It’s that time of year again…rainy days giving way to sunny skies, winter boots traded for open-toed sandals, maybe even glimmers of daylight still visible when you leave the office. The tradition of “Spring Cleaning” no doubt came from a desire to start fresh after being cooped up inside all winter. March 21st is the first day of Spring, the season of new beginnings. Why not take the opportunity to get organized?
For quite a few business owners, “getting organized” can sound as simple as flying to the moon. The key is to start small- set a designated time to evaluate your organization strategy. As Mark Twain once said:
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
Here are 5 ideas to help get you started on your own spring cleaning:
1. Start with the worst first.
Pro house organizers and lifestyle gurus have advocated a “5 minute” approach to house cleaning, where you pick the messiest room in the house, set your timer for 5 minutes, and clean like a madwoman until the alarm goes off. The whole idea behind this is that “clean up those piles of paper for 5 minutes” sounds a lot less daunting than “organize 2 years of order records by vendor.” Once you start the process, you’ll pick up momentum and won’t just quit after five minutes. Pick the area of your business that is most disorganized and tackle that one item first. Ask yourself strategic questions: do you have difficulty finding the most current status of ordered inventory? Or, do you have a system for recording this information? Does that system work?
2. Outsourcing: Can someone else do a better job of organizing a particular task?
Have you ever tried to do something on your own because it was cheaper? Well, sometimes this works out (making your own espresso) and sometimes it doesn’t (applying your own airbrush tan). Outsourcing administrative functions for your business is one of the best ways to stay organized and save time and resources. For example, outsourcing payroll services instead of performing payroll tax calculations yourself not only saves you hours of tedious work, it also ensures that the job is done correctly. Outsourcing is one of the best ways to take time-consuming administrative tasks off your plate.
3. Employ effective document storage.
Find the documents you need, when you need them, without searching through computer files, filing cabinets, or stacks of papers in your inbox. Buy an all-in-one-printer copier where you can scan paper files into electronic format.
A good rule to follow is that the best system is one where nothing gets lost. Make sure file names aren’t ambiguous, that you have a mechanism for dealing with older and newer documents (sorting by date within other categories is usually a smart idea), and that you can easily find documents you need. Older documents (such as receipts that must be stored for tax purposes) can be stored off-site.
4. Link processes and functions where it makes sense.
Are you duplicating business processes? A good example of this is when businesses process sales transactions twice- once for their own records using a cash register, POS system, or online order form, and again to process payment using a separate credit card machine.
Combining this process into one transaction is a great way to cut down on payment errors and manage transaction information more easily. You can link a credit card processing account to pretty much any system you use to accept customer payments: online shopping cart software, appointment or class scheduling programs (for spas, gyms, etc.), and other computer-based transaction processing methods. You can even link inventory information to accounting software so you’ll know when you’re running low on certain products.
Setting up these links is a lot easier than it sounds, and doesn’t take much time- all you need to do is find or contact your merchant services or POS system provider.
5. Cut your losses: toss anything that’s not working for you.
What’s up with that fancy shelving unit that will hold all your files- once you convert them all to standard size from legal paper? Or the desk organizer that sits on the floor because your arm hits it when you type, so all papers end up in a pile on your desk anyways? Office supplies, equipment, and machines that you don’t use or that don’t work the way they’re supposed to are just taking up space- cluttering your office and your brain.
Purging your office of things you bought (and held on to) with such good intentions can be especially hard- admitting you’ll never use that database software is a little like owning up to the fact that those jeans from college will probably never leave your closet unless they’re in a “donate to goodwill” bag. You can get rid of old or useless (to you) office equipment by recycling it, donating it to charity, or even “trading” it in for other hardware offered by a resale vendor.
Spring cleaning can be liberating, even fun. Remember, staying organized is almost always easier than getting organized in the first place. Pick a day, lay out your strategy, and get to work!