Clutter comes in many forms. It’s tempting to look at the pile of papers on your desk and view that as the only clutter weighing you down—but chances are, it’s the least of your problems.
Anyone who runs a business knows that clutter can be more substantial than that, including:
- An email inbox with hundreds of messages that need sorting
- A schedule that overwhelms you and forces you to cancel meetings
- Taxes that are so complicated that they start to take over your life
- A list of voicemails to which you have yet to respond
Just as you’d sweep away the cobwebs in the corner of your basement, your business needs its occasional spring cleaning, too. Here’s why.
Why You Need to Reduce Mental and Physical Clutter
Psychology Today once tallied the mental costs of clutter, pointing to eight distinctive negative effects clutter can have on our lives. From creating feelings of guilt and embarrassment to the constant stressor in the back of your mind that your workday isn’t officially done, clutter can place an enormous mental burden.
The same is true of both physical and mental clutter. A physical mess is another chore we have yet to do, so it becomes a mental challenge. And mental clutter can pile up in physical ways, weighing visibly on our email inbox or piling up in a list of expense receipts you have yet to go through. After a certain point, these tasks lose all meaning and simply become part of an overwhelming stressor weighing on our everyday lives.
Strategies for Reducing Business Clutter
With that in mind, how should you approach the “business” clutter in your life? It’s tempting to go the route of Marie Kondo and the KonMari method. But these systems focus on domestic clutter. What happens when your business life needs cleaning, too?
Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- Identify the clutter. If you have only a vague sense that something in your work is weighing you down, but you don’t know what it is, get clear about what you want to remove from your work life. Write down a list of the thoughts that are more stressful to you at work and ask yourself if you notice any common themes.
- Delegate when possible. However frugal you might be, whenever you can delegate a task that’s weighing heavily on you, you should try to see if there’s a way you can do it. Whether that means hiring an accountant to handle your increasingly-overwhelming taxes or simply having someone come in and clean your desk, you don’t have to add to your daily tasks. Outsource it.
- Always keep your business and your personal separate. According to Stress.org, the blurring of personal and work lives is the main cause of stress for 20% of those in the workforce. Consider that one of the problems business owners have is looking up a wide range of expenses when they’re not sure which ones were for business and which ones were personal. Try to create systems that handle the sorting for you. Use a unique business checking account and unique business credit cards. Combined with proper bookkeeping software that logs every transaction, you’ll never have to worry about collecting and sorting huge piles of receipts again.
- Start small if need be. Sometimes the overwhelming idea of tackling a huge task like our email inbox can prevent us from taking any action at all. Who wants to start a four-hour task when they can spend the next ten minutes doing something more fun? That’s why it’s important to chip away at the clutter even when you know you won’t get to it all in one day. If you can keep the arrow pointing in the right direction, you’ll eventually arrive at a point in which the clutter no longer overwhelms.
Avoid these Key “Business Clutter” Mistakes
After taking steps to reduce your clutter, it’s important not to let it happen again with a few preventative measures:
- Build a replacement system. Even if you go through and delete every email in your inbox, failing to replace your old system with a new one just means you’ll get back in the same old habits. This is a great time to investigate apps like Newton that you can use for long-term inbox maintenance. Do similar research with the other areas in your life that you need to improve upon. If you’ve struggled with your invoicing, is it time to invest in a solution like FreshBooks?
- Schedule regular time for clutter maintenance. As long as clutter remains a problem for you, it’s important to put aside some time every so often to handle your clutter—even if it means simply emailing someone who can help you. Schedule regular maintenance time to sit down and focus solely on decluttering your business life.
- Stop adding to your workload. If you can master the word “No” when you’re overloaded, you’ll do a lot to keep your business running smoothly. For new businesses, turning down additional clients can feel like a major mistake—until you realize that biting off more than you can chew is just as bad a habit as doing too little at work. Stop adding to your workload and give yourself some freedom by saying the occasional “no.”
- Separate your business and your personal life with effective systems. For example, using Grasshopper’s business number allows you to filter out business calls from personal calls, operating both seamlessly on the same device.
Building a Better Way of Handling Business Clutter
De-cluttering your business life requires a great deal of introspection. It requires being honest about yourself and the way you approach your business every day. It requires a little work to get started. But it will be well worth the investment of time and effort it takes, because you’ll be better able to handle your daily workload—as well as build stronger systems for managing growth in the future of your business.