John is a busy, self-employed, plumbing contractor. His business keeps him in the field five to six days a week, so the only time he has to take care of paperwork is in the evenings and on weekends. He shares his home office with his wife, who works outside the home, but manages the household accounts from this office space as well. All the management details of his small, but growing business are up to John.

John is a typical small business owner working from his home, and like John, you could be losing money because you do not have simple and efficient office systems set up in order to manage paperwork. You may be paying penalties for late payments, important paperwork could be lost in piles of unopened mail, and then there is the wasted time just trying to find things. Your small business office is the nucleus of your business, the center where new orders and paperwork are being generated daily.

Research from IDC, a premier global provider of market intelligence and advisory services for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets, states that there are between 34.3 million and 36.6 million home office households in the United States alone. These include income-generating home offices (18.8 million to 20.3 million) with the rest being made up of corporate telecommuter households.

Is the story of your office one of efficiency and productivity, or is it a sad story of loss
and confusion? If your office is in a state of chaos, there are four key areas of your office that you can improve right now and take your business to the next level.

Time Management

Develop a time management system so that precious time is not wasted going in circles because you don’t know where to start. Time management is not about working faster – it is the practice of spending more time on the right things.

First, you need to be able to recognize what is important to you, and understand the difference between important and urgent.

Important tasks:
Help us achieve long-term goals, or have other long-term significance.

Urgent tasks:
May need immediate attention to avoid a crisis, but are not necessarily important in the long-term.

Make the following five time management strategies into habits and you will begin to see your productivity increase and the chaos decrease.

1. Set your priorities – Write down your goals, and don’t be vague. Be very specific with what you want, when you want it, and the steps you need to take to get there. Break your goal down to manageable chunks, and give yourself specific tasks to achieve each step.

2. Make lists - Limit your daily to-do list to 6 items or less. If your list is too long, you will feel defeated when you are unable to complete it. Prioritize the items on your list and try to devote 80% of your time and energy on the important tasks. Of course, there will be some days that nothing important gets done, because the urgent items dominate.

3. Eliminate distractions – People, phones, clutter, hunger, E-mails, you name it; they can eat up entire workdays. Be aware of what your distractions are and learn to filter them out. Take care of necessary details before you sit down to start a project, and remember the important vs. urgent rule.

4. Schedule time for planning – Develop the habit of planning for tomorrow, the night before. Take a few minutes to clean up your work area, make your to-do list, bringing forward any tasks that did not get completed, and mentally prepare for the next day. Your subconscious will help organize your thoughts while you sleep. To quote Alan Lakein, author of How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

A Filing System

The Wall Street Journal (March, 1997) reports the average U.S. executive wastes 6 weeks per year searching for misplaced information from messy desks and files. This equals 5 hours per week or one hour per day. At $60,000/year in salaries, that is nearly $8,000/year in wasted time on the job.

You need to be able store and retrieve documents efficiently. This includes paper and computer files. Each business has it own filing needs, and each business owner has their own work style, so develop an appropriate system for your business needs. You should be able to put your hands on any given document, or piece of information in 30 seconds, or less.

You will need a system to manage working files, as well as permanent files. The permanent files need to be labeled with a specific retrieval system in mind, such as by categories, alphabetical, numerical or whatever system is appropriate for your requirements. Choose fixtures and cabinets that will best accommodate your files as well as particular storage needs, for special items such as photographs or blueprints.

A perfect filing and paper management system will only serve you if it is maintained on a regular basis. Schedule time every week to manage files, both paper and electronic. Try to develop the habit of handling any given document just once – that is, deal with it when you receive it, then file it right away. Apply the same principal to your E-mail management.

A Bookkeeping System

Good bookkeeping practices are essential for a number of reasons. You will need exact information for financial statements, which are necessary for business loans or lines of credit. When you can track all your deductions, you may pay less in taxes. You will be able to forecast your business trends when you have accurate records, and if you decide to sell your business, you will need precise information in order to determine the true value of the business.

QuickBooks and Quicken from Intuit, offer a wide range of accounting programs for almost any business. Microsoft Money is another great option. These programs are easy to use and at the end of the year, all your data is ready to download for income tax purposes. Another option to consider is a bookkeeping service to take care of details you may not have time for. You may have a vibrant, active business, but if you don’t keep up to date and accurate records you may be losing money and not even know it.

Clutter Control

How distracting is it to sit down at your desk to find the remains of yesterday’s lunch, magazines, mountains of paper and no sense of where to begin? It’s not only distracting, but also costly, in terms of your precious time being wasted because you are not on task while shuffling piles, or housecleaning just to get to the desktop.

Get your desk set up so that there is a designated place for everything. Working files can be accessible, without being scattered everywhere. Keep the business cards in a card file, or a Rolodex so they are tidy and easy to find, or better yet, scan them with a card scanner that will capture all the information and synchronize it with your favorite contact management program. Sort your mail every day next to the wastebasket and shredder. Throw away the junk before it turns to clutter. Don’t let your office be a dumping ground.

Your office is so important to the health of your business. Don’t let a disorganized office hold you back from the growth and success you deserve. When your office is efficient and organized, you will be more productive with your time, and you will reduce the level of stress in your life. You will be proud to bring clients to your office for meetings and consultations because it will reflect your high professional standards and a smoothly run operation.

Author's Bio: 

Sandra J. Carroll, is the owner of Creative Changes, a professional organizing company, and is known by her clients as the Clutter Conqueror. Aside from her many years of business experience, living and cruising on a 30-foot sailboat for 4years gave Sandra unique training in space efficiency and organization.
Creative Changes specializes in simple solutions to clutter, space challenges, time management and inefficient storage. Sandra’s “Organize Your House to Sell” system is an effective and budget friendly option to home staging
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