Feeling disorganised is no fun: Being disorganised, even less so. Yet so many of us stumble on, lamenting to friends and family that our lives are so chaotic. Yet, sometimes, the way to solve this problem is to learn how to organise your home office for maximum productivity.
We have so many reasons for not making the changes we need. We think it’s down to all the circumstances in our lives: The three preschoolers we’ve been wrangling (except that two of them are now in school); the elderly relative we’ve been part-caretaking (which leaves us too exhausted the rest of the week for proactive activity); the kids’ extra-curricular activities that seem to eat up the week in a flash…
When you put all these reasons together, you see there’s one common thread in this theme: You’re not making time for you. (Or if you do, it’s collapse-time!) So you struggle on in your online businesses, trying to learn that course you invested in before eventually putting it on the back burner, rushing to get a project out to a client (and immediately getting started on the next one), or just plain procrastinating because you feel powerless and tired. Perhaps even a little confused.
The big danger about being disorganised is that it becomes a habit. Breaking habits doesn’t happen through thinking and agonizing about it. Breaking habits happens when we take action. If you really want to get your business back on track (and make it feel fun again), a really easy way is to start by organizing your home office—for maximum business productivity.
Why You Should Organise your Home Office
People tend to think of a home office as a place where they do their work. It’s not. That is just one of your home office’s functions. Think of it as a tool for running a successful business. It is to your service-based or affiliate business what a sewing machine is to a seamstress, or a forge to a blacksmith. If your sewing machine doesn’t work or you can’t find the lighter to light your forge fire with, you won’t get your work done!
Or else you’ll spend…
- Hours fixing that sewing machine—floundering around on YouTube looking up videos—after finally abandoning the manufacturer’s incomplete manual (and discovering you don’t have a screwdriver small enough to remove the foot-plate)
- Hours looking for your lighter—or else you’re jumping in your truck and spending an hour and a half running into town, to buy another one
That’s actually what happens to your productivity when your home office is disorganized. You lose productivity, energy—and hours of time.
- Energy consuming
You could also say it’s contagious. (Ever notice how one tiny, disorganised area snowballs into an avalanche, if you let it go for even a little while?). Organise your home office and you will maximize productivity in your business – so you’re getting stuff done!
Make Your Plan
It doesn’t matter whether or not your office is just a little cluttered, with one or two “trouble spots”… or buried under a mountain of chaos and dust-bunnies. You should still consider organising it to maximize your productivity. While cleaning is great, that’s only one step. You also need to do some serious analysis, planning and decision-making.
“Mess” is not always a symptom of sloppiness, procrastination or a tribe of little six-year-olds (or big sixteen-year-olds) thundering round the house, destroying everything in their path. More often, it’s a clear indicator that something is not working. This can all be dealt with. And we can help! Are you ready?
Steps to Getting Started
Set aside a morning or afternoon to work on your home office.
Make sure you choose a time period where you won’t be interrupted by children, phone calls or deadlines. Schedule it. Treat it as sacred. Make a commitment not to let anyone or anything distract you from doing this.
David Allen, in his phenomenal book, “Getting Things Done,” advocates more than just a few hours. He tells his clients to set aside up to three days to fully organise their office (and life). So if you think your office might need a bit more than just an afternoon, don’t be afraid to commit to a longer period of time. It will be well worth it in the end!
Look around. Assess your home office space as objectively as you can.
On the morning of your Home Office Organisation Day, don’t straight away rush into cleaning. Instead, make a cup of your favorite relaxing beverage. Sit comfortably, turning your chair away from the computer. Look around. Identify areas that:
- Have accumulated piles of clutter (even small ones)
- Contain items you never use
- Contain broken elements
- Cause you difficulty when you go to sit there or get something (e.g. shelves that are too high to simply reach up to)
- Are hard to keep organised
Make a list. (Or draw a thumbnail-sketch plan, if you are a visual planner.) List each trouble spot—for example, “filing drawer that sticks half-way.”
Make a second list
Answering these questions:
- “Is this really the best space for my office?”
- “What are its problems?”
- “Is the lighting adequate during my working hours?”
- “Are my working hours reasonable and fit into the best time slots for me and my lifestyle?”
- “Could I move my home office somewhere else in the house? Do I need to?”
- “What would make my home office feel even better?”
- “What am I always wishing I had in my home office that I don’t have?
- “What am I always wishing I could get rid of?”
Next, under the heading of “Ergonomics,” ask yourself:
- “Is my chair comfortable enough? Does it support me well or does it cut off my circulation, make my back tired or is too low or too high?”
- “Is my desk comfortable or am I ‘making do’ with an old table or a desk not meant for my computer?”
