October 12, 2009
Tips and tricks from an efficiency expert.
A number of years ago, my church needed an office manager. Aware of my experience as an executive assistant, the pastor offered me the job. I was looking for change, so this new position seemed like a win-win. After my first day, I wondered what I had gotten myself into!
I discovered an office devoid of any filing system or operational procedures for managing daily tasks. Disorder abounded! Feeling claustrophobic from the piles of decades-old church bulletins, and other useless “stuff,” I rolled up my sleeves and set to work on an extreme organizational make-over of our church office.
Today there are whole companies devoted to creating manageable office environments that promote efficiency. Ultimately, efficiency is the end product of organization. According to Monica Friel, CEO (that’s Chief Executive Organizer) of Chaos to Order, “employees lose an average of six weeks per year looking for documents.”
That’s six weeks per year per employee! The cost to companies (and church offices) is enormous, and in these hard economic times as we see more businesses metaphorically “clean house,” perhaps it also makes good, financial sense to reclaim the literal meaning and actually clean house.
Where Do We Begin?
Organizing for better efficiency may be divided into three parts: the physical environment, attitudes, and maintenance. Like any major undertaking that requires change, it’s also important to enlist support. Don’t set out to do an overhaul of your office systems without first meeting with the person in charge of your church office. As much as possible, keep this individual involved in the step-by-step changes taking place.
The Physical Environment
Remember, organization is all about efficiency. Think of your desk as your command center. Everything you need for control ought to be at your fingertips. Eliminate clutter on your desktop by determining what you need for the tasks at hand.
Liz Davenport, author of Order from Chaos, suggests “setting up your office based on frequency of use.” She offers this checklist:
• Anything you use daily should be in hand’s reach.
• Anything that is in hand’s reach should be something you use daily.
• Anything you use weekly should be in arm’s reach.
• Anything that is in arm’s reach should be something you use weekly.
• Anything you use monthly should be in the office.
• Anything that is in the office should be something you use monthly.
• If you use it less often than once a month, try to keep it elsewhere
Consider your personal comfort as well. Ergonomics looks at the design factors, especially in the workplace, which will maximize productivity by minimizing operator fatigue and discomfort. If you aren’t comfortable, you will tire easily and your work will take longer to complete. Is your chair comfortable? Is the telephone positioned to the left for those of you who are right-handed, to the right if left-handed? What about your computer? Is the screen a comfortable distance from your line-of-sight? Do you have a wrist rest and foot rest?
Once you are comfy, consider the tools you have at hand. Basic supplies might include: stapler, staple remover, tape, rubber bands, paper clips, correction fluid/correction tape, calculator, hole punch, reference manuals, pens/pencils, calendar. The one tool that ought to be on every desk? A daily planner. A planner is your tracking system for appointments, work assignments, and important notes. Forget those desk-top “month-at-a-glance” calendars. Staying in control requires focusing on the tasks at hand, and this means having a daily planner.
Now that your desktop is clutter-free, let’s take a look at your filing system. This is where you need to enlist the help of your senior pastor or other person-in-charge to provide input on what documents to keep and what to pitch.
When Monica works with clients, she begins by creating a temporary filing system using sticky notes. Equipped with box-bottomed hanging files, file folders, and sticky notes, she sits with her clients and goes through files one-by-one asking questions to help determine what to keep and what to toss. In this age of online information retrieval, many of us still keep too many paper files, so one question Monica asks is, “Do you need this document, or is it available online?”
As files are sorted, documents are grouped into categories and filed in folders labeled with sticky notes. At the end of this process, file folder labels are created for the finalized system. Monica cautions, “Be careful not to over-organize. It’s all about efficiency. How quickly can you get to what you need. If you keep too much, you can’t find what’s truly important.”
Computer files ought to be treated similarly to your paper files. Don’t save everything under “My Documents.” Create a system of file folders that complements your paper files.
