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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small business: Cleaning up the clutter

A little bit of decluttering a day can

A little bit of decluttering a day can prevent the Mount Everest moment and marathon cleaning. (Undated) Credit: iStock

When you walked into your office this morning, did it look like it had been ransacked, or was everything neatly organized in its proper place?

If your answer was "ransacked," you're not alone.

Many entrepreneurs have every intention to be organized, but when it comes down to reality, they are anything but. Still, it's never too late to clear out your office clutter and start the New Year fresh, provided you're willing to make the effort part of your daily routine, say experts.

"It's like teeth brushing," explains Helen Volk, author of "Beyond Office Clutter" (Beyond Clutter; $17.95), a former lawyer and self-proclaimed pack rat turned professional organizer in 1991. "It doesn't take long, but you've got to do it every day."

The same goes for organizing, says Volk, of upstate Cohoes-based Beyond Clutter, who more than a decade ago decided she had enough of her own clutter and started to purge her place of stuff. She was able to downsize from a 10-room house to a three-room apartment.

Tackling clutter daily will help keep it in check, she notes. Here's how to get started:

Compartmentalize. Tackle each clutter area separately (desk, filing cabinets, etc.) and determine the three to five primary tasks that you perform in each and organize accordingly, says Volk. For example, in your filing cabinets think of the categories of paper you work with and create a filing system around that (one for vendors, the business itself, clients, etc.).

The same goes for your desk, says Volk, who recommends keeping only "action" items on your desk.

But this, too, should be limited, advises Julie Morgenstern, a Manhattan-based organizing / time management expert and author of "Organizing from the Inside Out" (Henry Holt; $15). Instead of keeping all active projects on your desk, keep only ones you are immediately working on, and when you are finished each day file them in the appropriate folder by topic regardless of the state of completion, she says. You can keep track of each project's progress by using a single consistent planner, she notes.

Develop a system. The bottom line is you must "establish some kind of filing system for everything you want to keep," says Alice Price, president of Organize Long Island, a professional organizer / coach in West Islip.

You can organize alphabetically, by category or color, she says. Find a system that works for you so when you're looking for a file, you'll remember where to look.

"The filing should reflect the way you think," she notes, adding that if your filing cabinets are full, it may be time to store some older documents.

Make time. Allocate time for yourself and your staff to deal with clutter, recommends Morgenstern, noting you could have an officewide cleanup day and supply color folders or desk trays.

Make it part of your daily routine, notes Eileen Koff, president of To the Next Level, a professional organizer in Stony Brook. Don't just keep one area of your office clutter-free, but the entire office, she says.

"Chaos begets chaos," says Koff.

Analyze everything from your desk area to wall space, she notes, adding that you may require a bigger desk or wall shelving.

"Don't just stop at eye level," says Koff. "Organizing 10 minutes a day keeps the chaos away."

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