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2008-07-31 16:44:36

Controlling the Chaos: 8 Tips for Organizing a Small-Office

Any association executive who oversees a single-person office will tell you that organization is key to keeping dozens of duties and tasks in order. Yet for many executives, being the sole staffer can lead to serious lapses in organization, unchecked clutter, and unique filing systems. Although everyone is disorganized in their own distinctive fashion, here are some general tips for bringing order to small office chaos.

Take baby steps.

Organization is a skill that can be learned. The key to improving organization is to eat the elephant one bite at a time. You may find that what you’ve put off for years takes only an hour to do. And once you see the benefits in one part of your life, you’ll be motivated to go on.

Tackle your clutter.

Choose the problem area in your office organization that bothers you the most, such as your “to read” magazine pile or the “to file” pile of papers on the floor, and then focus your time and efforts on that one area. Once that pet project is cleared up, move on to your next focus area.

Stay on track.

Organization advice and products are in such high demand today that new magazines are devoting their entire content to it. Subscribe to one and it will become not only a source for great organizing tips but also a constant reminder to get—or stay—organized. One example is Balance Magazine, a publication that bills itself as “the magazine about getting and staying organized.” It’s available at www.findbalance.com. Another option: Real Simple (www.realsimple.com), a magazine about simplifying your life.

Think like Martha.

If there’s one person who always seems to have her clutter—if not her personal investments—in control, it’s Martha Stewart. The champion of hand-made boxes and craft closets offers her organizational advice in her book Good Things for Organizing (Three Rivers Press, 2001). Learn to maximize your office space and create useful bulletin boards and binders.

Seek expert advice.

There’s no shortage of professional office organizers who will come to your office, as-sess your organizational flaws, and prescribe new daily routines for transforming your bad habits. Look under business services/consultants in the Yellow Pages or type in “organizing consultants” in Google.com. But for free advice, go online. One great source is Fridaysgirl.com, which recommends that you: Use a weekly planner instead of a daily planner for a better perspective on your time. Use an analog clock rather than a digital clock since lack of time awareness is often a problem for disorganized people. Use your voicemail. Stop answering every call, since interruptions and a lack of focus cause disorganization. Write everything. Set specific time limits on tasks. Keep priority work right in front of you.

Let your computer help.

If computers are turning us into a paperless society, why do we seem to have more paper then ever? Countless software programs can help you organize your computer files so that digital documents are easy to find—and don’t need to be filed in space-wasting cabinets. But make sure that you create back-up systems for your electronic files in case your system crashes.

Other programs can create a computerized indexing system to bridge and integrate your online and print filing system. For example, check out Taming The Paper Tiger software from Kiplinger’s (www.thepapertiger.com). It combines an easy-to-use computer-indexing system with paper-management methods.

To keep your computer files organized, go through your disks, CD-ROMs, and hard drive at least once a year, discard any obsolete programs and delete files that you don't need. Also, develop a standard method for naming files — author, document name, date, and version — both computer files and hard copies so you can find files quickly.

Feng shui your office.

Many believe that by following the age-old practice of feng shui, the placement and design of elements in your workplace, you can improve your productivity, keep a clear mind and a calm focus, which enables you to be more organized. Here are some feng shui office essentials:

  • Place a medium-sized rug in the center of your office. A deep blue, black, or other dark-color rug is reminiscent of a deep pool of water upon which to rest the eyes and reflect.
  • Never have cactus or sharp looking plants in your office because they will attract fierce and sharp personalities to you.
  • If possible, place your desk in a position that allows you to sit with your back to a wall or corner, producing a feeling of stability.
  • Place a Fu Dog near the doorway of your office to protect from evil influences. They are a symbol of valor and prosperity.

Throw away what you don’t need.

Sometimes the hardest part about organizing is determining what can be thrown out. Ask yourself these questions: Have I looked at this file in the last year? Does this file contain data that is available elsewhere? Is this a file that can be boxed up and stored elsewhere? When in doubt, throw it out.

(Originally published in REALTOR® AE magazine, the business journal for REALTOR® association executives, a publication of the National Assn. of REALTORS®.)  

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