Productivity

3 Crucial Steps to Declutter Your Business (When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed)

How did things get this complicated?

I’m not saying running a business is easy, but why do we tend to make it harder than it needs to be? We never know how it happens but it does…and it can happen really fast.

I started my business 3 ½ years ago and things got complicated faster than you can say ‘complicated’. Enrolling in entrepreneurial was a great experience and, while most of the advice was extremely valuable, I received some not-so-valuable guidance. I learned the hard way that I didn’t need every business tool, business membership or business product available before I even got my business off the ground.

When I launched my business, I took out a business loan for far more than I needed and spent a lot of it on things that weren’t necessary. Over the next 18 months, I discovered this and decided I wanted to be a business minimalist. I got rid of my second external monitor (I’m not a security guard who needs to keep an eye on all the rooms), cancelled some subscriptions and memberships and focused on what was important.

You need to start where you are. Start with what you NEED, not with everything everyone else thinks you need. It’s easy to say and not so easy to do. Especially, when you’re relying on advice from seasoned business owners who may not remember what it’s like in the beginning. Besides, the business world can change very fast, particularly in this digital and social media age.

You’ve made it this far in the article, so you must need to declutter your business. If you are a veteran business owner, you probably have tools and systems in place that, well, you probably just don’t need and, frankly, that you have no idea how to use them. If you’re just starting out you can stop the madness ahead of time. So, keep reading.

Clean up your office or workspace

Have you heard the saying ‘cluttered house, cluttered mind’? Well, the same goes for your office or workspace.

You may be thinking ‘but this is going to take time, and the problem is I don’t have enough!’. Have you ever kept track of the time you spend looking for something? A pen, a ruler, a file, that piece of paper, your to-do list, your day planner, your phone?

Depending on which study you read, we waste, on average, over 30 minutes per day looking for lost items. What if you spent 30 minutes one day, cleaning up your office?

First

Remove everything that shouldn’t be in your workspace and put it where it belongs. If it’s not an item you use for your business, it shouldn’t be in the workspace. A few inspirational items, that you absolutely love, are fine. Use your judgement. If it truly adds value to the space and doesn’t get in the way, it can stay.

Next

Go through everything that’s left. I mean everything. The things you may naturally skim over, are most likely the things that are taking up valuable real estate and the first items that need to go. The key to organizing anything is to have less of it, so be brutal. Do you really need 17 pens, 3 stress balls, 13 sticky note pads, 3 label makers or 5 tape dispensers?

Finally

Give the workspace a thorough cleaning. Dust, sweep, vacuum, mop…wash walls if they need it. Heck, you could even splash a coat of fresh paint on the walls for good measure. You may even want to perform a smudge ceremony. I love doing this to clear our negative energy that has accumulated in the space. It seems like stale energy can build faster in a work area than any other area.

Once you’ve decluttered, cleaned and cleared make sure you always Clear to Neutral. I read about this term at Asian Efficiency and they talk about how whenever there is a hurdle in front of a task you are about to work on, it will cause you to lose motivation. ‘Friction is procrastination’s best friend’ they say. 

When your workspace isn’t set up efficiently, it impacts everything you do in that space. Not surprisingly, when my office gets a bit cluttered I don’t even want to work in it. When I’m sitting on my couch, working, I know it’s time to clean up my office.

Lay it all out

If you’re familiar with my article ‘Get More Done in Less Time – 10 Tips for Entrepreneurs’ you’re familiar with the term ‘Brain Dump’. The following exercise is a brain dump directed towards your business tasks, processes, systems and tools.

First

Set aside 10-15 minutes to write down all the tasks, processes, systems, tools, subscriptions, apps etc. you use in your business. Write down everything you can think of off the top of your head. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can always add to it as you think of more. Next, put these items into categories based on the frequency of use. Something like, ‘Often’, ‘Sometimes’, ‘Seldom’, ‘Never’.

Next

Get rid of the items in the ‘Never’ category. Do it now. Don’t hesitate. Maybe you’re paying money for a software subscription that you thought you would ‘grow into’ or paying someone to manage a process that leads nowhere or creating reports that nobody reads. It’s a serious waste of time and resources. Being busy isn’t the same as being effective. 

Then go through the ‘Seldom’ category. Ask yourself if the process, tool, task or system is worth the time or financial investment. Can it be replaced by another process, took, task or system that you use regularly?

