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HomeHomes
Published: Thursday, 12/29/2005

Whip Your Home Office Into Shape

More and more people are firing up the family PC and working from home these days, whether as full-time employees or to "catch up" on work they couldn't finish at the office. It has now become the norm for employees to take work home.

In these times of company reorganization, downsizing and a fluctuating economy, workloads have increased, but the hours in the day remain the same. As a result, working at home has become a viable solution for those who want to maintain a home life while keeping the boss happy.

Working at home requires a space dedicated as a "home office." Whether it's a corner of the dining room table, a desk in the basement or a private office, organizing it is essential for maintaining good business practices. Many people let clutter build up until it becomes unmanageable, and then find themselves overwhelmed with the task of straightening up. A messy desk and chaotic filing system can drain your time, energy, focus and productivity. That's why you should follow these tips for getting your home office organized.

Dig into your piles.

Don't despair over an unruly mess of paper piles. Devote a small amount of time to sifting through them daily. This makes the job more manageable, and if you stick to it, you will reach the end in no time.

Make the trash can your best friend.

As you sort through those papers, assess what you really need and what can be tossed. If you fear throwing things out, develop a two-can system. Put the "maybes" in one can and "definites" in another. This way you'll be able to retrieve items should you need them. Be sure to dispose of the trash frequently.

Establish a filing system.

Keep current files in a deep desk drawer or a filing cabinet within reach of your desk. Store items you use periodically in a less accessible location. Try color-coding files for better organization. On the electronic front, give computer documents logical names so you'll recall them faster.

Keep often-used items within reach.

Items you use frequently should be kept on your desk. This includes pens, a calendar, a message pad and any other items that are part of your daily routine. Store a tape dispenser, a stapler, a calculator, paper, etc. in a desk drawer so they are accessible, but are not cluttering your surface space.

Establish "in" and "out" boxes.

Use your inbox to retrieve incoming papers and an outbox to hold assignments you've completed before forwarding them to the appropriate person.

Create an efficient desk setup.

Position your desk so that you can see people who approach the door. Place your computer monitor directly in front of you to discourage interruptions by family members. Make sure the phone, fax and printer are all within reach so you don't waste time getting up and down. Ensure that your desk chair is comfortable and fits your space.

Avoid jotting notes on small pads.

"Sticky" pads and small note pads are great for some things, but important information should be better annotated. You don't want to lose a crucial phone number or associate's name. Use a bound notebook, like a spiral one, to hold all your notes. Mark the date and any notes you have for the day. This way you'll be able to retrieve information fast and have a record of what business transpired.

Don't mix business with home life.

Blending business and personal work at your desk is usually distracting. Resist having household paperwork like bills, catalogs, brochures and other personal items in your work space as they can distract you. Also, don't browse the Internet, talk on the phone for personal reasons or keep the television on during your work hours unless absolutely necessary.

Get family members to respect your space.

Set up rules for your home office. If you use the family computer for your business dealings, be sure each member of the family has his or her own log-on identity so your work doesn't get altered or erased. Make sure your business papers and other items will remain in place -- untouched!

Know when to close up shop. Spending too many hours working can leave you drained and unfocused and may lead to careless errors. Recognize when it's time to shut down the computer and slip into your at-home role. Resist the temptation to do work after hours. A well-rested, focused employee is the most efficient one.



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