From bank statements to receipts to flyers and catalogs, it seems like the stream of documents entering our lives seems endless. In the age of online storage, small businesses wrestle with digital clutter as well as paper. For busy entrepreneurs, separating important items from ones that go immediately to the recycling bin — and keeping from getting swept away by a tsunami of clutter — can seem like a full time job. With all the other demands on your time, clearing out the clutter may be the last thing on your list.
All that stuff, however, can be a drag on productivity. “Clutter causes inefficiencies,” says Jenn Choi, vice president of marketing at Neat, offers a range of software and scanners and a digital filing system that allow you to transform disorganized piles of paper into digitized troves of information. “When you don’t know where things are or when it takes you an hour to find your document, it doesn’t leave you time to run your business.”
Getting the documents in your business organized and streamlined can save you money on rent, too. Choi tells the story of one medical office that was looking for a larger space because of all the room it needed to store patient files. After digitizing their records, she says, “They ended up freeing up an entire room that was filled with boxes.”
Choi shares four tips to help you clear clutter and keep your small business organized.
1. Invest Time in Decluttering Upfront
Finding time to deal with office clutter — or anything that isn’t on fire at that moment — can be challenging for entrepreneurs. “People are on the fence about it because … they’re afraid of the amount of time it will take to get organized or they don’t know where to start,” says Choi. Organizing and decluttering, however, is an investment of time that yields returns. As Choi says, getting rid of clutter “pays for itself with the time saved in the future.”
2. Schedule Time to Stay Organized
Next, make a plan for how often you will organize what has built up, “For me, it’s once a week.,” Choi says. She goes through all her paper and scans what she needs. You may want to comb through your virtual and physical inboxes every day or just once a month. The important thing is to set a schedule and stick to it, now matter how busy you are. You might even find it meditative and relaxing. “At the end of the day, it’s about peace of mind,” Choi says.
3. Protect Your Receipts
Whether to digitize and shred your business paperwork or create a paper filing system is a personal choice. Choi cautions, however, that the thermal printing used for most in-store receipts fades within six to nine months and could leave you out on a limb if you’re audited years down the road. Scanning receipts can prevent future problems. “As long as there is a system of record and it’s digitized,” says Choi, “the IRS accepts all of the digital images.”
4. Find Your Organizing Sweet Spot
Whatever system you choose should fit your work style and personality. “I think the key is to know what kind of organizer you are to begin with,” says Choi. Are you what she describes as a “hyper-organizer,” who wants a folder for every client with subfolders for each category of expense? Or would you prefer to group everything by the month or the year? Choi notes that there is no right or wrong answer. The key, she says, is “coming up with that system where it’s not going to cause you stress.”