It's fitting that January is Get Organized Month (sponsored by the National Association of Professional Organizers) – if ever there was a time when folks are most receptive to getting their lives in order, it's at the start of a new year.
If you're a small-business owner, staying organized can help you can reduce potential work and communication errors (which can lead to lawsuits), clear up clutter that can cause work injuries, and stay productive so you can keep growing your business.
We talked to the pros about the five bad habits that get in the way of small-business owners' goals. Find out if you're guilty of these behaviors and take our experts' advice on how to nix them for good.
1. You drop everything for your clients.
Jason Womack (@JasonWomack), cofounder of personalized online leadership academy Get Momentum, business coach, and author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, says small businesses are used to working tirelessly to gain new customers. That dedication may come at the cost of balancing other aspects of their business.
Break the habit: Womack advises, "Schedule 30 minutes a day, every morning, to care for your customers." You'll feel less pressure to drop everything whenever you hear from a new prospect. This can potentially cut down on work-related errors and disgruntled clients when you try to balance too much at once.
2. You let time pass you by.
Geralin Thomas (@metrozing), a professional organizer, author of Decluttering Your Home: Tips, Techniques and Trade Secrets, and founder of North Carolina-based Metropolitan Organizing, reminds us that time management suffers when you let disorganization rule your life. Think about it: how many minutes do you lose each day searching for that one email?
If time is money (and for small businesses, it most certainly is), those minutes and dollars would better serve your business elsewhere.
"People tend to underestimate nonproductive minutes of their days," Thomas says. She suggests knowing exactly how much time you spend on social media or checking your email – your valuable time must be accounted for and managed if you don't want to lose it.
Break the habit: Thomas recommends practicing "the art of saying no" if you want to manage your time. For example, you might pass on meetings without an agenda (a guaranteed time suck).
3. You overstuff your calendar.
Both Womack and Thomas extol the virtues of reining in your calendar. While your instinct may be to tackle as much as possible any given day, that ambitiousness may keep you from actually getting more done.
Break the habit: Womack suggests planning ahead – 90 minutes for 90 days' worth of work – by consulting your personal and professional calendars. That way, you can properly plan work around your vacations and start chipping away at that project due by the month's end.
Meanwhile, Thomas emphasizes the importance of decluttering your calendar so you can…
- Organize and consolidate tasks by category.
- Allot time to each task accordingly.
- Optimize peak performance time.
- Identify priorities.
Once you start rationing your time, you'll find room to address other areas of clutter.
4. You assume organization is a one-and-done task.
You can wake up one morning in a flurry of inspiration and clean your desk, sort your email, and finally alphabetize your hard-copy files. But if you want to stay organized, consistency counts. Otherwise, the efforts you make at the beginning of the month will soon be lost in an avalanche of junk.
Break the habit: Give yourself time each week to finish one organizational task. Thomas advises that for each task, you…
- Create a goal.
- List specific steps to accomplish it.
- Set a deadline.
For example, say one of your goals is to organize all of your electronic file folders. Thomas says, "Before organizing any folders, start thinking about when, where, for how long, and how often you're available to work toward this goal."
5. You don't ask for help.
Many people fall into the trap of thinking there are inherently organized and disorganized people. But like any other habit, organization can be learned. You may just need a little nudge to help you along.
Break the habit: Just like you might hire a personal trainer to help you achieve your fitness goals, you might enlist help when you want to realize your business goals.
"Have someone sit with you and offer you a workflow audit," Womack says. "Let them see you work for a day or two at a time." That bird's eye view allows them to make objective recommendations to improve your process and help you stay organized.
Stay tuned for more organizational tips throughout this month on our blog.