Working from home has many challenges, but one that can be hard to overcome is setting up an organized home office. The term “home office” is very misleading—it is, indeed, and office in your home, but it doesn’t have elements of both spaces. Even if your office is your kitchen, though, you can still organize your office as if it was in a corporate building.
Separation of Powers.
You have your home, and you have your office. The office happens to be inside your home, but your home’s clutter should not be inside your office. Separate the spaces by separating the clutter and the paperwork. Create distinct spaces for paperwork for your home and family affairs, and separate spaces for your business paperwork. Both of these categories should be organized, but not filed together. Nothing is worse than looking for a proposal and finding a field trip permission form.
Create zones in your office in which you can function and quickly find what you need. Your work zone is where you will be the majority of the time. This is where you…work! Your work zone includes your computer, writing space, your favorite writing utensils, phone, and other commonly used materials for your everyday business needs.
The reference zone houses books, dictionaries, contact lists, previous clients, paperwork, and your filing system. These are items that you don’t use all the time, but still need access to. Organize them based on usage.
The supply zone holds your extra paper, pens, pencils, folders, and electronics you might not use as often. Have a scanner you need but only use occasionally? Put it with your other supplies instead of cluttering up your desk.
In and Out
The most common cause of paper clutter in both house and office is the lack of action when papers first arrive. Develop an action plan to deal with mail, forms, work orders, and client information when it first arrives. Follow the one-touch rule: if you touched a paper once, you have to act on it by trashing it, filing it, or filling it out.
For your mail, get some sort of mail filing system so that you can sort your mail when it arrives. Separate by home and office business, then sort them by actions. For example, bills to pay, bills to file, receipts, statements, etc. Once an item is ready to go “out”, make sure it does so in a timely fashion. Have a weekly fifteen-minute purge party to sort through your outbox.
This is (a big) part of the in and out processing system. First, find a filing system that works for you: consider filing by dates for time-sensitive paperwork and business, alphabetically by clients or projects, or by categories. Maybe you’ll choose a mix of all the above for a more custom approach. One fool-proof system is color coding. Use different colored folder for “big” categories, with specific labels for sub categories. This system can work for both home and office paperwork. Use one color for all medical files, then specific folders for individual family members. Use another color for policies and warranties, then labeled folders for your car insurance, house insurance, and electronic warranties. Calgary insurance companies recommend keeping your policy paperwork until you renew the policy and receive new information (then shred the outdated information). This color-coding system can be easily personalized for your business needs as well.
Desks constantly become cluttered with papers, office supplies, and other random doodads. If you can’t get rid of piles, clip related papers together with labeled clips so that you know what the piles are and what to do with them. Wrap up your electronic cords to create a more streamlined look (even if they are under your desk). Bundle together like cords (like computer cables or speaker cables) and label them (the plastics tabs at the end of bread bags are excellent for this). Re-purpose ice cube trays or egg holders to create holders for paper clips, push pins, and staples. Only keep frequently used items on top of your desk, reducing as much clutter as possible.
Good luck as you implement these tips for your home office! May the organizational force be with you.
Leslie Mason is a homemaker and garden expert. Leslie enjoys writing, gardening, do-it-yourself projects, and fixing up the house through creative organization.