Organization is a key to success. It improves efficiency. It reduces stress. It makes it easier to find what you need. It can make it easier to stay on the right side of the law because important information is easier to find. However, getting and staying organized isn’t always easy, especially for someone whose primary interest is not office work.
It’s probably fair to say that most of us, as contractors in whatever aspect of the construction business, would much rather be out on the job site than stuck in the office. That’s why we’ve chosen our trade, after all. Sometimes we might even think of the office as the place to hide in the air conditioner for a bit.
Even if your garage, shed, and truck are in perfect order, you might have an office that’s a disaster. So what steps can you take to help keep it in order?
A Place For Everything, and Everything In Its Place
The first step to organized is knowing where everything goes. That means you’ll want to be sure to have a file cabinet or at least a desk with a drawer for hanging files. Be sure to have enough file folders, too!
Shelves are another great asset. When you have books and manuals you need to keep on hand, you don’t need them cluttering the desk – or the floor. Shelves are also a great place to store your coffee mug, the ashtray your child made you at summer camp, the game-winning football from when you scored 4 touchdowns in a game, and other items that you want to keep in the office but that only clutter up the desk. Find a place for everything that needs to be in the office, whether it’s functional or decorative.
That also means that if it doesn’t belong in the office, don’t keep it there. It’s fine to have decorations. It’s also fine bring things in for the short term, but if they belong elsewhere, be sure to return them to their place. That’s not to say you can’t have things that aren’t directly “work-related” – a mini-fridge, coffee mug, and many other items may be “essentials” even if they don’t have a direct bearing on the job!
Just remember – the top of your desk is not for filing, and neither is the floor.
If there are items you need at hand constantly, such as phone numbers, paperclips, pens, and the like, give them a place too, either in a top desk drawer or an organizer on the desk.
Even having a spot to keep incoming mail or to toss your hat or work gloves can go a long way to saving time and effort when it comes to finding things. Many interior designers talk about a “landing pad” at home near the front door where your keys, wallet, mail, and other items can be left. The same principle might apply to the office – give items a temporary home until you can come back and go through them.
Pick Up After Yourself
The next step to being organized is to stay that way. It doesn’t take much effort to stay organized once you get started, but it’s easy to fall into bad habits.
Obviously, you’re going to have to pull files, records, books, and more. You’ll have plans to look over and contracts to review.
But when you’re done with them, be sure to put them back where they belong. It’s best to do this after finishing with each item so that papers don’t accidentally get shuffled together and end up in the wrong folder.
The longer you leave your paperwork and other items out, the harder it’s going to be to get everything back in place.
Don’t Put It Off
Procrastination is an easy trap to fall into. As we mentioned above, it’s always best to return everything to its place before moving on to the next task.
While that might not always happen, it’s still important to follow up and get things back where they belong as soon as you can. You may forget where they are if they end up buried under other materials on the desk.
You probably have told clients a million times to keep up on maintenance so they don’t have bigger expenses later on. That same advice applies in the office. By doing the small things regularly, you’ll save yourself from bigger problems later on.
Keep It Obvious
If you’re old enough to remember the TV comedy MASH, based in the Korean War, you might remember that “Radar” O’Reilly had his own special filing system. At one point, some of the doctors at the MASH unit needed to find the map of a minefield near the mobile hospital. They looked through the files under “M” for mines and maps. They tried “E” for explosives. No luck. When Radar finally showed up, he told them it was under “B”. Why? “B for Boom”.
Our advice is – don’t do that.
Your organizational system – especially your filing system – should be direct and easy to understand. For instance, keep client contracts in a single hanging folder, then in individual manila folders by name (last name or business name). Have a separate hanging folder for utility bills, broken down by light, heat, and the like. Put bills and related items in order by date. This will also help you be able to pull them out and archive them when the time comes.
An easy-to-understand system will prevent those senior moments when we actually forget what the system was. This is one time when creativity can be a bad thing.
Plus, there may come a time when you’re tasking someone else with working with your files. Maybe you’re hiring a new secretary or asking your spouse to run by and pick something up. So it’s important for others to be able to find what you need, as well.
Don’t Fall Behind The Times
You’re doing your best to stay up to date with the latest trends in your trade, so it’s important to stay up to date in the office too.
Unless there’s a real reason to keep them, get rid of outdated manuals and books. If you want to keep them as reminders, that’s fine – but give them their own space away from what you need to use on a regular basis.
Learn what needs to be kept and for how long. Move older materials from your file cabinet into archive boxes once you’re not going to have to go back to it. There are legal guidelines covering how long to hold onto tax-related materials, contracts, and similar paperwork. When you no longer need them, shred them. This will save space and prevent your office, closet, or storage room from becoming a fire hazard, too.
Repeat It All On Your Computer
Years ago, I read an anecdote about a pharmacist who was given a computer by his son and daughter-in-law, who thought it would help him be more organized. This was when computers were a new phenomenon, and the couple saw a lot of potential for how it could help him.
They left him with it, and a couple weeks later, they ask how’s he making out with it. He was thrilled and said it’s helped him get everything organized. Impressed, they wanted to come by the pharmacy and see what he’d done. When they did, they found he’d stuck his sticky notes all over the screen. He was, indeed, more organized. But he definitely wasn’t taking advantage of what the computer would do!
A computer is a powerful tool. But without using it properly, it’s nearly as easy to lose files there as it is in a sloppy office.
Create folders and subfolders by topic and by year (or even month, if you expect a lot of content). Be sure to save files in the proper folder. It’s almost never a good idea to save items on the desktop or at the root level of the documents folder. Again, give them a home and store them there.
One of the advantages with a computer is the handy search function, of course (CTRL-F on Windows; Command-F on a Mac). But odds are, many documents will contain the same terms, so this will only be a small help. It’s better to start off on the right foot and have a good folder structure set up.
Keeping your office and computer organized will save you tons of time and make it far easier to find what you need. While the initial setup might be tough, once it’s started, it’s simple to maintain. Developing good organizational habits will relieve you of a lot of stress and let you be more productive and successful in business!