Happy New Year! I wish you a year filled with good health, loyal friends, great dogs, competitive spirit, safety, fun and prosperity.
There's nothing like a New Year to offer us a clean slate and a fresh start. Some make New Year's resolutions while others outline business plans. Whatever your style, whatever your line of work, getting organized in 2001 is the first step to reaching your personal and business goals.
Takin' Care of Business,
Without Workin' Overtime
My goal last year was to find ways to work "smarter" rather than "harder," in order to do more in less time. As I've preached to co-workers for years: Being busy doesn't mean you are being productive. It just means you are busy. Being worn out at the end of the day doesn't mean you have made progress, either. A dog may run in circles chasin' its tail. It may be tuckered out, but it really hasn't gotten anywhere. Progress is seeing items checked off the To Do List and knowing you did your best. The more items checked off the list, the more time you have to pursue new business, improve revenue and even work dogs.
Clutter Is Expensive
Getting organized is like cleaning house. Or maybe I should say like maintaining a kennel or your training equipment. Sometimes, to do it right, you just have to make an even bigger mess. Once you accept the challenge of working smarter and not harder, organization becomes your friend and helps you increase that all-important bottom line. Doing more in less time, more efficiently, will result in greater income.
The average executive wastes 150 hours each year looking for documents. One in 20 documents is lost and gone forever. The typical hourly employee almost doubles that amount of wasted time. (Probably because they are helping the boss to find those missing documents.) Missing documents now have two places to hide: file cabinets and cyberspace. There's nothing more unproductive and frustrating than looking for a contract in a client's file when it is actually stored in Microsoft Windows.
If you work from home and admit to being only moderately disorganized, you could be losing 2 hours a day to disorder. That's a $6,000 loss over the course of a year, based upon a $25,000 home-business income. Here's proof that disorganization costs you money.
I'm a child of poverty and hate to waste anything, especially time. The loss of $6,000 annually for the average home-based business is a criminal act, in my eyes. Rather than thinking of getting organized as a tiresome chore, consider the act of removing clutter as the grand opening of a potential profit center.
Two Ways to Begin
There are two main theories on creating order out of chaos. Each depends upon your personality type and your schedule.
The 15-minute theory says if you have a huge mess that seems impossible to sort, work on it in 15-minute intervals. The idea is to grab a garbage bag (or two), a few boxes, some post-it notes and a pen and start at the closest point you can reach. This method works great for any part of your office that has become a "catch-all," and for garages, basements and closets.
Pick up an item and don't put it down until it goes into one of three main piles: trash, give away, or keep. You will need the boxes to sub-divide the give away and keep piles and the post-its to remind you who gets what.
Work hard for 15 minutes. Then, stop. Survey your progress. If you are in the mood and have the time, keep at it for another 15 minutes; if not, stop. The idea is to make progress without feeling overwhelmed. Few of us can find several extra hours in a day. All of us can take 15 minutes at least once a day to de-clutter our space, especially when the final result will increase our income.
I've used this 15-minute idea in my dog life, too. From the matted Old English Sheep Dog rescue to training a problem dog, it has helped me to keep the job in perspective and my nerves intact.
The second theory: dive in and don't come up for airuntil you are finished. This method requires advanced planning. You will need to set aside time, lay in supplies and have a take-no-prisoners attitude. My friends turned an attached garage filled with rusting car parts, paint cans and unfinished craft projects into a home office in four days. They got up at dawn and went to bed at 10:00 PM. They did not leave the premises - even once. Friends stopped by to share fast food and strong backs and left with a load for the county dump. They went to bed Thursday night with the garage-from-hell and got up Monday morning with a functional office.
This approach works great for family or group projects, provided one person is in charge and keeps everyone focused and pulling in the same direction.
What Desk Shape Is Right: U, L or V?
Your largest investment in office furniture will likely be your desk and chair. Whatever else you need depends on how much equipment you have and what kind of business you'll be running. A sturdy work surface and a comfortable chair are necessities, not luxuries.
