How to... Clear Your Desk
Clear Your Desk
Office paperwork is like mould. It starts small, spreads quickly and doesn’t disappear unless you do something about it.
Whether you’re self-employed or head of a large corporation, you can’t escape those small but essential tasks that keep your company ticking over. Answering correspondence and emails, organising accounts, filing, record-keeping…
Trying to turn back the tide of paperwork that comes in every day is pointless. But you can deal with it efficiently so that it takes up less time. The key is to schedule it as part of your normal workload. Take it as seriously as your core business and set aside a specific period every day to devote to it.
Time is money. If you are self-employed, charge £30 an hour for your services and spend two hours a day on routine admin tasks, you’re losing £300 a week. Find somebody locally who will work on a casual basis, or think about using a virtual assistant. Working from their own homes or offices, they can take telephone calls, make travel arrangements, type documents and organise your database.
- Call in the professionals to customise your computer hardware and software. Ask them to sort out minor problems and set up appropriate word processing, spreadsheet and e-mail packages.
- When you get new software, learn how to use it. Half a day in a classroom can save you hours trying to work out where Microsoft has hidden the File button.
- Invest in a large filing cabinet. Trendy storage boxes look good in magazine advertisements but they don't help you to find things when you need them. File paper at the end of every day, either in the cabinet or the bin. Every two months, spend a couple of hours sorting through the files and discarding anything that is redundant.
- Practice FIB-bing. FIB (File-In-Bin) is a key administrative skill for time-pressed individuals. FIB all junk mail; the minute you open an envelope, you risk being tempted by non-essential products and services – and waste valuable time thinking about them.
- Be equally ruthless with e-mails. Download emails every three hours rather than being distracted every time a new one arrives. Check the subject box and delete non-essential messages without reading them. File the rest in appropriate folders and empty your inbox at the end of every day.
- Enter all contacts into your database immediately. When time costs money, don't waste it by looking for a name and address you scribbled down and then lost.
- Avoid sticky-yellow-note syndrome; if a message is important, put it somewhere safe. If it isn't important, bin it.
- If you are self-employed pay bills punctually, and put receipts in a safe place. At the end of the month, update your cash book, reconcile your bank statements and file the paperwork. This saves a lot of time and frustration at the end of the financial quarter.
Finally, whatever your profession, practice JDT (Just-Do-It) rather than JIT (Just-In-Time) admin management. Paperwork doesn't go away. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to deal with. Stop wasting time thinking about the correspondence that needs to be answered, the invoices that have to be prepared and the calls you need to return. Get on with it. The sense of relief when that desk is finally clear is worth the effort.
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