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How-To: Spring-Clean your Small Business

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By Caroline McMillan Portillo

organized_digital_files(MCT)—Professional organizer Jennifer Burnham tackles everything from hoarders’ homes to estate sales, corporate headquarters to home-based offices.

The 31-year-old started her Charlotte, N.C.-based company, Pure & Simple Organizing, in 2010. She’s often called on to help small-business owners, and as an entrepreneur herself, she’s learned that small organizational issues can grow to be the difference between an exhausting day and an exhilarating one, a floundering business and a thriving one.

The Charlotte Observer spoke with Burnham about solutions for corralling emails, saving time and maintaining a workspace. Here are her tips for your business’s spring-cleaning overhaul:

Tackling the inbox: Burnham says corporate managers and business owners will often hire her to retrain employees—and themselves—on email maintenance, so they’re able to spend more time on projects and less time on e-communication. Here are tips she shares with clients:

—Send fewer emails: “For every five emails you send, three come back,” Burnham says. So identify times when a reply isn’t necessary. Even just sending one last email that only says “thank you” can restart a conversation, she says. And if it’s less time-consuming, just pick up the phone.

—Simplify your email folders: Less is more, Burnham says. Many people she works with have dozens of email folders, which can make for frantic and fruitless searching. She recommends clients have about six main folders and then sub-folders, which can be minimized.

—Turn off pop-up notifications: Burnham recommends that many of her clients adjust their settings so a window in the bottom of their screen doesn’t notify them every time they get an email. Those real-time updates can interrupt your work flow, she says, when it’s better to check at predetermined times, which could be every 15 minutes or four times throughout the workday as Burnham does. “Email is a tool to get your job done,” she says. “It’s not your job.”

Streamline to save time: Burnham says it’s important that business owners don’t waste time repeating the same steps unnecessarily. Here are some of her tips for shaving minutes that add up to hours and days:

—Create branded documents: Cheryl Luckett, a human-resources professional at a Fortune 500 company by day, hired Burnham in January to help her organize her side gig, an interior decorating business called Dwell by Cheryl.

Thanks to Burnham’s help, Luckett now has documents with her logo that list her policies, process and pricing. Now, when prospective clients email Luckett, she’s able to reply immediately with the documents attached, rather than type out the same information in the body of the email repeatedly. Burnham also recommends converting these documents into PDFs, so that the formatting isn’t lost, no matter what operating system the recipient has.

Luckett says clients are regularly impressed with the speed of her reply, and the aesthetics and professionalism of the paperwork. As a small business owner, “you basically are your brand, and everything impacts your impression,” Luckett says.

—Have one master calendar: It’s easy to forget an appointment or task if you’re trying to maintain several calendars, so Burnham tells clients to choose one medium — mobile device, planner or desk calendar — and make sure every commitment is recorded there. If you plan digitally (Burnham uses the free Google Calendar), you can even sync your calendar with others’.

Then don’t be afraid to schedule everything that needs to get done, Burnham adds, whether it’s blocking off time for administrative tasks or a reminder to take a lunch break.

—Keep two to-do lists: Burnham says she has one all-inclusive to-do list where she compiles every task she needs to do. Then, every day she looks at the list and pulls out the four most important tasks to accomplish that day and puts them on another list. This arrangement is less overwhelming and forces her to identify what’s most important every day.

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