Get your business organized and increase your profits.
Creative business owners aren’t always the most organized, but they can reap big benefits with a more efficient workspace. Learn how to transform your company and earn greater profits with these organization systems.
After the first time I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at my house, I swore I would never do it again. I had no idea what it took to feed 14 people a traditional turkey dinner with all the proper fixings. And I didn’t see the seriousness of the situation until it was too late: An hour before guests were to arrive, the turkey wasn’t in the oven, the kitchen looked like a small tornado had just passed through it, and I’d spent almost double the amount of money it would cost had I simply ordered a pre-cooked dinner from the supermarket.
At the end of the evening, all I wanted to do was fall into a deep coma and never see my kitchen again. I hardly enjoyed the food or the time with my guests because I was busy putting out fires in the kitchen.
If I had planned my time better, organized my kitchen and been more aware of the costs involved, I could have avoided this disaster. I vowed to never have that kind of a day again. In fact, I promised to completely change the way I ran my kitchen.
Unfortunately, the degree of my disorganization had to get to a point where I had worked myself to exhaustion for me to grasp the seriousness of the situation. I knew there had to be a better way. But the real wake- up call came the following Monday morning when I realized that similar stress and frustrations existed in my business. My office was a mess. I was working way too many hours, and I wasn’t making money. My kitchen was simply a reflection of what was going on in the rest of my life. What was missing in both my business and my kitchen was efficiency. If my business was better organized and had efficient systems in place, I could have less stress and make more money.
Luckily, the symptoms of an inefficient and unorganized business aren’t hard to recognize. Are you and your team working overtime or around the clock? Is your inbox out of control? Are the freedom and income you desire absent from your business? If you answered “yes” to any of these, your business is missing efficient systems and processes.
Since my Thanksgiving debacle, I have applied several strategies in both my kitchen and business that will help you get organized and increase your efficiency, as well. Running a kitchen is no different from running a business. A good kitchen is well-designed, organized, clean and prepped for a successful cooking experience. In the same way, you, your firm and your customers will have a better business experience once you take steps to be more organized.
Efficiency describes the extent to which time, effort or cost are well-used for the intended task, purpose or goal. The ultimate result of being efficient is being more effective. Efficiency is a measurable concept, quantitatively determined by the ratio of output to input. The output is the result, and the input is the cost. Peter E. Drucker, the well-known management consultant, educator and author, said it best: “Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things.”
It’s a simple equation: lower input (cost and maintenance) equals higher output (profits). To develop this mind-set, ask yourself, “How can I get this done right and spend the least amount of time, energy and money?” You should consider this question before embarking on any activity that influences the results of your business. Every system and process in your business should point at making things more efficient and productive.
The success of your business depends on the results it produces. For your clients, the results are measured by reaching agreed-upon objectives. Would you ever work with a client that didn’t know what measurable results they seek from working with you? If you did, you wouldn’t be very effective or profitable. The same goes for your business. Measure your effectiveness by the amount of time, money and effort it takes to get the work done.
The key here is measurable results. You can’t change what you don’t measure, so if you want to improve the results of your business, your first step is to take an inventory of your time, efforts and costs. Determine: How much time and effort does it take to complete projects? How much does it cost to get work done? Once you know this information, you can start to identify the areas where resources are being wasted or underutilized. Only then can you create and implement processes and systems to organize your time, effort and money more efficiently. It’s tempting to skip this step, but take the time to gather this data. It will be a worthwhile exercise.
I recently asked my client, who owns a 10-person creative agency with billings of approximately $1 million per year, “Why are you in business?” He rattled off a bunch of noble answers that related to his mission and purpose and his love of design, but the one thing that he didn’t mention was “to be profit- able.” He was barely paying himself, working crazy hours, and experiencing stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Relief was nowhere in sight.
The first time I walked into his office, his very large executive desk was covered with piles of papers and random objects. That was the first indication of the state his business was in. The more we examined his processes, his pricing and his structure, the more waste we discovered. He was running his business like an amateur. Unless you have profit on your mind, your reality could look like his. Within a year, he learned to become efficiency-minded and run his shop like a pro. His profit margin went up by 18%, and he got his life back.
Profits are the benefits and gains from owning your own business. And profitability isn’t only measured by your bank balance. It’s also measured by your gains in time and energy. In other words, you’re truly profitable when you take home more money, you work fewer hours and you expend less energy. Isn’t that the freedom we all want to derive from owning a business?
We dream of having a profitable business, but to create an efficient, prosperous company, profits need to be more than just a dream; they need to become a goal. A dream is a goal without action. Dreamers who don’t take actions are relying on chance. More than a century ago, Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared.” He meant that what you dream of doesn’t “just happen”—it’s the by-product of smart preparation and a defined goal. If your dream is having a profitable endeavor, set a goal of designing an efficient business by implementing systems and processes that will help you get to profitability without a huge amount of effort.