If space is not a problem, the best working arrangement is U-shaped, which lets you use three surfaces to keep everything within easy reach.
When office space is somewhat limited, an L-shaped, two-surface arrangement provides a secondary surface without taking up as much room as a U-shaped desk. Even a parallel arrangement can give two full-size working surfaces, if they are placed opposite each other.
And if space is really cramped, consider a V-shaped arrangement, which is a small working area in front of you, generally used for a computer monitor, and two surfaces angled to your left and right. You can literally work in a corner.
No matter what letter of the alphabet your furniture ends up resembling, make a commitment to keeping the actual work surfaces free of clutter and seldom used items.
Now that you've thrown out the worthless and donated the rest, you are down to deciding how to set up your office in the most efficient manner.
Plan your immediate work area like the cockpit of a plane. If you use it daily, have it in arms reach; otherwise, beyond.
Think of space in dollars and sense - common sense. How much space do I use to store items that I may possibly never need or use?
Storage is important. Backup electronic files and store them off premises. Purge old paper files; if you must keep them, box them. If you can't afford a storage locker, put them with a trusted friend or family member. Label all containers with date and subject. Storage off premises is a great idea and should be part of a business disaster recovery plan.
Are you climbing over anything to get to something else? If you are, rearrange your working space.
Use wall space for storage. Shelving and cabinets can be built-in or stand-alone. Safety reminder: be sure that stand-alone shelving is securely bolted to a stud in the wall to avoid tipping, especially in an earthquake zone, or if you have small children or pets with access to your office area.
Go vertical. Store folders, reading materials, files, etc. in vertical racks rather than flat in a box or basket. Shuffling through papers is a time waster and important items may be hidden from view. Going vertical also gives you more desk or counter space.
Eliminate the Clutter
Clutter is frequently excess, and excess cannot be organized. Being organized does not mean being a neatnik. When you remove the old batteries, pennies, dried-up pens, expired coupons and broken salt packets from your desk drawer, like I did, what you have left is useful. If there's a paperclip mixed in with the keys, it doesn't matter. You can organize it more, and it will be easier to keep, but it isn't a necessity.
Trim the F.A.T. - File, Act, Toss. Professional organizer, Barbara Hemphill, says those are the only choices you have when dealing with paper. If an item requires action, either act on it immediately or place it in a tickler file for the future. About 80% of what is received can usually be tossed. Do it sooner, rather than later.
Open mail by a wastebasket or a recycle bin. If there are no legal ramifications to keeping the item, it probably can be tossed immediately.
Just Say No to incoming junk email and faxes by setting up your email program to automatically delete incoming spam. If you never receive junk mail, you won't have to process it.
If items have an assigned home, they'll gravitate towards it.
Manage Your Time
Whether written on paper or accessed on your PC, have a To Do List where you can always reach it.
Incoming information is the enemy of time management. Have a station set up for dealing with incoming data: mail, email, faxes, phone messages. Put your calendar there, the To Do List and a garbage can. Write notes on your calendar or To Do List and toss the supporting documentation, unless it is needed. If it is needed, file or scan - don't pile.
If any item on the To Do List will take place more than a week into the future, place supporting documentation in a Pending File. Then create a 3 X 5 index card. Label the card with the name of the project and date it 24-48 hours before it is due. On the card, describe what you need to do - break it down in steps - and assign due dates for each numbered step. Put the card in your Tickle Box, arranged by months, and add the first step to your current To Do List.
Review your Tickle file every evening before leaving the office and move items onto the To Do List, as appropriate.
When a project is completed, be sure and pull the Tickle card and file it or toss it with other documentation.
Return calls in batches. If phone calls are numerous, you may need to set aside 2 or 3 times during the workday. A headset will allow you to file, sort or just do a few deep knee bends while waiting to connect.
