This contributing article was first published on 21 January 2015 in The Guardian on-line Small Business Network. View the on-line article here: How To Be More Organised At Work
Being organised is one of the most effective skills a small business can acquire to achieve success. When we’re organised, we think more clearly. We’re in tune with our targets and how to reach them. We have systems in place for carrying out our work – and regular planning ensures we keep priorities at the forefront.
Achieving success comes from working proactively to drive business forward. If we’re functioning in reactive mode – and working in a chaotic, cluttered environment – progress slows down. Here are my top tips to bring order to your business life:
Organise your workspace
Don’t underestimate time lost or stress caused from an inefficient working environment. If your productivity has plummeted, perhaps your workspace is letting you down. To restore order:
Pare down documents, supplies and stationery to the bare essentials. Be ruthless and remove anything that doesn’t directly serve a function in your day to day activity. A few carefully selected ornaments to personalise are fine, but avoid too many.
Location, location, location
Create consistent homes for all work materials to make retrieval easy. Choose locations logically based on where you tend to use the items, for example store spare copy paper near the printer. Move outside your immediate reach anything you use infrequently. Always return items once you have used them so they’ll be where you expect them next time.
Frustration ensues when you’re searching for a client proposal, but it’s buried among random papers. Eliminate desktop chaos by using trays, magazine files, or whatever you fancy and label as In, Out, For Action, Waiting For, Current Projects, To Read, or other relevant categories. Containers can help you process paperwork by directing your workflow in a methodical, productive manner.
Be brutally honest about what you need to keep. Studies suggest that 80% of what we file is never accessed again. Ask: is there a tax or legal reason for retaining it? Why would I need this in future? Is it information I could obtain online or otherwise? Put paperwork you do keep in good-quality folders and label them clearly. Avoid “miscellaneous” as a category – you’ll seldom remember what’s in there.
Plan your work; work your plan. Time spent planning saves untold hours in execution. Implementing regular planning strategies will sharpen your focus, thereby keeping you on track:
Start planning today for tomorrow. Near the close of each workday implement a 10-15 minute routine as part of your shut-down to wrap up loose ends and prioritise key tasks. Ensure your plan is workable. A good plan for tomorrow allows you to clear your head and enjoy your evening.
Weekly power hour
Once a week ring-fence a 60- 90-minute appointment with yourself for larger scale planning and review. Use the time to progress track, research, strategise, or any of those “thinking tasks” that normally take a back seat. Select a prominent time in the day when you’re at your best. Keep this appointment with yourself and treat the time as sacrosanct. It’s often during this “removed” time when we tap into ideas, solutions, and experience breakthroughs that may open new opportunities.
Organisation in practice
A sports physician and client of mine, Dr Cath Spencer-Smith, agrees whole heartedly. Her time was stretched across clinics, lectures, meetings and other demands. However, she needed time for the forward planning of her practice. Shifting her schedule opened two half-days a month. While her instinct was to replace the time with a clinic, she instead used it to review her business.
The time falls in the morning, when she is most productive. She reflects on her practice, identifies new business, notes viable contacts, and plans accordingly. Spencer-Smith calls this her “pause time” and says she would never relinquish it. It produces tangible benefits, and she’s confident because she’s positioning herself for future growth.
This requires ongoing effort. The key is to remain focused on the benefits it brings to your business success. Spend a few minutes each day restoring order to your workspace. Perform your daily planning without fail. Remember, circumstances and priorities change. Don’t despair, simply review, revise and keep moving forward.