My Disorganized Life
For many years my business was, in many ways, a disorganized mess. As the business was growing and changing every day, and I was facing one growing pain and crisis after the next, there was no way I was going to stop and set aside a little time to really organize things.
Entrepreneurs are not by nature organizers. I was certainly no exception. But disorganization can grow much faster than your business.
I continually paid a price for my disorganization. Often I couldn’t find where I’d put things and I’d have to search through everything to find them. And now and then I’d lose something really important and I just couldn’t find it anywhere. Time management? What’s that?
A prime example of my disorganization was when I planned to reprint a particular book I had published. It wasn’t a particularly strong selling book but just popular enough to require a reprinting. Or so I thought. I figured a reprint of about 3,000 copies was enough to last until the already scheduled new edition of the book would be released.
But soon after the book was printed and the bill was in my hand, I discovered that I still had almost 3,000 copies of the book that I had totally forgotten about and not included in my records sitting in the inventory of one of my printers. This is but one of many examples of the price of disorganization.
Finally, over the years, after many trials and tribulations, I slowly began to realize that by not being organized and not taking the time to organize, I wasting time and not saving it. And I was also misplacing critical documents.
Losing things and not being able to find them, as well as not being organized, was incredibly frustrating. So much so that even if I found what I was looking for in just a few minutes, my frustration at being disorganized lasted a lot longer, even all day. So losing things wasn’t just about wasting time and inflating my direct dollar costs. It was also costing me emotional energy, deflating my positive energy and making it more difficult to be enthusiastic about business or to make the best business decisions.
Investing Provided the Real Catalyst to Get Me Organized
What really convinced me of the extreme importance of organization weren’t the many problems I had in running my many businesses, but my involvement in investing in the stock market.
I believed in deep, thorough research and so I put together a written thesis and compiled quantitative valuation methods for more than 100 stocks that I was following. This grew to a collection of around 200 separate Word documents and various accompanying spreadsheets.
In discussing this with someone in the financial services industry, I came up with an idea to integrate all of my work. I changed all of my investing research into one Excel workbook with hundreds of spreadsheets, all of which I made interactive. I arranged it so that with just a couple clicks I could download real-time data from the Internet and automatically recalculate not just the value of the entire portfolio, but also whether or not each individual stock was over or undervalued and by how much. I could calculate which stocks were the best buys and whether or not the whole Dow Jones Industrial Average was over or undervalued.
Using one master interactive workbook ended up helping me so much in investing that I started to use it for my business organization as well. I now set aside a separate Excel workbook for a new business or a major project, and then use many different spreadsheets within the workbook to save information. A cool aspect of this is that it is very easy to transfer the entire workbook between computers and over the Internet.
Now this might not sound like rocket science. But collecting information together into one place, labeling and sorting it by category, and knowing exactly where it is at all times – including being able to easily transfer it all from one computer to the next – is an important basic step in organization.
Organization Begins with Your Computer
For me, this underscores that concept that organization today should begin with your computer.
I believe it is very important to have all of your computer files neatly organized. As a rule of thumb I try not to have more than seven file folders in any one location. If I find I do, I try to break them into smaller groups.
Similarly, links to your most accessed Internet sites should be neatly saved or organized too, such as under “Favorites” in your Internet browser or stored as shortcuts on your computer’s desktop.
Next, backup. Backup. Backup. Not only do you want to make really sure everything is backed up, but you want to make sure your files are safely backed up and quickly accessible. Yes, a data recovery firm can almost always recover files from a busted computer, but it can take time. And no one can recover files from a stolen or misplaced computer or laptop.
This might seem obvious to you, but there have plenty of times when I didn’t save things that I should have. Furthermore, as your business grows and you add staff, sooner or later you will be surprised by the loss of critical information that one of your staffers forgot to back up and is now gone forever.
Just as the center of organization, for me, is the computer, the center of organization on my computer are the Excel workbooks where I store my key business work, my investing work, and also my schedule and personal items.
