Your first step to improve your office efficiency

You can improve the way your office operates by creating efficient access to all the information that you use in your business.

Information, both electronic and hard copy, is the cornerstone of your business.  No matter what your business is you need information about stock, designs and other intellectual property, cash flow, staff, client and supplier contacts, business plans; in fact all the knowledge that is held by your business in paper files or electronic documents and systems.

Not knowing where to find all this valuable information, or being unable to access it quickly when needed, can result in loss of contracts and lower profits.

You and your staff need to get at important information quickly and efficiently

If only one person knows where and how information is filed, other people in your business won’t be able to access it when that key person is unavailable

Your systems and processes for keeping business records will reflect the information flow and ensure that everyone is able to work efficiently. This in turn will improve productivity and thus increase profits.

Think about this…

  • How you lost a contract because you couldn’t find a key tender document in time for a meeting
  • The complaints from your team because they couldn’t find something  someone else had filed
  • Information you can’t find after you have filed it
  • An important email that was deleted in error or lost in the thousands of emails in your inbox
  • The tax payment you missed and penalty you had to pay because you couldn’t find the reminder from your accountant

When was the last time you were in one of these situations?  You need to organise our business information so you can find what you need when you need it.

Our e-workbook is here to help you.  This step-by-step instruction book will give you the tools you need to build your own system for keeping your business information under control.  It won’t take you long and will save your heaps of time and money currently lost in unproductive searching for information.

Don’t waste any more time searching for elusive documents or files.  Create your own filing system using our instructional workbook.  Available online now.

You can read more hints and tips to improve your business in the free eBook.

 

Workflow in a digital office

Over recent months I’ve been moving towards a digital office. I no longer print and file invoices that are sent electronically. I scan and store a digital record of invoices that come in the mail. This is going to reduce the space I need to store paper files.

However it raises some interesting challenges. Why? Because I no longer have papers of physical files on my desk that alert me to the need to take some actions.  I’ve had to create new workflow processes so that I still do everything I have to do on time.

The workflow starts with email.  Anything that needs action is moved to an email folder headed “Action” and highlighted for action on a particular day or time.  I’ve created an action board (based on a Kanban Board) that I use to ‘log’ actions in columns headed “To do” “Next” “Doing” and the very satisfying “Done”. This board is on the wall next to my desk so I can move the sticky notes as I take action on the items on the board.

I do print items that I need as working documents, for example if I’m writing a report for a client I prefer to review and annotate on paper before making changes on screen. But at the end of the project the working papers are shredded (and added to the compost bin for my garden).  I keep one paper copy of the final report(s) and everything else is stored in my computer system.  This system is backed up to the cloud immediately and to a portable hard drive according to a regular backup schedule.

How a digital office works for your business will depend on how you currently work and how you want to work in the future.  Other things to consider include:

  • The amount of storage you have for paper records, especially those that need to be kept for seven of more years
  • The storage space on your business computer system
  • The reliability of your computer backup system.

You will need to be prepared to change the way you work so that actions are taken on time.  The long term benefits are very likely to outweigh the short term pain as you make the move in your office.  If you have cloud storage then you have access to your documents any time anywhere. So if you leave your office to go to a client and forget a document or critical spreadsheet, you can access your business information from your laptop or even your smart phone.

You can read about more hints and tips to improve your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that gives you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system that will work for your business.

Judy Owen has been working with businesses of all sizes and complexities for more than 20 years to improve and streamline the access to their business information.  She and her team can show you how to reduce risk, improve productivity and increase profits with good business systems and processes in your business.

It’s easy to manage your email inbox: don’t send email

The email inbox is still the biggest problem for lots of people I work with.  The best advice I’ve seen recently about managing your inbox is don’t send email.  Really?? How does that work? You simply can’t live without email!

How often do you send an email to say “thanks” for a message sent to you? Is that message really necessary? How often do you receive an email message that simply says “thanks” or “OK”

Your email message generates emails back.

Think carefully about the next email you send. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are you sending this information by email?
  • Is it really necessary?
  • How will that email benefit you and the receiver?
  • What does it add to the information the other person needs
  • Is this the best way to communicate your message? Or is there another way to get your message through to someone else?

Don’t do long email threads.  If the email conversation is generating a worthwhile discussion, phone the person, go to their desk/office and talk to them or arrange to go out for a coffee or lunch.  If more than one person is involved, arrange a meeting – even if only for a few minutes.

