In one of my family's favorite Looney Tunes cartoons, Duck Amuck, an unseen artist keeps changing the backdrop and plot on hapless Daffy Duck. He scrambles to change his costumes and dialogue to fit the ever-changing agenda, but it's hopeless. He's headed off at every turn.
Finally, as he finds himself with no scenery or costume at all, he sneers: "Let's get organized, hmm?"
It's like this at a lot of small businesses, too. Disorganization can really sap productivity.
How can you stop the chaos and get organized, hmm? Here are eight tips from Karl Goldfield, the Collaboration Agent 001 at the project-management software company Teambox, plus a few of my own:
- Don't designate tasks verbally. It's too easy for something to get lost in translation, and then you've got no documentation of what you wanted done.
- Set and manage due dates. When people are given tasks but not timeframes, things tend to never get done.
- Organize your policy info. Important information about your business should be in one, convenient location where everyone can easily find it.
- Simplify procedures. If you have too many different procedures -- or it takes too many different steps to accomplish a task -- they may become easier to ignore. Workers may begin making up their own, more expedient ways of doing things instead.
- Set email limits. Many people constantly check email, interrupting tasks that require sustained concentration. Experiment with shutting it down for most of the day, or get workers to set their email to only 'ding' them every few hours.
- Think files, not piles. This applies to both your computer desktop and your office desk. Papers left around loose tend to get lost.
- Get buy-in on policy changes. Staff can easily go off the rails when you want to change how the business does things. Make sure you explain why the change will make their lives better. At one newspaper where I worked, they fed us Jolly Rancher candies while they explained why we would be happier if our weekly story deadline was half a day sooner. It worked.
- Monitor progress. As the owner of a small hardware-store chain once told me, "People do what you inspect -- not what you expect."
At the end of Duck Amuck, the artist who's torturing Daffy is revealed to be Bugs Bunny, erstwhile ringleader of the Looney Tunes gang. (I'd link to a video, but the dozens of copies on YouTube all appear to be pirated.)
Don't be this kind of boss -- lay out clear, simple rules and explain them to employees, and you can clear up the disorganization and get things done.
How does your small business stay organized? Leave a comment and let us know.