By Jean Kruse / Guest Editorial
Every January, thousands of small business owners across the country resolve to be better organized in the coming year. They have wasted too much time looking for information or pursuing tangents unrelated to their most pressing business needs.
Too often, these vows fall by the wayside. Poor organization takes its toll in more than just lost time. It also compromises the overall efficiency of your operations, reduces your profit through added costs and cuts into your competitiveness. Having to sacrifice nights and weekends playing catch-up can take a physical and emotional toll, as well.
What is the key to becoming better organized? Internationally-renowned organizing and time management expert Julie Morgenstern says getting in the habit of daily planning is a good place to start.
“Entrepreneurs tend to be all over the place,” she said. “Choose a centralized online or paper planner and keep everything there. It’s helpful to do your planning at end of the day for tomorrow and two to three days beyond.”
Ms. Morgenstern also recommends setting personal weekly or monthly benchmarks, such as writing a certain number of articles or blog entries, or contacting a certain number of clients.
“Make sure these benchmarks are measurable and track them,” she said.
This is all very good advice, but from what I see in my day-to-day mentoring of small business SCORE clients, especially those whose owner is the only management person, is that desk clutter and failure to record transactions is more of a problem than planning for what needs to be done in the next few days. And for good reason, because all persons with management responsibilities have many interruptions each day — interruptions by employees, customers, vendors, phone calls and opening the mail. Even if the desk is clean at the start of the day (and it rarely is), these interruptions result in stacks of paperwork.
Desk clutter results in bills being paid late and incurring late payment fees. Again, Ms. Morgenstern touches on this when she states that entrepreneurs need to know how to prioritize their responsibilities and how to determine what should and should not appear on our to-do list. She offers the strategy that most of us have heard many times, but rarely ever get around to following, the 4 Ds: Delete, Delay, Diminish and Delegate.
Delete is very important. When you get a piece of mail or find an article that interests you, and you can’t bring yourself to immediately delete it by throwing it in the trash, have a manila file folder labeled “Read Someday.” When that folder becomes too big to handle, throw all of its contents in the wastebasket because you are never going to read or utilize it. Do not look at it again as you are removing it; you have survived all of these months without needing anything in that file, so you must realize that it should not have been saved in the first place.
In many small businesses, small enough that the owner is also the bookkeeper, if the owner does not promise to record all transactions each day, the accounting becomes a mess and the owner has no inkling about cash flow or whether or not there is a profit or loss. It is impossible to plan if the accounting is not done. Make a manila file folder for bills paid and income received on that day that must be recorded in your accounting system. This should be the only thing on the top of your desk except a project you are currently working on. Never leave your desk in the evening without recording all accounting transactions. It probably will not take more than 10-30 minutes at day’s end to make the entries. If the owner/manager must leave at a certain time, stop everything else and take no phone calls for the last half hour so the accounting gets done.
Take a few minutes each day to clear your desk of all clutter. Make a file folder for each possible category of information on your desk and place the folders in a very nearby drawer so the labels can easily be read, preferably alphabetized. If you feel confident that those files are at your fingertips, perhaps you will be comfortable in the knowledge that you have access without clutter. You will work more efficiently if you have nothing on your desk but the current project.
Electronically scanning your documents and keeping them on your computer is certainly an option. However, be sure to get advice on this so that you have a system for recovering the documents that you need when you need them or when IRS asks to see them.
In my next article, I will cover the other Ds, especially the Delegate issue. Meanwhile, if you have further questions about getting organized, visit the SCORE website, www.scorecr.org, and request a mentor who can assist you in your particular business organization concerns. Mentoring by a SCORE volunteer is free and confidential.
Jean Kruse is a SCORE counselor and SCORE Iowa district president. She operated her own CPA firm for 13 years and in 1988, joined RSM McGladrey, a national firm, where she provided accounting and tax services to small businesses.