1) Find a well-defined space to contain all your office essentials and files. You don’t necessarily need a full room or anything fancy. A desk in your bedroom that will hold your files, paper, pens, calculator and of course computer will do fine, especially in the beginning. If your “office” consists of the dining room table, some of the drawers in your kitchen, a file cabinet in the basement and the computer in the bedroom, you may want to think about organizing everything in one spot. This could prevent you from spending a lot of time searching the entire house for a particular document. Consider moving all your files and papers to one central location, preferably close to the computer if the bulk of your work is online.
2) Keep your personal files and papers separate from your business things. You probably have enough paperwork to deal with without having to sort thru magazines, kid’s schedules and personal bills. Create a separate spot for these somewhere outside your home office space.
3) Create a file system that works for you. Remember, you may be working for someone else, but when it comes to an organized home office, you are your own boss. Think about how you look for a particular file or piece of paper. What will be the easiest way for you to find it? Then create a file system that works for you. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect the first time out, you can always rework the system until it is just right for you.
4) Take a good look at your work area. Do you have piles of papers, files, mail, USB drives and CDs lying around? Do you notice anything else piling up? Set aside a few hours and put everything away. Use your new file system and find “homes” for anything else.
5) Now that you have an organized home office, set aside a few minutes at the end of your workday to keep it that way. Try to “leave the office” for the day with a clean, empty desk. It makes the next morning that much easier.
6) Add a personal touch to your office. Bring in some pictures of the kids; add some pretty plants, inspirational quotes, or anything else you can think of that will make your office a pleasant place to work in. In addition to getting and keeping you in a good mood whenever you step in your office, you are more likely to keep it clean and organized if it is a place you treasure. This is true regardless of if your office is a desk in a corner of the dining room or an exclusive space with a door.
7) Don’t forget about the files on your computer! You can waste just as much time searching for an online document as for a piece of paper. If your computer is used for work as well as for personal use, create a work folder and use sub-folders for particular employers, projects etc. If you share your work computer with family members it may be necessary to set up a separate user account just for work and password protect it. This will prevent other family members from accidentally changing or deleting your work files.
8) In addition to your regular files, you also want to keep your emails organized. Let’s be honest, we have all wasted time searching for a particular email that contained some vital information we needed fast. Setting up folders for different clients and projects has worked well for me, but again find a system that works for you and stick with it. Sort the email as soon as you read it. It only takes a second or two to drop it in the appropriate folder, but will save you a lot of time if you have to find it later.
9) Now that you have a good filing system (both physical and digital) in place, set aside a little time every few months (or weeks if appropriate) to purge your files. We can quickly accumulate a lot of documents both in our file cabinet and on our hard drive that we no longer need. At the very least, try to purge your files twice a year.
10) Now that your office is organized, you may also want to take a look at organizing your time. Again, come up with a system that works well for you.
I encourage you to start with a few of these ideas to get your office and yourself more organized. You will be surprised by how much time you will save not searching for files, papers or the stapler. Before long, you won’t know how you ever functioned without an organized home office!
*Photo taken by Flickr User jaaron, used via Creative Commons.