Part 3: Simplifying the workflow
This post is the third 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 4: Day-to-day decluttering
If you read the part 2 of this series, you know that we almost completely digitized our office and got rid of paper clutter. The funny thing is that digitizing didn't seem to increase the digital clutter. It's probably because the most of the converted files were bookkeeping-related documents and those got taken care of when we implemented the cloud-based bookkeeping system (Quickbooks).
So, after that pesky paper clutter was gone, the next in line of decluttering was the documents used for day-to-day work and work processes that went with them.
Here is a list of documents we created/updated as part of decluttering and have been using on a regular basis:
- to-do lists
- sales tracking lists
- assignments tracking lists
- leads tracking lists
Before we get into the details, I wanted to mention that I rely on Google products for day-to-day business. It's because they're free and easy to use. If you have privacy and other concerns using Google products, there are other options such as rollApp, Zoho, MS office 365, thinkfree, and so on.
I prefer using web-based applications over desktop programs because the former let you work on (almost) any computer, which is great when you're upgrading your computer or using someone else's computer. And web-based apps also let you work from anywhere with internet access. Please make sure to use a good virtual private network (VPN) when you're using a public wifi to do your work.
OK, now that we are done with the housekeeping items, let's get started.
My husband used to rely heavily on any piece of paper happened to be lying around to jot down his to-do items. He was also inconsistent in using his calendar. Not surprisingly, he sometimes forgot to do important tasks, and missed or was late on meeting with existing and potential clients.
After trying several solutions, he now uses both hand-written notes and a Google calendar*. He basically enters everything on the calendar and uses the prompts to stay on top of tasks and appointments. When I say everything, I mean everything: from the high-level task items like "May 27, the Cider event" (that he is hosting) to "schedule Hootsuite" to "meeting with so and so at 3:00 pm." It's so simple, yet it works.
My husband also keeps a notebook to jot down a to-do list, which includes items that he plans on finishing within a few days. He creates this list based on the task items recorded in the calendar. I suggested that he use a digital daily list, but he has never made the switch. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose.
Anyway, we subscribe to each other's calendar, so we know when we are free, which is useful when I am trying to book a meeting we both need to attend. When I enter the meeting in the calendar, I can invite him to the meeting. We each have a working space on the different floor of our home and sharing of the calendar reduced the number of messages sent and shouting.
We need to keep track of advertisement sales (issue, size, price) in the magazine and the guide. Previously, the information was kept locally on my husband's computer and backed up to an external hard drive which I couldn't access from my computer. So instead I created a Google Forms document where my husband and other sales person enter relevant data themselves.
Google Forms is somewhat limited, but it's also very simple to use. (I am planning on writing a specific blog post on how to use Google Forms.) Also, it's easier to collect high-quality data by using the Forms instead of a regular spreadsheet. For example, I can make sure that the responses are in the numeric format instead of text, each question must be answered to submit a form, and so on. You might think this is a little detail, but as someone who used to clean data for a living, I can assure you that data quality affects your productivity.
I connected the Google Forms to a new Google Sheets document so that the data entered on the Forms are automatically recorded in the spreadsheet. Then, I added simple calculations to the spreadsheet to track what % of the target was sold, and how much space was still available to sell.
We used to do some of these steps manually, but the new document updates itself every time we open it. I still need to change some things manually when the existing sales get cancelled or upgraded. But overall we saved so much time by updating the old system.
I think my husband used to track the writing and photography assignments verbally via phone and email messages. I took over the task and created a Google Sheets doc for each contributor.
We established that the Google Sheets doc is the single source of truth, e.g., any changes to the assignments will be recorded on the spreadsheet, and won't be communicated via email. (Phone conversation usually takes place before assignments are entered into the spreadsheet.) We also asked contributors to set up notification on the spreadsheet, so whenever changes were made to it they will receive email.
I've also set up automated email messages to be sent out 30, 7 and 0 days before the deadline of the assignments. I used to do this manually!
We now have a system where we can see the list of all assignments by contributors and the number of outstanding and overdue assignments.
I reviewed several free customer relationship management (CRM) programs, but they all seemed way more complicated than what our needs are.
Then my husband asked me to create a simple Google Sheets spreadsheet to include the following columns: Company/account, contacted date, contact person, phone or email, booked (Y/N) so I did. I think it's working because he is making sales!
As you can see, we only use Quickbooks which costs about $10/month and Google products that are free.
I believe the simple system is better than a complicated one because it would be easier to use, update and replicate. So if you are using multiple apps and saving files to multiple drives, I would start looking at decluttering and simplifying those first.
Also, always be on the lookout for easier, simpler, better way to accomplish tasks. Spend the time and learn new things to utilize the latest techology. Hire someone to do the tasks if that's more cost/time efficient than doing them yourself. There is always a better way. Don't stop looking for it.
Stay tuned for the part 4 of the series!
*We used to use iCaldendar, but since I couldn't check it on my Android phone, we switched to Google calendar.
P.S. Are you looking into buying some cloud storage space? When I signed up with an alumni email address, the address came with a free unlimited Google Drive space. Check with your alma mater to see if you can get a similar deal.