If you need to keep a record of the phone or in person discussion, write a quick note when you get back to my desk and file it.  If you need to remember something important from that discussion – say the time and place for another meeting, make a note of it – in a notebook or in your smartphone.

Now you’re not going to stop the emails altogether.  And I don’t suggest you do.  Email is a very effective way of communicating with other people.  But use it sensibly.

Organise the emails you go get into folders so emails like newsletters, social media alerts and such don’t actually reach your inbox.  Google has started to do this very effectively with Gmail.  Check out this video.

If you don’t use Gmail, it’s worth taking a few minutes to follow the Google’s advice and set up your own folders in the email package you use.

For more information on how to do this go to my blog “Demystify your inbox”  and “Good habits around email

Remember your email inbox is not a filing cabinet

You can contact me for more help or you can read about more hints and tips to improve your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that gives you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system for your business, including filing emails.

Judy Owen has been working with businesses of all sizes and complexities for more than 20 years to improve and streamline the access to their business information.  She and her team can show you how to reduce risk, improve productivity and increase profits with good business systems and processes in your business.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe the paperless office will still come

When PCs appeared in businesses 20-30 years ago there was a widespread expectation that we would become a paperless society.

Over that period there has been some dismay that in fact we were creating more paper as people created an electronic document and then printed it.  Because the printed copy often wasn’t filed properly (if at all) it got ‘lost’ in a pile of other papers.  So when it was needed again, another copy was printed. And so it goes on!

Recent research however has found that the amount of paper flowing through businesses is now decreasing.  It’s taken a while but we are getting there.

What has caused this turnaround and why has it taken so long?

It’s more than 10 years since New Zealand passed the Electronic Transactions Act (2002) (ETA) which aimed to reduce uncertainty (of dates and times) and permitted legal requirements to be met electronically.

In spite of this stated purpose of the ETA, there has been a reluctance to accept an electronic version and there has been continued uncertainty around what is legally accepted electronically and what needs to be in paper format to be a legal document.

More recently however there has been some movement towards acceptance of scanned electronic signatures though there is still some unwillingness to accept some contracts with electronic signatures.

This is reminiscent of the early days of faxes.  Who remembers when you could fax a document for quick response but you had to post the original as well so you could file the original because a signature on a faxed copy wasn’t legally binding?  Or when the faxed copy had to be photocopied for filing because the ink on fax ‘paper’ faded.

It’s good to know that businesses of all sizes are now looking more towards keeping the electronic version as the official record of the business.  There are a number of reasons for this that vary for each business.

Whatever you decide for your business, the decision needs to be formalised in a policy statement that is communicated to everyone in your business who needs to know.

A sample policy statement is part of my eWorkbook offering.  It is a simple one-page policy statement that you can amend to suit your business.  Because the key points are there, it won’t take you long to create your own policy.  It’s worth involving your staff so you get buy-in to the policy before it is confirmed and implemented.

You can read about more hints and tips to improve your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that gives you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system for your business.

Judy Owen has been working with businesses of all sizes and complexities for more than 20 years to improve and streamline the access to their business information.  She and her team can show you how to reduce risk, improve productivity and increase profits with good business systems and processes in your business.

Communication is everything – and Google forgot!

Last month Google revamped Gmail so that incoming mail was diverted from the inbox to different folders before mailbox owners got to see their new email messages.

There was an outcry! Why? Surely this change is a good one if it sorts your emails before they get to you? Yes – most definitely.

But Google just did it without any warning.  One day all the email went into the inbox; the next day it went into different folders – and that was the day Google told its Gmail users about the change.

Now your inbox only contains emails that have been sent directly to you. Messages sent to long list of people with your email address in there somewhere now go to one of three folders:

Social – for messages via LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter etc

Promotions – from companies wanting to sell you something

Forums – for messages from groups you belong to such as professional organisations

With these messages safely tucked into their own folders, your inbox is no longer cluttered with message you don’t need to look at frequently.  You can check these messages when you have a spare moment rather than interrupting your day.

Initially some emails may be misfiled so it will pay to check these categorised emails and move them to an appropriate folder.  But once you’ve done that Gmail will remember and not misfile again.

Google has more information for you here  or you can watch the video here

So if this new way of organising emails is so helpful, why did people get so upset with Google? What did Google do wrong?

Google surprised people.  That’s what!

