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Keep Yourself Organized

Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network


Entrepreneurs have the potential to be disorganized. They have limited resources and lots of information to keep track of. For this reason, office setup, organization and maintenance can slip. A little slippage is understandable and excusable, but for the sake of the business, periodic organizational sprees are important. The advice and tips listed here will help you setup and maintain an organized office. Keep this file and refer to it at least once a quarter. If you are too busy to complete this task yourself, hire someone to do it for you. The time saving will pay off.

Click on the topics below for tips about how to keep yourself and your business organized.

  1. Office setup
  2. Paper files
  3. Computer files

Office Setup

Having systems in place that keep your office organized will cut down on maintenance. Check your office setup against these tips and make the necessary changes.

Hide supplies you don't use everyday from sight

This is because piles of stationery, extra roles of tape, and high stacks of envelopes look messy and disorder can be distracting. If space permits, keep extra supplies in a closet or cupboard. Store things you do not use regularly. In her book "Organizing Your Home Office for Success", Lisa Kanarek has advice for how to keep your office free of clutter. She suggests moving all of your knickknacks and all the things you use only once a week to secondary surfaces like a file cabinet or a shelf. Anything you use once a month should be stored in a file or put away on a shelf. Items you use less frequently than that should be in a closet.

Organize supplies so that they are easy to reach

For example, you shouldn't have to move two piles of paper and open a box to get your hands on a piece of your letterhead stationery.

Set up your office to function smoothly

If everything falls over when you pull one book out of your bookcase or there isn't enough space near the fax machine to easily insert documents and collect incoming faxes, reorder your office. These small glitches in work flow waste time and cause stress.

Create a "safe" trash can

If your disorganization stems from nervousness about throwing things out only to realize later you need them, create a "safe" trash can. Nothing goes into the safe trash can except for paper. No apple cores, no soda cans, nothing that you wouldn't want to have to see again if you need to look in the trash can. Only empty this trash can every few weeks, so you have a grace during which you can retrieve it. This system may make it easier for you to pitch stuff.

Create a system for information flow

Think about what kind of information, materials, and other items you regularly encounter. Presumably your list will include basics such as incoming and outgoing mail, phone numbers, current projects, and materials you want to keep but cannot focus on right now. Once you have created your list, visit an office supply store to find solutions for organizing all of your information. The perfect product to meet your needs may not be easy to find and you may have to combine two products from the store, or buy one item and modify it to suit your purposes.

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Paper Files

No matter how great your office setup is, some maintenance will be required to keep the information in your office organized. Below are some tips for uncluttering your paper and electronic files.

Everyone knows what it is like to waste time looking for something in a file drawer. Periodic cleansing of junk from your files will cut down on this time-wasting activity.

Clean regularly

Sort through your file cabinets at least once a quarter and throw things away you no longer need. If you continually postpone this task, hire someone to help you. Although you will obviously need to be involved in the cleaning process, an appointment with a helper will force you to complete the task.

Rename your files

If you have trouble finding paper in your file cabinets create file names based on the first related word that comes to your mind when create the file. Chances are, if this word comes to you when you are filing, it will be easier to remember when you are looking for it.

Create sub folders in each hanging folder

This will also increase the ease with which you can locate things.

Group related hanging files together

Keep client folders in one drawer or part of a drawer, articles you save and contract in another. Keep your personal files in a drawer separated from all business material.

Have sufficient filing space

Organization is only feasible if you have enough space in your file cabinets. Invest in high-quality, large file cabinets that provide enough space for the material you need to store.

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Computer Files

Your computer hard drive -- the electronic equivalent to your file cabinet -- also needs periodic house cleaning. Here are some suggestions from Fujifilm Computer Products and The National Home Office Association.

Free up disk space by backing-up

Old or seldom used files can easily be transferred from the hard drive onto floppy disks or data cartridges. This will increase the computer's file-retrieval speed.

Create subdirectories on the hard drive

Broad subdirectories will allow for all related files on the root directory to be saved together in a group. Subdirectories are easy to create. Simply consult your operating system manual.

Give files sensible names

Use general, comprehensive file names that can be easily identified, such as "payroll.96." This can be particularly helpful when working with a large number of small files simultaneously, and will reduce the search time required to find specific files in a directory.

Maintain a commitment to organization

Organization is a learned discipline, but keeping an organized hard drive and floppy disks will eventually become second nature. Back-up files regularly, and continue to save files in a systematic way.

Compress your data

If space on your hard drive is always an issue, there are programs that will shrink or compress your files, greatly increasing available storage space. Several data compression software programs are available.

Use color-coded floppy disks

Filing floppy disks by color in organized floppy disk holders allows users to find the proper floppy disks quickly and easily. For example: use blue floppy disks for accounting, green for payroll and red for sales.

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