Liz Dahmen is an entrepreneur, artist and educator who runs the office organization company Make Space LLC out of Brooklyn, New York. I spoke to her about how new entrepreneurs can go about organizing their workspace (however improvised it might be) for maximum efficiency.
What are the most common challenges entrepreneurs face when setting up a work space?
When it's time to set up a workspace, it's very common to look at your last job and want to replicate (or improve upon) what you had there. This is totally logical but can sometimes lead one astray in terms of making their workspace reflect their particular needs as an entrepreneur.
Let's say you're moving into a dedicated desk or cubicle in a co-working space. You observe the raw, empty area. You feel an urge to get a paper sorter and a pencil cup and...that takes you to Staples. At Staples there are those bins up front where everything you could ever need (a glue stick! a ruler! an electric pencil sharpener!) are all on sale and you buy them. You get back to your space and unload and you realize you could have spent that last hour and a half actually working.
My advice is to work in your space for two weeks and make a mental note of what you reach for but can't find. After two weeks take your list and get only what you need.
You've said in the past that "your workspace is like your business partner" -- what do you mean by that?
Many entrepreneurs start out as an army of one. When this is the case I find it really helpful to look at designing your work environment so that it functions like an ideal business partner would. Now, an "ideal" business partner has a different profile for everyone. Like any good duo, an ideal business partner generally compliments your skill set.
For example, Shelly is an entrepreneur starting a mini-quiche enterprise, but she really struggles with her bookkeeping and has receipts and scraps of paper everywhere. An ideal business partner for Shelly would be awesome at administrative tasks and bookkeeping. So, we build Shelly's office in such a way that tackling paperwork is a breeze. We let the space take on some of the administrative responsibility of running the business. A well designed and organized space can do that.
What is the relationship between workspace and productivity? Creativity?
I truly believe that the physical space you work in can have a huge impact on your concentration, motivation and creativity. That said, some people are more sensitive to their physical environment than others. Step one, if you haven't already, get to know yourself. Work from the inside out (using your own preferences as a guide) instead of from the outside in (using a catalogue or design magazine as a guide).
Some people really thrive working in a cafe atmosphere with lots of music and chatter and movement. There's nothing wrong with that, but let's not build a serene, zen-like, modern office for them. They'd go nuts. Conversely, if you need a really calm, controlled environment in order to do your best work-- don't take your laptop to the cafe the day before a deadline is due. I'm talking about choices. Choose to put yourself in a place (or choose to build a place) that is in harmony with your own work-style preferences.
As an entrepreneur yourself, what's you favorite technique or approach to staying organized?
My go-to techniques are:
1) Don't freak out
2) Get enough sleep
3) Get perspective
Things fall apart, things get lost -- that's just life, no matter who you are. A lot of time is lost freaking out about little things that are ultimately really insignificant. Number 3 is really important. There might be a time where you feel so out of control, or where your disorganization is costing you clients/ money/ relationships that you really need to make big changes. If that's the case talk to a friend or a professional organizer (NAPO is a great resource) and see if working with someone can help you resolve some of those problems.
I really find that most of the time, most people have pretty good systems in place. I generally work with people who want their good systems to be great, or with people who just can't get a system going in the first place.