Is there a Land of the Paper Mountain? For a lot of folks, they visit that mountain every day - it's on their desk! Don't set fire to it - put it away! Oh stop complaining, you can do it, I know that you can. Here, I'll help.
I offered some tips in an earlier blog about file management on your computer. It's the same principle on paper, except that you have to have a place to put paper. First step? Um, get a place to put the paper. Duh. Depending on the size of your mountain, buy a file cabinet, get one of the many organizational systems in office supply stores, or if you must, use boxes. You'll need hanging file folders and manila or colored folders too. If you want to get fancy, buy yourself some folder labels to write or type on. One thing you can't buy - patience! It's an easy task, but it does take time.
So now take a deep breath. Get a piece of paper and think about the major categories of things you need to file, whether you're a business or you're handling home filing. For example: Building/House, Utilities, Insurance, Warranties, Car, Computer, Taxes, Telephone, Legal, etc. Each of those categories is your major division point. Think then about what goes into each of those. For building or house (business or home), you'll want a file for maintenance, roof, snow removal, plumbing (structural, repairs, etc), electrical (likewise), and any other topics for which you have paperwork. These are all items that need to be taken care of for the structure, the operations of your business. Obviously you'll have more or less, or entirely different categories than what I'm listing.
For Utilities, you'll want the actual monthly invoices. You can split them into categories if you wish - it depends on how many records you have to manage. For Computer, perhaps instruction manuals, warranty information, receipts, etc. You get the idea. Go through each major category and write down the subdivisions that make sense to you.
After you have this figured out, get a hanging file folder and label it with one of your major categories. Label the manila folders with the subdivisions and put them in the hanging folder. Go through and get all your files made and put away.
Now the fun! No, put down the matches - I told you we're NOT having Filing Flambe! Take the top piece of paper on the mountain and decide where it goes. Is it a letter about an inspection? Is it a paid utility bill? Is it a special offer for travel? Put it in the appropriate place. Rinse......repeat. If you go through everything that's loose around the office (or home) and categorize it this way, you'll find that the mountain has indeed become a molehill!
Now of course the key is to maintain order. Promptly file all paid bills you need to keep. Put away new reference manuals or equipment information as soon as you get them. If you keep on this weekly (or less often if you have less paper) you'll have an orderly office all the time.
I've seen files that were labeled with the name of the item within it. I've seen files that were too general. I've seen files that make sense only to the person who set them up. The key, especially in a business setting, is that by using the kind of sorting I've described, absolutely anyone can find what they need.
As always, if you just can't handle it and need someone to come to the mountain, I know a fabulous, ORGANIZED assistant who can help you: Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Microsoft Excel can be a fabulous tool, whether you're adept at computers or not. Many folks think it's only for bookkeeping and accounting. Not so! Excel was designed to easily manipulate data, and that's exactly what I use it for. Numbers, of course, are a form of data, but so are names and addresses, dates, product descriptions, and any other item you can think of that needs to be tracked and organized.
If you go to my page Free Forms, you'll find quite a few Excel spreadsheets I've designed over the years, and you'll see what I mean. Excel is the Swiss army knife of software programs! You can calculate, sort, filter, track, and otherwise manipulate all sorts of data. Try it for yourself: open Excel and try typing in column A a list of family members' names, just for fun. Drag your mouse pointer over all the names you've entered - you'll see the shading change and a box appear around them. Go to the top right of your toolbar - click on Sort and Filter, then on Sort A to Z. See what happens? You've just alphabetized your names - GO YOU!
Go to my free forms and open one. Try the Contact Database for instance. I've already set up the column headings (they'll always be named Columns A-ZZZ, but you can make column headers like I did). Every entry you make will go down in rows 1-65,000 (and more if you need more!). Play around with it by entering data in all the columns - real or made up. Test the tools in the toolbar at the top to see what they do. You can format (i.e. set up) any cell (the box that marks the intersection of a row and column) in any way you wish - text, %, $, phone number, and much more.