All Google needed to do was give its Gmail users some warning about its plans – and explain the benefits.

So many organisations forget to tell its people about upcoming changes.  Then the bosses wonder why staff are upset and productivity plunges – even if only temporarily – and it is so avoidable.

In my eWorkbook I explain that if you are going to change your  filing system, you need to communicate your plans to everyone concerned from the beginning of the process. That way there will be no surprises and your productivity will improve when the new system is installed.

If you don’t use Gmail and want some help managing your email, go to my earlier blogs De-mystify your email inbox and Good habits around email.

We can help you to set up folders in other email packages so you can focus on the important emails in your inbox.

You can read about more hints and tips to improve your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that gives you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system for your business.

Judy Owen has been working with businesses of all sizes and complexities for more than 20 years to improve and streamline the access to their business information.  She and her team can show you how to reduce risk, improve productivity and increase profits with good business systems and processes in your business.

 

 

Ease your frustration with organised business information

The most common gripe I hear is the frustration of not being able to find a document; it might be an electronic document, a piece of paper on a desk or in a folder or an email.

This is not surprising when I look at how a lot of people store their business information.

It might seem to be safe to keep all your emails and never delete them “in case they are needed one day” or keep all your paper work in piles on your desk (or on the floor when you run out of desk space) so “its handy” or leave all your electronic files in “My Documents” or on your desktop screen because you think you can find them quickly by doing a Google-type search.

The reality is however that none of these storage methods work effectively, especially when you need something in a hurry.

We all have some form of structure in our lives. Some people lead more structured lives than others with set times for each activity, others are less timebound but still have some structure in their day.  Each day we eat, sleep, go to work, go home – usually with a timeframe around these activities.

There is structure at work too – hours and days of work, who does what, when and how much you get paid or how much time you can take to have a holiday.

Not everyone realises though that they need structure for their business information too. Even the most organised people can find themselves struggling to find that elusive document when they need to rush off to a meeting with a client or customer, or can’t find an email they need to action.

It’s not really difficult to establish some structure into your email  or your electronic or paper documents into folders.

I generally set up a directory structure for electronic documents to help clients organise their business information.  This structure is mirrored in email folders and also for a paper filing system if they have one. This makes it easy for them to find what they want regardless of its format.

Remember your in box is not a filing cabinet!   

Once you have the structure in place you then need to develop good habits around using the structure – all the time!.

You’ll be amazed at how much more you can achieve in a day if you don’t have to spend unproductive time looking for information.

You can read about more hints and tips to improve productivity in your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that give you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system for your business.

 

 

 

Your email inbox is not a filing cabinet

What does your email inbox look like?

Does it hold just a the latest incoming messages? Or do you use it as a storage place for hundreds or thousands of email messages?

If the latter, how do you ever find the message you want? And how long does it take you?  In fact which of these messages will you ever want again?

Read more

It takes time to get into good habits

Over recent months I’ve been relating some of my experiences with clients who want help to organise the information they use in their business.  Sometimes it’s about getting their email under control; sometimes it’s their electronic documents causing them grief because they can’t remember where they saved an important document or spreadsheet.  I’ve also given a networking colleague some ideas for sorting out the stuff on her desk.

Let’s talk about her for a moment because her experience is so relevant to today’s blog on habits.  Jill had piles of paper, promotional folders and an array of spilt business cards on her desk when I first saw it.  It had been like that for most of her time in that business.  However in 3 weeks with some help from me she got it tidy and she loved being able to work so much more efficiently.

But – 2 months later she confided that she had been really busy and her desk had got messy again.  And I realised that although the strategies I had given her for getting out of the mess she was in, it had not become a habit to keep using those strategies.

And we all need to keep using those strategies or we will get swamped again; with paper; Or with emails; Or by not having and using simple rules for organising electronic documents.

So now I have some tips for creating a new habit around managing your business information and making it stick.

