Organizing Tips for a Home Office

Few home office areas are massive with ample room for everything. Just about every home office I've seen has been small, cramped, and in desperate need for more space. It's just the way things go. In fact, at a website I run, we had everyone take photos of their home offices to post and share. Most of us needed a full day of cleaning just to make the office area nice enough to photograph! Here are some tips I've learned over the years, on managing the clutter.

File Cabinet
I have a filing cabinet out of the area for long term filing, such as last year's taxes. In the office area, I have a plastic, portable filing cabinet to store current bills and receipts. When I get something, it plunks right into the file. It's portable - I can do the filing on the couch if I want to. You want that receipt storage to be as easy as possible. The more they stack up, the harder it is to get motivated to work on that project.

Paper Organizer
Home businesses seem to be a magnet for loose paperwork. You have incoming bills, outgoing invoices, notes to work on, maybe magazine clippings with ideas. I have a rolling five-drawer plastic storage unit under my desk with drawers. Items get tossed into the appropriate drawer. If I'm ready to work on bills, I go through the bill drawer. People lose HOURS of their life searching for papers in a pile. You're going to be busy enough working from home without losing time you cannot spare. Also, it is critical that you keep your desktop clean so you can use it *as* a desk.

I highly recommend having a corkboard hanging on the wall by your desk. There are always important coupons and tickets that you want to remember that can be stuck there. I also put 3 months worth of calendar pages there, that are created by a cheap calendar program I have. The program lets me customize the daily entries easily, so it shows me when quarterly taxes are due and other important events. It makes it really easy to glance up and know what I'm doing for the week and month. Online systems are great, but having something hanging right there is even better.

CD Storage Case
Hopefully you are doing weekly backups of your system. It takes only a short while to do a CD backup and it can be CRITICAL in case of theft or disaster. Things like lightining strikes and power surges happen far more frequently than you might think. Make it a normal part of your routine to run that backup, and then stick the CD in a closet, in the backup book.

OK, you don't have to use Quickbooks, but get SOME tracking system that you are happy with. I like Quickbooks because it tracks my car mileage, all my bank accounts, credit card accounts, paypal accounts, and so on. I can do reports by person who I pay, person who pays me, running totals, etc. It makes taxes REALLY easy if you simply enter this information each month. Plus, once you train Quickbooks to recognize who a payment belongs to, it remembers it on subsequent months, so really all you do is hit "import" and then "accept" :) In any case, use someone, and use them regularly.

EMail Folders
As much as you can, create to-do email folders and use them. When mail comes in, don't try to handle it all immediately. Divvy them up into folders based on task. Then work on a given task at a time. It's far more efficient than jumping from task to task, and helps you stay organized in your daily work.

The Timer Trick
If you really are having problems getting projects done, buy a cheap kitchen timer. Then set yourself a 15 or 30 minute time limit on various tasks. Plug away at them for that time period to make some progress, and then work on the next one. At least that way you will make some progress on various tasks and know that things are getting done.

Organizing Tips

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