Since we all sleep and eat, to say nothing of needing downtime, the hours we can spend on work are far fewer.
Whether you plan on an eight workday, or something more or less, every hour counts if you want to maximize your productivity. Losing a few minutes here and there can add up.
What’s one of the biggest setbacks to productivity for many of us?
Surprisingly, it’s organization.
Each time you stop to look for something you can’t find, you’re not being productive. And if you’re in right in the middle of a project you may momentarily forget what you were doing, putting you even further behind.
In this post I identify two types of organizational problems that plague writers and other small business owners. I also explain how to overcome each type of disorganization.
Two Types of Messes to Clean Up
There are two areas where your disorganization can slow you down:
- Physical Clutter. Your environment affects the way you work. A messy desk can be a big distraction if you’re trying to get more done. A Princeton University Neuroscience Institute study cited in an article titled Scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus, process information by Erin Doland on Unclutterer describes the effects of a messy environment. Plus, If your disorganization causes you to lose or misplace important documents, the impact of a mess on your small business can be huge.
- Digital Disorganization. Digital disorganization may not be as obvious as physical clutter and it may not affect your attitude the same way. If you don’t have a system for storing your digital files you still run the risk of losing important information. The loss of data or the delay in finding it can slow you down.
There are some simple steps you can take to get more organized that will help you to be more productive.
How to Organize Your Physical Mess
If your office is messy, you have to get it under control to get more done. Here’s how:
- Have a System. The key to organizing your physical space is to have a system. Figure out what papers and other materials are cluttering your space. Once you know what you are dealing with, you can develop a system for dealing with them. Start by putting like materials together, and then find a place for them. Are business receipts, invoices, and books scattered throughout your office? Create one file for business receipts and a second file for invoices. Place the books on a bookshelf.
- Don’t Wait. One of the biggest enemies of organization is procrastination. Put off dealing with documents and other materials when you get them and pretty soon you’ll be faced with a huge pile of stuff. It’s always much easier to deal with things as soon they arrive. This may mean taking a few minutes to sort through the mail when it arrives each day instead of letting it accumulate. Likewise, when you buy something for your small business, decide where it goes as soon as you get it.
- Invest in Your Home Office. Another reason freelancers become disorganized is that their workspace tends to be an afterthought. Their home office may be crammed into a closet or even a corner of a room. That’s okay, but make sure that you have the right equipment to organize yourself. Often this means a filing cabinet or at least a file box and some designated drawers and a shelf for your books. Your investment in your home office doesn’t need to be large, but it should be enough so your office stays neat.
- Your Office Is Not a Storage Closet. If you are lucky enough to have a separate room for your home office, don’t fall into the trap that plagued me for years. When I moved into my office space family members viewed it as extra storage. Until I put a stop to it, they piled stuff they didn’t know what to do with in my office. Soon my office was cluttered and distracting. I learned to say, “That’s not going into my office. You’ll have to put it somewhere else.“
If your workspace is extremely disorganized, it may take you some initial time to develop a system that works for you. If the time spent on organization increases your productivity and helps you to better focus on your work, it’s time well spent.
How to Organize Your Digital Mess
Quick. Do you know where the original draft of that article is that you published three years ago? What is the address and phone number of your first client?
If you can’t answer these questions quickly, you may be dealing with a digital mess.
Unlike physical disorganization, digital disorganization isn’t immediately obvious. In fact, some people who deal with digital disorganization aren’t even aware they have a problem. Their physical space may be pristine, but their digital files are all over the place.
Here are a few tips to help you organize your digital files:
- Have a System. Creating a folder on your computer for your work projects and a subfolder for each client is a start. If you have client that gives you a lot of work, you may need to create even more subfolders to distinguish between their projects.
- Use a Secure Cloud Backup System. Having (and using) a cloud backup system ensures that you don’t lose any work records if your computer is damaged or destroyed.
- Have a Transition Plan. Small businesses may lose information when they upgrade their computer hardware and/or software. Before you buy a new computer, make a list of all software licenses that may be affected. Also make sure your cloud backup is current.
- Invest in the Right Tools. As your business grows, you may need tools to help you track information. A good accounting system such as Freshbooks (pricing starts at $9.95/month) keeps your financial records in order. A simple CRM like SalesForce (pricing starts at $25/month) can keep a record of your client information. I use QuoteRoller (affiliate link, I receive a small fee for each product purchased) (pricing starts at $19/month) to keep records of my client agreements.
If you want to get more done, it’s time to get organized.
How do you stay organized? Share your best tips or organizational tools that you love in the comments below.