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Making Your Office More Productive
By Lisa Kanarek

 

Working from home offers many benefits, including minimal interruptions from others, the lack of a commute, and the ability to work at any hour. Whether your home office is in a spare bedroom, converted dining room, or den, organization is the key to making your home office more productive.

When you work for yourself, a loss of time due to an unproductive home office not only means lost money, but potentially lost clients, slipping credibility, and stunted business growth. Deciding which room will make the ideal home office, how to furnish it, and how to keep information flowing through it is easy if you take time to plan ahead. The following are several ways to simplify this process.

Furnishing Your Home Office

As you consider your options, keep in mind that you don't necessarily need to set up a traditional office with a big, executive-style desk and an old-fashioned, four-drawer filing cabinet. Function is better than appearance. You can spend hundreds of dollars on furniture that looks impressive, yet lacks enough storage and workspace. Think creatively. Turn two, two-drawer filing cabinets into a simple desk. Place a large piece of wood, laminate, or glass over them, and you will have the top surface and filing room you need. An old kitchen table-for-four can be converted into a workspace for compiling marketing packets or press materials. If you need to keep your workspace compact and unobtrusive, consider using an armoire with enough space to house your computer equipment. Plan ahead by measuring your space before you buy any new furniture. You might see a desk or filing cabinet that fits your decor, yet is too large for the room you have selected. Also, before you buy anything, check for quality. "You get what you pay for" is the key phrase to remember.

The Right Arrangement

There are three basic arrangements for your home office (excluding built-ins). The arrangement you choose will depend primarily on the size of your home office, the type of furniture you have, and how much work surface you need.

The L-shaped work area

The L-shaped work area offers the important advantage of getting equipment off your desk and onto a secondary surface. For example, on a computer stand perpendicular to your desk (or credenza that you could use as a writing surface), you could place your monitor, keyboard, printer and fax and place your CPU underneath.

The U-shaped work area

If you have the room, you may consider adding an extra surface to create a U-shape. This arrangement is ideal because it allows you to keep everything within reach on three surfaces. In a U-shape, to the left of your desk you might have a computer workstation that houses all of your electronic equipment. To the right you might have a credenza, table, or lateral file cabinet with a fax machine and a phone/answering machine. A stand-alone phone could be placed on your desk, if you don't want to use your fax phone or if you have a separate line for business. With this layout, all you have to do is swivel your chair one way or the other while you work.

The Parallel Work Area

With this layout, your desk faces into the room, and your secondary surface is behind you. Although the two surfaces aren't next to each other, you can easily access everything you need. One surface could be your computer desk or table that holds all of your computer equipment and fax, and the other a desk that holds your phone, files and supplies you use daily or weekly. Another option is a traditional desk that holds the items you use often and the other secondary surface a credenza (either a standard credenza or one that doubles as a computer stand).

Keep in mind when setting up our computer that the monitor should be at a right angle to a window to avoid glare. If you have to place your monitor in front of a window, use some type of window treatment to cut down on glare.

Location, Location, Location

Before deciding where your home office will be, carefully evaluate every room in your home. Even if you've had the same home office for years, it's always a good idea to reevaluate your current set up. There may be a better place for your home office.

An extra room is the ideal place for a home office, but not everyone has a room to spare. If you don't, the next best choice is to use a portion of an out-of-the-way room such as a guest bedroom or your dining room.

Before using a particular room for your office, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Will you actually work in this area?

  • Will distractions be kept to a minimum?
  • Is there ample lighting?
  • Is there enough room for all of your equipment, files and supplies?
  • Are there enough electrical outlets?
  • Would it be difficult to run a phone line and Internet access wiring into this space?

By answering these questions, you may find that there is a better alternative. If you have selected a place where you won't work, it doesn't matter how functional your office is.

You may have to spend some money fixing up the right spot for your office. For example, you might want phone lines installed or have an electrician put in good lighting or electric heat. Think long term. It's better to invest in the right location than to settle for a space that costs less but will no longer suit your needs in a year or two.

Handling Information Overload

The saying "handle paper once" is unrealistic. Instead, do something with each piece of paper to move it forward, by following the acronym P-A-P-E-R.

Put it in a stacking bin. Stacking bins are a temporary place to put papers you want to read or file (they're larger than stacking trays and sit on the floor) and should be cleared out each week.

Act on it. Take action on the piece of paper at that moment.

Put it in a file. If you have the time, immediately put papers in the appropriate current or reference files.

Enter information from the paper on your to-do list and file it. For papers that require action soon, make a note on your to-do list of what needs to be done on the day you are going to take action. Then file the paper in the appropriate current file until you are ready to work on it.

Rid yourself of it. This means either recycle it or trash it. Keep hanging file folders to a minimum. Rather than put only one manila folder inside a hanging folder, group three to five related files inside, and label each hanging folder with a main category. An optimal number of documents within each manila file folder is about 20 sheets. Periodically go through your files, and toss papers that you no longer use.

Save time searching for the supplies you need by fighting the urge to stash supplies wherever they will fit. Instead, designate a specific place to store your extra supplies, stationery, and products. Store items logically within a closet, or shelves or drawers within your office, and group them by item. This leaves you with only one place to look for one type of item.

Creating the ideal home office is easy when you take the time to find the right location and set-up for your home office. After designing a filing system that reduces the time you spend searching for papers, you'll save time and increase your productivity. After your office is organized, you'll have more time to focus on your business and maybe have enough time to start another business. HBM

Lisa Kanarek is a nationally recognized home office expert and the author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success, Everything's Organized and 101 Home Office Success Secrets. She is the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com, a firm that advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home.

 


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