Get Organized—Right Now

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Every successful entrepreneur tries to be well-organized in order to maximize every minute of the day. If you believe getting organized is just for the compulsively neat, add up the time you spend every day hunting around for misplaced files or documents. You'll be shocked at how much time and money your messy desk costs your business. 

Hiring a professional organizer is one way to go, but be prepared to pay between $50 and $150 an hour. It's also not that difficult to do it yourself. Start by reading Taming the Paper Tiger, by Barbara Hemphill, and using the companion software product. Meanwhile, get started right now.

  1. Schedule a weekend or two to totally clean up your office. If necessary, pay employees overtime to help you tackle the mess. Get into the right mood by playing your favorite music. Bring in plenty of snacks, soft drinks, cleaning supplies and lots of big trash bags. 

  2. Tackle everything off your desk and set things on the floor. Throw away any piece of paper that you haven't touched for a month. Next, go through your "in" basket and distribute everything you can.

  3. Scan through those stacks of magazines and newspapers. Tear out articles that you absolutely must read. Recycle the rest.

  4. Clean out every file in your filing cabinets. Ask your employees to do the same with their files, too. Be ruthless. You don't need paper copies of everything that is in your computer as long as the files are properly backed up and stored off-site.

  5. Remember, your desk is a work space, not an exhibit area. Clear off all the plants, family pictures, toys and gadgets.

  6. Once you've dumped the accumulated trash, figure out what nifty supplies will help you stay organized. Everyone has a different style of organization. Wander around a big office supply store. Do you like to see project files hanging on the wall? Would colored files help you keep better track of projects? Use filing cabinets for storage, not for active projects.

  7. Sort through your piles of business cards. Throw out the ones you'll never use. Then put the remaining ones in a Rolodex file, a business card album, or scan them into a business card database.

  8. Buy a calendar that works for you. Keep one master calendar for yourself. Multiple calendars create confusion. Do you like one that shows the whole week, the whole month, or each day individually?
    I use a book size calendar that shows the entire month on two pages. When I'm traveling or have a lot of appointments, I transfer my daily schedule to an index card. Index cards are cheap and easy organizing tools. Save the cards if you want a daily journal.

  9. Once you've cleaned up your office, try to keep it neat by avoiding the paper pile-up. Sort the mail into categories: bills, personal letters, marketing materials, and so on. Throw out the junk mail right away. Put the bills in a file and keep them in a safe place for check writing. Pass along as much mail as you can to key employees. Write notes and action steps right on the letters or information.

  10. Try scheduling what I call "in days" and "out days". Schedule back-to-back appointments for your "out days" and stay out all day, if need be. But on your "in days," stay in and work hard.

  11. Set aside an hour or two every day to return phone calls. Take advantage of voice mail to leave after-hour messages. Don't be afraid to let your assistant or your voice mail pick up your phone. You'll never get any work done if you take every call that comes in.

  12. Promise yourself that you'll try to stay organized for at least a month. Then take it one day at a time.

From 201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business © 1998 by Jane Applegate. Published by arrangement with Bloomberg Press. All rights reserved.