Working from home comes with plenty of distractions, one of the biggest being emails (my weakness for sure!). Instead of wasting time doing tasks repeatedly (like checking email ten times a day) get a system for organizing and you’ll stay on focus and get more done.
Here are some office organzing tips to help you do just that.
Organizing Your Home Office
By Lisa Lelas
As more people make the decision to work from their homes to save time and money, they have to be realistic about their expectations. Working from home actually takes a bit of creative strategizing. To be productive in a home office environment, we must utilize the space effectively and reduce the usual distractions.
Define your home office space, even if your office is a corner of the family room or kitchen. Keep all office-related items in one place to create an efficient central spot and eliminate wasted time looking all over the house for things you need.
Set up your home office with the same basic tools used in larger businesses. You need ample desk space, office supplies, filing cabinets, calendar, waste basket, phone, answering machine and a computer. Designate separate supply storage areas for family members so they won’t borrow your office supplies.
To help avoid feeling overwhelmed whenever you walk into your home office, you must get some organizational systems in place. There are five things that need to get organized on a daily basis in a home office: email, voice mail, ideas you think of, verbal requests, and lots of paper to file!
Resist the temptation to check your emails first thing in the morning. Inevitably, it will send you off-course, causing you to stray from your intended to-do list. Instead, make it a point to accomplish one project from your list of to-do’s for the day. Starting the day with a sense of accomplishment is satisfying and more inspiring to keep up productivity. Establish a time at the beginning and end of each day to check emails. Answer those most important or those you can do quickly and delete all junk mail.
Just like emails, establish a regular time to check voice messages. Keep a log book with a pen right next to the answering machine to record all important phone numbers and messages. To avoid obvious telephone distractions during the day, try turning off the phone ringer for a few hours of uninterrupted work time each day, allowing your machine to pick up instead.
Your ideas and business strategies are important to your home office business. Establish an ‘ideas file or journal’ to toss in any thoughts that you’d like to implement at some point. Review the file at least once a week to begin incorporating them into your business plans.
Requests to do something from family members or even a central business office can prevent you from efficiently working on current projects at home so you have to weigh the importance of their request to the current task at hand. If it’s not an urgent demand, log it into your day planner and plan to accomplish it at a later date. If it’s something that requires little thought and can get done in a matter of 20 minutes or less, then you should act on it rather than have it hang in your mind as another distraction.
Piles of paper are perhaps the biggest source of stress and lack of productivity in any home office. Because at home we deal with daily distractions from young children, door bells, laundry and more, it’s just easier to delay dealing with paper and pile it instead. This is exactly what clutter is: delayed decisions! The best way to deal with a pile already on your desk is to carve out ten minutes a day to chip away at the papers. Turn the pile completely upside down enabling you to deal with the stack quicker, as the items that were at the bottom are most likely out of date and easier to purge.
Apply one of the four D’s to all paperwork in your office: Do, Delay, Delegate or Dump. If it’s something you can get done in a matter of minutes, such as finally making that phone call…just do it. If it’s something that does not need to be done today, mark a date and time within your day planner in which to accomplish it and delay the task by filing the paperwork in the meantime. If the task is something that could easily be done by someone else, perhaps even a family member that evening, consider delegating it, and all paperwork you can live without should be dumped for recycling or trash.
Home files should be divided into three categories: Active, Reference and Archival. Your active or current project files should be stored within an arms reach from your desk chair. Reference files that you need to refer to only on-occasion can be stored in a file cabinet on an adjacent wall, and Archival files (files you simply need to store, such as IRS records) should be moved out of the home office and into air tight bins in the basement, garage or attic.
Working from your home office gives you the freedom to establish your own filing system, such as color coding files by using the colors of a stoplight. Red file folders for urgent things you must stop and act on, yellow files can wait a bit, and green can go whenever.
Consider using a home tickler filing system as a means to getting paperwork inside your desk files and off your desktop. In a file drawer within your desk, label 12 hanging files with each month of the year. Label 31 file folders with numbers #1-#31 (representing each day of the month) and insert the folders within the hanging file that corresponds to the current month. This system allows you to temporarily tuck away active file items that need action at some point. For instance, if you are saving a flyer on a seminar you’d like to attend but you’re not sure you’re able to, check the RSVP date. If you need to register by the 20th of the month, simply drop the flyer into the tickler file folder #20 and deal with it then. The key to making this file system work is checking the current file folder every day. If it’s the tenth of the month, begin your day by taking out the #10 file and acting on all paperwork filed within.
Remember that since your office is within your home, you want to keep a sense of serenity and sensibility. Keep your desktop clear, not only to set the stage for productivity and creative thinking, but to keep your home looking streamlined and orderly, especially if your office door is in direct line of vision from the home entry way or family room. Place a vase of flowers on your desk to brighten it up and prevent you from stacking papers and make use of some of the vertical wall space in the room by adding shelves for books and other reference materials you need.
With just a touch of strategic planning, and a daily dose of maintenance, your home office really can be that warm and inviting oasis of creativity and productivity you had envisioned!
LISA LELAS is a professional organizer, life coach and author/columnist. She is the owner of Life Styling, an organizing and coaching practice on the Connecticut shoreline…and she has appeared on such shows as Oprah and the Today Show. Lisa is the President of NAPO-CT (National Association of Professional Organizers-Connecticut Chapter) and a member of ICF and NSA. Visit http://www.LifestylingwithLisa.com