- “Do I need to adjust:
- The desk height?
- The chair height?
- The lighting level in my office?”
- “Is the lighting in my office pleasant and adequate or does it give my eyestrain or headaches?”
- “Is the light in the right spot for me?”
Don’t ignore your digital clutter.
Most of your disorganisation stress likely stems from not being able to find (or easily access) your digital documents, so spend some time thinking about how you’d like your ideal workflow to look. Consider things like:
- Additional devices you use—a laptop, second desktop, mobile phone or tablet.
- Other locations you work from—whether on the road or just your local coffee shop.
- The ability to share files with clients and your virtual assistants.
- The ability to quickly search for and find relevant notes and files.
Take your time on this evaluation phase—and be sure to write down your answers. Think deeply about each question, no matter how small. One tiny inconvenience in your office set-up can literally snowball into other inconveniences—and bad habits.
Think also about what your office is set up to help you handle.
- Talking to clients on the telephone or Skype?
- Creating products or providing services?
- Do you need hard copy records or can everything stay on computer?
- Once you have completed these sets of questions, prioritize each action that needs to be taken. Then number each in order of priority.
Base your prioritization on your own, personal, most important criteria:
- What needs to be done first in order for other things to happen
- (E.g.: “Move office off stair landing and into kitchen nook”)
- What you can easily do yourself
- What you can afford—right now
- If you can’t afford to buy that new desk, get creative. Can you swap the desk with a relative who has a more suitable style and doesn’t need the same things you do? Can you buy it at an inexpensive online marketplace such as com, which (in addition to being inexpensive) holds “70% off limited time deals every day” during set periods?
Now here’s another tip that you are going to like…
You do not always have to completely disassemble and move your entire office to make it work more efficiently. Sometimes, the smallest “fix” is all that is needed to produce a reverse-snowball effect—where the clutter magically stops, you find better ways to do things, it becomes easier to be efficient—and you enjoy working in your home office again.
“Must Have” Office Essentials
It doesn’t matter what your personal style is: All home offices need basic essentials, such as:
- A calendar system
- A filing system
- A company manual
- A scheduling system
- An ergonomic, comfortable layout
- Good lighting
After that, it is up to you to decide on further needs. You might decide that an office door is essential for the way you like to work, to shut out distractions—or if you’re the mother of younger children, you might infinitely prefer your “kitchen nook” office open to the kitchen and living room, so you can keep an eye on them while still getting your work done.
Or for you, an essential might be a large (or not-so-large) erasable whiteboard so you can jot down important notes, reminders, appointments and scheduling details… or you might prefer a small, cork bulletin board inside your cubicle-style desk, on the wall, where you can pin up printouts of your Basecamp schedule, stick affirmations to inspire you, or include photographs of family members—or your dream home (or whatever goal you are working towards.
Appointments & Scheduling
One of your most important tools should be your calendar. If you have problems with organisation, try two types—a long term calendar for keeping track of deadlines and appointments over several months and a daily scheduler for reminding you of immediate activities and helping you track your time.
Your long-term calendar should be whatever works best for you—a paper wall or desk calendar… or a program such as Google calendar. One of the biggest benefits of using Google Calendar is the option to create multiple calendars and selectively share them with others. You might create a promotions calendar to share with your VA, a family calendar to share with your spouse, and an appointments calendar for scheduling your coaching calls. You can see all of them at once, or just the calendar you’re working with.
Not only that, but you can color-code appointments so you can see at a glance exactly what’s on your schedule for the coming days, making it easy to plan ahead.
If you work with others or manage a team, consider using a project management software that includes a calendar.
Organising Physical & Digital Files
Most homes and businesses use a combination of both physical and digital filing. While it’s a great goal to “go paperless,” the reality is that many critical documents arrive in paper format every day. You’ll need a way to organize:
- Bank statements
- Tax forms and payment documentation
- Miscellaneous receipts
Physical files, by necessity, rely on a hierarchy of folders for organisation. You’ll want to spend some time setting up a folder system that makes the most sense to you. For example, you might choose to have a separate file drawer for family/home paperwork and one for business.
Start with crisp, new hanging files or manila folders and a label maker. Avoid reusing old folders and scribbling your labels with whatever pen is handy. Taking this “shortcut” will only make finding your files later more difficult. Spend the time now to fully organize your filing cabinet, and you might even find that you actually enjoy filing!
Using your current paperwork as a guide, decide on the folders you will need. Some common folders include:
- Current year tax receipts
- Past year tax documents
- Home repairs
- Medical information
- Car repairs (keep a separate folder for each vehicle)
- Client files
- Business procedures/checklists
Once you’ve decided on and created your folders, simply sort all your current documentation into your new filing cabinet.
