From The Overload Syndrome, by Richard Swenson
Productivity starts with a well-ordered desk for me. (No, it doesn’t start with a glass of champagne. I’ll get to that in a minute!)
The glass of inexpensive Veuve de Vernay (on a Sunday afternoon) was my reward for not only getting my desk in order, but also for getting all my filing completed and the remainder of the office put in order. (And it’s stayed that way!)
DeCluttering My Brain
If my office is cluttered with piles of papers and files everywhere, you can bet my brain is cluttered too. For me, there is a direct correlation between what you see around me and how my head is functioning. (Those who know me well, please, hold your sniggers until the end.)
Is my office pristine all the time? Of course not! Things get away from me from time to time. Life intervenes!
I can function with a cluttered office, but it’s like my old Camry—the valves and cylinders often weren’t firing properly. It’s low-level functioning.
I make every attempt to maintain order. I get better and better at it all the time.
Below is my current strategy for maintaining order. Perhaps one of these may strike a nerve with you that would help your organizational skills and productivity.
Discovering Your Real Desktop
(Not your desktop computer – your real desktop.)
- Maintain your desktop as paper-free as possible.
- Re-file client files as soon as you’re finished with them. Don’t let a stack build throughout the day. Then you’ll blow it off to re-file at the end of the day.
- If in use daily, I keep my current account papers in folders stored on top of my desk (right of the monitor, above photo).
- Short on sorting and filing time? (It happens!) Shove them all together and make one or more neat stacks to deal with later. Whatever you do, don’t leave your desk looking like a tornado just blew through!
- Straightening up your office and desk at the end of the day will give you the feeling that you finished all the necessary tasks of the day (whether or not you really got them all done!) Start and end each day with a fresh desk for best results in your productivity.
Creating Better Paper Management
So much for computer files eliminating paper ones. In fact, paper consumption has increased dramatically since the advent of the PC. My method of coping:
- Create new client files as soon as I have one piece of paper for them.
- Often it’s just handwritten notes on a pad. If I anticipate lots of notes and/or client meetings, the pad gets filed with the client file too.
- Don’t wait to print file labels for a folder. Write the file folder names on the tabs immediately; print formal labels later when you can and paste them over the handwritten names.
- Stash ‘hot’ files in the aforementioned dividers on the desktop for quick reference. If that client phones, I want to be able to quickly grab her info and comment from my notes.
- Set aside time monthly, quarterly or semi-annually (whatever works best for you) to re-organize and cull files. Many may be ready for the circular file. Many may be archived and moved to storage. Clear away the clutter!
Prioritizing Business Goals and Tasks
Currently I’m using Chris Brogan’s daily goals management system. It’s his approach to organizing his business:
- Work on long-term goals first. Block out 20 minutes or an hour for that ebook or seminar you’re creating. Maybe it’s planning out how you’ll open 3 more stores.
- Next, work on important stuff. (Sounds silly that way, eh?) Again, this may also be part of long-term goals you are implementing. You may be planning to roll out a new product line or service in two months. Get ready! Chip away at the tasks you need to do in order to launch your next big thing. This may be an activity with team members.
- Do your urgent tasks, which could include deadline projects for clients or yourself. It may be as simple as calling to secure an appointment with a prospect. For me, it’s often making the press deadline that afternoon.
- Finally, take care of maintenance tasks. For some sole proprietors, this could translate to inputting billing or receipts in your accounting software. (My favorite! Not!) Or, maybe you need to allow an extra 10 minutes at the end of the day to re-file and organize your desk. (See those ‘clean desktop’ suggestions above.)
By the way, I printed out “1. Long term goals 2. Important Projects 3. Urgent Tasks 4. Maintenance Tasks” and cut them out and taped them to the top of my monitor. I see them ALL THE TIME as a reminder to stay on track.
Triumph Over Technology
Technology is simply a tool for accomplishing our business and personal goals. It shouldn’t run your life. It works for you, remember? Not the other way around.
Turn off audio notifications when needed for incoming email, Tweetdeck, text messages, phone rings and colleagues walking into your office so you can think! We all have too many digital interruptions in our daily lives now. Shut them out to get concentrated blocks of time to accomplish your most important work.
The beauty of digital technology is that it will all be there later. As Chris Brogan says, “Email is a system that delivers other people’s priorities to your attention.”
Stick to your priorities first!