Don't gamble with disorder.
Your work relies on you.
Success or failure in business can come down to many factors:
- poor money management
- lack of financial backing
- poor communication skills
- lack of time management
- and much more
As a solopreneur business coach, I've run into one major time-sucking, focus-stealing, nasty little leach of a problem.
Lack of organization.
"That word" might make you cringe.
It might make your tummy turn or make you go into defense mode. I know, I know. I've got to get organized. But it's such hard work.
Getting and staying organized is a part-time job. I know.
So we're going to start at the root of the problem and let organization ooze into your everyday life.
In this digital world, we don't realize how muddied down our technology and workspace become as life happens around us.
I'm sure you've had to hunt down a document on your computer before, right?
Sure, you can do a file search for it. But that's if you remember a main keyword from the title or content.
And if you do, you're still scanning through oodles of docs and files to find what you're looking for.
Same with your phone.
Have you ever gone through your smartphone to call someone and skimmed past names of people you forgot about entirely?
Been there. (With all of it.)
Start and command the focus in your business now.
Start with these 3 basic areas of your work to dawn your new stage of organization:
- Your computer
- Your workspace
- Your smartphone
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DAY 1. Organize Your Computer
It's not as daunting a task as you might think.
Organizing your digital workspace is just as important as keeping an organized desk.
Whether you're like me and your business critically involves your computer, or if you only use a computer for typing up a document — it's a good place to start.
STEP 1. Trash Unneeded Documents
Get rid of anything you haven't used from 1 year out. Unless they're important financial documents or backups.
STEP 2. Organize remaining docs, photos and more into properly labeled files
It may be difficult to think of categories, then fill them with the proper files.
In this example of my Google Drive setup (my primary source of storage at the time I wrote this post) you can see how I separated each section:
➜ Business (parent folder) contains subfolders of
- Business Docs
➜ Website (parent folder) contains my main website needs (with the visible subfolders).
I could go on but I think you get the gist of it.
Try not to exceed 3-4 subfolders per each parent folder. We want to organize, not add too many potentially distracting routes to your focus plan.
Imagine the junk drawer in your kitchen.
Come on, admit that you have one. We all do.
Just an innocent drawer that, over time, has accumulated more hodgepodge items than intended.
(You know, the drawer you sweep things into when people are coming over and there's stuff you want to hide fast.)
Picture yourself taking out that drawer, dumping it's contents onto the dining table, and finally organizing it.
You put what you need to keep on one side of the table, trash what you don't, and leave the "undecided" pile in the dump zone.
You can do this to your computer, too.
What I like to do is set up 3 temporary files on my desktop.
To keep them above the rest of your content, you can add *Asterisks* to them and sort your desktop alphabetically.
Whether you use a cloud-based backup drive or an external one, like the Western Digital My Passport one I use (now), label your 3 folders accordingly.
- *NEEDS ATTENTION*
You can start labeling subfolders within each section now.
EXAMPLE: Your *DRIVE* files's subfolders could look something like these:
- Backups — issue your computer backup files to be done on your drive, or migrate backup backups to this file.
- Desktop — once a month I move all my desktop files over to this file and delete whatever I don't actively use from my actual desktop. This way, if I make a mistake it's not fatal.
- Design — website images, Pixelmator and Affinity Designer templates and backups.
- Content — text backups of blog posts, Hemingway Editor saves, and any written content organized by more subfolders.
...and so on.
From there, drag one file at a time onto the desktop and start weeding.
Trash anything unneeded.
Then add what you're keeping to each of your new subfolders accordingly.
Whatever is undecided on, don't waste a lot of time trying to make a decision of "Toss or Keep"?
Instead, just stick it in the *NEEDS ATTENTION* file for now. Later you can go back, with a clear, (hopefully) unbiased brain and file it where it really needs to be.
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STEP 3. Set Up Your Digital Desktop
As you can see from my example below (under Step 2), I keep 3 (sometimes 4) files on my desktop at any given time.
Just 3 to 4.
Everything else is kept backed up on my drive which stays resides in my work bag.
CONFESSION: I've battled with a focus problem for most of my life.
Never diagnosed with anything, yet I get easily distracted by the simplest things it seems.
Then refocusing is a whole other chore.
So, I set myself up to avoid confusion, distraction, and imbalance.
(Okay, and staying hydrated and active helps the focus part, too.)
You may be a lot like me or the total opposite. But one thing's for sure: When you're organized, you're more efficient, effective, and balanced.
A woman with organizing skills can run a construction company without ever picking up a hammer and nail.
STEP 4. Get a Drive
(There's always iCloud, too, for the Apple users out there.)
I won't do a full review on the pros and cons of each, however, why I (initially) chose Google Drive—in addition to iCloud and my husband's new Synology gadget—over DropBox was that they offer 15GB of free storage.
As soon as I exceeded that, it's $1 a month for 100GB of storage. Plus, accessing it (at least from a Mac) was simpler than using DropBox.
If you're someone who doesn't like cloud-based storage, you can always go for an external hard drive. I recommend Western Digital over their competitors for reliability, or if you're going to "go big", opt for the Synology one.
