ORGANIZATION COMES EASILY to some people. And to others, not so much.
That’s why professional organizer Jeanine Baron estimates that it can take anywhere from six months to two years to whip a disorganized company (and its management and employees) into shape. When she meets with business leaders, they’re often confused about how processes fell apart, and upset that they’ve lost control — both at work and at home, where they feel stressed and distracted. “They only know their points of pain,” says Baron, the founder of Streamliners in Blue Bell, Pa. “They have no idea what the origins are.”
The majority of the time, the biggest culprit when it comes to disorganization is lost or misplaced information, whether it’s hard-to-locate electronic files on a computer or documents buried under a pile on a messy desk. That’s coupled with the sheer amount of information (and demands for one’s time) that business owners face from all directions — employees, clients, vendors and suppliers, not to mention family and loved ones.
As a result, one of the biggest traps that small-business owners fall into is “taking care of what’s right in front of your face, because there are so many things,” says Alicia Rockmore, chief executive of Buttoned Up , an Ann Arbor, Mich., company that helps people organize their lives. Instead, the key to organization is to prioritize the most important tasks first, she says.
Here are tips for restoring order in your work and personal life:
• Incorporate the 80-20 rule. Any time you feel overwhelmed, “make a list of what you have to do, and pick the 20% that’s most important,” Rockmore suggests. The other 80% is likely trivial. By focusing on just a few, important tasks, you’ll get more things accomplished in the long run — whether that’s business tasks, such as budgeting, bill paying or answering emails, or more personal responsibilities, such as meeting a child’s teacher or keeping a doctor’s appointment.
• Keep a master calendar for business and personal commitments. “You can only be in one place at one time, so one calendar makes a lot of sense,” Rockmore says. Mark down every business meeting, follow-up phone call or brainstorming session — and every birthday, anniversary or child’s soccer game. A number of free tools are available online, such as Google Calendar and Yahoo! Calendar, which allow you to add and edit events, receive reminders, and view them from any location.
• Put it in writing. Keep a small notebook and pen handy to jot down ideas, appointments or anything you need to remember for later. “Document it, so it doesn’t get away from you,” says Mark Gavagan, an organization expert and founder of media company Cole House in Mendham, N.J. He also recommends that business owners write down emergency, insurance and other critical information (both business and personal) — and keep it in one place to cut down on search time. More products are on the market to help people get organized; Gavagan’s company publishes a three-ring binder called the ” It’s All Right Here Life & Affairs Organizer ,” in which a person can record everything from personal information (such as health-care directives, retirement plans and real-estate holdings) to business information (such as operations, strategies and debts). Rockmore’s company similarly produces ” Life.doc ,” a bright red binder that organizes a person’s critical information in one spot.