Is Disorganization Driving You Crazy?

You know the drill. We all know the drill. You know exactly where something is – until you need to retrieve it – and then you’re in a panic. You’re sure it was right here. Where did it go?! You retrace your steps. You think through the last time you had it. You try all the tricks. But alas, the more your worry, the more lost it seems to get! Whether you’re searching for a physical document or a computer file, the time wasted is infuriating and embarrassing and the stress of the situation is bad for your health. I don’t know about other people, but when I can’t find something – even if it’s not really important – it drives me crazy!

But what can you do to avoid that horrible sinking feeling? Well, a lot of the same advice household organizers use can be used for many of the problems that arise in the office. Here are some quick ways to avoid losing things and to help you find them in a snap next time.

1. For starters, take 20- 30-minutes a day to organize. This could be paper files, email in your inbox, pictures in your phone, or files in your downloads folder. Choose one place that needs it and organize as much as you can. Set a timer and when the time is up; you can move on with your day. I like to do this right after lunch, but some people prefer to do it first thing in the morning or last thing before they leave for the day.

2. Create a place for everything. Get file boxes and colorful folders for physical files and create desktop folders for computer files. Make sure that everything is in a place that makes sense.

3. Copy and/or cross-reference things. If you are using paper files, photo copy things that are ambiguous and file them in two different locations, with a note indicating the “other” place – for example, ABC Hardware Invoice could be filed under “Building Maintenance” and photocopied and filed under “Accounts Payable” as well. If you are using computer files, did you know that you can create a shortcut for almost any file? Simply create a shortcut in the existing folder and then move that shortcut to the second desired folder. 

4. Label everything! Do you have over a thousand pictures in your phone? I do. Did you know you can label pictures? For iPhone, just click the pic and then click the i inside a circle at the bottom to add a caption. Now you can search for what you’re looking for! When you’re sorting physical papers and office supplies, put everything in labeled bins or file boxes. When you download pictures or documents, make sure to label them right away and put them in a  folder that makes sense.

5. Get a system in place. To keep your physical office in shape, make sure to make a habit of putting things in their place right away. Professional organizers use the phrase, “Don’t put it down, put it away.” Use this advice as often as you can. As you begin to organize computer files, you may realize that it’s time to get a database to house your client, customer, guest or patron files. There are many CRM software programs to choose from and different businesses and business owners have their preferences.

6. Go ahead and get rid of things that you know you’ll never need. At my last job before I started working as a VA, I ordered 12 boxes of paperclips. I didn’t realize that I was actually ordering 12 boxes of 12! 144 boxes of paperclips for an office of 3 people. What’s more, we transitioned to a paperless system that same year. Bottom line: you can donate that kind of stuff to other businesses. You can also go ahead and throw decades-old staplers and highlighters that don’t work away. While you’re at it, there’s no crime in tossing the hundreds of pens with your old logo! If you changed your business name or logo more than a year ago, let those old swag items go!

7. Donate or recycle old electronics that you no longer use. Nothing takes up space like bulky, out-of-date electronics. Old keyboards, monitors and even desktop computer towers pile up at most businesses. Consult a local computer repair shop to see if they could use your junk for spare parts. If you would like to keep or destroy the hard drive from an old pc, a computer shop repairman should be able to extract it from the machine for you.

8. Get a “notes” app. I recommend the “Good Notes 5” app on iPad. In fact, I love this app so much that I’ve encouraged people to get an iPad just to use this app. You can say goodbye to all of your paper. Good Notes 5 allows you to write with your own handwriting in virtual notebooks. You can convert to typed text, change colors, create new notebooks, and add images of documents so that you can mark them up and save them. But that’s not the best part. The best part is that this entire app – all of your notebooks – can be searched! Even if you never converted the notes to typed text! So now, you can make a note that says, “The estate papers are on the bottom shelf of the bookshelf in the office.” And next time you can’t remember – just search your notes for “estate”. No more putting things in a safe place so they don’t get lost – and then forgetting where that place is!

9. Revisit this list. You know that week between Christmas and New Year’s, when employees are in the office, but there’s not a lot to do? Use that time to organize. Get ready for the new year by getting rid of the files and supplies you don’t need. Take the time to label files that are named with ambiguous names.

Discussion Questions: 
  1. What do you find is the hardest part of your business to keep organized?
  2. How do you react when you can’t find something?
  3. Do you have any other ideas for staying organized to share?


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