Reorganizing with a Fresh Perspective

Mark Benson |

When you own or operate a small business, it can become an obsession. The smallest of details, the everyday actions, the biggest of plans — they all swim around in your brain, occupying valuable real estate in your daily thinking.So what happens if you go away for an extended period of time?I spent October and some of November away from the business working on an unrelated project. The result was a pair of fresh eyes on the prize. After working in another business, the “way we do things” at the good-old Laundromat suddenly seemed a little funny. It comes down to the adjustments I had to make to handle the challenges of the new work.While away, my time was stretched extremely thin. A five-minute chore needed to be tackled at the right five minutes, or my next few chores would crumble, leaving my co-workers’ chores in shambles as well. I got very good at strategic planning, especially when it came to my most crucial resource: me.Where was I needed most? What projects would be held up if I were late or out of the office? What errands could I run in tandem to save myself two trips? Would that mean spending one minute online to find a closer vendor so I could save 10 minutes of roundtrip driving time?Remember, the time and energy you personally put into a project is the most important factor. None of us want to spend too much time doing too much work. We want efficiencies for the sake of the business and for ourselves. Because you’re the boss — the top of the food chain — the easier you make your day, the better it is for the business.THE SMALL PICTUREWhether it’s at home or in an office in the store, let’s talk about your desk. I’m willing to bet that it’s cluttered, and that you spend at least 10 minutes a day searching for things you repeatedly need.Here’s the bad news: That’s your own damn fault. It’s your desk. And the good news? Because it’s solely your problem, it only takes one person — you — to fix it.When first you started your business, I bet you had every intention of being more organized than the other managers at other stores who aren’t as sly or business savvy as you. I’ll bet you hit an office store with a vengeance and left with all sorts of wonderful organizing tools. You’ve got file folders, in- and out-boxes, several types of notepads and Post-Its, and a desk and/or wall calendar. And I bet you’ve even got bottles of compressed air to keep it all clean.So what went wrong? I mean, you spent a load of money on nothing but the best. What failed?The truth is, this isn’t a problem you can throw money at, and actually, your throwing money at it in the first place is a big part of why there’s a problem. No amount of money or gadgets can replace the art of organizing.Clear off your desk. Seriously, take everything off and put it on the floor. We’re not going to let an office store determine what the modern desk is supposed to look like.Start by thinking of what you need within reach. Do you have a stack of old electric bills on your desk, neatly packed into a properly labeled file folder? Good for you. How many times a day do you need to access the kilowatt-hours from last July? File that away somewhere far from your desk.What do you actually need and what are you always looking for? All of your desk items are now on the floor. Look at them, and ask yourself: What isn’t here that I need multiple times a week? Now, go get it.“Well, it seems a little weird to prominently display my business card book on my desk,” you may balk. “I mean, I paid $25 for a nice leather book for all of these so I could put them somewhere nice and not have them lying around.”You didn’t waste money when you bought a nice place to keep your business cards. And actually, your heart was in the right place when you did it, because you recognized the importance of them when you paid so much for the holder. Now, where’s the holder?If it’s something you use a lot, then create a special place for it in view. Get creative. Secure it to the top of your desk so you can page through it at will.Are there specs or files to which you constantly refer? Do you have to dig them out of a filing cabinet and re-file them just so you can grab a contact name off the sheet, or a size, or an item name?Make a copy of them, and pin them to a wall near your desk. Then, with a glance, you can see them. Better yet, make a list of the Top 25 random facts you need to reference in a given week. Put them all on one sheet and post that. You can quit digging around for the information from multiple files in multiple cabinets or desks.Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.” Same idea. Put what you need where you need it — in your office.Organizing is not about me telling you the means. Organizing is about you figuring out your own means. It’s all about the end. You have an end in mind, and that represents a well-run business or office. 

About the author

Mark Benson

World's Largest Laundromat


Mark Benson, manager of the World's Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, Ill., would like to hear any comments you have about the column, as well as any tales you have about the people who patronize your store.


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