SIDE NOTE: Depending on how much space you need up-front, an external hard drive may wind up being less expensive. However, it can be more of a hassle if you're an on-the-go entrepreneur like me. (Depends on who you're asking, I guess.)
A Drive is important because it not only backs up all of your important files in case of a computer crash, but it can be used as a decluttering tool as well.
Once you've got your Drive and you've organized all your files into the 3 folders or the trash, all that's left to do is delete those folders.
STEP 4. Deliver And Delete
- Grab all the subfolders within your temporary *DRIVE* folder on the desktop, and move it over to your cloud-based drive or external drive.
- Delete the empty *DRIVE* folder.
- Grab all the subfolders within the *DESKTOP* folder and drag them to your desktop.
- Delete the empty *DESKTOP* folder.
- Ready to tackle the *NEEDS ATTENTION* folder now? If not, leave it where it is. If so, sort it accordingly.
- Whenever you're done, delete the *NEEDS ATTENTION* folder. Or keep it! (I keep mine as an "Organize" folder on my desktop at all times. I hate a cluttered screen.)
DAY 2. Tidy up your workspace
Take a look at your desk, office, or work bag.
Is everything neatly organized? Organized chaos? Or just straight up chaos?
If you didn't notice from my digital desktop organizing approach, I use the main surface — the desktop — to break down all other areas in need.
Then leave the surface for last.
If you have a better way of doing things, you can adjust any tips you love into what works for you.
TIP 1. Tackle one drawer, section, pocket, case, container, surface, and / or shelf at a time.
This strategy works great in general, but especially if you're someone who can't dedicate a solid period of time to complete the entire task. Instead, drawer by drawer, when you're able, starts you on the right track.
What needs to be on your desk?
I'm a visual person. If I don't see it, I might as well throw it out because I'll completely forget about it.
So, instead of having every [necessary] file out in the open, I use organizational charts and sticky notes to define my tasks lists, the month ahead's main projects, and my weekly breakdown.
This is a photo of what you'd see on my "wandering desk" on any given day. (Minus the candle, of course).
I keep my business mobile. I like to switch up the scenery.
With that said, this is all I need in my workspace.
- my computer
- my planner
- my Month-at-a-Glance laminated board
What needs to be in your workspace on a daily basis?
Those needed items are the only things that should be in your space.
TIP 2: If you're having a rough time figuring out the critical pieces of your day, start super small.
Make a list of the essentials: (These are just suggestions):
Pen (pen holder)
Sticky Notes / Notepad
Need anything else on the actual surface of your workspace?
Add them to the list.
Remember that temporary things can be brought out and put back. If you don't need it every day, it shouldn't stay on or be in your workspace.
DAY 3. Declutter Your Phone
This one may seem like it doesn't belong on this organizational starter list. But check it out. (Especially smartphone users with a lot of storage on your device.)
What do you need on your phone?
I recommend organizing your phone in the same way you would your computer or workspace.
If you're someone who files something away [electronically] and forgets about it, a friend of mine has a sleek way of organizing her phone: use the multiple swipe-screen feature as your category "folders".
She organizes her home screen much like mine — 1 or 2 rows of her most commonly accessed apps. But her second screen would be my first folder's contents (shown in the second phone above).
EXAMPLE: If she were to follow my phone's folder contents, her second screen would be her "Utilities" screen. Third would be "Hot Stuff"—Apple TV Remote App, Clock App, Passport App, iTunes, and more—things she uses often.
And so on.
In my case, organizing apps into category folders works great.
Whatever non-permanent apps you don't use within a month's time you don't need. Take the time to ditch the bulk while you're organizing your category folders or screens.
Here's an example of using swiped iPhone screens as categories or in order of most used to least used content:
Who do you contact?
A commonly overlooked place of clutter is your digital address book.)
To keep this as brief as possible, if you haven't talked, texted or emailed someone in your phone in over a year, they don't need to be in your contacts.
Or maybe take this opportunity to reconnect with people you might be "neglecting".
(You can do it. I know you can.)
Where will you start?
When will you start?
Just remember that "Rome wasn't built in a day".
Starting out organizing your business won't be a 1-day job either. The longer you go without implementing a system, the longer it will take to get it organized and operational.
Stop putting things off. I say that out of love, okay?
I can be a procrastinator. Add focusing issues on top of procrastination and it's a recipe for disaster.
I keep my act together because I have to be deliberate and intent on organizing. And I want to help you get your work in order, too.
You might be feeling overwhelmed or extremely motivated to jump on the organized train right now. Either way, start small. Tackle one task at a time. One drawer. One computer file. One smartphone screen.
Try doing just one each day—hence the "Day 1", "Day 2", "Day 3" suggestions above.
Within a week or 2, you'll have everything in much better order. If not totally structured and ready to take on a more organized business style.
Start now. Start small. Start one task at a time.
P.S. Comments, emails, running a business and being a mom of 3 were just too much for me to handle. So, blog comments got the boot. But the lack of a comment box doesn't mean I don't want to hear what you think! Share your thoughts with me via @GoffCreative on Twitter or directly via email.
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