Many of us work from home at some point (if not all the time), making a relatively orderly and efficient home office a necessity. If your home workspace needs a bit of love and attention to reach its full potential, the tips below can help.
One of the biggest home office clutterers, without a doubt, is paper. Dealing with paper--mail, files, and the like--is rarely a quick and easy project, but it can ultimately be one of the most worthwhile and satisfying.
Start with a Purge
Kick off your paper project by sorting and weeding your existing files. Are you using valuable office space to store files you don't need regular access to, such as archived tax returns, old correspondence, and past client records? Move files like these to permanent storage (in bankers' boxes or plastic file bins) elsewhere in your home.
As you sort through your files, get rid of anything you don't need. Recycle or shred stuff like old utility and phone bills (unless you need them for tax records) and outdated catalogs. To figure out what financial records you can dispose of, talk with your CPA, financial planner, or attorney.
There's no single filing system that works for everyone, so what works for a partner or friend won't necessarily work for you. Start at the beginning to create your own customized system: grab a stack of papers and sort them into piles that make sense to you.
For example, you might put magazine articles to save into piles based on topic (travel, marketing, business ideas), or you might gather them based on what magazine they're from. As you create piles, jot down a name for each on a scrap of paper or a sticky note.
Be sure not to over-edit yourself; you can always go back and recategorize or move things. Right now, just focus on creating piles and categories that make sense to you. A helpful trick is to ask yourself, for each item, "Where would I look for this?" The first thing that springs to mind ("In a folder called Marketing," for example, or "In a folder called potential clients") is a good indication of what category might work.
Filing System Basics
Once you have all of your papers and files divided into rough categories (yes, this will mean a bit of a temporary mess), take a look at your categories and decide whether any of them might go together. Topics that are related but not the same (say, client notes and invoices) might go well together as two parts of a larger file; using manila or colored files inside hanging file folders is a good way of keeping similar but not identical files and papers together.
When you're ready to start putting papers in file folders, use the paper scraps or sticky notes to keep track of the categories you've created. I usually hold off on labeling file folders until I'm sure my system makes sense. However, remember that even labeled folders aren't final: filing systems almost always require some tweaking and fine-tuning as you use them, so don't be surprised if your categories change over time.
File Cabinets, Drawers, Boxes, Totes...
There's an amazing (baffling?) array of file holders available on the market. The one(s) you choose should fit in or near your office space, should offer sufficient room for both the files you have now and any you'll need to add in the coming months, and, most importantly, should appeal to your sense of style.
Choosing a file holder that's attractive and that fits in with your office decor will make it more likely you'll use it than would choosing one you don't like. Filing may never be fun, but the more pleasant you can make it, the more you may be willing to keep up your filing system.
Remember that non-essential files--those you need to keep as archives but don't need to refer to on a regular basis--are great candidates for storage in bins outside of your immediate office space. The fewer files you keep in your main filing system, the easier it will be to add important files to it and to find the info you need quickly and easily.
As with file holders, there are dozens of styles of file folders to choose from. Finding the ones that work best for you may be a matter of trial and error, so don't be afraid of giving a few different styles a test run.
The most common file setup is hanging folders with manila folders inside each one. If you have files that easily break down into categories and subcategories, this setup can work well. Customize your filing system by playing around with using different colored hanging folders, different tab placements, and different ways of labeling your folders.
If your files don't fall into categories with subcategories, try using either hanging or manila folders on their own. Again, it can be helpful to try a few different setups to find the one that feels best. Aim to find a system that's easy to add to and easy to find files in, and that's flexible enough to include all the categories you need.
Keep at It
Setting up and using a filing system will likely never top the list of fun things you'd like to spend the day doing. That said, it's an important part of keeping your office functional. Filing is a habit to develop, and the more it reflects your style and your way of working, the easier it is to keep up. Take the time to create a filing system that you enjoy using (or at least don't actively dislike). The payoff? A more organized, less cluttered, less stressful office.