Get Serious About Organizing Your Workspace! How to Organize your Home Office…What You Need…What You Don’t Need.

Is your home office a disaster? Are you so buried under piles of paper that you can’t find the computer? Wading through all that mess is wasting your time, so maybe you should finally get serious about organizing your workspace.

Maybe you have the sort of job where you can do everything you need to do on a smartphone, but most of us require more than that. What you must have and what you can do without is personal, and you have to decide what is contributing to your productivity and what’s just taking up space.

Location, location
The first thing to consider when you set up your home office is location.

You need a place where you have access to everything you need, like Internet or Wi-Fi, phone and electrical outlets, but also a place where you will enjoy working long hours. If I have to be stuck behind a computer for hours, I’d rather be doing it next to a window with an attractive view than in an area that resembles a closet or a prison cell. At least if I have writer’s block, I can have it while watching a bird splash in the fountain outside my window.

Time to trash
If you’ve inherited the hoarding gene and have the compulsion to keep everything because you might need it some day, get over it. The technology just keeps moving at a faster and faster pace, rendering items obsolete before you even finish paying them off. Take a deep breath, pull up the trash can and get ready to do some serious house/desk cleaning.

Is your desk the graveyard of computer history? If you’re not sure about what the heck you have in there, you need to pull it all out, look at it and decide to keep it or toss it. One time several years ago, I did this with my office and found things so old that I couldn’t remember what they ever did in the first place.

These included floppy discs (!) that I no longer had disc drives for. But what if something important is stored on them? Let’s get real—if the info was all that important, you’d have stored it someplace else by now. Toss them—all of them.  But make sure you take the appropriate steps to delete any personal information before just throwing them out.

Then there are cords. If you can’t remember what device the cords work with, toss ‘em. If they were really worth keeping, they’d be hooked up to something on or under your desk already. This goes for the charging cords on cellphones you don’t have anymore. Especially if you can’t remember which of your old phones this one went with.

Other items you can toss include old versions of software. You’re never going to need that box of Windows 98 with the floppy discs. Outdated manuals can go, too. And don’t even think of keeping that 28.8 modem.

I once had a boss who couldn’t stand to dump the outdated computers, printers and other junk we had accumulated, even if most of them didn’t work. They all sat collecting dust in our storage closet, preventing us from getting in there to find anything until one day I got fed up. I waited for him to go out of town, called up a place that picks up electronic waste for recycling and had it all taken away. The boss never noticed, except to thank us for cleaning up the storage unit. You won’t miss that Mac Performa carcass either.

Now that we’ve cleared out some clutter these next tips will help you really clear out some space so you have a great place to work.

The paper trail to hell
The biggest source of desktop clutter is paper. The best rule for avoiding paper clutter is: Read each piece once, then toss it or shred it. Since nobody actually does this, the next best thing is to have a system.

One of the major causes of paper storms is bills. Obviously, you’ll need to pay them at some time. One way to cut the clutter is to do all of your bill paying online. Have the bills sent to your email and pay them as they come up. If this doesn’t work for you, at least mark a due date on each paper bill when it comes in the mail. Sort them in order of due date, then pay them online through your bank. When you pay a bill, keep the actual bill part and toss the envelope out, along with the junk mail that comes with it. If there’s info about your account on anything, shred it.

Speaking of paying bills online through your bank, this is a great way to keep up with what you have and haven’t paid. A glance at your account can tell you exactly who you’ve paid and when. Plus, you save a fortune in postage and late fees.

There are numerous theories on how long you should keep paperwork. If it involves your taxes, stash it for at least a few years. To save desk space, start a filing box for tax docs and put it in the closet. For bills, six months should be OK, and after that you can shred them. You can probably view your last year of bank and credit card statements online anyway.

Important or not?
For very important printed docs like passports, birth/death certificates, citizenship papers, deeds, auto registration, etc., have a box, file or large envelope marked “Important!” and keep it where you can grab it in case of disaster. Anything that will cost money to replace should be stored here.

Data solutions
Nowadays, we have our choice of ways to store data that don’t take up a lot of your own space, like cloud storage. Apple, Amazon and others have cloud options that let you access your data from your computer and mobile devices, so they’re worth checking out.

Desktop necessities
Now that your desk is fairly clean, you should have room for the essentials like your computer and peripherals. Some you will need close by, but as more devices become Wi-fi enabled, you may be able to park them elsewhere.

If you prefer to charge your smartphone while you work, the charger can get a spot on your desk and plug into the power strip you use for the computer. If you have speakers, headphones or other items that require more USB ports than you have on your computer, get a USB hub.

To print or not to print?
A few years ago, a printer was considered to be a requirement for the home office. Now this piece of equipment is optional at best. A few years ago, I bought a combination printer/scanner/copier/fax for $100 at Amazon and this thing still fulfills all my needs for those tasks. If you do need extras like this, look for the ones that do double or triple duty. I’ve never bothered to set up the fax, but the others come in handy at various times.

The shredder is your friend.
A document shredder is one of the best devices for dealing with paper clutter. Pick one up (they start at $30 or less), stash it under your desk and hack up a pile of bills every few weeks. Toss the shreds into a trash bag, toss it in the recycling bin and free yourself of those unsightly piles of paper.

Do you need a landline?
Or do you prefer it for the work you do? The landline phone is quickly becoming a relic of the past, but if you spend a lot of time talking to customers, clients or other business associates, you may find the sound quality better than that of your trusty smartphone. If you do, a good bet is the all-in-one cordless phone with answering system and multiple handsets so you can spread them around the house. If the smartphone is all you need, great!

Change is good.
Even if you get your office just like you want it, the technology will keep changing and you’ll have to change with it. Fortunately, those changes will probably allow all of us to streamline our workspaces in new ways. Keep looking for new ways to make the technology work for you!

Written on 7/13/2013 by Linda Cauthen.

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