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SRQ INC: Workplace Productivity… Kate Brown


[TALK] Feature

SRQ INC: Workplace Productivity… Kate Brown

If you’re an entrepreneur, chances are you’re also an accountant, marketer, HR director, webmaster, courier service and master mechanic of small business equipment. Have a spouse or kids, too? God bless you.

“The most common words I hear are "overwhelmed,’ ‘can’t keep up,’ and ‘the good news is, we’re growing; the bad news is…,’” says Kate Brown, founder of Impact Organizing. This self-proclaimed startup junkie and former workaholic knows exactly how to make business owners more efficient.

Pam Morris, a certified Kolbe Consultant and partner in the consulting firm Instinct Matters, hired Brown for one-on-one coaching and also attended Brown’s GO System workshop. She says, “I’ve taken loads of other organizational workshops, but Kate relates those of us who are resistant to organization.”

Morris recalls the day Brown first visited her home office, which Morris shared with her husband. “She took one look at it and said ‘You can’t work here.’” Brown suggested she move to one of the spare rooms above the garage. “I’m so much more effective there,” she says. “I feel like part of the house, I can see people coming and going, but they don’t even think to come up here and bother me.”

There’s a Reason You’re Not an Accountant

One of Brown’s first steps with a client is to identify what tasks can be offloaded. She acknowledges that most business owners have the intellectual capacity to handle everything, even if marketing or website design isn’t their focus, which is why so many are reluctant to spend the money to hire someone to do the work. But the net result is often that it simply doesn’t get done. “I’ll ask a client, ‘What is it costing you to not have your new product on your website?” Brown says. Sometimes asking this question is enough to make an owner justify paying for a professional.

For many of Brown’s clients, the first thing to go is QuickBooks. “Most owners are behind. And that makes sense. They’re behind because they’re taking care of customers. You’re not a flop because you’re behind in your QuickBooks. You’re a success.” Whether it’s bringing in a teenager who can provide data entry a few hours a week, or, for more complex situations, transferring the job to an accountant’s office, just getting the QuickBooks situation under wraps is a huge improvement for many people.

Help for Highly Distractible People (If You’re Human, That Means You)

It’s a scientific fact that the brain cannot do two things at once as effectively as doing each one alone. Or, as Brown puts it, “Multitasking makes us stupid.” Brown emphasizes retraining the brain to focus and offers three key tips:

1) Do everything you can to minimize physical and sound interruptions. First things first, turn off your email notification. That means no dinger, not having the program popping to the front of your screen when a new mail comes in, and shutting off that annoying “notification box” that magically appeared with the new version of Outlook. When you’re planted in front of your screen to work on financial projections, a new email is far more interesting than crunching numbers. You may be thinking “But it might be a client.” They can wait an hour. Even worse, it might be an email from Staples announcing a sale on multifunction machines. You go to the website and before you know it, the morning is gone. “It’s not that I’m opposed to researching,” says Brown, “just be clear about where your time is going.”

Brown’s favorite location for a home office is a room with a door, separate from the rest of the house. If it has its own entry from the driveway or garage, that’s even better. Either way, if you work at home, make it very clear to the people in your home that you are working.

2) Schedule Do Not Disturb Time Pam Morris, who moved to a spare room above her garage, is a mother of four adult children (one of whom lives across the street) and an 11-year old son. Morris takes Brown’s suggestion of posting a Do Not Disturb plaque on the door to heart: “I tell them, unless you’re bleeding or dying, don’t bother me,” she says.

Brown, whose own office is home-based, says that if she is concentrating on something and the phone rings, she lets it go to voicemail. “Even if I call the person back five minutes later, I can clear my desk, have a blank piece of paper in front of me and be completely focused on them.” She’s also resolved not to talk to clients when driving. “My job is to listen to people. How can I do that if I can’t take notes?”

3) Set up an organizational system that works for you and train yourself to use it. Brown is a big fan of the Tickler system (essentially a set of 31 files, each indicating the date of the month, followed by monthly files). But there’s a twist. She staples a bright green sheet of paper to the front of any action item, and labels it with the next action she needs to take on the project (so, for example, call, email, schedule, research, etc.). She calls it “verbing” her green sheets. “That way the next time you see it, you don’t have to spend five minutes trying to remember what you’re supposed to do,” she says.

At the beginning of each day, Brown pulls out her stack of papers from the day’s file and physically sorts her priorities. And before she starts working on her top priority—get this—she puts all the items she’s not working on back in their file. “This reinforces my commitment to focus one thing at a time,” she says.

Lori Lockhart, Realtor with Coldwell Banker, has worked with Brown individually and also attended Brown’s GO System workshop. She says the Tickler system is an ongoing process, but that it helps her stay one step ahead of her clients. “If you don’t keep up with clients, you’ll lose them. This system always reminds you of what you need to do,” she says. Pam Morris agrees. “This system has totally transformed my life,” she says. “I’m an innovator. I have one idea after another, but can’t remember it all anymore. With this system, I don’t worry about dropping ideas anymore.”

The Unique Challenges of Working at Home

When it comes to working at home, Brown cautions against what she calls work leakage. “If I go to a client’s home office and I find the payroll book in the kitchen, that’s work leakage.”

Brown acknowledges that with the Florida lifestyle, where small businesses make up 98.6 percent of the areas companies, work and home do converge. Furthermore, entrepreneurs like what they do. That can cause serious work leakage and even workaholism, says Brown.

“It’s all rolled in to one,” she says. Entrepreneurs are excited about what they do; they talk about it at parties. It’s hard to shut it off. So if you can physically keep your work stuff out of your eating and sleeping stuff, that helps. Do I spread out all over the house? Absolutely. But then I pack it all up and roll it back away.”

Keeping It All In Balance

Brown recommends having one day a week where you absolutely do not work. Realtor Lori Lockhart doesn’t answer her phone after 8pm, and she tries not to work on Sundays. “Some people think that’s crazy, since I’m a Realtor,” she says. “But I was heading for burnout.”

Pam Morris has also adopted Brown’s rule, designates Saturdays as “free days.” That means no email, no checking work messages, no working. “Everybody needs 24 hours,” she says.

Creating Organization at Home

What To Do With The Mail?

For some families, Brown focuses on training whoever gets the mail to put it in the same place every day. For Pam Morris, who has five children (four are adults but as every mother knows, the mail keeps coming), a housekeeper, an assistant and an accountant, a single day’s mail wreaks havoc on a kitchen counter. Brown created a system of eight mailboxes, with labels like “Big Kids,” “Housekeeper” and “Finances.” Catalogs go in a basket, and a trashcan sits below the mailboxes for easily getting rid of junk mail. Morris’ 11-year-old son has his own shelf and cubby in the kitchen, which holds everything he needs to do homework (pencil sharpener, stapler) and is big enough to store his backpack.

Should A Home Office Be In The Master Bedroom?

Never, according to Brown. “It’s not restful, and it’s definitely work leakage if you’re sleeping with someone else. I think it’s anxiety provoking and the feng shui people would be very unhappy.”

By Britta Alexander.