Streamline Your Home Office

When you work for yourself, there’s seldom time to make your office as enjoyable as it is productive.

Organizing, streamlining and “shoveling out” your office can be the key to internal peace as well as improved productivity but finding the time and the energy to handle these tasks is never as simple as clearing surfaces or filing papers.

Creating an optimum office environment requires considering the physical comfort of your office, the “virtual” as well as the physical clutter that invades your space and developing systems that keep you happy and productive.

Physical files

As a remote worker, you probably don’t have to juggle as many physical paper files as a traditional office. You do, however, posess some important papers that you will need to keep.

Banks of physical filing cabinets are opressive. I use a single file drawer for my “finger tip” files. All the other files are archived away from my office. Keeping my physical space clean and clear helps me to think.

At the end of each tax year, I clear out the information that relates to the previous tax year and move it to storage in a less convenient location (my attic). I place these files in plastic bins and label them accordingly. If I ever need the files, I have them, but since I implemented this system, I’ve only had to access my archives a couple of times.

I don’t need more than one drawer to keep my current client files, legal files, tax information, receipts and billing information. Old client file are archived. Current client work (completed during the previous) is archived along with tax information, billing and receipts from the previous year.

I’d like to say I found my perfect filing cabinet solution — but I haven’t. I currently use an open-top bin that slides under my desk. Eventually I will find (or build) the perfect one-drawer file cabinet with two index card drawers at the top and a slide out shelf for my thesaurus with a dictionary on top and a printer cubby. I’ve made several sketches, but I’ve not finalized the design yet.

Desk Clutter

If you don’t have a clear place to work, you don’t work effectively. I find that I’m easily distracted if I let the top of my desk get out of hand. If you can’t dust your desk in under a minute, you have too much stuff there.

  • Get rid of the knick-knacks
  • Eliminate the “piles” of paper
  • Pay the bills and file the stubs
  • If you haven’t had time to look at the magazines and catalogs lounging on your desk by now, you probably won’t — so discard/recycle them
  • Handle the things on your desk ONCE – and put them where they belong — don’t merely “shuffle” the papers

Computer Clutter

Inside and outside of many computers dwells a mire of mess. Outside you have cords, cables, peripherials, connectors and other things that you may or may not even need anymore. (Anything that you haven’t used in the last six months, probably doesn’t need to be taking up valuable space.)

During my recent string of moves, I’ve noticed I don’t really use the flatbed scanner as much as I thought I did, and that thing is a beast! Ditto for several other external devices. I’m paring those down in favor of an all-in-one printer/fax/scanner.

Get rid of any wires you can. Bundle and tame the ones you must keep. (I use a label maker to tag my cords at both ends so I don’t spend time “following” the cords to figure out where they go.) Also, if you aren’t using a good UPS (uninterrupted power supply) or a high-end surge protector, now is a good time to invest in one.

Virtual Clutter

It’s easy to believe that if you don’t have to physically shuffle the files, that they don’t exist. Computer files that aren’t well-organized are time-sucking annoyances. It not only takes more time to find the files you need, but you spend more time (and money) on your full system backups.

(NOTE: Before you start cleaning out computer files, be sure you have a full system backup. If you are running a Windows system, force a restore point.)

If you want to recapture some space quickly, start with the software programs you don’t use. Getting rid of those will clear up space quickly and easily. If you haven’t used a program in the last year; chances are you won’t. Some of the programs you have used in the last year may be just as easily handled by another program you use regularly. Check. Don’t keep anything installed that you don’t use.

Put the old program disks with your archived paper file folders if you think you may need them again. If not, then donate them to someone who will use them (like maybe a VA that’s just starting out and could use the boost!)

Find a logical way to organize the data files you need on a daily basis for quick access. Whatever works best for you is what you should use. I use custom desktop icons to “visually” organize all my primary files. I find that I can absorb a visual icon quicker than I can read a folder name/description below a typical file icon. I even have mugshots of my clients on their individual folders under my master “clients” folder. It makes it super-fast to find what I need.

I keep all my essential “use them all the time” files under a master folder called “Wicked” — with a witch’s hat icon. This shows how things are organized under that folder:

For files that you may be needed in the future, archive them to an external drive. If you have archived client files on your machine, burn them to a CD or DVD and slip them down in the paper file for that client so you can find them quickly if needed. (You can get stick-on sleeves for file folders at any office supply store to make it easy to retrieve the DVD if/when you need it.)

Organizing your files, eliminating duplicates and archiving old information will make your time in front of the computer a more enjoyable and productive undertaking.

It will take some time — probably more than you realize to get things in shape — but you will regain that time investment in just a few weeks. It’s worth it. And… if you begin this process now, you will be completely organized as the new year begins and your year-end tasks (and taxes) will be easier. Now wouldn’t THAT be nice?

Next time, I’ll cover ways to improve your physical office environment in ways that go beyond merely clearing clutter.