Article By Ellen Rohr

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One of my favorite Peanuts characters is Pig Pen. Pig Pen arrives on the scene in cloud of dust and dirt, messy and unkempt. And it drives Schroeder absolutely crazy! A neat-nick just can’t tolerate a disorderly environment. Pig Pen doesn’t notice his condition, or the effect it has on others.

If your company is a pigsty, it won’t bother the slobs who work with you. Maybe you are a slob yourself. Or maybe you have just grown used to the mess. But, the neat nicks in your business are going to high tail it out of there if you don’t clean it up.

Interestingly, if your office is neat as a pin, it won’t bother the Pig Pens. They don’t notice anyway.

So, the only environment that can handle all personality types is neat and clean. That’s one major reason for cleaning up your company.

One more reason to keep a ship shape shop: sales.

When I walk through the front door of a restaurant, I can tell how clean the kitchen is. I know that if they can’t manage to sweep the foyer, the kitchen must be a hellhole.

Perhaps you offer skilled services to your customers. Doctors, computer consultants, plumbers, pilots take note. Your customers are not aware of all the technical demands of your profession. But they will make assumptions about your skills based on the little things, like if you have a blob of ketchup on your shirt or if your garbage cans are spilling over. Consciously, and sub-consciously, your customers are sizing you up. If you are taking care of the little things, they know you have the big things handled. This could make them decide not to buy from you!

There’s another much more important reason to clean up your act: discipline. It starts with you. Communicate who you are by your attention to the details. Maybe you have too many details to manage. Then, streamline all systems. Keep only those items and procedures that help you make money.

You may decide that a neat and clean uniform directly contributes to making sales. If you sincerely believe that – I do! – then you are going to have to be willing to fire anyone who refuses to wear the regulation uniform in spit-shine condition.

Your desk says a lot about you. Is it a sane, functional, inspiring working environment? Or is it a disaster on four legs? Certainly, a clean desk can improve your productivity. Even more importantly, it communicates that you know what you are doing.

Once, I was asked to submit a proposal for writing a brochure for a manufacturing company. I was on friendly terms with the president of the company, and he had asked me personally to take on the project. I put together a proposal and decided to deliver it in person.

When I arrived, the president’s secretary told me that he had left for a few minutes, and suggested that I set my proposal on his desk. So, I walked into his office and was shocked to see towering stacks of papers and product samples two feet deep on top of his desk. Every square inch was covered. Piles had tipped over on top of others.

I set my proposal on top of this sea of paper, and visualized it drowning before it ever got noticed. After leaving, I called his office and left a voice mail for him, alerting him that I had dropped off the proposal. Later, he returned my call and promised that once he got caught up with a few things, he would take a look and get back to me. He never did. And I didn’t mind. I had no interest in developing a relationship with someone with such a lack of discipline. We wouldn’t get anything accomplished!

I am not a neat nick. I am not particularly tidy or organized. But, I have disciplined myself to be orderly and systematic because I don’t like the consequences of being a slob. I don’t like people to think that I am disorganized and out of control. On the contrary, I want customers, employees, vendors and subcontractors to feel that, by working with me, they have found a sane harbor in a sea of chaos.

I also got tired of searching for everything I thought was “right here.”

Take a good look at your desk. Be honest. If it’s a mess — yes, even just “a little messy” — clean it!

Start with your desk

This is easy to do, but we don’t take anything for granted. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a neat and functional working space.

• Collect the tools you’ll need — a garbage can, a stapler, post-it notes, paper clips and a marking pen and furniture polish or all-purpose cleaner, and a large cup of coffee.
• Lock your door and take the phone off the hook.
• Take everything — I mean everything — off your desk. Empty all drawers and shelves. Set everything on the floor.
• Actually clean your desk — inside and out. Polish it — make it shine!
• Go through every pile and get rid of the trash — throw it out! Be ruthless … out-of-date information? Toss! A magazine that is more than two months old? Pitch! (Remember, it is unlikely that you would ever look through your huge piles of stuff to actually find something. If any of this information is available through the Internet or with a telephone call that is where you should get it.)
• Put everything you’d like to keep into “like kind” piles on the floor.
• Use your tools to make small notes, staple corresponding items together, label and sort.
• Put back on your desk only the things you will need to access this week.
• Put back in your drawers only one of each type of office supply item you use.
• Put back on your shelves only the current projects that require your immediate attention.
• Take the piles of like-kind information and file them!
• As each new item crosses your desk, you must take a second and put it in its place.
• Put your mission statement on your wall.
• Even if they are in perfect condition, throw out the bright green folders that you know you will never use. If that strikes you as being wasteful, then donate the folders to the Salvation Army or the Victory Mission. But, do it today, or throw them away!

Apply these principles: clean the whole place!

This is simple, but not always easy. If you are way out of your league here and would like some help, let me know. We will put you in touch with a professional organizer (there is such a thing!) to help you get it done. You can also contact the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) 512.454.8626. Isn’t it wonderful that there are folks who are just itching to help you clean your desk, and organize your filing systems?

Throughout our relationship, I’ll make recommendations when it comes to hiring a consultant or subcontractor to do something well at your company that you won’t do or will do poorly. Now is one of those times. Just remember to add his or her fees to the professional services account on your budget.

A clean desk is no small thing. It is symbolic of your commitment to excellence, fundamental business basics and focused thinking. It is a testimony to your personal discipline. If you can’t keep your own desk clear and your work focused and productive, then who are you to lead others? A clean desk speaks volumes.

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.”
-- Oscar Wilde

Ellen Rohr, president of ZOOM DRAIN, a drain & sewer franchising company. She’s the author of four business books, including “Where Did the Money Go?” – accounting basics, and "The Weekend Biz Plan.” Ellen’s a member of the EGIA faculty, sharing her snappy, helpful, and usually irreverent insights on business planning and financial clean-up.

EGIA Contractor University has assembled the most experienced and dynamic faculty ever put together. Faculty members have personally built some of the most successful contracting companies in America. During Contractor Leadership Live, Ellen will be leading an Exclusive Workshop, Tuesday, Sept. 12, From 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. This Exclusive Workshop is only available to the first 500 Contractors who register for the All-Access pass. Visit Contracting Business for more information and to learn about the Contractor Leadership Live event. Reach Ellen at