  1. It takes 3- 4 weeks to make a new habit run on autopilot.  So you need to commit a little time every day just for a month to keeping your desk tidy or your email under control
  2. Write a check list of what you plan to achieve in the month
  3. Take no more than 15 minutes each day (and every day) and tackle one task per day.  This helps you to build up the habit of sorting out one messy area at a time.  You get a sense of achievement without getting bored or fed up
  4. Make that time at the same time every day – so choose a time of day that you know you can commit to over the first month.  If necessary reorganise some of your other activities so you can make the same time consistently every day over that month
  5. At the end of the first week, check how different things look and congratulate yourself.  This will give you the motivation to keep going into the second week
  6. If you start to forget, take time at the end of a day to plan the task for the next day and create an alert about what you are going to do the next day
  7. Tell someone what you’re doing and show them your progress so they can help your keep motivated
  8. If you find yourself slipping think how much more productive you will be if:
    • You have a tidy desk where you can find everything you need very quickly
    • You can see all your emails neatly organised into folders
    • You know exactly where to look for that pricing list or draft contract and don’t have to recreate it
  9. Check back every week to see how you’re going against that checklist you created at the beginning of the month
  10. Think about the benefits of making this habit stick.

Go for it!

Put your tools away at the end of each job

I was asked to speak to at a meeting of business people last week. The topic was how to organise your office and improve productivity in your business.

My talk featured email organisation and management, organisation of electronic documents and that perennial problem child – paper and how to keep it under control on your desk.

The topic attracted a larger audience than normal for this business forum! I think the idea of an organised office linked to improved productivity (and thus increased profits) was somewhat intriguing to the group.  Certainly there was a lot of discussion during the course of the meeting.

What I said resonated with many of the people in the group.

One chap had a particularly pertinent comment on how he manages his office.  He said that when he was a motor mechanic, he had a rule that he put all his tools away at the end of each job.  Now he is in business and mostly working in the office, he follows the same rule.  When he finishes a job he puts everything away, whether it’s preparing quote, getting tax information ready for the accountant or recruiting a new staff member.  When the job’s done the tools are put away. That is, all the paper is filed and the electronic documents are filed and closed; relevant emails are filed (as an electronic document) or deleted.  That keeps the inbox clean as well.

Now how simple is that?   It is something we can all use in our day-to-day office work.  And wouldn’t our desks be tidy at the end of each job and the end of each day!

The extra bonus is when you have a simple but effective filing system so you can put everything away and know you can find it again quickly and easily next time you are working on that particular job.

And the link to productivity? If you have an effective filing system you will save time every day because you won’t be scrabbling around looking for that supplier price list, your GST receipts, or the tender document you prepared but you can’t remember where you saved it.  You could save up to 30 minutes a day. That’s 2½ hours a week, more than 100 hours per year.  Think about how you could use that time.

 

 

7 habits of highly organised office workers

I often walk past people’s desks that are cluttered with paper, food, empty coffee cups etc and wonder how they manage to work in such a mess.

I’ve also seen what the desks of high achievers look like when they’re busy.  I’ve noted some of their habits and share them with you here.

  1. Start the day by planning what you expect or hope to achieve by the end of the day. This can be a written list or just a mental note.
  2. Check your emails before you start your first activity or task.  Deal with them as appropriate (see Good Habits around Email).  Check emails again at lunch time and again late afternoon if you need to.
  3. Turn off email alerts do you don’t get distracted mid-task.
  4. Gather the information you need for the first activity and get going.
  5. As you complete a task, sort out the related papers and bin or file them. Save and close down related electronic files, emails and applications.
  6. Mentally prepare yourself for the next piece of work.  Take a break – grab a coffee, fill your water bottle.  Go for a walk and get some fresh air – even 5 minutes round the block works wonders to clear your head.
  7. Stop whatever you’re doing 5-10 minutes before you need to leave. Spend that time tidying your desk, closing down desktop applications, binning and filing papers. Taking this time will set you up really well for the next day.

By now you’ll be dissing this blog as fairy tale land. You’re thinking how  can you possibly focus on tasks when there are so many interruptions in the course of your day – how do you deal with phone calls, people stopping by to chat, not to mention meetings etc.

How can you stop work a few minutes before you leave when it will only take you another few minutes to finish off what you’re doing. (That’s a hard one that I really really relate to. I hate leaving a job before it’s finished.  But I have learnt to manage that over time).

Maybe you can leave a bit later, catch a later train or bus. Bit more tricky if you car pool or have to pick up a child from day care or similar.

So I suggest you use these ideas to work out how you can create a habit that works for you.

PS – My desk isn’t necessarily tidy at all times during the course of a day.  I do clear the papers and close documents, web pages etc when I complete a job.  And I do tidy my desk at the end of the day.  It makes such a difference in the morning to make a fresh start, even if I’m finishing off something from the day before.