One-Look Personal Organizer
There are all kinds of personal scheduling software programs available. But I am very happy using my own little creation for now. I simply took a spreadsheet and configured it so that all my near-term upcoming appointments and my most important to-do items for the next 12 months are available in just one screen view.
I created a column on the left for “Appointments,” with the current day’s appointments at the top, followed by upcoming days. The next column contains my “To-do” list for the day, with the most important items at the top.
The third column is my “To-do” list for things that need to be completed by the end of the week, the fourth is my “To-do” items that need to be completed by the end of the month; the fifth is a column of things that need to be completed by end of quarter, and the sixth is a column of projects to completed by the end of year. Finally, I have a column for inspirational thoughts and quotes.
How does it all fit? By using a small font size, the width of all the columns fits completely on my desktop, but not quite completely on my laptop. To see some of the information vertically requires scrolling down.
Getting Insanely Organized
In one page view on my computer I still have my upcoming appointments for the next several days, my to-do lists (broken out for multiple time segments), and even my inspirational thoughts. When I look at this one page view, when it is all updated, no matter what challenges I am facing in business, I feel totally organized. I feel insanely organized.
This organization not only directly helps me sort out my priorities very clearly, it also gives me an uplifting feeling that I am really on top of things. When I am feeling really disorganized, perhaps not sure what my priorities should be, I go back to my one page view calendar/to-do list and I feel more grounded and centered and feel that I have direction.
Matching Computer Layouts
I also like to have totally parallel file arrangements on my home and office computers (I have identical hardware and software on both). Yes, being an entrepreneur I am often working on both. To some degree I like having a similar setup on my laptop as well – especially when I am working on a major project – but I am not as meticulous on this point. What I am super meticulous about with the laptop, though, is backing up my files to the cloud, to my home computer, or to both.
No More Messy Desk
In the early years of my business, my desk was a mess. Worse, on the rare times I cleaned it, I would lose things and forget to do things.
I was using the pile of items on my desk as a crude to-do list.
But now that I have confidence in my calendar/to-do list, I can have a clean desk. To perform at my best I need a sparkling clean desk. I just can’t function as well when there is a pile of stuff on my desk, even if it is an organized pile. And such a pile isn’t necessary. If there is a pile of stuff waiting to get done, I can just place it in a drawer. Then I can enter the key items to be done in my Excel to-do list.
Similarly, I want my office to be totally organized. Hard copy paper information that needs to be saved I strive to put into carefully labeled and categorized file folders. I don’t like accumulating unnecessary stuff, so every year or so I’ll go through every piece of paper in every file folder and throw out anything I don’t need.
Does all this kind of organization take time? Not really. But I can assure you that the time it does take will not only pay you back in time saved later, but will also make you feel better about being organized and will help you make better decisions, be in a better mood, and simply make you a happier person.
To put it another way: an insanely organized person is a happy person.
How Organizing Your Sock Drawer Leads to Business Success
Let me give you another small example of organization that exemplifies this idea. It’s not really a business example, but it can still impact your business.
Until recently I would start out each day getting dressed in dim lighting and search through my sock drawer. I would try to match up the widely diverse collection of stockings. Often, even after several minutes, I couldn’t find two socks that matched, and I would start the day aggravated. Aggravated that I had already wasted several minutes the first thing in the morning, aggravated that my socks didn’t match and, most of all, aggravated that I hadn’t taken it upon myself to come up with a better solution.
So, finally, one Sunday afternoon I went out and bought a five year supply of socks of just two colors and one brand. Even the large department store I went to didn’t have enough on hand and I had to fill the rest of the order from the company’s website.
Now when I open my sock drawer, I start the day not with aggravation but with a little lift. I am happy that I can instantly find socks to wear. I am happy that my socks match. I am happy that I took the initiative to come up with a creative solution.
This is what business organization is all about. It makes you more efficient. It makes you better. And it makes you feel better about yourself.
