One of the keys skills most entrepreneurs struggle with is organizing for success. When you launch your own business, you need to have many things in place for productivity and success.
One of the best ways to get more productive and get your office working is to focus on your key self-employment systems. Here are the ten essential systems that will help kick start your progress, or get yourself back into control.
Your Work/Action Center
The first thing you need is to create your very own Command Central that is central to your work, and contains everything you need that is conducive to what you do 90% of the time. It is even better if you can set this up so that you are able to find what you need within an arms reach. Some productivity experts refer to this as your control panel (borrowing an aviation analogy). It’s also important to make note – if your time is split between an office and mobile location, you may need to build redundancy and/or portability into your Action Center. I once worked with a mom who was a pharmaceutical sales manager. She struggled with staying organized, but when we set up redundancy in her mobile office (Yes, her car) – she was able to stay on top of things. She had an Action Center that rode in the passenger seat of her car, and could remove it when she had to make room for her passengers.
- Contact Management System: You need a way to funnel all your contacts into one place that allows information to be easily tagged and retrieved. And, the sooner you do this, the better. On line contact management systems have made this easy, and as productivity apps and tools have become more universal, often synchronizing has become a pleasant automatic surprise. We recently purchased a new car with onboard phone technology. As soon as I got into the car and synched up my phone, my entire electronic database was available from the drivers’ seat! One caveat… If you’ve been sitting on piles of old business cards, it’s likely time to purge. MANY business people have moved into electronic data sharing, and unfortunately, if you haven’t done anything YET with all those cards, chances are – you won’t… or even if you do, the effort and time to input that information may not outweigh the benefit if the contacts are too old and no longer remember who you are or where you met. Chances are, if you haven’t kept up with casual, one-time acquaintances – they are no longer interested. (Sorry to break the news to you.) Remember, contacts are not about accumulation – they are about building relationships with people who trust and will refer you to others. If you have a mad stash – it’s okay to throw those old, unrecognizable business cards away… you have my permission.
- Numbers Management System (Sales/Clients/Finances): To make a business work, you need to make and track sales and expenses. If you have a product-based company, you’ll need a way to track and manage your inventory, orders and income. If you have a service based industry, you’ll need to create a way to track and manage your client data and information in addition to your income and expenses. Although many entrepreneurs get assistance with their ‘numbers’ systems from other professionals, it’s good to think your process through so you can create a workflow to track your finances, incoming flow and outgoing expenses and stay on top of what is happening in your business on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Money is about flow, and the better you track it, the more shows up!
- Communication System: A communication system is the way you handle all different types of communication. It’s important to set yourself up so you can easily handle incoming and outgoing messages daily. The skills necessary for managing communications include: Processing, Attending, Sorting (Categorizing), Maintaining and Retrieval. Your focus should be on ONE thing when you process an incoming message: “Do I need to take action on this item? ” If yes – you’ll need a way to manage it and remind yourself of it, or it will get lost in the sea of chatter that constantly flows in and out of your life. Your goal should be to figure out the best way to get to Email (or message) zero by the end of each day. If you’re missing pieces in your communication system, return to the list of skills above, and uncover your skills/systems gaps. Your breakdowns will likely be lurking amidst those skills listed. When you uncover the breakdown area, build a repeatable routine to solve for it and you’ll be on the path to email-zero! Ahhhhh…
- Space for Tools & Supplies: This is a very important part of an organized office. And, it’s important to distinguish between tools and supplies. Tools are what you use daily to get your work done – including hardware, software and may include office supplies such as stationary, pens and a stapler. Supplies are distinguished as ‘back up’ tools and resources that need to be periodically replenished. One of the best way to feel more organized is to separate your overflow, from your working tools and supplies. Create a space to hold overflow, take an inventory and post it. This will save you from your tendency to wander around office supply stores, dropping items in the cart that you don’t need. One of my past clients had a ‘Hopper Time Style Preference™, and he would move through his house with his laptop based on his biological need to move to stay in flow. At times he’d work at a desk, then move to the dining room, then move up to the study. He always complained about feeling disorganized – and as a result of his work style, he had a trail of supplies sequestered in each closet throughout his house, (just in case he needed something). We relocated ALL of his supply stashes and tools to one area, converted a walk in closet – and he finally figured out how much he had. Not only did he finally have a container for his vast inventory of back up supplies, everything was then labeled, and he saved hundreds of dollars by not repurchasing already-existing supplies. If you’re guilty of over purchasing supplies, it’s time to sequester your supplies into one centralized, convenient, inventoried and organized location. This one step is an easy get organized project that will really help.