Pro tip: Set aside time right now (block it off in your calendar) to do your filing each week. Getting organised is only half the battle. Upkeep is the ultimate goal.
For your digital files, you have more options. Since physical files can only exist in one place at any given time, you are forced into the folder hierarchy model. Digital documents, though, are much more flexible, and the tools to manage them are nearly endless. Consider these possibilities:
- Dropbox: Store any kind of digital file “in the cloud” and access it from anywhere. Set up your folder structure to mimic your physical files, or rely on your computer’s search function to find what you need.
- Google Drive: Similar to Dropbox, but works best with Google Docs. Google Drive is perfect for collaborating with others, sharing documents with your team, or creating while you’re on the go.
- Evernote: Often referred to as a “digital brain,” Evernote stores notes of all kinds, and will even handle attachments. With its built-in tagging system and stellar search function, it’s perfect for those who prefer the “shoebox” form of filing. You’ll still be able to find exactly what you need with just a few clicks, even if you never properly file anything.
The key to filing is to determine how you want it to look, and then take the necessary steps to maintain it.
Every successful business – whether it’s the sole operators out of home or the biggest stores – owes a large part of its success to systems. When you have a company manual that outlines your business processes, you’ll never again waste time re-inventing the wheel, and you’ll never lose your focus.
Your company manual should be your go-to resource for:
- Performing routine tasks efficiently.
- Accessing important business information such as hosting accounts and the contact info for your accountant.
- Deciding on new programs and offers (does it fit with your overall business vision?)
In addition to key information such as your mission statement, licensing numbers (if you have them) and contact information for key staff members or outsourcing contractors, leave a one-page list of instructions so that if anything happens to you:
- Contractors and clients can be notified
- Subscriptions can be stopped
- Bank accounts or online accounts such as your merchant account or PayPal can be accessed by your designated second-in-command—or executor
You can do this with simple MS Word typed lists… or print out an Excel database containing “Key Company Information”.
Your lists should include the following for each subscription, contractor, client or account:
- Contact person name, phone number, mobile SMS address and/or email address
- What you need this person to know (or do)
- The amounts in question (if we are talking a service, contractor payment or subscription)
- Payment arrangements for contractors, subscriptions, etc.
- Payment method for each: (E.g. “Business bank account” or “PayPal automatic payment”
- The date each payment is due for each item
Also include a separate page stating where, on your computer, such things as client files or projects can be found—and anything else that will make life easier for family members or business assistants or project managers struggling to keep your business together (or get it ready for termination), should disaster strike.
Finally, be sure to discuss this plan beforehand with a trusted family member, your project manager or business assistant.
If the person you are designating arrangements to will be handling them “long distance”, make sure you really trust them and that they have access to this information.
Desk Space Do’s and Don’ts
Do you feel your desk layout is perfect… or is there some problem you’re experiencing? (Really think about this: We tend to “blind” ourselves to inconveniences—especially when we are focused on deadlines.)
- Is the light perfect… or do you suffer from eyestrain? Does the sun blind you for a certain period every day?
- Is your office chair perfect… or is it too low? Too high? Does it hurt your back or is it (God forbid) too “tippy”?
- Is your keyboard at the perfect height… or is it too low? Too high? At an awkward angle? Does it hurt your wrists or make your shoulders ache or are you frequently hitting wrong keys?
You have to spend hours per day in your home office, and even if you work part-time right now, you still deserve—and need—to work in comfort.
Here’s something you might not know about desk chairs: They are rated according to their recommended number of hours of use per day. If you purchase an inexpensive “task chair” designed for only an hour or two of use daily, then proceed to spend marathon, 14-hour days in it, you’re going to have problems. Not only will your chair break down quickly, but you’ll suffer back and shoulder issues as well. Invest in the very best desk chair you can afford. You’ll work better and more efficiently if you do. An ergonomically-arranged desk-chair-lighting layout will increase your efficiency and enjoyment—and stop you finishing the day with a sore neck, blinding headaches or carpal tunnel syndrome!
In addition to your chair and lighting, spend some time thinking about the tools you use most often. Do you reach for your copy of The Chicago Manual of Style multiple times per day? Are you constantly hunting for a pen or notebook? Save space in your office redesign for these essentials so you can keep them close at hand. On the other hand, if you never use your office phone and instead connect with clients and others via Skype, then why is that desk phone taking up valuable space? Stash it in a cupboard or closet, and save that corner of your desk for something you can really use—maybe even a bouquet of flowers!
Creating Maximum Inspiration
Now that you’ve taken care of the essentials, it’s time to make sure that your home office serves one other, vital function—that it provides you with maximum:
And that it becomes a stress-free oasis where you pursue your life’s passion.