Take Charge of Your Time – an Important Part of Being Insanely Organized
“I bet I could have cut back on many of the 70-, 80-, and 90-hour weeks that I’ve put in over the years if I’d been more systematic and rigorous in managing time!”
Get Aggressive about Managing Time
Time and money are both very important in business. Yet, like me, many business people tend to give a lot more thought to how to spend their money rather than how to spend their time. Too often, how we spend our time is only thought of in terms of, “What am I going to do today?” or “What should I do next?”
So the first step in successful time management is changing your mindset about not only how important time is, but how important managing time is as well. And you must acknowledge that, yes, time can be managed.
Just as a well-run business should carefully develop a strategy to determine how to spend its money, an effective businessperson should carefully develop a strategy to determine how best to use his or her time.
Just as a well-run business follows a financial budget, an effective businessperson should also follow a time budget or schedule.
Just as a well-run business should evaluate its sales goals and its budgets (compared to its actual goals and budgets) at the end of each month, an effective businessperson should consider how they managed their time in the previous month or the previous week.
You are simply not going to get better at managing your time unless you are willing to devote some time to it.
But if you can successfully manage your time, it can really help drive your business ahead. Done correctly, it should give you more time for improving and building the business, not just focusing on the day-to-day operations.
This is true for a very small business with few employees, and it is particularly true for a one-person business.
Prioritize Your Time
The first step in effective time management is not to develop a schedule, but instead to develop a time strategy. The time strategy should be based on a short list of time priorities.
You start by identifying the number one way you can best increase profits by the use of your time, then the number two way, then the number three way, etc. This short list of time priorities forms the foundation for your time planning for every week of the year.
These time priorities may be identical to key parts of your company strategy or they may be different. For example, if your company strategy is based upon providing excellent customer service, spending lots of your time in customer service may not be the best use of your time if you already have a terrific customer-service manager.
Narrow Your Focus
Focus is crucial for time management. The fewer priorities you focus on at one time, the more productive you will be.
After you have your major time priorities for the year established, you should allocate time to them by the week or the month. Like it or not, a lot of our time each week is going to be eaten up by nonstrategic items that we have no control over; hence, it is important to limit the number of strategic time goals we have for each week. So even if you have 10 strategic time goals for the year, you may want to focus on no more than one or two of them in any given week.
For example, in a particular week you may plan on working on your number one time objective (let’s say it’s planning improvements for the company’s major product line), and a secondary goal (let’s say it’s re-evaluating the dealer marketing program), but spend no time on other secondary time goals that you planned on tackling during other weeks.
Set aside Uninterrupted Time
Every week you should make up a detailed time plan, which you modify each day as needed. Except in times of crisis, you should try to make sure day-to-day issues don’t push your strategic time priorities off your schedule.
Generally, your major strategic time priorities will involve such activities as planning, thinking, and developing ideas. More so than day-to-day issues, these activities require big blocks of uninterrupted time.
Constant interruption kills any hope of effective time management. One way to avoid interruption is to make it clear to your employees that when your door is closed, you are not to be disturbed. Another way is to have regular meetings – if possible every week – with the people that you interact with the most. Insist on saving nonpressing issues for these meetings.
Avoid Time Traps
Here are some time traps, all of which have plagued me, that you should guard against:
- Spending a disproportionately high amount of time in the offices where the most congenial people are, as opposed to the office where the most important issues are handled.
- Wasting too much time getting daily updates on routine activities, as opposed to waiting for a more meaningful weekly summary.
- Jumping too eagerly into the routine, more straightforward work and putting off the more complex and difficult work.
- Not starting the more important work the first thing in the morning.
- Not bothering to make up a schedule for each day.
- Overscheduling, that is, scheduling each day so tightly that it is impossible to stay on track and the schedule quickly becomes meaningless.
- Not spending enough time giving some hard, deep thought as to how you can manage your time better.
As an entrepreneur, I know you think you don’t have the time to be insanely organized. But if you really want to get ahead in business, you need to make the time happen today. Believe me, once you get insanely organized you will feel like a great, wonderful, happy new person.