- Incoming Decision/Paper Processing Center: Whether your office is the kitchen table, a converted closet, or a corner suite, you need a quick and easy way to handle incoming paper. The best way to track your papers is to set yourself up with a ‘Dispatch Center’ that supports the high level decisions you need to make as items enter your work space. This area should also have an already-set-up way to manage trash, discards and anything that requires shredding. Create a simple 3 folder system: File, Act, Contact. This will allow you to easily sort the incoming papers into their ‘next phase’. Just build time in to work those folders to empty weekly. OR – If your business requires ongoing tasks, an action center is often helped by creating ‘Action Files’ for those tasks. Create folders for each action, labeled appropriately for commonly repeated tasks such as: Pay, Call, Waiting on someone, Weekly, In Process, and File. The most critical part is that this system should be meaningful to YOU. If you’re trying to copy someone else’s system, it’s likely NOT going to work as well as designing a system around your unique business’ needs and your unique work style.
- Master Calendar/Schedule: This is important. Too many entrepreneurs try to bounce between several calendars and schedules, and invariably lose data, dates, appointments and contacts in the madness. Decide on what calendar system best serves you, and move over to it – consistently. Be sure to remember that planning, scheduling and reminding are ALL distinctly different skills than managing and working your list of tasks. Yes, they all work together, but your calendar is best used to schedule meetings, appointments and reminders. Note here that I have separated your task management into a separate system. Many entrepreneurs will ‘schedule’ ‘time blocks’ dedicated to certain ‘tasks’ they need to accomplish regularly. For instance, I have a recurring daily appointment on my calendar that is triggered EVERY DAY to remind me to make dinner at 5:00pm. I also have recurring time blocks for blogging and newsletters, and a recurring time block for my ‘business money date’.
- Project Planning & Management System: You’ll need a way to brainstorm, write down, collate, plan and manage your bigger projects. For this, I work from broad to specific. I love online tools such as Asana, Zoho, Basecamp and Trello that allow you to ‘dump’ your ideas into a repository that you can then further turn into tasks, organize and time-activate. The online tools have the added benefit of automatically assigning, updating and reminding any of your remote team members that may be working with you toward accomplishing your goals.
- Task Management System: There are as many suggestions about how to manage your tasks as there are different people. In fact, the more entrepreneurs I’ve met, the more I believe this is true. Task management is highly personal, and is best suited to your natural habits and styles. If you love to write down your tasks in a list and check them off as you go – NO ELECTRONIC APP is going to ‘feel’ the same as creating your list. Basically, DO what works. It’s important that you create a system that captures your tasks and reminds you to keep pushing them forward if you do not complete them. The other trick to a working Task Management system is to create one that helps keep you on track. I think I’ve tried just about every one out there, and I have to say – I’m a paper task manager. I always gravitate back to a to do list.. When I’ve tried to go rogue and drop the paper planner, I would STILL grab extraneous pieces of paper to write on. It’s my comfort and style – it helps me remember and gives me a solid anchor. SO – I’ve returned to a paper planner with a simple checklist per day. Other people recommend a blend of electronic systems, reminders or Action Files labeled with the actions you do daily. Others who have cyclical responsibilities may do very well with the old 1-31’s (assigning a file folder to each day of the month and accessing what is in there daily to build your task list). Whatever you do – remember there is no right or wrong way… Just focus on what makes you feel more comfortable and the best way to capture your tasks and remind yourself as you work. It’s also important – if you’re searching for a system to work for you – that you work ONE system for at least three weeks to see if it works for you. Whatever you choose, you’ll must be willing to work with consistently.
- Information Storage/Retrieval System: This is the place that most productivity efforts focus, however, this is only ONE part of a working and productive office. Create files (or a system) for reference, vital information, and quick access information. The key to any information storage system is your ability to find and retrieve your files quickly, whenever you need them. Some people prefer to ‘see’ these systems, while others prefer to have these systems ‘behind closed doors’. Regardless of your Space Style Preference™, you must be able to know what you have, have what you need, and be able to find it any time when you need it! Most electronic systems are built in with incredibly robust search tools that allow you to locate just about anything that has been cyber-shared. The critical skill to master for an information storage system is to name and LABEL all your files – before you fill them with items. Without labels, filed information disappears.
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This is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started, or help you get refocused and repurposed in your home office. If you want additional guidance on setting yourself up for success, click here to download my “Get Organized To Keep Your Family Sane” Workbook and weekly audio tips! They are designed to keep you on track, and get rid of everything you don’t need!
What are the areas where you need the most attention right now? Please share your comments and ideas below.