Now, you might think this is the least important of all your office-organising tasks, but consider this: If you don’t feel comfortable and inspired in your office, will you really want to go in there to spend every day? After all, if you want to spend your life in a cold, gray cubicle, you could have stayed at your corporate job. Make your home office a place you love, and you’ll not only enjoy spending time there, but you’ll find that you work much more efficiently, too. In addition, you might just discover that you’re more productive and creative when you’re surrounded by your favorite things.
Use décor items to help achieve this effect. You can even download and read a book on Feng Shui first (Feng Shui is the ancient, oriental art of harmonious room and furniture balancing in your immediate environment.) But you don’t need to hire an interior designer: You just need to know or decide what makes your environment not only pleasant but inspirational for you to work in. This could be the simple placement of:
- Cut flowers
- A sculpture
- A picture (or pictures)
Feng Shui principles encourage a mixture of the inanimate with natural, live elements: For example, including a water feature or a plant that you have to stop and nurture daily. Your water feature could be anything from one of those little stone desktop fountains to an aquarium wall (or even a colorful Siamese fighting fish in a glass bowl). If you combine fishes in a tank with water plants, you oxygenate your office atmosphere—and fish are soothing and de-stressing to watch as they glide around the little undersea world you’ve created for them.
Consider other fun relaxation tools, too. Sketch books and a variety of colored pens are a great way to kick start your creativity. Classic “stress relievers” such as small toys, squishy balls, and miniature Zen gardens aren’t tools of procrastination, but rather they help you focus on important projects. Don’t skimp on these office accessories. If it makes you smile or helps you relieve stress, it’s worth finding a place for in your newly organized home office.
Cut Down on Distractions & Inefficiency
There is nothing worse than being unable to find files or items you need. We’ve already organised your physical and digital files, but there is one more horribly inefficient task you probably struggle with: logging in to websites.
If you’ve ever wasted half an hour unsuccessfully trying out passwords, trying to find the latest version (from the last time you had to change that password) and finally re-setting passwords to a subscription account or online platform you use, then don’t delay any longer. Download a central password manager such as LastPass or Roboform. You don’t have to remember every password you currently use, either, to set them up. Once you have given your password manager access to your computer, it will automatically store passwords you’ve already saved to your computer. (Just make sure you take the option of deleting these passwords from your computer’s memory, when prompted, once they have been saved to your RoboForm or LastPass vault.)
Not only is this handy and convenient, it will save you hours of time over your work weeks—and it will keep all your accounts, logins and subscriptions secure and safe!
In every business, there are projects and tasks that are often repeated. You write a blog post every week. You send email to your list every day. You create a new product every month. You make sales calls every day. Whatever it is, if you’re doing it more than once, it’s worthy of a checklist.
Checklists will ensure:
- The task is always done correctly. If you have a history of sending bad links to your email list, for example, a checklist with “send a test email and check links” on it will help put an end to this embarrassing faux pas.
- Projects are completed quickly. There are few things less productive than re-inventing the wheel with each new product launch. Create a checklist, and you’ll always know exactly what needs to be done, and when.
- You can hand off tasks you don’t like. Having your systems documented with checklists makes it super easy to hire a virtual assistant to help manage those mundane, un-fun tasks you’re doing.
Here’s the biggest productivity killer for any home-based business owner: distractions. Everything from social media to that pile of dirty laundry is battling for your time. If you allow yourself to be distracted by every new blog post or unwashed towel, you’ll never get anything done. The key to taming your distractions? Having a plan in place, and a schedule for dealing with the things you can’t avoid.
First, determine what your biggest distractions are. Maybe it’s YouTube, or neighbors who want to chat, or the latest season of your favorite TV show. Write them all on a list and either formulate a plan for dealing with them (don’t answer the door when you know it’s Sally from across the street), or schedule time to enjoy them guilt free. And for distractions you can’t control, try moving the distraction away from your office!
- Move the TV to another room (or round a corner from your office, to at least reduce the noise)
- Give your kids headphones, if they are prone to playing noisy computer games or watching YouTube videos
And if you haven’t already done so, don’t be afraid to set firm boundaries.
Working from home is a dream for many, but for some, it’s a distraction-filled, inefficient and disorganized environment that makes work a real chore. If you dread heading into your office every day, or you feel you’re not as productive as you could be, it’s time to re-think and re-organize your space.
Remember: In the end, it’s totally up to you to decide what is essential to a well-functioning, enjoyable home office. You work hard and you’ve earned that right!
Finally, don’t procrastinate—take steps to start organizing your home office for minimal stress, maximum productivity and maximum profits today!