01Take Control of Papers and Documents
We'll start with paper since that is the biggest disorganization culprit for most of us. What do you do with documents after you take action on them? How do you store papers for future reference? If you don't have a filing system and/or a digital archiving system in place, now is the time to build one. Start by taking a look at the papers you have laying around. Make a keep pile and a discard pile, then shred or recycle all of the papers, magazines, newsletters, cards, notes, etc. that made it to the second pile. If you're not sure where to start, read this article from Staples that gives a thorough rundown on what documents you really should keep, and the rest is fair game for the shredder.
Now that you have a better idea about the type of documents you're working with, it's time to create — or improve — your office filing system. Susan Ward put together a helpful guide to creating a document management system that can help you create or fine-tune your paper process and get it organized.
If you decide it's time to start moving toward a paperless office (read these pros and cons first), then you can start by scanning in and digitizing your receipts, using online invoicing and payment services like FreshBooks, moving to a digital signature program like DocuSign, and using the Cloud for data backup and archiving. If you collect business cards at events during the year, it may also be a good idea to invest in a business card scanner so you can digitize contact info immediately and ditch the paper cards.
02Use the Right Productivity Tools
We all have our favorite apps and tools we use every day, although some are probably more useful than others. In fact, for every one productivity-enhancing app you use, I bet there is another one that is just not the right fit, but you keep using it because you've been using it for so long and you're used to it. This is why it is so important to — at least once a year — take stock of the apps and tools you are using in your small business and decide if they still meet your needs. This is also a great time to consider if you have some gaps and find the right tools to fill them. Below are some of the top areas where many small business owners find productivity tools useful. These should give you a solid starting point for getting your productivity tools organized this year:
- Contact management. From keeping track of your customers to remembering people you meet while networking, every small business owner needs a system for managing contact information. You can opt for a comprehensive customer relationship management (CRM) system like Salesforce, or for smaller scale management you can set up your existing Contacts app to work for your business.
- Meetings and communication. Whether you conduct meetings face-to-face, on the phone or via video chat services, there is a way to make the process more organized. You can use a service like Do to get your meetings more organized -- before, during and after.
- Accounting and bookkeeping. Organize and streamline the way you invoice, take payments, and manage cashflow with tools like Quickbooks Online, Xero and Wave.
- Travel and expense tracking. You can use apps like Expedia and TripAdvisor to make travel plans easier. Then, once on the road, apps like Expensify help you track expenses and make reporting when you get home a lot more organized.
- Social media management. We all know how much time can be wasted on social media if you're not approaching it in a systematic and organized way. This is why tools like Hootsuite and Buffer can be invaluable for small business owners.
- Email management. If you use Gmail in your small business, you have access to quite a few Google extensions that can quickly get your inbox organized. If you're using another email app, try SaneBox for automatic filtering, reminders and more.
- Project management. A good project management app will help you track tasks, share files and collaborate with teammates all in one place and it can be one of the best tools you can use to get your work organized. Try Basecamp or Asana for an all-in-one project management solution.
Productivity is a very personal process and the apps you need will be specific to you the work you do and the way you tend to work. Take time to explore what your needs are before incorporating a new tool in your process. You may not need as many as you think. For more productivity tool inspiration, read this article with 101 small business productivity apps and explore these 27 time-saving apps.
03Get Your Computer Organized
This is a big one for any small business owner who does the bulk of his or her work on the computer. You probably know that it does not take very long for your desktop to become cluttered with icons, your Downloads folder to get so full of strangely named documents that it is impossible to find anything, or your email inbox to get so out of control you start to think it really might explode. Not only is this horrible for your productivity, but it can also slow down your computer's performance significantly.
Here is a list of things you can do right now to get your computer organized and back into working shape:
- Clean up your desktop. There are a couple of ways you can go here, and it all depends on your work style and how you use your computer. You can get rid of everything from your desktop except for your trash bin (remember that the app icons on your desktop are just shortcuts -- all of your actual apps usually live in your Applications folder). Or you can add a few shortcuts to your most frequently used apps and files. I tend to err toward the first option, going as streamlined as possible, but often using my desktop for easy access to files I am currently working on. Then I move them to their permanent home once I am finished.
- Set up a digital filing system. Speaking of giving your documents a permanent home, this is where you create a filing system that makes complete sense to you so you can find the documents you need when you need them. This guide to file and folder organization provides a number of excellent tips to help you get started.
- Update software. If your computer is set to automatically install the application and operating system updates, great. If it's a manual process for you, you should check for updates at least bimonthly since many include security patches. Then, once a year, review the current versions of software you are using and make the decision if its time to upgrade.
- Scan for viruses and performance issues. Regardless of what type of computer you have, all of them can get viruses or malware (yes, even Macs!). If you have a Windows-based computer, these PC maintenance tips from PCWorld will help you keep your computer healthy and running smoothly.
- Verify the integrity of your data backup. You are backing up your data, right? If not, skip everything else for the time being and do this one first. You can either use a Cloud-based data backup service like Carbonite, Backblaze or CrashPlan or you can use an external hard drive that you plug into your computer (I do both). With either option, configure the service or drive to conduct continuous automatic backups so you don't have to do anything manually. Then, once or twice a year, go into your backup service or drive and poke around to make sure everything is there and accessible should you need to pull copies to your local computer.
- Wrangle your inbox. Many small business owners have a love-hate relationship with their email inbox. They love it because it's a highly productive and efficient communication tool; yet they hate it because it can quickly get out of control causing unnecessary stress. There are things you can do to keep your inbox in line, such as using automation, streamlining what you receive on a daily basis, and limiting how often you check email during your day. Read this article for email management tips that will make your inbox a powerful productivity tool and not a major time suck.
The tips above will help you get your small business more organized immediately, but remember how fast things can get out of control. Pair these activities with a resolution to conduct a quick and easy review of your papers, productivity tools and computer status a few times a month so you can stay organized and prevent things from reaching overwhelming levels of disorganization.
3 Tried-and-True Ways to Get Your Small Business Organized
Getting organized involves a lot more than just neatening stacks of papers and dusting off the clutter you have on your desk. Organization involves creating systems and procedures for all different parts of your business; this has the potential to help you become more productive and profitable. The ideas below include some of the best ways you can become more organized in your small business. Try just one for slow and sustained improvement or make a plan to incorporate a new organizational process each month in your business this year.