getting organized

By Rieva Lesonsky

One of my biggest challenges as a small business owner is getting organized—it’s something I’m always trying to get better at. Apparently, I’m not the only one pursuing this goal. In a recent study by Office Depot, 83 percent of small business owners say a well-organized office is important to a business.

What’s more, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) believe that the more organized the office, the more profitable the business. Specifically, small business owners say organization is essential to meeting deadlines on time and finding information quickly.

If you’re organizationally challenged (or just want to get better organized), here are some tips that work for me.

  1. Know thyself. It’s important to understand what organization means to you — and that may be different for each person. For example, I have one colleague who works surrounded by stacks and stacks of paper, overflowing bookshelves and Post-it notes everywhere. To most people, it might look like complete disorganization, but she’s able to immediately find what she needs among all the “mess.” While I’m not quite that extreme, I function better when projects that I’m currently working on are piled up around me in plain sight, rather than stored away in desk drawers. On the other hand, I know some business owners who can’t get anything done unless their desktop is as empty as an operating table. To each his or her own! The key is knowing how you work best and not trying to force yourself into a system that doesn’t work for you.
  2. Develop a plan. What organization problems are hampering your business the most? Given the limited time available to us as small business owners, it’s important to focus on what will make the biggest difference — not on trying to organize every single square inch of your office. Do you have problems putting your hands on important documents, such as contracts or proposals, when you need them? Or is the problem more of a time management issue — for example, double-booking yourself for appointments or missing client meetings because your calendar’s disorganized? Figure out what’s most vital to making your business run more smoothly, and target your organizing efforts there.
  3. Arm yourself with the right tools. Once you have a plan for what you want to accomplish, stock up on the tools you need to get there. Entrepreneurs in the Office Depot survey say file folders are their most-used organizational tool 85 percent), followed by shelves and drawers (69 percent), calendars (68 percent), storage containers (64 percent) and sticky notes (61 percent). Having the right organizational accessories will help you put things in order. Developing a plan before you shop will keep you from purchasing things you don’t need.
  4. Go digital. Today, there are so many options for getting organized digitally that it’s possible to put your office in order without ever printing, filing or storing a piece of paper. While the digital approach doesn’t work for everyone, if it works for you, great! You’re saving trees and saving space. In addition to these benefits, digitizing important information ensures that you always have a copy of it available. Just store it in the cloud and/or on a backup drive, and you’ll be able to access your critical data no matter where you are or even if disaster strikes (like a fire that burns up your file cabinets). Purchasing a good scanner to scan in your important documents, such as employee records, tax records, contracts and more, can really change your life. Of course, to ensure you can find your information in the cloud, you’ll need to create a good file-naming system and set up digital folders to store everything.
  5. Get help. Organizing your business can seem overwhelming if you’re not naturally neat. Enlist your employees to help (for example, they can handle the scanning and other executional elements that you don’t have time for). Need more help than your employees can give you? Consider hiring a professional organizer who specializes in business owners. They can help start you off on the right foot by purging what you don’t need, deciding what you do need, and getting the rest of it organized in a way that makes sense for you.
  6. Stick with it. Getting your business organized feels great — but as with any other type of change, it’s easy to slip back into old habits. To avoid this, set aside 30 minutes or so each week to organize your office. I like to do this on Friday afternoons so I can feel like I’m ending the week in good shape. By doing a little bit of organizing on a regular basis, you’ll be able to keep things in shape without having to make a major effort, and being organized won’t seem so overwhelming.