by Claudia Amand
Keep your desk clutter-free
Maintaining a decluttered physical environment can lead to a peaceful state of mind and a healthy, positive sense of personal space. It’s no wonder why clearing your workspace of paper clutter and keeping documents organized is the first (and most important) secret to unlocking an organized business life.
A messy and disorganized desk also instills a sense of chaos at work. Reversely, a clutter-free desk translates into a feeling of control, which encourages a more organized and productive business lifestyle.
How can you keep your desk clutter-free? Go digital using tools like Shoeboxed (for receipt and document scanning) or Evernote (for notes and document organization) and purge yourself of documents. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this piece of paper?” If the answer is no, throw it away. If the answer yes, determine whether or not you can digitize the paperwork or neatly file it elsewhere. Remember that a clear desk can lead to a clearer mind.
Take productivity breaks every two to three hours
Don’t be afraid to devote a little bit of time for yourself every few hours at work. Take a quick walk around the building, grab a snack, or play on online game. Dozens of studies show that taking “microbreaks”—which can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes—can improve your mental acuity and ability to focus throughout the day.
Staring at a screen for too long or sitting down for hours at a time can also cause physical discomfort, leading to frustration and an inability to focus on the task at hand. When you can’t concentrate on an assignment, you tend move on to another task and leave the prior assignment unfinished. This cyclical effect leads to multiple unfinished projects at a time, leaving you feeling unproductive, disorganized and unfulfilled.
Taking regular breaks will improve your alertness and make you feel like you’re getting more work done with your time.
Take care of mundane tasks during your morning commute
Have an inbox full of useless emails you need to delete? On the way to a morning meeting that you need to research or take notes for? Or maybe you’re due to schedule a doctor’s appointment? Take advantage of those long morning commutes and use a mobile device to knock out humdrum tasks that take time away from meaningful work hours. Even if you don’t use public transit and drive to work, use a Bluetooth connection to catch up on calls.
Close tabs in your browser window once you are done
This is by far the easiest organizational secret on the list, and possibly the most practical one. If you have more than seven or eight tabs open at once (or, depending on your screen size, enough tabs that you are unable to read what each tab is) then you probably have too many tabs open. There’s nothing more senselessly daunting than trying to figure out which tab to jump to next because you have so many tabs open in your browser at once.
In addition to taking longer than needed to figure out which tab you are looking for, an excessive amount of open tabs makes it easy to forget what project you were working on or why you even started working on something in the first place. It also makes it easy to lose track of assignments and contributes to a general feeling of being overwhelmed.
As soon as you’re done with a tab, close it or save it to your bookmarks if you intend on getting back to it later. Keeping only relevant tabs open while working on an assignment will help you stay focused and keep your work prioritized.
Write a to-do list for the next day (and actually use it)
To-do listing is the universal language in the world of business organization. The problem is that few people ever actually follow-up with their lists. What’s the point of writing to-do lists if you don’t use it as a reference for your work priorities? Here are a few tips that will encourage you to keep up with your to-do list:
- Jot down everything you need to get done (it doesn’t have to be in any particular order, just dig into your stream of consciousness and write down the tasks as they come to mind).
- Group related tasks that could be completed together or in the same block of time.
- Number your list according to priority level and rearrange as needed. Hint: people often mistake quantity-heavy tasks as being more important than quality-heavy tasks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Priority should be based on a combined system of time-sensitivity, productivity, and correspondence. For example, if I complete task A, I will be able to complete task B and C in less time and with less effort, so task A should be the first order of business.
- Create smaller to-do lists under larger to-do bullets. This will help you coordinate the completion of a specific project and encourage you to continue working towards your larger goal.
Mark things off as they are completed. You will feel a sense of ease and accomplishment when you visually see a list of tasks with check marks.
Respond to emails as soon as you open them
Email is by far the most dreaded part of the workday. It’s notoriously known for keeping you scatterbrained, especially if you’re constantly checking messages. Rather than periodically checking your inbox, opening emails, and then pushing responses aside for a later time, try this:
Designate one to two blocks of time every day (in the morning and in the afternoon) where you place your full attention on checking and responding to emails. Doing this will keep emails from interrupting your work, and will ensure organizational bliss in your inbox.
Automate administrative tasks
It’s easy to get bogged down with tedious administrative tasks that could otherwise be outsourced, like organizing miscellaneous paperwork or filling out an expense report. And while these tasks are an essential part of keeping your business life organized, they can also be a drain on productivity time and labor resources.
A useful way to combat these pesky tasks is to outsource them to software tools and apps that can complete them for you in a fraction of the time. Why make more work for yourself when you can let an automated service do it for you? A few outsourcing tools you may want to consider:
- Schedule emails using Boomerang
- Automate invoices with Freshbooks
- Automatically have your voicemails transcribed and emailed to you with Grasshopper
- Schedule week's worth of social media posts in advance with Hootsuite
Create an organizational system that works for you
Rather than forcing yourself to adopt a completely new workflow or set of organizational habits, consider experimenting with different tools and then try to integrate them with your existing habits. There is no single right way to keep your business life organized, but there are plenty of tips and tricks you can incorporate into your workflow to optimize productivity and keep you organized.
Claudia is the marketing manager at Shoeboxed, a receipt scanning and document management company based out of Durham, North Carolina. Shoeboxed scans and organizes receipts, bills, and other financial documents to streamline accounting, automate bookkeeping and make tax season a breeze for small business owners and entrepreneurs.