For three days, Sally Bishop and Tom Brohard examined and sorted every piece of paper stacked in Brohard's disorganized office.
"We unpacked two moving boxes with papers I hadn't looked at in five years," admitted Brohard, an owner and manager of Willdan Associates, an engineering and planning firm in City of Industry.
"I had stacks of paper, but I couldn't put my hands on what I needed," said Brohard, who is paying Bishop's Santa Monica-based Insight Consulting Group thousands of dollars to get himself and his 145 employees better organized.
Getting organized is on just about everyone's list of New Year's resolutions, but few people, especially busy entrepreneurs, take the time to do something. Yet, professional organizers say, business owners overwhelmed with undone paperwork lose money and business because they have lost control over their lives.
"If you really dread approaching your desk, that feeling of dread will impact on what you do that day," said Beverly Clower, owner of Office Overhaul in Santa Monica. "If you are not processing things daily, you will forget appointments and begin missing out on important things."
Professional organizers say many entrepreneurs are overwhelmed with paperwork because they are so busy running the business that they don't have time to deal with it. Time management consultants estimate that the typical manager has 35 to 42 hours of paperwork within arm's reach of his or her chair, yet only 10 hours available each week to do it.
"If you are under an avalanche, it doesn't feel too good," said Insight Consulting's Sally Bishop. "We help people dig themselves out from underneath the avalanche and set up monitoring systems to get them from A to B."
Bishop and others say being better organized not only alleviates stress by giving you control over your time but also frequently results in increased profits because you spend less time on paperwork and more time making strategic decisions.
Stephanie Winston, author of "The Organized Executive" and founder of the Organizing Principle in Manhattan, often calculates exactly how much money her clients lose each year by spending valuable time looking for lost papers or proposals. While digging Through her client's stacks of unread material, she often finds letters and proposals that add up to lost business.
Once she straightens out the physical surroundings, Winston teaches people how proper delegation can free them up to make more money.
"One of my clients, whose company produces newsletters for banks, felt he was spending far too much time putting the newsletters together instead of bringing in new business," Winston said. By shifting some of his production tasks to others, he gained seven free hours a week. He used the time to solicit new customers and within a few months increased his business by one-third.
Professional organizers--and there are hundreds around the country--all have their own pet systems for handling paperwork.
Winston says there are only four things to do with a piece of paper: "Toss it, refer it, act on it or file it." She calls this her TRAF system.
Organizers' theories differ, but all advocate handling a piece of paper one time only.
Stephanie Culp, author of "How to Conquer Clutter," suggests setting up four baskets, marking them: To Do, To Pay, To File and To Read. The File basket might be a large wicker basket stashed under your desk.
The To Do and To Pay baskets should sit on your desk for immediate attention, but the To Read basket should be kept behind or beside your work area to be carted off later. Some people also like to add a Calls to Make basket and a To Buy basket.
Forget a Pending basket; work could languish there forever.
The last, and probably most important basket, is the Trash basket, which should be big and easy to carry.
Insight Consulting's Russell Bishop encourages clients to use task assignment forms, which are 8-by-11-inch sheets of paper attached to material you want to refer to others.
The full-size sheets provide ample space to write instructions, due dates and follow-up requests. Bishop said it shouldn't take more than five minutes to review and decide what to do with each piece of paper on your desk.
While learning to properly sort, toss and file paper is a big step toward getting organized, organizers say busy entrepreneurs must delegate certain tasks to others if they want to succeed. If you can't afford full-time help, try a part-time assistant, temporary worker or student intern from a local business or professional school.
Professional organizers also recommend spending 15 minutes at the end of each day preparing for the next day. Taking time to clear off your desk and plan is essential to staying in control and better organized.
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