Go through the ‘Sometimes’ category in much the same way. Maybe the processes, tools, tasks or systems in this category could be covered off with one or two automations. For now, keep the necessary tools, tasks, systems and processes that you’re currently using and watch for future articles on streamlining and outsourcing. Once you’ve cut back on a lot of the unnecessary stuff, settling in and enjoying it before implementing new ways of doing things is a good idea. Just keep the mindset that less is more.

Finally

Now, the items in the ‘Often’ category. What can possibly be done with those? You use them daily or several times per week so they must be necessary. Right? Take a look at them individually, with an open mind, and see if there is any redundancy. Also, take a look at whether or not the system, process, task or tool is absolutely necessary. If it’s not, ask yourself why you have it. Why does the business need it? Is it necessary or is it there because it’s always been there? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, it may be a good time to get rid of it.

Take a look at the overall picture. Can some of the tasks be put into a process? Or can any of the processes be automated? Watch for my articles over the next few weeks if you want to know what to do next.

Inbox Zero

Yes, it’s possible and yes, it’s worth it. My email was getting out of hand. I had 4 email accounts and thousands of emails in each inbox. Recently, I implemented ‘inbox zero’ and it took away a thick layer of stress. It’s incredible and once you do it the first time, it’s easy to maintain.

Where to start

Start from the oldest email you have in your inbox. Go through one by one and delete, unsubscribe, make a task out of it, move it to a ‘read later’ folder/label or schedule an event (meeting, appointment, engagement etc), create a filter that automatically puts it into an ‘Action’ folder/label or ‘Read later’ folder/label. There are many options for this. You need to do what’s right for your business and work style.

Unsubscribe

For the email lists that you are subscribed to, you don’t want to just delete them. Otherwise, you’re not actually getting rid of the problem. Perhaps you signed up to receive an eBook that you wanted but haven’t read an email from that source since. Or you signed up to get discounts and updates but realize it just makes you want to shop more than is necessary. So, unsubcribe now. 

Filter

Unsubscribe then create a filter (if you use the wonderful and amazing GMail) that deletes all the emails from the source in one go, which will shorten the list of emails you have to go through in larger chunks. If you’re not sure about a subscription, unsubscribe anyway. If you truly miss it you can always re-subscribe.

Remove

Delete all the random emails you know you will never read. Things you’ve been copied on that didn’t actually require anything from you or surveys you have no interest in doing etc. Delete it. You won’t regret it. If you delete something that actually required action from you, the sky isn’t going to fall. The sender will follow up if it’s important. If it was important in the first place, it probably would have been done already.

If you’ve handled an email and it’s still in your inbox, it’s only causing confusion and you’re spending time and energy glancing at it every day only to realize, over and over again, that you’ve already done what you need to do with it. Get these emails out of your inbox. Archive them or move them to a folder/label. It has no business being in your inbox.

Take action

Don’t keep emails in your inbox because you need to do something with them, either do it now (if it will take less than 2 minutes) or put it in a task manager like Trello or Google Tasks or folder/label in your email platform called ‘Action’. The latter is a bit risky as you have to get into the habit of looking there. With a task manager, you can set up due dates and the platform will remind you. I personally use Trello and will be writing an article about how I use it to organize my life.

This is going to take some time so don’t expect to be done in an hour. If you are done in that amount of time, you probably don’t need this advice at all. I would recommend setting aside an entire day to do this. It will save you time and will prevent missed items in the long run so it will be worth it.

Once you’ve gone through your main email account, do this with all your other accounts. When all your inboxes are at ‘inbox zero’, forward all your accounts to one main account. For example, I have email accounts for groups I volunteer for or businesses I do work for. If I don’t forward them all to one place I have to remember to check each one regularly. It takes time to log in to each account and organize them separately. Plus, I used to forget about accounts that were seldom used and could miss something important.

Does this seem like a lot of work?

Well, it is a lot of work. But nothing is going to change if you don’t change anything. If you care about your business and your sanity like I know you do, you’ll put in the work. Doing this work up front will save you time later on.

If you’re still not convinced going through these processes is going to be worth it, just try one and see how it goes. You don’t have to do them all at once. Following these steps will take time, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s a sign you need to change something. Schedule in the time and I guarantee you won’t regret it. You will save time and money in the long run.

Have you tried any of these processes? How did it go? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. You can also email me anytime.

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Volleyballer, dog mom, Feng Shui buff, and minimalist wannabe. Treana is obsessed with simplifying processes for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

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