Susan Kousek has been self-employed since 1985. Back then, the former office manager made a living doing bookkeeping, software support, and technical writing for a number of small companies.
“One of the things they all needed was help getting organized, so it was natural for me to help them with that,” Kousek remembers. “Gradually, in the 1990s, I switched my business from bookkeeping and software training to organizing because it was much more fun.”
Susan Kousek launched her own business, Balanced Spaces LLC, in 1999. She later sat for the very first certification exam, becoming one of the country’s first certified professional organizers. Today, she serves as secretary for the National Association of Professional Organizers, one of the nation’s leading organization entities.
Based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, Susan Kousek recently chatted with us and offered her advice for setting up or re-organizing your office or other storage spaces.
Staying organized in business and life: An interview with Susan Kousek
Uncle Bob’s Self Storage: You specialize in working with businesses and entrepreneurs, transferring skills from your previous jobs…
Susan Kousek: That’s right. I love working with what we call “solopreneurs” — self-employed people generally working out of their homes. When somebody calls me and they say, “I’m starting my business. I need help figuring out what files I need and how to keep track of my income and expenses, and how to set up my office space,” I just get really excited. I love helping people like that.
Uncle Bob’s: What are some general tips you have for people launching a new business?
Susan Kousek: One tip is to make sure you have all of your important papers filed right away. Your federal identification number, whether you set up your corporation or LLC, when you register for your business license — occasionally you will need them for things.
It’s also important to have a system set up to track your income and expenses, and a system for sending out invoices. So many people are really good at what they do, but they’ve never had to look at admin and the detail stuff.
Uncle Bob’s: What are some other things businesspeople or entrepreneurs might struggle with? And what are some suggestions to fix those things?
Susan Kousek: So many of the things we work on are projects that take more than just a couple of steps. I always tell people that it’s important to file your project papers, computer documents, and email messages immediately. When it’s time to work on that project, if you don’t have everything in one place, you’re going to forget you have something.
I do workshops and seminars too, and one of them I do is “Control Your Email.” If you leave things in your email, and you’ve got thousands of messages, you’re not necessarily going to know what to search for to find all of the things related to a project. So, as soon as you get one email related to the project, create a folder and put all those messages in there.
And the same for the papers and computer documents — have a place to file all the project stuff right away.
If you’ve got papers all over your desk, what’s key is to never mix action items, things that require action, with papers that are going to be filed. If you’ve got reference papers to file — things you need for tax purposes, legal purposes, or reference purposes down the road, like marketing ideas — keep those separate and create a section in your office where you stack those up until you file them.
More from The Decluttered Home: Paper Organization: Dealing with Time-Sensitive Papers
Uncle Bob’s: What about organizing supplies or other office-related items, so people can save time and money?
Susan Kousek: No matter what you’re organizing, whether it’s supplies in the office, supplies at home, or food in your kitchen, group similar things together. Keep all of the Post-It notes together. Keep all of the pens together.
When I’m working with people, usually we come across multiples of different things. Years ago, I was helping a friend organize her kitchen. We found three cans of lima beans, each in a different place, and she looked at me and said, “And we don’t even like lima beans.”
She had one recipe she needed them for. She’d always get a can because she didn’t know she had some already. But if you keep similar things together, you know where they go when you put them away. You know where to go if you need them.
Uncle Bob’s: Is that action of buying things you already have the reason why you say on your website that the average person wastes about $3,000 a year because of disorganization?
Susan Kousek: That’s a part of it, but the major part is time. People waste time looking for papers. They miss deadlines or they are late paying bills and have to pay late fees.
Uncle Bob’s: Can you share some other general organization tips — things that would work for home, office, or anywhere?
Susan Kousek: Always think vertical rather than horizontal. People have a tendency to store things on the floor when they don’t have enough space for them, which is not good. Whether it’s an office, kitchen, or bedroom, I always look for some wall space where we could put a bookcase or a cubby unit to get things vertical.
Make the time to put things away. It takes time to put things away, but it saves time in the long run because you can find it when you need it. You won’t have the clutter around.
Clutter bothers a lot of people. It’s a matter of tolerance. It bothers some people more than others. In an office, though, it’s hard to work when there’s clutter around.
What I recommend is to do a pre-sort. Take all of the papers on the desk, on the floor, and everywhere else, and sit down and figure out what your major groups are.
In an office, one of the major groups will be action items. You always want to keep those separate. I’ll get banker boxes and label them with the major groups.
More from Get Stor-ganized: Five Ways to Eliminate Office Clutter
For home, you might have action items, house, medical, travel, decorating, pets, financial—whatever you’ve got a lot of papers on. Do a pre-sort first, and then you can go through those one at a time. always have a box for action items, so those don’t get buried.
Uncle Bob’s: Are you still having fun all these years after starting Balanced Spaces? What keeps it interesting for you?
Susan Kousek: I am! I do a different thing every day, which is great.
I like a variety of things. One day I might be doing a seminar at a local government agency, and the next day I’ll be working in someone’s home office. The next day I might be working with someone who is retiring.
Thank you, Susan, for all of these great tips and tricks!