I recently spent a rainy Saturday afternoon watching a show called “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” I really didn’t have time to sit and watch TV but I couldn’t stop watching. Once I was able to get a peak into what looked like your everyday average person’s home I found I needed to see more, like watching a train wreck.
The show takes you inside not only the home of an extreme hoarder but also their mind. They give you a peak at their compulsions to accumulate and store large quantities of what most of us would call junk, but to them are prized possessions. Although I have never been inside someone’s home as extreme as these, I have been to many contractor offices that I might nominate for the show. It really got me to thinking about part four of our eight part series on how to do addition by subtraction and create more space to organize your contracting office.
Admitting You Have a Problem
I suspect that most of us hoard at least a little bit, collecting or holding on to items that are probably not necessary or useful. For instance, I like to hang on to every piece of paper that comes my way for fear of possibly needing it down the line. Many contracting companies tend to hold on to certain items they feel may come in useful in the future, taking up valuable real estate within their compound and setting a poor example for current and prospective employees.
I’ve seen all sorts of things like old computer monitors, keyboards, phone systems, cell phones, pagers, letterhead and envelopes with old logos, expired marketing pieces, endless supplies of pens, markers, highlighters and sticky note pads and damaged parts and equipment that have been pulled out of customer’s homes with the good intention of “using it for future training purposes.” This is just the beginning. I can not even tell you how much space is wasted by those of you in the HVAC industry storing sheet metal that you will never use. I’ve seen contractors build garages and warehouses, purchase used trailers and rent an offsite storage facility when they’ve run out of room to store these items. Is it really worth it?
If you are not sure if this is you, you should probably seek further help. I won’t be able to help you with this one blog post. For those of you who do realize that you have a problem letting go I have a few tips for you on how to start organizing your space so you can save time and money and reduce your stress and frustration levels.
Where Should You Start?
Start by determining which areas of your office you want to improve. Maybe your problem is paper like mine, or a clutter problem from parts and equipment being returned to the shop. Or maybe it’s just a lack of knowledge not knowing how to properly dispose of certain items like office equipment or getting rid of tools that no longer work. Once you’ve decided which areas you want to attack first you can start to develop a process to get organized and stay there.
Next, use a sorting system to figure out what stays and what goes. This can be plastic bins or cardboard boxes. Or if you need something bigger maybe garbage cans or empty 55 gallon drums. You can even lay down tarps or blankets to sort items on. Now label each sorting area as follows: Stays, Garbage, Donate, and if you really need to, a Not Sure. Although I learned that with the Not Sure bin you need to give yourself a time limit to make a decision. Something like 48 hours so the items don’t end up just piling up again.
Once you have sorted through your first area and decided on the items you want to keep you need to decide where each item will go and label that space. You might be wondering why you need to label the space. I feel strongly that if this particular item that you are willing to give up valuable space on your shelves or in your office, and go through all the trouble of creating a system to keep from things getting cluttered again is not worth labeling, then it is probably not worth keeping. With this said, it you have an item that you only purchase once a year or so and is taking up space on the shelf, you may want to rethink whether or not to keep that item and go a different route.
Maybe you have an old outdated dot matrix printer (I’ve seen it in many a contractor offices out there) and you keep the paper and ink cartridges stored in your warehouse You may want to consider upgrading your printers. Try purchasing the same models, or at least brands, so that you can keep things orderly.
Or let’s say you have a CSR who likes to use a particular style pen to write with while the techs in the field are using a custom logo company pen. Well I say what’s good for one is good for all. Unless there is some physical reason for needing the comfort grip 5000 with automatic refilling ink wells and a leather holster, I can’t imagine why everyone can’t use the same thing. Next thing you know that CSR has left the company and now you need to upgrade to the 6000 model for the new CSR.
I can go on with example after example about how we purchase items that we don’t need and rarely use. You can substitute pens with staplers, scissors, markers, highlighters, sticky notes, company tools, uniforms, phones systems, software, and so on. If you are not willing to find a permanent space and label an item so it can be inventoried, then it is probably not worth keeping.
Develop Your System
Now that your area is neat and organized you need to develop a system for keeping it that way. I like to walk myself through the situation. Let’s say the problem is with UPS deliveries and boxes piling up around the front office. You might want to start by thinking about who should really be accepting these items. If you are getting deliveries for supplies or parts and have an inventory person or warehouse, then start by having all deliveries going to that person or place and not the front office.
Maybe you’re a small three man shop and you don’t have a person or warehouse, than think about whom and where it would be best to accept deliveries and start there. Have that person sort through items as they come in immediately and put the itmes in their proper labeled place. If that person has another job which takes precedence, then have them put them aside until the end of the day and take 15-30 minutes to sort and put each item away in its proper labeled space. Make it part of their job description on their priority list.
Maybe your problem is not with boxes but with paperwork from the field piling up. Start by taking yourself through your paperwork process. Who should techs be turning in tickets and paperwork to and how often? What should be included? Should it be paper clipped or stapled? What type of check in process is there? Do they just throw the tickets in the basket or is someone there to ask questions and give detailed information to? After turning the paperwork in what’s the next step? Does it go to accounting, dispatch, or customer service? What does each of these departments do with the paperwork? Is there a checks and balance system and how long before the paperwork is processed and put away? All this and more will need to be considered for each problem area in order to keep things running smoothly and from piling up again.
Document Your Process
Once you have the system figured out for keeping your contracting office neat and organized you need to document your system and keep it transparent. If you want to keep your systems ongoing as you lose certain employees and gain new ones you need to keep your process out in the open where everyone can see. When I say out in the open I mean “in your face” transparent with step by step instructions and pictures.
Think like a fast food restaurant where there is a sign saying “Line Starts Here.” They usually also have a sign saying “Order Here” and “Pay Here” as if it were that difficult to figure out. Then there are huge blown up menus right in front of your eyes with all your choices along with another huge sign marked “Drink Fountain-Free Refills.” It’s hard to go wrong in a fast food restaurant.
Employees need the same thing when it comes to keeping your office organized. They have already been trained for years by other businesses to look for the signs on how to do things. Why not run with this concept?
De-cluttering your office with items you rarely or never use will give you more space for things better served, like maybe a training or lunch room for employees. Who knows? Maybe now you can have an office of your own instead of sharing with your manager or spouse.
Not only will your office look cleaner and neater, you will be able to attract and retain better employees who share the same values as you. These values extend throughout the field to technicians trucks and in customers homes. Remember the old phrase “monkey see monkey do?” If your employees see that you respect your office then they will want to fit in by respecting it also.
Pride yourself on placing value on a simplified environment with fewer things and you will never have to go through the process of de-cluttering your office again.