How I decluttered my husband's business and reduced debt 4

Part 4: Day-to-day decluttering

This post is the last in the multi-part series where I chronicle how I decluttered my husband's small business. 

Related post - Part 1: Financial assessment 

Related post - Part 2: Going paperless

Related post - Part 3: Simplifying the workflow

clutter-free office

Physical clutter

We completed a thorough physical decluttering of my husband's home office in the first quarter of 2016. We got rid of tons of paper, and other related items such as file folders (regular and hanging), document protectors, paper clips, a pen holder, a letter tray, and so on. (Come to think of it, I haven't used a paper punch and a stapler for several months now. Should I get rid of them?)

We also got rid of old software discs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs, some books, magazines, used-up pens, and other odds and ends items. 

So, the home office now looks very neat and organized. OK, to be completely honest, it is still cluttered by my standard. But it's my husband's office, and he's happy the way it is, so who am I to judge? 

The office has been relatively clutter-free since we finished the deep decluttering. It's not because we've been spending hours every day to make it look presentable, but we just don't have enough stuff to make the place look disorganized. 

Daily decluttering tip #1: Declutter until there is no more clutter

If you catch yourself in an endless organizing, it means that you still have too much clutter. When you have the right amount of stuff, you will stop obsessing about organizing. Keep decluttering until you'll hit that sweet spot. 

Want to read a short decluttering guide? Get your free copy here (no need to sign up)

Daily decluttering tip #2: Pick your style and stick with it

OK, so let's say that you got rid of all your clutter. Yes, you will still need a regular maintenance of your work environment, but it shouldn't take much time or effort (if it does, then go back and declutter some more.) You can choose a style that suits you the best. Here are some suggestions. 

  • Schedule a decluttering time (e.g., Monday morning) to clear up your desk/office. Put it on your calendar, and treat it like one of your to-do items.

  • Declutter when your desk/office gets to a certain level of messy - this is what we use. I think we each have a different clutter detecting switch. Mine goes off quicker than my husband's, and so it's a very good thing that we have a separate workspace. 

  • Get in a habit to put things away as you're finished with them. Bring coffee cups to the kitchen (or put in the dishwasher), opened envelopes into a recycling bin, put books and magazines away after you're done reading, 

  • Use decluttering and cleaning around the desk as a time to take a break from your work. Instead of getting another cup of coffee, why not wipe your desk?

Digital clutter

The email inbox and the desktop attract the majority of digital clutter for most, so it would be a good idea to do a quick daily decluttering on those areas. 

Daily decluttering tip #3: Declutter your inbox and desktop daily

Cluttered inbox means different thing to different people. Define yours, and decide what daily upkeeps need to be done. I personally cannot have more than 50 read messages sitting in my inboxes, so I utilize folders/tags heavily. I also read messages as they come in and either delete, file, mark important or keep for now. I check my folders every month or so and declutter old messages.   

Many of us use the desktop as the default file storage, but it should be used as a temporary space only, especially if your desktop files are not backed up automatically. 

In addition to being an insecure place to store files, randomly placed documents create visual clutter and put you into that "I have so much to do!" mindset. 

One way to address the cluttered desktop is to create a folder called "desktop" in your cloud storage and use it as your temporary folder. I do this on my Google Drive. I love it because everything is backed up automatically, and the way the contents are displayed is less visually cluttered compared to your average desktop. I currently have no files saved on my computer's local desktop, and it gives me the same fresh feeling as working on a cleared desk. 

Whether you use a traditional desktop or not, backup your files at least once a day, and spend a few minutes to check for documents to be filed or deleted. 

For detailed instructions on how to declutter digital items, read this post

Workflow clutter

As with physical space, you should review your work processes periodically to see if you can declutter any steps or improve them in any way. I tend to get ideas when I'm walking or taking a shower, so I force myself to think about work while I'm engaged in those activities. 

Daily decluttering tip #4: Always think of a way to improve business process

If you are spending a lot of time on a task, more so than you feel is justified, then consider investing in a new application, getting training, or hiring outside help. For example, my husband and I are planning to hire a developer to create a portal where our clients can buy ads online. For now, we are using a system that I created with Google Forms and Google Sheets

Are there any tasks that have a high error rate and you find yourself constantly going back to fix them? I used to include up to three requests in a single email message. One or two things were almost always missed, so I now include only one action item per message. 

Are there any equipment or applications that are cumbersome to use and you're spending a lot of time calling the helpdesk? Consider replacing them or getting training to use them properly. Or outsource the function altogether. 

Cluttered home

Cluttered home could affect your work negatively especially if you work from your home. If you are planning to declutter your home, I have some blog posts specific to decluttering your home. 

Daily decluttering tip #5: Take mini decluttering breaks

I've already mentioned this above, but we all need breaks when we work and cleaning, decluttering or organizing can break up your days quite nicely. When I clean between tasks, I strategically make myself to take extra steps to squeeze in some exercising, too. 

The day-to-day decluttering is about maintaining and gradually improving your current state. If you feel your office or home has lots of clutter, do a thorough decluttering before you implement a daily cleaning routine. Once you get most of the clutter out of your space, you won't be spending much time or effort tidying it up. 

Most important, a regular review of your business to identify extraneous tasks will help you increase efficiency and productivity, and it will also make your business agiler and more competitive.