Finally, don’t forget the bulletin boards. Routinely check these boards for out-dated information, overlapping notes, and unnecessary clutter. Keep only information not found elsewhere and that truly needs to be posted.
Attitudes That Empower
When I was faced with the task of overhauling my church’s office, my inherent organizational abilities rescued me. In short order, the office was humming along with filing systems in place, daily schedules, and a place for everything with everything in its place. In fact, five years later, when I left my church office position, my replacement telephoned to thank me for leaving behind “a filing system that makes sense.”
But what about those who aren’t born with the itch for order? Is there any hope for them? The good news is yes! Organization can be learned.
When Pastor Robbie deMarigny announced his plan to leave South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois to start up Impact Church in a neighboring city, Monica offered to help her pastor make a smooth transition. Pastor Robbie equates the experience to working with a life coach—someone who comes alongside to help you make a change for the better.
Monica spent five or six hours with Pastor Robbie weeding through his library and files. She asked clarifying questions to help him determine what to keep, what to toss, and what to leave for his successor. He marveled as she whittled his five-drawer filing system down to one drawer. Creating order in his office reaped exponential benefits for Pastor Robbie and his staff. The clutter-audit created a smooth transition for the new pastor, and it even inspired Pastor Robbie to take his new-found skills home.
Along with an “I-can-do-this” attitude, getting organized requires “do it now” determination. Choosing to deal with information as it comes in (rather than waiting for that non-existent “later”) will empower you. Make a decision! Certainly, you can’t do everything at once, but you can decide immediately what is to be done and when. This is where your daily planner comes into play. If you can’t deal with it now, decide when you will deal with it, and write it into your schedule.
As with any rule, there will be exception. Maybe it’s that piece of paper that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. For example, you receive a flyer announcing a conference that might interest the women of your church, but the date is months in the future. For those cases, you need a file labeled “pending.” This file should be placed on your desktop, or at the front of your most frequently visited file drawer.
Using the example of a future conference, read the flyer and note the “early bird discount” date. Consider how much time in advance of that date will be needed to announce the conference and gather registration forms. When you’ve determined that date, write the name of the conference on that page of your daily planner and put a notation beside it indicating “Pending File,” or write a “P” next to the conference name—it doesn’t matter how you designate “pending file,” just be consistent. Then, file the flyer in the pending file. When you turn your planner to that page, you will be reminded to act, and you will know where to retrieve the information.
You’ve done it! Your office is a masterpiece of order. Comfortably seated at the command center, you are the ruler of your work domain. Now what?
Your orderly office will remain in order through daily habits and regular review. Divide the day into three sections: beginning, middle, and end. At the beginning of the day, review the notes in your daily planner. Prioritize your list—schedule larger tasks as appointments, allotting sufficient time for completion.
The middle of the day is for accomplishing that day’s goals. Focus on each task individually. Assemble whatever materials you need to accomplish the project, do the work, return materials no longer needed to their assigned places, and move on to the next task. Be sure to cross off jobs as you complete them.
At the end of the day, take five or ten minutes to assess the day. Give yourself a pat on the back for your accomplishments. Anything that was left undone needs to be forwarded to the next day. If a task gets forwarded more than five times, it probably is not essential and should be eliminated from your list.
Clean off your desk. File whatever needs to be filed, return supplies and tools to their proper places, and enter any stray notes into the planner.
To maintain the order you’ve worked hard to create, regularly review the following items:
• Review your desktop. Are the tools and files at hand still the ones you need? Do you need to replenish your supplies?
• Review the pending file. Have papers been removed as action was taken?
• Review the filing system. When a file is too full, it’s time to clean it out. Take the time to do so.
• Review your behaviors. Are you still acting now, rather than later? Are you still prioritizing to get the most out of your day?
Now, with daily habits established and regular reviews in place, you turn off the lights, close the door, and head to the parking lot with a sense of satisfaction. Nothing has been forgotten, there are no specters of the day to haunt your evening. You are organized!