More people (me included!) work from home than ever before, whether as full time entrepreneurs or employees with flexible arrangements with their employers. Creating a home office space that allows you to function comfortably and efficiently will not only reduce stress levels and improve your attitude about work, but actually increase your productivity.
All that from a tidy office? Think about the last time you wasted precious time locating an important file folder or essential piece of information you had scrawled on a piece of scrap paper. Ever ruined a finished document because you didn’t see yesterday’s mug of coffee hidden behind that stack of papers you shoved aside?
Help is on the way. Consult my tips and convert your disorganized work space into a place that works for you instead of against you. Key to success: know your work style and design a system that realistically addresses it.
To see or not to see. If you are generally a tidy person, filing cabinets are your friend. You take out the file you need when you need it and return it to the filing cabinet when you are finished, keeping your desk clean. But for many people, filing cabinets are like a black hole: if they can’t see what they are working on, they forget about it. If that sounds familiar, use your filing cabinet for storing archival matter that you rarely refer to. Then buy five or ten or twenty economical but good looking containers, all of the same style, and line them up on shelves. How you categorize these files can be highly personal and even quirky, as long as you understand what they mean. All those little snippets can go in their own subject file along with the official memos and documents. Caution: Avoid the “miscellaneous” file if at all possible. It’s the equivalent of the kitchen junk drawer.
Think vertical. Not everyone has the luxury of a spacious office, and some people must share office space at home. To make the most of available square footage, think vertical shelving, files, even hanging small buckets or baskets for holding essentials like tape, scissors, sticky notes and staples. Wall space is valuable real estate when it comes to storage.
The magic of three. Keep three stackable bins on your desk. One is your “in” box, one is your “action” box, one is your “file” box. Put new stuff “to be handled” in your “in” box. Current projects go in your “active” box. Once a project is completed, move it to the “file” box. Don’t forget to actually file it, so you can put your hands on it again when necessary. Some people are comfortable with going completely digital with their archives, which certainly frees up space, but if you want to err on the side of caution, keep a hard copy of any critical documents.
Take five. Even in a digital world, there seems to be no end to the amount of paper clutter that flows into our lives on a daily basis. At the end of each day when your energy is too low to focus on demanding tasks, take five minutes to clear your space. Go through your inbox and file box and place items in their appropriate bin or file folder. Toss or recycle whatever you can. Not only are you preparing a less stressful environment for you to enter the next morning, the physical act of clearing your work space will also serve to clear your head, transitioning you into the next part of your day.
Set boundaries. Just as you wouldn’t dream of entering a fellow employee’s cubicle to casually use their equipment, rummage through their supplies or leave Snickers wrappers on the desk, housemates and family members may need gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminders that your office space must be respected. Even if you share a computer or supplies, everything should look exactly as they found it after they leave.
The seat matters. Home office organization experts seem to agree that a quality desk chair is worth the investment. Think of it like your bed; you spend a lot of time in it, so it should be comfortable, ergonomically correct and pleasant to look at.
Don’t forget aesthetics. Creating a sense of personality and visually pleasing surroundings doesn’t take a lot of time or the services of a professional decorator. Paint your office a color you’ve always wanted to try. Hang a colorful poster, family photos or handsome prints on the wall. Get a decent area rug. Have a small shelf of toys for frustrating moments or interminable conference calls. Splurge on a few cut flowers now and then, and keep some favorite CD’s handy. Just because you’re working in there doesn’t mean the environment can’t be homey.