Whether your office is in the corner of your basement or takes up three floors in a downtown high-rise, maintaining an organized space to conduct business is just as important to your bottom line as that marketing plan. Think about it: if you can't find that marketing plan under a pile of folders on your desk, how can you implement it? Even small organizational tweaks to your office can lead to big gains in business productivity, higher profits, and increased growth.
Look at what doesn't work first
Before you buy new filing cabinets and white boards, figure out how you and your company work best by getting rid of what doesn't work. “Declutter your office leaving only the items you absolutely need. This can save you hundreds of dollars in unnecessary purchases and will ultimately give you more space,” says certified professional organizer (CPO) Janet Bernstein of Janet Bernstein Organizers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After you’ve decluttered, think about how you operate and stay organized on a daily basis—and how you don’t. Realize what kind of system will work best for you by examining how you think. “If you're very visual and tend to forget where things are once placed in a closed cabinet or drawer, then consider [equipping] your office with open shelves or cubbies. Everything can still be organized if items are appropriately stored and labeled,” says Bernstein, “Investing the time to strategize what you really need and where things should go will pay huge dividends in time, money, and productivity.”
Zone and conquer
Whether it is your desk or the company storage closet, make sure everything has a “home.” Denise B. Lee, CPO and organizer coach who owns Clear Spaces in St. Louis, Missouri, suggests splitting your desk top into zones. “[Have] a corner for storing projects—that's where a vertical stacker or file box goes, [Then, a] corner for the phone with a note pad next to it for jotting notes, and a corner for the open planner so you can see what your day holds,” explains Lee. The blotter, or space right in front of your chair, Lee adds, should be a sacred place reserved for your current priority. “Only the project you are working on can go there, and it can only hold one project at a time,” she adds.
Within your office’s storage areas and closets, divide shelves into smaller zones and label where everything should go, a small effort that will save you time and money. “Having a designated ‘home’ for every item will save you from re-buying multiples of the same. Imagine how much time you will save when you no longer need to frantically search for the stapler or the ink cartridge,” says Bernstein.
You need information to complete current projects and to know what is coming next. It’s essential to have that timeline, goal, or project outline where you can access it easily. “A big white board that is within sight of the desk is a great place to list all projects with milestone and deadline dates,” says Lee. Melissa R. Monti, organizer and owner of ShipShape in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, helps her clients keep their projects accessible while on the go. “Have a ‘To Read’ portable file where everything you need to read goes. Keep it on or right by your desk [so] it’s easy to grab on the way out the door to a conference, a train commute, or a doctor's appointment. It also keeps all the loose articles marked ‘to read’ from being scattered all over the desk,” Monti points out. With information at your finger tips and organized in a few central locations, owners and employees can stay focused on what’s important, maximizing their energy and time.
Keep it simple
If your filing system is too complicated, you won’t use it—and if that happens, then one or two files carelessly stacked on top of each other suddenly breed into a colony of paperwork scattered all over the floor. To combat this, Monti suggests color-coding. “Choose a color for each primary business function—red for PR, blue for accounting, green for HR, purple for training, and so on,” says Monti. Renee Kutner, chaos advisor and owner of Peace by Piece Organizing in Atlanta, Georgia, has another filing method mantra. “Sort all of your papers by verb; file them by noun,” instructs Kutner, “As long as you still have an action to take with a particular piece of paper, define that paper based on what needs to be done (i.e. read, pay, call, etc.), not based on what it is (i.e. bill, invitation). Once you have taken the necessary actions, then file it away based on what it is so you can find it again later.” A key element to successful organization is making the system you choose a company-wide system. If everyone follows the same organizational mantra, a seamless flow of work is ensured in situations where someone takes over a project or transitions into a new role, saving time and resources.
Take the home out of home office
Kutner advises owners who work at home to separate the home from that office area, a strategy many small businesses in large, shared office spaces can use as well. “Even if it is a multi-purpose space, try to create a separate ‘work zone’ within the room. And then protect it. A home office that is allowed to fill up with kids' toys or other non-office related items can quickly become too distracting of an environment in which to effectively work,” Kutner notes, emphasizing every type of office space should be well-stocked. “When people don't have what they need in their offices, they end up getting up multiple times during the day to go retrieve items from other areas of the home or space. Each time leads to a potential distraction,” Kutner says. Distraction and wasted time translates to decreased focus and productivity, all of which can be avoided with solid organization.