In today’s post, we’re going to explore ways of getting organized for your core systems: Calendar, email and computer files.

As a growth strategist, I find ways to help my clients scale their businesses. Whether they initially realize it or not, they come to me with the need to create or refine systems for managing the details of their business.

When you’re a solo business owner, you have to be smart about how you utilize systems. Without employees to delegate to, you have to rely on your digital minions to help you along. Thankfully they don’t complain and they generally don’t cause much trouble.

Systems free your time for paid work. They also eliminate some of the mental overhead of running the business, which is critical for ensuring have plenty of mental energy to create.

If you are the kind of person who has a lot of ideas, putting support systems in place is not optional. It’s the only way to ensure you will be able to see your ideas through to completion.

Time Management Systems (AKA calendars)

Using an online calendar means you can sync to your phone and your computer, so event reminders will automatically pop up wherever you are. This is mission critical for getting me where I need to be—physically and mentally.

Some calendar apps let you set more than one. I’m a huge fan. I use one notification to remind me to prep for a meeting and another to get me to the meeting on time.

Using a calendar effectively means more than just using it to schedule meetings. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got is from Emily Utter, who suggested blocking off the first two hours of each day for myself.

This tip has meant getting rid of my much-loathed alarm clock.

Now I wake up fully rested like Snow White (before the poisoned apple) and meander downstairs for my beloved morning coffee, swathed in my fuzzy blue bathrobe. Bliss!

Me in a bathrobe
Me in a bathrobe

Yes, my life is just like the movies. I obviously wake up fully made up and smiling every morning. Ask my husband.

If you are one of the last paper calendar holdouts, begin using a digital calendar ASAP. Most entrepreneurs use some form of Google account, meaning you automatically have a free Google Calendar, so no more excuses!

Think about this: What if you lost your calendar? I’d place $100 on “all hell would break loose”. Keep it online, where it’s nice and safe in the fluffy interweb clouds.

Tips for Beginners

Start small! Consider putting in just a few appointments to get used to it.

Google provides helpful tutorials on getting started with Google Calendar and how to sync it with your phone.

Tips for Pros

Begin using your calendar as a tool to prevent overwork and maintain boundaries within your business and your life. Schedule in things that are important for you, such as exercise, time with friends, continuing education, etc. It’s like the time equivalent of paying yourself first.

Think about using multiple calendars where it makes sense. I have about five calendars because I use an iPhone and color-coding makes my life complete. Here are my calendars:

  • Personal (haircuts, dentist visits, etc.)
  • Family (for personal engagements, concerts, dinners, etc.)
  • Coaching (for client sessions)
  • Business (appointments, meetings and classes)
  • Tasks (time-based tasks such as blogging, sales and marketing efforts, etc.)

Extra Credit

Explore tools like ScheduleOnce to free you from the email ping-pong of appointment scheduling. Basic accounts are free!

Music for tidying up calendars: “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor

Communication (AKA email)

I will admit that email sometimes makes me break out in hives. My inbox is a never ending stream of crap. Except for when it’s really, really important. Too bad they live together. Ugh.

Getting to the elusive Inbox Zero (i.e., empty inbox) is a topic best left to productivity gurus, so I will speak to keeping things as tidy as possible in your account.

Make email your bitch

Depending on your email client (i.e., the app you use to read your email), you can set up rules to help you out. For example, I have a rule that searches for any email that contains “unsubscribe” and turns the text to gray. About 99% of the time these are newsletters. Greying them out means I don’t have to give them my attention until I’m ready for them. I also have rules for VIPs. This makes the text red, so I can get to them immediately.

You can set up rules that file your email for you. I don’t do this because I find that if I haven’t seen them before they’re filed, I don’t know they’re there, hence I will never look at them. This makes them email account bloat instead of useful information.

Kicking it old school

I may be in the minority these days, what with all of the tagging and massive archive capabilities in the Gmail world, but I’m an old-fashioned gal who loves my folders. It comforts me to know that my important emails have a place to live. I like to read them (or save them for later) all snug and tucked in their beds.

Another tip circulating the internet is the use of a free tool called I know a lot of folks that use it, and it has reduced my email stress considerably. It’s a free tool, and it allows you to continue to get those random newsletters and emails we all get without being forced to deal with them constantly.

Music for email cleanup: “Signed Sealed Delivered” by Stevie Wonder

All of the digital crap on your computer (AKA File Management)

Here’s my first tip: For the love of god, stop leaving stuff on your desktop.

It’s okay to put something there temporarily, but the more you have there the slower your computer will be. It’s also messy and ugly. Don’t think that seeing that mess every time you use your computer is making it easy for you to focus.

I have a folder that I put everything in that needs to be filed. I make an alias/shortcut of that folder that I keep on the desktop so it’s within easy reach. I also have aliases/shortcuts of documents I use frequently. Just a few. (Not all of them!)

MacBook Desktop
MacBook Desktop

This is mine. Isn’t it lovely? :D

Treat your computer desktop like a hotel lobby or the entrance of your house.

It’s the first thing you see when you boot your computer. Keep it clean to keep yourself calm and focused.

Love means never making your files live in a flophouse (AKA folder hierarchy)

Just as with your email account, keeping your computer folders tidy will make things much easier to find. No one likes scrolling for days to look for the files they want. And you certainly don’t want to have to rely on search if you can’t remember what you name things.

Consider what folders are important to you. Here’s a basic sample of what an efficient hierarchy looks like for a business:

Folder Hierarchy Sample
Folder Hierarchy Sample

It’s all about the sorting, sorting, sorting (AKA Naming Conventions)

If you’re like me you’ve got a lot of files, and finding your shiz can be complicated even when you have a great folder structure.

Here’s what to do about that.

When you create or download files, name them in a way that will make them easy to find and sort. Do it for yourself. Also do it for the assistant you will have one day.

They will thank you. And they will get things done faster, which makes everyone happier.

When naming files, you want to think about moving from more specific to less specific. Here are a few examples:

“Jane Doe - Coaching Session 1 2014-04-17”

In this case, you may have a number of files related to a client named Jane Doe. Adding her name at the front will allow you to sort all of your client related documents and have that client’s grouped together. It will be further sorted by the session number and date. (More on dates in a minute.)

“TEMPLATE – Client Service Agreement - Standard 2014-04-21”

In this case, you would probably have a large number of contract templates in your Legal folder (along with a bunch of other stuff). This allows you to group by templates, then by Client Service Agreements, then by type and date.

A special note about file dates

Add a date at the end of a file name for any document that will have multiple versions. Don’t rely on the computer dates, such as Date Created or Date Modified. These are notoriously unreliable. The format to use is YYYY-MM-DD (less specific to more specific).

Summary of file naming tips:

  • Try to name files so that someone who isn’t you will know what it is
  • Go from less specific to more specific in the file name.
  • Use numbers instead of words (e.g., 2 vs. two)
  • Always include dates when you will have multiple versions of a document
  • Use YYYY-MM-DD for the date format

Music for file naming: "The Name Game" by The American Horror Story Cast

If you have some tips to share, please add them in the comments below!

To our success, Audra

P.S. If you know someone who could benefit from this, forward it along!

Photo Credit: Lime Lane Photography