Is your home office a room you conveniently close the door on and avoid at all costs? Do you survey the mess and feel your blood pressure rise? Have you taken over the dining table or part of the kitchen because you don’t have a dedicated home office space?
At first glance the volume of stuff in a home office can look like hundreds, if not thousands, of items. In reality, there are only 5 TYPES of items that make up a smoothly functioning home office. Hold up your hand and count them off…
- WORKSPACE. This is the necessary flat surface for doing work.
- Make sure you have adequate room for computer AND some papers if possible
- It’s a work space so don’t use it as a storage Only use for storing active papers and very minimal supplies
- EQUIPMENT. The electronic tools we use to get the job done.
- Computer, printer, scanner, phone …
- Try to keep them stored off the floor, cables managed
- Keep easily accessible from workspace if often used
- SUPPLIES. All the usual suspects
- Evaluate high use vs. low use (If you only write thank you notes a few times a year, don’t store 5 boxes of thank you cards in your top right hand drawer of your desk!)
- Only use desktop if absolutely necessary for critical supplies: stapler, tape, 1 pen cup, paper clips…consider adding a wall shelf instead
- Drawers and shelves work best for supplies
- Stock desk or workspace with a small amount of critical supplies and store overflow loose supplies in sorted, clear lidded containers on shelves further from workspace.
- ACTIVE PAPERS. These are To-do’s and Active Reference.
- Active reference usually means things like schedules, phone lists, and upcoming events. This is the one type of paper that can justify taking up some of your workspace.
- Piles can work OK but go vertical over horizontal by using, magazine holders, desktop file sorters, or desktop file crates
- RESOURCES. Files, books, magazines.
- Files live best in a filing cabinet, not flat in a drawer or loose on a shelf
- Consider real estate value when assigning homes. Don’t give over a prime drawer to low-use files such as warranties & instruction manuals.
- Make sure you have enough shelving space to accommodate the number of book/magazine resources you need
Even if your “home office” can only be a section of counter or the dining room table, assess the space for how these 5 elements are being handled. Keep your desktop as clear as possible and use drawers and cabinets to hold what isn’t active.
Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, come back to this concept…use your hand as a visual reminder. Everything in a home office falls into one of five categories. Take it slow, you can focus on one element at a time and make significant progress.
It make take more than one hand to get yourself picked up to start, but once you have your systems in place, maintaining it should be quick and easy. And if all else fails, you can use your one hand to wave at the mess as you close the door on it.
Last Friday we attended the Small Business Summit in San Francisco, hosted by our Professional Organizing Association, NAPO-SFBA. Here are the most useful productivity tools we learned:
Attorney, Jeena Cho spoke about how to set up a virtual office. She is able to work from home and be virtually paperless.
Her two must-have tools are:
Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner
file sharing site
Hot tips from a panel of productivity experts:
- We can only control our behavior and attitude toward information overload
- Productivity = vision + quality. Make a vision for your life to help keep your task choices in line with what is important to you
- There is no such thing as multi-tasking
- Mindfulness and meditation are good tools for keeping perspective and managing overload. Headspace is an app that can help you get started
- Set specific times to check and respond to email instead of letting it interrupt your day constantly. Use the signature line of your email to set an expectation around response times
Our favorite app: HomeZada. This cloud-based application helps you create a home inventory and manage upkeep and improvement projects for your home. It’s free to use their home inventory function. But the time tracking tool for figuring out when to replace filters, clean gutters and flush water heaters is promising. We look forward to test-driving HomeZada and sharing more about it.
Cloud Security & Privacy
No huge surprises here; basically if you choose to use the Internet your data and information are not all that secure. Key things you can do to increase your protection:
- Use complex passwords! Use lots of them. Ideal passwords are a string of 3 unrelated words (so you can remember them) with mixed in capitals, numbers, and symbols. For example the password: curtainbeachdog could become Curt@1nB3@chDog
- Pay for apps instead of opting for the free version. Nothing is truly free! If the company can’t make money off your purchase they will make money off of selling your data to others
We’ll explore more about these topics in the coming weeks. What are your favorite productivity tools?
Getting Ready for Taxes Can Be This Simple
Have you broken out in your usual sweat anticipating tax time? Do you find yourself dreading the hours it’s going to take to round up the papers you’ll need to complete your tax planner? Being ready for tax time is all about keeping certain paperwork separate from others.
The most simple way to keep your tax paperwork separate from other papers is to create a box labeled “TAXES.” If you want to get fancy, subdivide to create homes for:
- charitable donations
- childcare expenses
- medical expenses
- proof of income: W-2s, 1099s
- tax documents
The home can be a file folder, envelope, or even a dedicated box. Anything that is easy to drop things into throughout the year.
If you’re keeping every single receipt and account statement, it’s worth asking your tax preparer to give you a list of documents you actually need to keep. Typically these are receipts and statements that prove expenses you claim as deductions on your taxes.
For paper organizing, it’s important to understand the difference between a general living expense and an expense you can claim as a tax deduction. For example, gas station receipts are a general expense, but if you use your car for business they could become a tax-deductible expense. There may be other reasons you want to keep every gas receipt – budgeting, MPG tracking, etc. but you may not need them for taxes.
If you want to take your organizing to the next level, consider the following:
- use a money management tool such as Mint.com or Quicken® to categorize your expenses automatically so you just need to run a report at the end of the year (still need to keep your original deductible receipts)
- use FreedomFiler® to manage your filing
- have a professional organizer or bookkeeper come in monthly or quarterly to keep things straight
If you can’t get it together for 2013, it’s not too late to set up a system for 2014!