ORGANIZATION IS KEY
Many business owners think that being organized is the same as being efficient. It’s not. Though it has many facets, being organized is about having tools in place and arranging them for easy access. Being efficient means that results are produced in the simplest way possible. Organization promotes efficiency. Efficiency boosts productivity, which will ultimately increase your profits.
Once you’ve developed your systems and processes, you’ll need to maintain them so you don’t fall back into old patterns. Organization is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing practice that needs to be part of your day- to-day operations. While being organized isn’t a natural trait for many creative professionals, with effort, patience, mindfulness and practice, it can be learned.
I didn’t organize my business or my kitchen over- night. It was a process that required focused time and dedicated attention until all systems were working properly and smoothly. It required ongoing testing, implementation of new tools and a lot of trial and error. The effort paid off greatly, not only in my bot- tom line, but also in every other aspect of my life.
Ultimately,everyone benefited from my organized and efficient life—from my dinner guests to my employees You can make organization a habit by practicing it. And, in doing so, efficiency will become part of your culture. Try the following tips to organize your time, arrange your space, lead efficiently and develop your processes to get yourself and your employees on track. These are just a few strategies that worked for me, but there are many ways you can tackle efficiency and organization. Get creative!
ORGANIZE YOUR TIME
Avoid distractions. Create two, one-hour time blocks where you focus on one task and one task only. Use the 50-20-50 rule: 50 minutes of focused work, a 20 minute break and then another 50 minutes of work. You will get more done in those two hours than most people do in a day.
Limit interruptions. Allowing yourself to be interrupted all the time reduces your effectiveness. Make sure others know not to interrupt you while you’re working. Hang a “do not disturb” sign on your office door or create a way to communicate to others that you are in a focused work zone.
Take proper breaks. When you take proper breaks, your energy level will be higher, and you’ll be more efficient throughout the day. Take a 20-minute morning break, an hour for lunch and another 20-min- ute break in the afternoon. If you can squeeze in a nap, even better. Take a break from technology, too. Use a timer. Creative people suck at tracking time. We tend to extend time in our minds, thinking it will take a lot less time to complete a project than it actually does. Create mini-deadlines by using a timer to limit the amount of time you spend on a task.
Track your time. Knowing how long it takes to complete a project or task helps with project planning and, ultimately, its success. Tracking will also help you plan appropriately for the capacity of your team, as well as give you enough time to complete quality projects in a prompt manner (I recommend using FunctionFox for your time tracking and project estimating).
Beware of multitasking. The capacity of your conscious mind is limited. If you’re doing more than one thing at a time, you’re living a fragmented life, and you’re compromising the quality of your work. Do one thing at a time in a focused, uninterrupted way, then watch your productivity soar.
Prioritize tasks.Categorize your tasks by giving them an A, B or C ranking. The “A” tasks are things that must get done today, the “B” tasks are things you need to get done in the near future, but not necessarily today, and “C” tasks are the things you need to find time to do soon.
ARRANGE YOUR SPACE
Clear the clutter. The environment you create shapes who you are and how you feel. A cluttered office contributes to stress and unclear thinking, so be vigilant about keeping clutter out of sight at all times. Schedule organization time. Organization isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing practice. To keep it going, schedule time for office maintenance, clearing files, backing up work and other organizational tasks.
Avoid bottlenecks. Remove yourself from having to make all the decisions and approvals. Give your employees rein of minor decision-making. Avoid requiring them to seek approval for decisions that won’t effect the company in a drastic manner. Delegate to empower others. Delegating isn’t about giving people tasks to do. Tasks are the simple and short-term items of work to be done. Delegating is about having others take on meaningful work—duties, projects and other important assignments. Effective delegating will empower your team.
Hold clients accountable. Due to a lack of client commitment, many projects become nightmares. If clients are late in providing you what you need to do the work (like content, revisions or approval), hold them accountable. Your client’s lack of planning isn’t your emergency.
Rename your to-do list. Words make a difference. By renaming your “to-do” list to something that doesn’t feel burdensome, you’ll notice a shift in energy and find more enthusiasm to get things done. Try “exciting challenges today” or “things I choose to do today.”
Consult a professional. Consider turning to a professional organizer who can help you create organizational systems or teach you how to do it. An outsider’s perspective can be incredibly helpful.
Create an operational manual. Document the operational procedures in your business so everyone is in-the-know about how to work and what to do. This includes anything from job descriptions to how FedEx packages are sent. This manual will become the bible for your business and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Use checklists. To make sure that repetitive tasks are done correctly and that nothing is missed, create a checklist. You’ll save brainpower that can be used on more creative things. Create production plans. Before beginning a project, plan how it will be produced and allocate time to get it done. Then, create an internal schedule and set deadlines that match your plan. This will help you control how time is spent on a project.
Conduct postmortems. At the end of every major project, take time to analyze and discuss it with your team. Review the time it took to complete, add up your costs and identify where time was lost or wasted. Every project’s postmortem will help you improve your system and process for future endeavors.