If your home office has tipped the scales from controlled into chaos, never fear; it is possible to whip it into shape—and keep it that way. All you need are a little time and these easy tips from organizing expert Donna Smallin Kuper, who has been called the “Suze Orman of organizing” and is the author of nine books, including Organizing Plain and Simple, A to Z Storage Solutions, and How to Declutter and Make Money Now!
1. Start with a clean desktop. Take everything off your primary workspace. Now put back only the items you use consistently every day—the computer and peripherals, the phone and its dock or charger, a pen and pad for jotting notes, and, if you like to kick it old school, a day planner or desk calendar. Stash staplers, paper clips, Post-its, and all other small items in drawers, and don’t succumb to the temptation to stack your stuff in a Paperhenge around the desktop. “We all say we can find things in piles, but we can’t,” Donna says. Keeping it clean not only prevents loss of important paperwork, but also helps you feel calmer. Oh, and it gives you more room to actually, you know, work.
2. Add a horizontal file to one corner of your desk if you use your office for business and need to keep track of monthly invoices and expenses. Skip the boring brown ones sold at most office supply stores and opt for something visually interesting, like this box from the Container Store. In it, use color-coded folders to separate invoices for payments due, paid invoices, office bills, and business receipts; the colors give you an instant visual cue that will help you file papers quickly. Donna cautions that receipts can often get away from the best-intentioned business owner, so she likes to lump all of hers into a single folder. Once per month, she cleans it out and files them into their proper permanent files.
3. Station often-used items, such as reference books and binders, within arm’s length of your primary workspace. You should be able to simply turn in your chair and grab whatever you need, rather than having to interrupt your work flow to fetch something that’s across the room.
4. To control paper pile-ups, under or beside your desk, place three empty bins. We’re partial to pretty fabric ones, like these from ITSO for Target. Label them important or urgent (for projects you’re currently working on), to file (for completed projects or those for which you need to keep the paperwork, but don’t need it at hand), and recycle (for everything else). As paperwork comes through, immediately sort it into one of the bins. Once a week or once per month, go through each bin and make sure you’re up-to-date on current projects, put away anything you need to store, and toss anything you don’t.
5. Commit to a regular housekeeping routine. Donna says, “For some people, a daily cleanup works best; they set aside 15 minutes a day just for this. But some people really dread cleaning and will put it off as long as possible.” (Guilty as charged!) To keep your office from looking like a hoarder’s haven, determine the cleaning schedule that works for you, and stick to it. Putting it on your calendar and setting up notifications will make it feel more official.
6. Speaking of calendars, use one. Seriously; don’t rely on Post-its to run a business. If you’re the tactile type, pick up a fun paper planner that you’ll love writing in. If you’re a digital junkie, use your Google or Outlook calendar to track phone calls that need to be made, in-person appointments and meetings, project milestones or deadlines, and any other information that’s integral to running your business. Color-code each category so you’ll know at a glance what each entry is for, and set up reminder notifications to keep you on track. Donna’s favorite is the Outlook calendar, which offers all sorts of advanced functions, like dragging and dropping e-mails onto a date, making it easy to keep correspondence in one place.
7. Get app happy. There are dozens of organizational apps on the market, but Donna is a fan of Evernote, which allow you to save e-mails, links, Web clippings, photos, and even audio and video files in individual “notebooks.” “The program syncs content among all devices linked to your account,” Donna explains, “so that you’re current no matter which device you’re using at the moment”—whether computer, smartphone, or tablet. This is especially handy when you’re on the go or don’t want to tote tons of files around.
Donna Smallin Kuper is on a mission to organize the world. Her books have sold nearly one million copies worldwide and her tips appear monthly in major magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens, Woman’s Day, and Real Simple. For more tips, visit Donna’s website, blog, and Organizing Support Group on Facebook