Q: Hi Steve. I was leafing through the new edition of your book, The Small Business Bible (nice job, by the way!) and came across some ideas about how to better use my time. That struck a nerve as my New Year's resolution is to be more organized. But what does that actually mean? What do other small biz folk do in terms of organization? — Emily
A: Well, first, thanks for the kind words, but as to your point, I think you are onto something with your resolution. Being unorganized costs you time; time that could otherwise be spent growing your business. Yet with only a few tweaks, running your business could be easier, more enjoyable, and less stressful. And who couldn't use a little of that right now?
I think Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, put it best: If you spend too much time working in your business, you won't have enough time to work on your business. That is, if all you have done is create a job for yourself, that's a mistake. It is far better, and smarter, to figure out how to free yourself up to be more entrepreneur, less worker. Here's how:
- Plan your day at the start of each day: Before the craziness of the day sets in, begin by looking at what is coming up and then prioritize it. Make a list and try to follow it. That way, instead of events controlling you, you control them. You don't want to spend your days putting out fires. If you have a day planner, use it. If you use Outlook or a Blackberry instead, be sure to take advantage of their built-in organizational tools.
- Get and learn the right software: There are so many time-saving productivity software tools out there that it is a mistake not to use and take advantage of them. Software makers spend an inordinate amount of effort on R&D, learning what it is we small business people need. They then create powerful software applications designed to fill those needs. Buy them. Learn them. Use them. The mistake many of us make (myself included) is that we get this great software and never take the time to learn everything it can do for us. A day of training can make you far more organized and effective. Check out project management software, or customer relationship software, etc. They can really help.
- Don't be a slave to email: When I read that the author of The 4-Hour Work Week spent a little more than an hour a week on e-mail I was incredibly jealous. Few of us have figured out how to stop the onslaught of email to that degree, but even so, it is possible to be smarter about email: • Designate the amount of time a day you want to spend doing email and stick to it.
- Set aside time for email once or twice a day, and again, stick to it. The mistake some make is getting so caught up in email that they check it several times a day (or hour!)
- Get your office organized: Constantly searching through stacks of papers and piles of notes is no way to run an office. Get the office supplies you need and put them where you will use them. Color-code files. Get a shredder. Buy a bigger file cabinet. Get an extra bookcase. Organizing your office is one of the easiest, most affordable things you can do to be more productive.
- Delegate: You don't have to do everything yourself. Giving some of your workload to others will free you up to use your time better. Especially now, anything you can do to be more productive is a smart move.