Some one recently told me that I am one of the most productive people they know. I thought they must be joking but the same statement came up in a conversation a few weeks later, maybe they were seeing something I wasn't. I've never thought of myself as the super organized, get-things-done kind of gal. I always think I could be MORE organized, MORE productive. But maybe that's my type A personality shining gloriously through. I've always been organized...to a fault. I'm the person that hates clutter, stray papers, and general chaos. Everything needs to have it's place, be put away and straightened up. It drives my engineer of a husband crazy. I once visited his office and almost dropped dead. His desk was barely visible with every inch of his cubicle covered in papers, notes and yesterday's lunch. I guess I should be glad he keeps that kind of crazy at work? My OCD tendencies would probably make me explode.
But despite how irritating my obsession with organization is to my husband, it does have it's benefits as a small business owner. I am a one woman show (with the help of a post processor, album designer, business manager and second shooter) and do all of the daily tasks of running a business on my own. (My office mascot plays the roll of napper.) If I were to try and tackle everything I need to get done on a regular basis without some sort of list, system or general idea, I would NEVER GET ANYTHING DONE. So I must keep lists. Good thing I love lists, because I spend all of my week making them, crossing them off, and then making more.
The more I chat with people the more I realize that this doesn't necessarily come naturally to all. I never thought that someone wouldn't want to plan out their day by the hour. But guess what, if you're a normal human being, you don't. For those of you normal people out there, I thought I'd share how I organize my business life and give you some tips on how to create time limits, goals, and how to set out on accomplishing those tasks. By no means am I the most productive or organized person (in fact the state of my cluttered desk is driving me bananas), but this is what works for me. I encourage you to find systems and organizational methods that works for you, and be diligent about implementing that into your business life. A lot of these ideas can also be applied to your personal life as well, so get out there and start getting organized!
1. Everything in it's place.
Everything in our house has it's place. The can food, the remotes, the mail, the dishes, the bed sheets, the towels. I could go on and on. When I need to find the towels, I know exactly where to look. When I need the black beans, there they are all lined up and ready to be used. Ahh, I get all excited just thinking about the effectiveness of organization!;) This same principal holds true in my business life. Take my email for example, everything is in it's place. I have my incoming mail and all appropriate folders on the side. Folders for clients, outsourcing, upcoming trips, insurance, my website, business manager. You name it, it has a folder. When I receive incoming mail I think about whether or not it can be filed away into a folder or if it needs to stay in the inbox so I can answer it that day. This system helps me to never feel completely overwhelmed by my inbox, allows me to respond to inquiries faster and I can go back and see all of my correspondence, knowing that I've responded and dealt with that email. (I even save emails that I've sent) There are many email applications that allow you to do this, I use Mac Mail.
Knowing exactly where to find things, whether that is in your email or in your file cabinet, goes a long way to helping stay productive. No wasted time looking for something you can't locate. Am I perfect at this all of the time? No. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be perfect at this or to grasp the joy of organization right away. Take baby steps, somewhere you know that you can implement this practice now and be successful and then move on to other areas of your business (or pantry cabinet.)
2. Time Limits.
In my recent read, Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey he talked about setting time limits. "You will either tell your day what to do or you will wonder where it went. The weird thing is, that the more efficient, on task, on goal you are with your time, the more energy you have.” BAM. That was all the encouragement I needed. I've always written lists, BUT I never gave any of those tasks time limits. DUH. Because you know what would happen? I'd take the tasks I didn't want to do and they would get pushed off to the next day. And the next day. And the next day. And before I knew it, tasks that should have been completed weeks ago were still on my to-do list. If you want to accomplish something you have to set an end date. You have to force yourself to make time for the task that has to be done. You maybe the most self disciplined person on the planet but I guarantee you that if you don't tell yourself WHEN you have to finish that project, that goal, that task, that to-do, it won't be completed. Set time limits.
I recently started to implement this into my business life this past January and it has revolutionized how I think about my business. If I were working for a company or a person they would expect me to get things done, on time and on track. I NEED to give my business and myself and my clients that respect by expecting the same thing.
3. Brain dump.
I love to brain dump. I have SO much going on in my head sometimes that I need to get a pen and paper and just write. Goals, thoughts, fears, joys, everything and anything gets jotted down. It clears my head and I am free to move onto to think about what is time sensitive stuff, what needs to be carried to later and what is just nonsense that is taking up valuable brain space. Brain dumps are my favorite activities and help give me a greater perspective on my current situation. If you're feeling overwhelmed with everything you're thinking about, get a piece of paper and a pen and write it down. Actually write it down. Don't use a computer for this activity. There is something therapeutic, relaxing and stress-releasing about writing down what's on your mind. This is a great activity to try at night if you can't fall asleep. Often my brain just won't shut off, but I find I'm able to fall asleep much faster after doing a brain dump knowing that it's all out and I can move on (to sleep!).
4. Get out.
For those who run a small business out of your home, you understand the challenges that this can bring. You wake up, go upstairs, turn on the computer and immediately start working. Before you know it, it's lunchtime, you're still in your pjs and haven't done anything except check Facebook and your email a hundred times. If I've had a day like this, I know that I need to get out of the house. I need a break and change of pace. These are the times I'm so grateful to have a portable office! I pack up my computer, my lists and I head to Starbucks. The people, the coffee and the bar tables get my juices flowing again. I'm in a different environment and I can focus more clearly on the tasks at hand. Now, I'm never without my lists and I know that since I'm out of my home office for only a few hours, that I need this to be a valuable, productive time. Therefore, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc, are not invited to this party. This is a two-three hour period of intense focus. I get out of the house, regroup at Starbucks and I'm ready to tackle the rest of the week at home. This particularly good for my social skills as well, since I actually talk to human beings instead of just my dog...
5. Set expectations.
You can write lists out, you can go to Starbucks once (or twice, or five times;)) a week, you can organize your inbox and filing cabinet, in fact you can organize your business to an inch of it's life. But if you don't stick to what you've set up, it doesn't work. You don't stay on track, you don't stay focused and you don't stay organized. You run your business, you're business doesn't run itself. You have to be your own boss and set expectations to get things done. Keeping this mind, if you set up systems that don't work for your personality, schedule or life, your organization is going to fail. Be realistic with those things and create systems that work for you. Make it easy as you can to stay organized and guess what, you will. Ultimately, like being on a diet, it only works if you stick with it. YOU HAVE TO STICK WITH IT. Sorry folks, there is no easy way around this one, the success and survival of your business depends on it. Expect more from yourself. Raise the bar and rise up to meet it.
Those are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling when it comes to organization in your life:) This is how I stay sane (most of the time;)) and I have found this this is how I best stay organized and productive! I'd love to encourage you in your own productivity so if you have any thoughts or ideas please feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now go get your organization on!