Create templates for invoices, contracts, faxes and routine letters. Then, modify them for special situations. Don't reinvent the wheel daily.
Write it down; trust nothing to memory. Calling around to get information already provided is not only embarrassing, it is a waste of time.
Empty your immediate workspace of everything but the project at hand to cut down on distractions.
Eliminate perfectionism. Have you heard the joke:
"A perfectionist is someone who takes great pains and gives them to everyone else."
If you want to make yourself miserable, insist on perfectionism.
If You Are Considering A Home Office
Once you have made the decision to have an office in your home, or if you have been given the opportunity to telecommute, you need to consider:
Zoning: Before considering a home business, check to find out whether they are allowed in your location, especially if clients will be visible or the business will generate increased traffic to your door from pickups or deliveries.
Insurance: Call your insurance agent and discuss supplementing your current policy to include additional equipment, guests, etc. If you are telecommuting, find out what your company's insurance will and will not cover and fill in the gaps.
Electrical: Check electrical, especially if you have an older home or live in a remote, rural area. You may have to modify existing equipment to run a computer, fax, copy machine, etc. on the current system in order to prevent surges or power outages.
Licenses: Many cities, counties and states require permits, licenses and registrations. Avoid fines; know the regulations that will apply to your business.
Working At Home
In 1999 there were more than 25 million income generating home offices in the United States and the number is growing. When your home is also your office, the challenge of getting organized can appear overwhelming.
Here are some specific pointers that have helped me maintain partial sanity throughout the eight years I've been working from my home office:
Position yourself carefully. Try to separate your workplace from your living space, so you can physically leave home to go to "work." An office window and a chair with wheels may be all that is needed to allow you to check on kennel activity while returning phone calls.
Do your best to satisfy IRS requirements that your home office must be a separate room used only for business - not even as a guestroom 2 weeks a year. If you have any questions, consult your tax professional.
If clients come to your home office, arrange for them to use one entrance and family members to use another. Ditto for restrooms.
Have a separate phone number, or two, for your business and use it only for business calls. A dedicated fax line and Internet access are essential for most home operations.
Set firm rules so family members understand that when you are in your working space, you are at work and not available. If children believe they must reach you, have them call your office line, rather than walking in, and then screen those calls with an answering machine.
If you are working at home in order to take care of children, consider hiring childcare. Your work productivity and potential for profit will increase.
Don't use work time for home chores. Call the plumber or the doctor before or after your office hours or during your lunch break.
Keep office space for office work. Request separate billing statements for office phones or utilities, if possible. Keep good records and consult your accountant to receive the maximum tax credits allowed. Save receipts.
Tips From Organized People
Always answer a phone with a pencil and paper in your hand.
I write down things I think of on post-it notes and put them on my left sleeve. Once or twice during the day, I transfer those notes to my To Do List or Idea file. I don't leave the office until all the post-it notes are off my arm.
I color code checkbook covers and checks: office checks are yellow; home checks are blue; office savings account is pink; etc.
I keep a separate clipboard for each employee. On the cover of that clipboard is a list of every item they've been assigned and when it is due. If I need to give them documents, I place those behind the list. Then, when I meet with that employee, everything is in one place.
I keep a duplicate list of commonly called phone numbers, suppliers, clients, etc. in my car.
The first Monday of every month, I block out 2 hours to purge and reorganize computer and paper files. This keeps me organized.
Whenever I make a commitment to anyone, either on the phone or in writing, I place it in my calendar, which I consider my "work Bible." I start out each day by reading that calendar and I always read a few days ahead.
Getting organized isn't always easy. In fact, it can be a second job if you've let clutter dominate your life. Stick with your reorganization strategy. Make progress. One part of the reward is the terrific sense of accomplishment you will feel when you've mastered the things in your life. The second part of your reward will be a clearer thinking, faster acting, highly creative you with the ability to generate more income in less time.
The Greene Group, Inc.
Please e-mail your questions, comments or suggestions to Shirley Greene at: