This month I am introducing you to some tools and systems that have been a great help to me as I evolved from the retail and workroom businesses into a myriad of other mini-careers in our industry.
It is important to find tools that will make you more organized and efficient, but you also must have the real estate to handle these tools. Consider tools for storing, filing and a tickler system.
1. Planning software, planner or PDA: I use a Palm Pilot and the supported software on my computer. They talk to each other so I can enter anything in one and it will automatically be entered into the other when I HotSync the two. This has been invaluable in keeping me from forgetting appointments and tasks on my lists.
The small Palm Pilot is much easier to carry than the planning notebook I used to have. The only real estate required is for the HotSync cradle, about three-by-4 1/2 inches.
2. StationMate Desk File: This is a five-section standup file from Ultimate Office (see photograph 1). I discovered this amazing tool when I lost my computer to a virus and could not buy a new computer immediately for technical reasons. This file comes with 25 five-cut colored see-through folders. I started by labeling the first five the days of the week. Then I put what I needed to do each day into each folder. I also had a running list for each day.
Photograph 1: StationMate filing system by Ultimate Office can sit on yur desk or nearby.
This standup file can sit on your desk or on a shelf 10 inches deep. It is 13 inches wide. This is more costly than the average standup file holders, but it has more narrow dividers as well. This keeps fewer, less packed files standing up nicely instead of slumping in too-wide holders, i.e. making retrieval much easier. This little jewel quickly paid for itself in my office.
3. Standup files for wholesale business: When I had a workroom, I had standup files on my desk for my wholesale clients. Each client had a folder. When I had a larger business, I had a set of holders on one side of my desk to hold all incoming-but-not-checked activity for my clients. When I had checked over the information, e.g. work orders, fabric, etc., I put the folders in file holders on the other side of my desk. This kept them in easy reach in case I needed to reference them at any time from receipt of work until the orders were filled.
As a one-person business with fewer clients, I also had two smaller sets of standup file holders. After I had prepared the incoming work orders for cutting, I placed them in a “To Cut” folder. After cutting, they went into the “Cut” folder and then into the “To Bill” folder.
4. Retail organization: When we had decorators working for us to handle the retail business, we used three boxes to keep us on top of each job’s activity. Box one was for work orders of jobs that had not yet been accepted. This enabled me to keep up on what might be coming through the workroom and when.
Box two was for worksheets of contracted jobs that were waiting on materials. Any updates to the due dates of receiving materials were noted on these orders.
Box three was for the “ready orders,” meaning we had all the material to go to the workroom. As a one-person operation, you could put whole folders into your containers.
I do recommend either standup files on your desk for this or the handy three-pocket holders than can be mounted on the wall. Ultimate Office even has one of these to sit on your desk that does not take up the normal amount of real estate.
1. Use the top of your monitor: I have an organizing unit on top of my monitor that holds my sticky note pads, scrap paper, computer glasses, etc. You can buy all kinds of storage units to affix to your monitor. If you can use off-surface storage of frequently used materials, you have a better chance of keeping your work surface clear.
2. Use your monitor’s frame: I have a white board that is adhered to the frame of my monitor. I have all kinds of prompts on that board, e.g. shortcut symbols for math signs and bullets, frequently used phone numbers, correct spelling of words, etc. I have not seen these for many years, but I have seen self-adhering white board paper. I have tried using sticky notes but they fall off very quickly. Double sticky tape works very well to hold notes.
INDIVIDUAL FILE ORGANIZATION
There are tools that can help you organize the lowly manila folder. In photograph 2 the folder in back is a self-adhesive divider with pockets on both sides (Smead No. SFP11SA). I think I got the original pack of these from a one-company office products show locally. I have since had office products companies order them for me. This tool saved me so much time in helping me find things quickly in my seminar folders.
Photograph 2: Self-stick pocketed folder divider, expense envelope and self-stick
folder pocket will help organize manila folders. Also in the photograph, at the bottom front, is a self-adhering pocket for folders. The newer ones I have are clear plastic. This is a wonderful way to keep fabric swatches together or for storing CDs.
The third item in photograph 2 is an organized pre-printed envelope for tracking all travel expenses. This is from my past days of having a Franklin Covey notebook planner. I no longer put it in a notebook, but I take one on every trip so I can keep all receipts together and record my daily expenses.
If you have been in business for even a short time, you likely have at least one file cabinet for storing your files/folders. A filing cabinet is not just to hold files; it is for organizing them for easy retrieval.
1. Hanging files: For way too many years, I refused to invest in hanging files. Manila folders work but they are cumbersome and waste much time. Photograph 3 shows hanging files. There are standard hanging files with fold lines for depth and there are boxed hanging files of various depths. Do not use the latter unless you can pretty much keep them filled. Otherwise, the paper will slide down and become distorted.
These are great for storage of inactive files, but you can also use them to hold a group of manila folders, e.g. to keep many parts/rooms of one customer’s job separate. Don’t forget to use manila folders to hold all paper within hanging folders. You remove the manila folder while leaving the hanging file in the drawer. This makes re-filing a breeze.
2. Use color! It has been proven that color-coding reduces filing and retrieving by 50 percent! Photograph 3 shows six different colors of tabs, including transparent, for labeling hanging files. I use all these colors and always keep them in stock. This is how I use them:
• Transparent tabs for the alphabet. I put the “A” tab in the left front of the first file. Each successive letter is done the same way.
• Each color designates a type of file. I use blue for general information, e.g. taxes, receipts, business, etc. I use red to denote a vendor company, e.g. Rowley, Kirsch, döfix (the shortcut for “ö” is on my white board!), etc. You choose how you want to categorize your files and what you want the colors to represent.
3. Organize your files and tabs: Look at photograph 4. See the clear tab on the far left for the letter of the alphabet? It is on the inside front of the file while all other colors are on the inside back of the file. All the blue tabs are always on the far right. Another color is lined up consistently just left of blue tag. And then another color just left of the second color. Before you open a file drawer, you know the letter of the alphabet, the color of the type of file you are looking for, and you know how far in from the side of the drawer to look.
Photograph 3: Standard and boxed hanging folders are best for sorting inactive files.
This system works for me. I always, without thinking, find the tab and push the back of the hanging folder back to access the folder inside it. If this is uncomfortable for you, it may work better to put the tab on the front half of the file. I also do not like my tabs to be staggered across the cabinet according to alphabetization. No matter how perfect you may start with your folders, they will soon get displaced, which leads to chaos in your organization and visual disorganization. I also always file the most recent information to the back of the folder because it is faster to access when filing.
All of these are simple and not costly to implement. They do take time to put into operation, but the payback is worth it. There are more sophisticated and more costly tools to label your files. Look at them when you are shopping. They may work better for you.
OLD AND NEW TOOLS
1. Sticky notes: How did we ever get along without sticky notes? They are inexpensive and they come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Try them all and use them. Photograph 3 shows the two sizes I most often use. By the way, if you need to temporarily label a manila folder, use a sticky note!
Photograph 4: Organizing hanging
folders by color and placement of tabs makes filing and retrieving a breeze.
“Order is Heaven’s first law” is inscribed on the ceiling of the Library of Congress. If you think about it, everything in nature is orderly and organized. Because it is necessary for nature, then organization in your office certainly can have a tremendous impact. There are many tools available today that can help you. Ultimate Office has some very unique tools other than what I have mentioned. Research the Internet and always keep your eyes open for new tools.
All these tools that work for me may not work as well for you, but I hope you are spurred to look for what can help you. Your goal is to have a clear
work surface, only frequently used materials at
your fingertips, a good reminder system, and an efficient filing/ retrieval system. You are the only one who can turn more of that unbillable time in the office into income. So what are you waiting for? Get out that office products catalog and make it happen!
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 29-year veteran of the drapery workroom industry. She has owned both retail and wholesale drapery workrooms as one person and as a company of nine, and she is the founder and past owner of Workroom Concepts, a consulting firm offering educational resources to the industry. Her experience includes professional speaking and writing for two industry trade magazines. She currently owns Kitty Stein & Co., which supplies industry vendors with the industry-specific products she has authored including Order in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications, and Price Your Work with Confidence, available through D&WC.