I use Excel for my contact database, for event tracking, invoicing, product sales, budget sheet, and more. You can use the free forms I designed, or in Excel, click on File/New and look at the wide variety of forms Microsoft offers you, also free. All you have to do is enter your own data and see what you can do. All the templates you find will help organize your working life so you don't lose track of information.
Microsoft offers wonderful free tutorials on their website here. Between all the free templates and the tutorials, you'll get a handle on how to use this all-purpose tool. But remember, if you want customized training, get a group together and contact me at Holly@LightseedsOffice.com - I'm happy to give your group a class!
Okay, calm down - I can hear some of you cringing from all the way over here! So many people hate lists, feel they're kind of anal. Then there are those who are addicted to lists, making lists of lists. But lists are only good if you USE them - making lists that get lost on a cluttered desk are useless (you know who you are..... ;) ).
I've talked before about prioritizing, and a list (ONE list) can help you do just that. They can remind you of ongoing tasks and urgent ones and will help organize your time. I know several people who sit down to get organized, write out a list of tasks they want to accomplish, then get distracted by something else. As with so much I've talked about in this blog, it's about self-discipline. No, I don't mean extreme control; I mean sticking to your guns and doing what you promised yourself (or others) you would do.
For me, I find it easiest to write the most important and/or the item with the soonest deadline at the top, and go down in urgency. Sometimes I'll brainstorm and write down all sorts of things I choose to get done, then go back over it and number the priorities. Right now my lists consists of writing this blog, updating my Facebook page, contacting a couple of new clients, doing some marketing, writing a workshop I intend to hold soon, and read some articles I've downloaded. Having a list by my computer helps keep me focused on items that really do need to be done, while also including ongoing projects (like uploading articles to a website, or data entry into a social media uploader) so I don't forget about them.
I know someone who grabs the nearest piece of paper to write herself a note or a phone number, then ends up with reams of paper scattered all over. She gets frustrated with herself, when a simple solution would be to only use a pad of paper so that everything remains together. Avoid the temptation to be distracted by things outside your window, or seeing what's happening on Facebook, or a great new idea. Stick to the "to-do's" for an allotted period of time each working day, using only ONE list, and ONE pad of paper. You'll find your time much more manageable.
And of course, if your list is entirely too long, I know a great organizer who could help you de-clutter it......Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
You all know the answer to that - "One bite at a time"! Granted I'd never harm an elephant but it's a fitting metaphor. We have all reached points where a project becomes so big it's overwhelming. Whether it's organizing a file cabinet, office or closet, cleaning out the basement or garage, tackling a major work project, you may quit before you start because you're intimidated by not being able to decide where to start. The answer is very simple: pick something!
For instance, if I'm helping a client organize a cluttered office, I will simply pick up a pile and begin sorting through it, making stacks by category - mail, filing, receipts, correspondence, what have you. Then I'll pick up another pile and continue organizing it. Yes, I'm moving paper from one stack to another, but the key is that the new piles are ORGANIZED! Once all the messy piles are sorted and trash recycled, then I can go through the new stacks and file, process, or do whatever else needs to be done. The key, of course, is keeping up with it. Developing the discipline to spend even a few minutes at the beginning or end of every day will make great strides in keeping clutter under control.
Same goes for cleaning a closet or basement or any other project. Rather than stew about it, just pick an area and start. You will be amazed at how good it feels. The shift in your energy from "I can't do this!!" to "look what I accomplished" will be all the motivation you need to continue.
And if you still can't face it, I know a great organizer you can call on - Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
For many years I worked for multiple supervisors and learned how to efficiently juggle multiple projects. I do not believe in the ever-popular term "multi-tasking" because if you're juggling several balls you cannot focus on any of them. However I do work well with what I think of as sequential multi-tasking. I prioritize in this way.
