It’s not just physical piles of paper (although that is usually the worst of it). Clutter also includes unread emails, mental to-do lists, old magazines and unpaid bills. This mess gets in the way of your work, rest, leisure time, creativity and overall peace of mind. So how do you get organized, and more importantly, how do you stay organized?
1. Start with a clean slate
This may require some up-front work, but it is the single most important step towards staying organized. If you don’t take the time to sort through your piles of paper and to-dos, you may stay afloat for a while, but you will always be treading water.
Start with the physical clutter: File it, scan it, take a picture of it, or throw it away. Then move on to email: respond, take action, delete, or archive. Finally, move to things you have to do, and prioritize them into Must, Want, and Maybes. Every week or month, make sure to clean the slate again to prevent clutter from accumulating again.
2. Create a system
Be decisive, and do not put off decisions. If it takes less than two minutes, do it right away. If it takes an hour or less, do it by the end of the week. If it takes more than 1 hour, think about finding a way to outsource it (especially if it is a recurring task).
In your business, prioritize activities that will make you money (sending out an estimate or a proposal, sending out an invoice, etc.). Second, prioritize customer obligations. Third, do administrative stuff.
Unless a task takes less than two minutes, try to cluster admin work for once a week or once a month (ideally for a time of day / week when you couldn’t be making money or making a customer happier). Admin is the first place you should look for outsourcing options.
3. There's an app for that!
Lucky for you, there are a number of web and mobile apps out there that focus on keeping you organized.
Evernote is a great way to save, organize and capture anything you could possibly want in one place. Shoeboxed focuses on making paper (especially receipts and business cards) vanish from your desk and turn them into portable data that you can use for your accounting, contact management, and more. They have a free trial, as do most web apps these days, so you can try them before you incorporate them into your system (see step #2). Shoeboxed will do all the scanning for you, but if you are looking for a scanner, you should check out the Fujitsu Scansnap series (they are portable, relatively inexpensive, and allow you to scan directly to Evernote, Shoeboxed, and other applications).
If you establish a good rhythm, staying organized should be easy. If you find yourself still struggling to catch up, tweak your system until it works for you. Most importantly, enjoy your new, clutter-free life!
Shoeboxed is the fastest way to turn a pile of receipts into digital data for effortless expense reporting, accounting, bookkeeping, and tax preparation.