While you may have done a great job at designing your perfect home office, you soon found out it was all in vain. You can see nothing underneath that pile of papers, magazines, bills, newspapers, files, cords and cables, and gadgets.
You want to enjoy working from home, but right now it just feels like a trap and you want nothing more than to get out of there. Your productivity drops below ground every time you enter your home office and your business meetings definitely happen at a coffee shop.
Take Back Your Home Office
Cleaning your home office doesn’t just mean you swipe it all around and you get back to work. A clean home office is organized. And you’ve learned this the hard way. So get ready and get going, because you can definitely clean your home office.
- Declutter all Paper
This might be the hardest part and definitely the one that will take the most effort. But, if your desk office drawers and cabinets are cluttered, there is only one way to go about this: gather everything in the middle of the room.
It sounds outrageous, doesn’t it? And it’s scary once you have them all there. Things improve fast, believe me.
When everything is gathered, get your trash bin and your paper shredder and start working:
- Take each file and place it in its rightful stack/organizer. Newspapers, magazines – you know where they need to go.
- Keep all financial documents (personal and business-related ones) for now.
- Once you have all your piles sorted out, it’s time to dive into each of them.
- It’s your business so you know how you want documents organized: by client/by date/by billing cycle. The choice is yours as long as you keep it this way at all times.
- Sort out financial documents – I kept this at the end since it’s a tricky one. Most of us don’t know how long a document is valid or useful and we keep bills and sometimes we keep bills and receipts for longer than needed. So here it is:
- Credit card statements – One month. Make sure they’re accurate first.
- Medical bills – One year.
- Bank Statements – One year. Make sure they’re accurate.
- Pay stubs – One year. After you get your W-2 and make sure everything checks out, you can throw them away.
- Investment Statements – One year. Keep the annual statements instead.
- Tax returns and supporting documents – Seven years. This can be a bummer, I know. However, canceled checks and receipts need to be kept this long. Make sure you organize them by your yearly tax return.
- Once everything is set, you can place the files and boxes where they belong.
- If you have clients crossing the 1-year threshold, consider creating separate storage. Your business archive.
Pro Tip: Some documents are more important than others. For those special ones, keeping them in an accessible fire-proof file cabinet could be a good option.
2. Throw Away – Redundancy is NOT Required
Once you have sorted out every paper in your home office, you need to get to everything else. Empty your desk and gather every non-paper item you have on it.
You know the saying: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. You’ve done it with paper, you can do it again.
Separate things into categories. And now take a look:
- Do you have more than 1 stapler?
- Do you keep bent paper clips because you feel “you might use them again”?
- Do you have 5 sets of blocknotes?
- And you found 37 pens! Where did they come from, since whenever you’re looking for one, they’re all gone!
And you wondered how your desk got so crowded.
Now, keep 1 of each item bigger than your hand. 2-3 of smaller items. And throw everything else away! No, do not keep them in your bottom drawer! Give them away, sell them, but do not keep them!
And while you were emptying your desk, you suddenly realised half of it is blocked by your computer, keyboard, mouse, printer, fax, scanner, monitor , and a pile of cables.
This part is a bit tricky, depending on where you are financially. If you have a stable, profitable business, consider investing in an All-in-one computer and a 3-in-1 printer/scanner/fax. This will clear up valuable office space, no matter if it’s on your desk or on other pieces of furniture.
3. Organize Everything
Even if you mastered cleaning your home office, you need to keep it this way. And your previous habits didn’t do much to help, did they? This is why you need to establish a workflow and set yourself some ground rules to work by.
Otherwise, it will be less than one month until you’re back in the same chaos.
First, start off with your filling system. Choose whatever system fits you better:
- By date
- By billing cycle
- By color
- By topic
Make sure to keep this structure within your folders and to separate the files in each however you see fit, although by date seems to be the best option. This way, you will easily be able to archive files once they’ve passed their need and even throw them away when they’re no longer needed.
And while this is manageable, keeping track of new work can be challenging. And repeating the cleanup process too often is not desirable.
So, you can implement the following workflow or adapt it to better fit your needs. You will need:
- A paper letter tray – 3 drawers should be enough
- A filing cabinet
Once a new assignment comes in, place it on the top drawer of your letter tray. This is your “inbox” or “to-do” drawer. They could be letters, bills, assignments, etc. No piece of paper should stay for more than a couple of days here.
The second drawer should be your “current projects” one. Some might take longer than others. However, this is where your “to-do’s” should end up.
The third one is your “outbox”. Once you have completed a task/project, it should go here. And this is the most important one. Because once a week you need to file these documents or throw away what’s no longer needed.
Your goal is to keep these drawers updated. Not empty, because it wouldn’t be good for business. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the thought that everything needs to be spotless. Just build up your workflow.
4. Personalize Your Office
A home office has the advantage of it being yours. Which means you can make it your own! Add pictures on your walls! Bring your favorite succulents or house-plants in and enjoy it. Make your mark!
You need to keep it simple. That’s if you don’t want to clean your home office again!