I look carefully at my "to do" list and decide what categories the items fall into. There are things i can do quickly and get them off the list. There are ongoing projects that I need to spend some time on. There are "emergencies" - rush jobs that someone else needs done right away. There are routine parts of the job that need to be done daily.
It's also important to understand in what time of day you work most efficiently. I'm a morning person and enjoy my creative and more difficult tasks before about 2:00. I usually first tackle a few of the "quick-draw" items that needed attention - quick phone calls or emails, checking on the status of something I'm waiting for, that sort of thing. I set a time limit for doing these so the important tasks are not ignored - perhaps half an hour. This ensures that these short items don't sit unattended for too long. I'd work on items that need alert concentration after that, while I'm still fresh. I'd save cleaning off my desk and filing and such for late afternoon when I'm least productive. After 8:00, my brain is done thinking for the day. But if you work best in the late evening or right after lunch, save your creative or project work for those times, and handle such "brainless" tasks as filing or cleaning when you're least alert.
If you deal with rushes and emergencies often and have control over any part of that process, it's a good idea to think of preventive measures and ways to organize to stave off crises. If the rushes are given to you by supervisors and you find yourself trying to juggle several "top priority hurry hurry" items, you may need to go to your supervisor to ask for guidance on how to prioritize. Presented in the context of providing excellent service rather than complaint, a supervisor will usually help the process along.
And if you run your own business and can't decide how to prioritize, I know a great office assistant who could help you: Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!!
It's just as important and useful to organize your emails in the same way as your files (above). Create new folders of the main topics of emails you need to keep (related to events, business, family, etc.). Mine are very similar to my file folders - one for each client, for major projects, for personal business, etc. You may want to either flag or file (depending on your email program) not only incoming but also sent mail, so that you have a way to track things that need follow-up. Nothing is worse than realizing you've deleted important older emails because you forgot to save them. You also have quick reference for past discussions, deadlines, website log-ins, etc.
And don't forget to periodically purge your deleted emails. Your email provider may not automatically delete them for you, and you can quickly use up your storage allotment with useless emails. I first delete old sent mail (that I did not flag for followup or importance), then I purge all deleted emails except the last week or so (just in case). Then I know that what I need is accessible, but what I don't is not wasting space.
If you get the general idea but want someone to teach you in person, I know a great resource you can call on: Holly@LightseedsOffice.com!
Ever try to find a piece of paper when you have no filing system? Well, organized files in your computer are just as important as organized files in a drawer. Have you tried finding a picture in hundreds on your computer? Or an important document lost in the mists of obscurity? Here's a way to solve that problem.
Think of the most important topics, the main categories of your work. For instance, mine for Lightseeds Office are Photos, Clients, Taxes, Budget, Forms. Write down yours, leaving room between categories. Then within each of those main labels, write down the next level. For me it's making a folder for each client's name under the general label "Clients", and for each tax year under "Taxes."
Once you have the top two levels of categories, go in your computer and find the Documents folder. For most PC users, if you click on the Start button you'll see it at the top. In the Documents folder, you'll create your top-level categories by clicking on "New Folder" (sometimes hidden within "Organize" depending on your version of Windows). Make a new folder for each of those categories you wrote down. Think of these main categories as a hanging file folder in a drawer, containing several manila folders. Then within the top level, the main folder, create new folders for your next level (the manila folders - again, for me, it's client names within the Clients folder). You can create as many sub-folders (the virtual manila ones) as you want, but don't get carried away. You don't want each item in its own folder any more than you'd want one piece of paper in a manila folder.
I can hear you complaining from here..."I have too many files right now to organize them!" Well trust me and my experience, it's MUCH easier to take some time now to set up files than to go on forever with the "virtual pile" growing. You'll thank me later, I promise.
Oh, and if this is all just too much to contemplate, I know a GREAT freelance virtual assistant that can help you! Holly@LightseedsOffice.com
Welcome! These stories, tips and tricks are intended to help you save time, and be more organized and effective in your work. New items will be added frequently so check back often.