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Organizing an Effective Home Office: Insights of Trial and Error

For starters, my ideal – which is to “keep it simple,” may apply here more than anywhere else. Your choice to operate out of a “home office” is somewhat a major life decision. Your work space (whether it’s a private office or a corner in your living room) must be an area conducive to mental and physical comfort, or you’ll find that “work stress” can easily become “life stress”. This is counter-productive and totally the opposite of why you chose a home-based business in the first place, right?

That said, your home office space may not be “spa retreat-ish” but you should have a comfortable and supportive chair, a flat workspace for your needs, good lighting, and system to keep it and the rest of your space organized.

Here is what works for me:

DESK:

I have a simple desk. On it I have my computer, my phone, small set of family (motivational) photos, and a modest-sized “catch all” that has a few compartments for pens, highlights, emery boards, chapstick (…yes, just the essentials) and a calculator. Right next to my desk I have an all-in-one printer that sits on top of a double drawer rolling filing cabinet. In the cabinet I keep the files and supplies that I use on a semi-regular basis, such as, printer ink, my stationery/folders, current client resources, a file for my receipts, all personal correspondence, paper, folders, etc.

RECEIPTS:

Now for the receipts’ file. I keep it monthly. At the beginning of the month, I simply replace the file with the new month’s file. That way, at tax time, I don’t have to go through a whole year’s receipts and divide it up. It’s already separated.

MAIL:

My method probably won’t work for all, but this is what I do: I leave it where it is. My local postal carrier is likely not a big fan of this method, but again…it’s what I do. My home office has the luxury of an outdoor, locked mailbox. Mail goes in and stays there until I am ready to retrieve it…. and “process” it. The same is true for my business mailing address. I have a PO Box that holds my mail until I am ready for it. Because most of my personal and professional business is handled electronically, I don’t worry much about missing something that is time-sensitive. Even paper invitations tend to be preceded by a text or evite. The point is to “control” what you can and the rate and time at which (junk) mail enters your organized space – is totally up to you. When you do check your mail, sit with it, sort it based on recipient and /or required follow-up action, shred it, and move on.  (Similar advice applies to your Email inbox, but we’ll cover that later.)

“DAYTIMER”:

Yes, a handheld NOTEBOOK (not an e-device). Your “Daytimer” can have a space for all your business cards, appointment cards, and go a long way to help you stay organized – if you use it. Here is one that is part of a complete organizing/goal-management system. I found it somewhat randomly online, but I’ve used mine since the start of the new year and bought one for my teen daughter – who is aiming to better organize her time so that she can squeeze in a part time job. We both find it useful.

3-RING BINDERS:

(or a Desktop Filing System) Yes, again with the “old school methods” – but this is one of my favorites. I do a lot of research for clients and also have a lot of e-mails that I need to print and save. I use paper that already has the wholes punched for insertion into a 3 ring binder. I will print out important research, client e-mails I need to save, work that I’ve done so I can review it later, etc., on this paper and then put it into the proper binders. I have a binder for all active clients, including HireAlexis. You would be amazed how clearer things are in a binder than tossed in a file cabinet. For my business it works tremendously.

(You knew that with all these “dos” – a “don’t” was coming, right?)

Okay , here it goes:

No Piling of Anything Allowed. This is one of those habits that can be so easy to get into – I speak from experience! But I stop myself now because I know it will just be brushed off to the side and forgotten. Too often I miss something important and regret the piling blunder again. You will be amazed how much more organized you will feel if you just don’t do this one thing. And time yourself. You think you are too busy, but it takes seconds and how long does it take to look for that missing document.

Lastly, opinions vary on when to review your checklist for optimal efficiency, so here’s my advice:

  1. Start your morning early. Finding quiet early morning time for divine communion, or mediation, works wonders. As you conclude this time, make a list of what you desire to accomplish today.This process will likely include a reflection on yesterday’s list. Move and prioritize tasks and errands, as necessary.
  2. Keep your list handy all day. This will help you evaluate your ability to answer those “quick requests” that come up all day and motivate you to “finish up” when you are tempted to treat yourself to an extra break.
  3. Clean your station, and check your list again, at the end of the day. This may seem a final step in a monumental project until you get caught up, but – when it’s done, reward yourself daily by spending a few minutes to regain that great feeling of accomplish and day’s work well done.
  4. Rinse (yourself) and repeat daily.
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