Case Study 6 – Small Business Owner
The Client: John, a 42 year old small business owner was swamped in papers. He had piles and stacks of never-ending bills and receipts and manuals and invoices. No matter how much time he spent cleaning it all up, the piles came back to haunt him. He was excellent at his profession, but the papers were about to run him out of business!
The issue: John’s main issues were: 1) small, cramped office with no place to put papers when they came in, 2) one small file cabinet, 3) no time dedicated to handling papers, 4) His staff used his office as a break room, so he had no time to do his “quiet work” without someone being in his space, so he either stayed at work really late, squeezed in paying a bill or handling something important while other people were hanging around, or it didn’t get done. Filing papers never seemed to get raised to the level of important enough to do.
The process: First we looked at all of the available space in John’s office and surrounding area. Could there be another place to create a break room? Was there room to put more file cabinets? And then we evaluated the way he spent his time. Was there another time he could dedicate to working on maintaining his office, so that he didn’t have to work so late, randomly.
There was some wasted space near the back of the work area that was being under-used. It was used to house “junk.” Extra supplies, parts, boxes of old tax information, a ladder, a hose, etc. “We never go back there; it’s like our office version of Siberia.” We debated whether to use this area as the new breakroom, or whether John should move his office there and start anew. John decided to keep his office where it was because it was near the front door of the office, and he wanted to be sure to greet people if staff was not available to do it. That said, we made a plan to move the breakroom to the back underused room. Instead of making his workers unhappy, they were *thrilled* at the idea! They came up with almost all of the ideas for it! Chairs, a coffee machine, a bulletin board, a computer, and John’s idea from reading a book about Disney World’s success long ago, an idea wall!
The first thing we did was to create the break room. It created an air of excitement, and the employees jumped in and volunteered to make it wonderful. They decided on paint colors, debated about which chairs to put there, and helped to make it a nice area!
Now with employees able to take breaks in a nice area, we tackled John’s inner office. First we analyzed why it was so small, and we discovered that his desk, an old school teacher’s huge rectangular desk that he got from a thrift store, was just too big for the space, and his existing 4-drawer file cabinet had one drawer that would not open fully.
John’s assignment was to select a desk that fit the new size parameters that I drew out, and find two cream-colored four-drawer file cabinets. We made a schematic of where the desk and file cabinets would go, and we scheduled our next appointment.
When I came in John was beaming. He had selected a modernized glass desk, and when I returned his office looked beautiful! Not only had he found a lovely desk and placed the file cabinets as planned, he purchased a brand new chair, a luxury he said he had been waiting to indulge in, and had placed a bulletin board smartly in front of his desk. The papers were boxed up, and the office was spotless.
We started by opening one box and sorting papers according to the F.A.S.T. system. (And it went very FAST!). File, Act, Shred, Toss. After all of the papers in all of the boxes were sorted, we threw away the papers in the “T” box and folded it back up. And then we started working on the action files. While sorting we pulled aside the urgent papers, so those were gathered and put in a red folder, and the rest were put in one of two stacking trays, with the instruction to go from the left tray to the right tray every week. Our next task was to create a filing system that would work for John. I recommended that John purchase a numerical filing system. The one I recommended was “The Paper Tiger” by Kiplinger. This way he could file everything quickly, and retrieval was very easy. As his assistant was labeling the file folders with numbers, we were quickly making decisions about what each file should be called, and putting the file descriptions in the appropriate column in the computer. And all of this happened with no interruptions!
The outcome: “I’m amazed! It just took some imagineering, and re-thinking about my space, and in two months it’s completely different!” says John. “I don’t have to stay home late to find papers or pay bills, my employees are not cramped drinking coffee over my desk, and I didn’t have to buy a new building to fix my problem! My wife is happier, my office is calmer, my employees love the break room they helped to create, and I have room for everything.” he adds. “This is amazing! And Marsha created a system for me to keep on top of everything with the two trays and the closed to-do list. I’m very happy! I even went to my son’s baseball game on Thursday!”
By getting furniture that is not too big for the space, increasing filing capacity, and creating a system to keep it up, John was able to restructure his existing workspace and save a lot of money.