As the winter wanes and days get warmer, people of all kinds have used the advance of spring to clean — whether prompted by the 19th-century need to clean out soot and grime from lamps burning whale oil and homes heated with fire to centuries-old religious practices.
All businesses need organization. The frenzy of deadlines, piling up of meetings and reordered priorities often leave behind document disasters. Paperwork can clog up your desk. There’s the project you’re working on now, but there’s also the project you’re waiting for information about so you can finish it and the project you’ve completed but haven’t yet filed away. Counterintuitively, the computer age has only exacerbated this problem by allowing one person to work on more things simultaneously. The result is digital clutter — mislabeled documents, files in the wrong format and information stored on old drives and servers that may be needed, but can’t be easily accessed.
Related: Your Workplace Habits Need a Good Spring Cleaning, Too. Here Are 5 Steps to Get Started.
The 5 S approach to spring cleaning for business
In various cultures, a specific event serves as the trigger for spring cleaning. Whether it’s Easter, Passover, the Lunar New Year or the first day of spring (or Nowruz) in Persia and Central Asia, having the house ready for the coming year is important. You may find the federal income tax due date an ideal cue for getting your business “spring cleaned,” regardless of your business structure or fiscal year.
One approach recommended by a job-recruiting site identifies five key components to address in office organization. These are a great place to begin your business spring cleaning:
- Sort. This includes labeling documents and finding a logical place to keep them for later retrieval.
- Straighten. Establish guidelines for where documents and files belong, then create reference guidelines so it’s clear where these items go — whether you’re handling them or someone else is.
- Shine. A clean office looks better. It’s also safer, with less dust and pollutants in the environment and fewer things to walk around or trip over.
- Standardize. Make policies for you and your employees to adhere to.
- Sustain. Review and evaluate the processes and procedures you’ve established at the end of your spring cleaning. Solicit comments from employees as well.
Home organizer Marie Kondo has also written about organizing work. She suggests that professionals “spark joy” in their careers through a tidy office, controlling digital data and using time efficiently. Therefore, in the interest of avoiding fruitless hard drive searches and coffee-stained printouts bleached by the sun or getting stuck together at lunch from days or weeks ago, here are some things you should commit to doing soon, and then regularly from now on.
Take time to look at your larger picture. If you’ve got multiple bank accounts or credit cards, your business spring cleaning provides an excellent opportunity to decide whether you need them all. Do, however, ensure you’ve got your cash needs covered — this is especially prudent in the wake of recent bank instability. If you keep separate banks, make sure you can move money speedily from one to another.
Spring cleaning also provides a terrific opportunity to look at your loans and lines of credit. Shop for better rates or terms and consider consolidating these when possible, too.
Another way to declutter is to be paperless whenever possible. This reduces the costs of shredding sensitive documents (buying the paper and printers in the first place, buying the shredder, and paying people to file and shred). It’s also environmentally friendly. Multiple companies provide the opportunity to securely store your financial data by capturing or uploading it through a cloud-based document management system. With such a system, you can assign invoices and receipts to accounts and generate reports neatly and accurately without pawing through original documents.
Related: Spring Forward Into Action With These 25 Decluttering Hacks
You may want to build on the business spring cleaning. Productivity is based on focus and avoiding distraction. Kondo recommends a definite signal that separates work from other distractions. In her case, it’s a tuning fork; striking it indicates that work time has begun. Maybe your spring cleaning can start with a rollicking tune or an air horn.
For years, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates created focus by taking a two-week retreat. He avoided interruptions and concentrated only on work. It’s called deep work, defined by Georgetown University computer science professor Cal Newport as “when you focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.”
Once spring cleaning is over, you may want to commit to a regular smaller time to ensure everything is organized. Perhaps it’s 8 a.m. every day, every Wednesday afternoon or the first Tuesday of every month.
You may hire someone to organize your desk and files, either for spring cleaning or regularly. It may be several people: You may need clerical help for organizing, an IT professional to straighten out your computer, a bookkeeper to ensure your financials are up-to-date or a certified productivity and organization professional. Depending on how your business is structured, you may be able to re-task workers already on staff.
Benefits of spring cleaning
Once you’ve got your cleaning done, you’ll find it takes less time to do many tasks, such as running down a particular document or piece of equipment. You can also make your time away from the office more effective by harnessing the power of mobile applications that integrate with your business systems. If a client or partner needs a document, find and send it in seconds while on the go instead of waiting to handle that task until you are back at the office.
Taxes will be simpler, too. Find needed data all at once and either enter it into your tax software or hand it off to your tax accountant. That may give you more lead time for finding the funds you may need to pay tax obligations or, even better, receive a refund quicker.
You’ll find that you’re more productive in general. There will be more time to work (instead of working around obstacles like mounds of paper or boxes in obstructive places). Having everything available and accessible will enable you to gain new insights into the business. Those insights may come while sorting and filing or with time freed by not fumbling with the unsorted and unattended to — or you may put that free time to use by leaving the office. Time away can be just as fruitful as time there; after all, it worked for Bill Gates.
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