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Updated: March 27th, 2020
Spring cleaning doesn’t just apply to homes. As a business owner, this time of year is the perfect opportunity to get organized.
Often, the most overwhelming area to deal with is the backend of your business — your mountains of paperwork and thousands of digital files. It may be intimidating, but overhauling these organization systems can help streamline your everyday operations and set you up for a smooth tax season next year.
Ready to get started? Follow these five steps.
Tackling your physical clutter first will make the organization process that much easier. Start by gathering all your paperwork. Then, sort everything into categories, like Recycle, Shred, and Save.
Put important documents like bank statements or contracts in the Save category to be scanned or filed. Shred anything you don’t need that contains personal or confidential information, and recycle everything else, like notes, junk mail, or old client holiday cards.
Whether you want to transition to a paperless business model or simply prepare for an emergency, it’s a good idea to save digital copies of your files.
Sift through the Save pile you created, and scan any papers that don’t already have a digital record. This might include invoices, expense reports, or business permits and licenses. Send out a company-wide email that encourages your employees to do the same.
To ensure maximum security, consider using a virtual storage system to organize and store company files. This not only ensures you won’t lose files if your computers crash, but also allows you to access everything on various devices.
Having a smart organization system for your company’s paper documents can improve workplace efficiency and save you headaches.
There are countless filing systems out there, but one of the best options remains the classic filing cabinet (and no, it doesn’t have to be the clunky metal variety from the 80s). You may want to consider investing in a fire-resistant one, though — especially if you have numerous years worth of files to protect.
To start, divide your documents into several broad categories, then dedicate a different drawer to each one. Think: employee records, tax documents, bank statements, contracts, permits and licenses, and the like. Within each category, use hanging drawer files to organize your papers by year or quarter.
Files scattered around the company? Send out a company memo outlining the new organization process to get everyone on board.
Now that you’ve tackled the paper front, it’s time to revamp your digital organization. Start by creating a universal labeling system for company files, like “Date_Type of Document_Document Name.” This will make it exponentially easier for employees to search for and locate files quickly, whether it’s a company invoice or contract.
After you’ve renamed the files, sort through the different folders on your shared company drive and reorganize as necessary: move files to different locations, delete unnecessary items, or consolidate folders. Finally, back up your computer’s data to an external hard drive or the cloud.
Finally, it’s important to implement systems that’ll hold you accountable. One easy system is the “To-Do Tray,” which is a basic file organizer you put on your desk to prevent paper build-up. Make sure it has three tiers, and label them accordingly: one for shredding, one for filing, and one for papers that require urgent action, like a signature. Every time you collect mail or return from a meeting with a stack of documents, sort them into the tiers of your To-Do Tray.
Keep in mind, though: this method only works if you don’t let papers pile up. To avoid creating another clutter zone, set a weekly 15-minute date with yourself to clear the tray and organize its contents.
The same strategy you use to prevent paper build-up can also apply to organizing your email inbox. First, create two new folders on your email account: Low-Priority and High-Priority. Every morning, take a few minutes to go through your inbox and flag any messages that require a response or action on your part, like sending a presentation or approving an expense.
File these emails as either low-priority or high-priority, then make a point to clear each of your folders at a specific time. You might want to tackle the high-priority folder at the end of every work day, for example, and the low-priority folder every other day.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.