - either it's important and you take care of it yourself, or it's lower priority and you give it to someone else to handle, or you deem it useless and dump it in the trash.

This process will help you eliminate all those piles of papers, magazines, flyers and ads that eventually end up in the trash.

By instantly discarding unnecessary pieces of paper, you reduce the clutter and allow time to focus on the items that really matter. Start the process by placing a large trash can next to your desk. Throw away - or shred - everything you possibly can.

Remember, you can always scan documents into your computer for safekeeping rather than holding onto the actual piece of paper.

Organizing paperwork

Here are some tips for organizing the paperwork you want to keep.

  • Triage: Determine which items require your immediate attention, and separate them from items that can be completed later, whether that means tomorrow, next week or next month. Sort them into file folders, file boxes or appropriately labeled trays.

    If you use file folders, select a color, such as red, for those really important action items. Select a single color folder you can find easily and know immediately that any items in the folder require top priority.

    Create a labeling system that is descriptive, meaningful to you and easy to remember, such as Prospects, Marketing, Proposals, Bills and so forth. Use expandable file folders (sometimes called file pockets) for projects with a larger volume of paperwork.

    Remember to keep it simple. The more complex your system, the less likely you are to maintain it on a daily basis.

  • Storage: Take a trip to the office supply store and look around. You will find filing cabinets (vertical and lateral); storage boxes of all types, sizes, and materials; trays; and plastic lockers.

    Try to color-coordinate your filing system, if possible. For example, one color container for all your client files, one color for general office files and one color for private items such as employee files and bills.

    Different types of containers are available to suit every budget. So don't be lured into thinking this will cost a large portion of your yearly budget.

  • Geography: Once you see what types of containers are available, go back to the office and determine a layout. Give some thought as to how you will organize your files - alphabetically, numerically, geographically or chronologically.

    Then decide on exactly how you will arrange your space, based on what files you will create and how you will use them.

Electronic files

Not all clutter is in hard-copy form. Following are some pointers for tackling your electronic data:

  • Hardware: Let's talk about your computer. Is it a current model running the latest operating system and programs? Do you have data files organized into folders? Do you utilize a regularly scheduled maintenance program? If not, now is the time to clean up your computer and prepare it for 2009.

    If your computer system is not functioning optimally, efficiency is reduced. If you are not skilled in computer maintenance, hire an expert to assist you. The increased productivity will more than cover the expense.

  • E-mail: Is your e-mail system clogged with old and outdated information? Is it just one big list of received e-mails? Here are some tips to help create an effective e-mail system. Again, work under the "keep it simple" philosophy.

    • Reserve your in-box for action items. Once handled, items can be deleted or transferred to other e-mail folders. Keep it clutter-free and current.

    • Set up e-mail file folders. Create subfolders that reflect people, activities, projects, companies or any other system that will work for you and allow you to swiftly access stored information. Purge unnecessary e-mails so the really important data is readily available.

    • Use specific, detailed subject lines for all your e-mails. This habit will help both you and recipients prioritize the actions and help you file e-mails into the proper folders once actions are resolved.

    • Understand that e-mail management is an ongoing process. Most organizational experts believe constantly reading and responding to e-mail is disruptive and can sabotage your data.

    • E-mail experts recommend allotting no more than two hours a day to reviewing, answering and filing e-mail. Download and respond to e-mail no more than twice daily.

You can't effectively manage your time until your office is organized. Clutter and disorganization in the workplace are counterproductive. So take advantage of my strategy now. Then you will be up and running - and ahead of the game - for a more productive and prosperous 2009. The Green Sheet, Inc.

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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