This guide will teach you the skill of organizing both your time and your workspace, and hopefully, increase your personal productivity.
Organize Your Workspace: The Different Categories of Organizing
“When you’re talking about organizing your workspace you need to make a decision about what needs to be organized and there are five areas that you can look at,” says Laura Leist, president of the Mount Laurel, New Jersey-based National Association of Professional Organizers explains. These five areas are paper, general stuff such as office supplies, your space and furniture layout, electronic information, and time management.
Here are some tips for navigating each of these organizing categories:
The way you name your files can dramatically improve the organization of both your physical and your digital documents. Leist recommends that “versioning control and consistent naming conventions are really key to document management and being able to easily retrieve files.” These are just fancy ways of saying that a document’s name should reflect which number draft it is and that the name should be consistent across versions. Having the date the document was created in the name can also be beneficial.
Leist has observed that people will often rush out to buy more folders, containers, and staplers, before assessing what they already have. She recommends grouping all like items together and considering what role they play in your broader organization system before going out on a shopping run.
The paperless office is a neat freak’s Nirvana but even with an ever-expanding arsenal of electronic tools, it’s a rare office that has completely done away with dead trees. Which doesn’t mean you can’t make big strides in that direction.
Adam Pash, the editor-in-chief of Lifehacker.com, a website that offers daily productivity tips and tricks, sees a paperless office in the near future. “Getting every aspect of your analog life into a digital format is the direction that a lot of people want to head and will continue heading,” he says.
But going digital is not a silver bullet. Pash notes that many people use their computer and physical desktops as a de facto to do list. As a result, all the things they need to remember to accumulate and create disorder. Go here to read the Lifehacker post on digitizing your life.
Small business owners “wear so many hats, they usually have pretty limited support staff, and they’re idea factories,” says Julie Morgenstern, a productivity consultant and the author of Organizing from the Inside Out. “Your workspace has to be organized in a way that accommodates that,” Morgenstern calls her system for organizing a workspace the kindergarten model: items and documents are organized by role into what she calls activity zones.
In addition to helping you keep your things in order, it improves your time management skills as well because it gives you a better idea of whether you’re neglecting one part of your business. For example, maybe you start to notice that you never go into the corner where your financial files are kept because you’re always excitedly puttering away in the corner with your marketing files.
One useful time management trick is distinguishing between events and ordinary to-do items. An event needs to take place at a specific time on a specific day, whereas another type of to-do, such as a follow-up call with a networking contact, can be taken care of on a more flexible schedule.
Organize Your Workspace: Measuring Productivity
So you’re thinking of giving organizing a try but you’re not persuaded of its concrete benefits: You were only searching for those client records for forty-five minutes, but to stay organized is starting to sound like a lot of work.
While it’s true that the benefits of being organized can be tricky to quantify, Pash says that the best gauge of being well organized, “is just the lack of anxiety that comes from a clean comfortable workspace where you feel like things aren’t piling up and overwhelming you.”
Organize Your Workspace: The Sources of Clutter
Just because your office looks like a hurricane hit it doesn’t necessarily mean you are disorganized. “Some people work incredibly well out of piles,” says Morgenstern. “Their desk is covered with piles but if you ask them to find something they can find it in an instant.” On the flip side, other people keep their workspaces looking neat by shoving important papers into closets or under their desks.
Still, if you’re swimming in a sea of paper you should probably do some degree of organizing. Common sources of clutter for entrepreneurs include business cards, printouts from the Web, and literature from conferences and seminars.
A good way to get rid of clutter is to turn each piece of paper that you’re keeping around into an action item in your planner. For example, “if it’s a stack of business cards that you’ve come back from a networking event with, really it’s a series of actions that you need to take and what you want to do is not leave them even in a file, you want to convert those into actual to-dos or calls that are going to go into your calendar,” says Morgenstern.