Organizing Your Home Office: Getting Started1

Organizing Your Home Office: Getting Started

Sylvia Sheehan writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

How frequently does this happen to you: You get up from your desk to get a coffee refill, and upon your return, the critical piece of paper that contained all the notes to finish your work is now missing? After searching though various mounds of papers, flipping through every pile of magazines and dumping the contents of every drawer on the floor, you finally find it. You realize that it was exactly where it shouldn’t have been, like in your out box, or filed in the wrong folder or mixed in with the piles of paper on your desk.

If this occurs often, it’s probably time for you to rethink your organization structure. For many people, home office organization can be a real thorn in their side. It’s your house and your desk, and few people ever see it, so it’s easy for things to get out of hand.

Deciding how to organize your space is an individual process and everybody has his or her own system. However, here are some pointers on how to make your home office a bit more efficient.

Before you start this process, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What are my goals?
Why are you working at home? Do you want to make more money or do you simply want to avoid an unpleasant commute? Do you want to supplement your income? Do you want to keep your skills honed? Do you want to be there to pick up your children from school? Obviously, the answers vary from person to person. Once this answer is clear, it will help you answer the next two questions.

2. What is my product?
What are you trying to produce? The most logical answer is whatever product or service your client asked you to produce. But it probably goes beyond that. The result of your efforts can include satisfaction and (hopefully) financial gain. Is that the product? Sort of, but isn’t it more than that? Perhaps the next question may shed more light on the subject.

3. Who is my audience?
While the quickest answer is most likely to be your client, that might not be entirely true. If you have a family, perhaps it includes your spouse or children. Why are you working at home in the first place? Most likely, you have another “job” that you need to devote time and energy to: children, elderly parents, a pet, or a home. Or perhaps you don’t have an alternative; you are handicapped or have no means to physically go to a workplace. Your audience is more likely to be someone close to you or you, yourself, as opposed to the hiring manager.

So, combine the answers to the three questions above and you will see that frequently, people working out of a home office often have a larger or higher directive, and that their product goes beyond the simple result of their project work.

So, now that you have identified your goals, product and audience, the organization comes easily, right? Hardly. Another critical component to having an organized home office is discipline. In order to produce quality work, you need to “put your nose to the grindstone” and work hard. But it is more than that; you need to have the discipline to follow through on your project. Remember that there is always work that needs to be done once the most obvious is completed. Do you need to update any documents? What about filing items that you used? Have you updated your Skills Profile on eWork Exchange to announce that you are available to work again? It’s amazing how quickly the “follow-through” items can accumulate!

Next, do some housekeeping. File or throw away. Are you a “neat-freak,” a “pack-rat,” or somewhere in between? It shouldn’t matter. A good rule of thumb is that you should touch a piece of paper as infrequently as possible. A way to test this is to dot the corner of a piece of paper with a red pen every time you touch it. Try this for an entire day. Those pages that look like they have the chicken pox should probably be dealt with appropriately–either filed (as they could be important reference pages) or thrown away (they could be just taking up space and covering the documents you really need).

You should also be aware of your transaction costs. You must pay careful attention to how much it costs to do something. If every time you had to do research for a project you ended up going to a bookstore for hours and bought $100 worth of books, then your transaction costs are very high (both the time it takes and the money spent). You may want instead to do some research on the Internet, or perhaps go to a library for your research. The old cliché of “time is money” continues to hold true to this day. If you spin your wheels or get distracted, your transaction costs will be high and your product and audience will be affected.

While much of home office organization is subjective, the guidelines above can help to make your experience more streamlined and efficient and may even give you some extra time to focus on your true audience. Remember to be diligent in your work, minimize distractions and diversions, and complete the tasks you undertake. If you are able to do those things, you are well on your way to creating and managing an effective home office.