Sunday, September 26, 2004

Getting Your Home Office in Order (Part 3)

Tip of the Week, September 19, 2004

You've sorted through the papers in your office, purged the ones you don't need, and started categorizing those you want to keep. Now it's time to create a filing system that feels right to you, offers enough space for the papers you need to file now and in the future, and is appealing enough to be something you want to use regularly.

File cabinets, drawers, boxes, totes...
There's an amazing array of file holders available on the market--everything from locking upright file cabinets to portable plastic file bins to lateral wood drawers. The file holder (or holders) 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 particularly like. Filing may never be fun, but the more pleasant a task you can make it, the more you may be willing to keep up your filing system and keep your office organized.

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 banker's boxes or plastic filing bins in a basement, garage, spare closet, or other space 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 information you need quickly and easily.

Hanging and tabbed folders
Choosing the cabinet or bin your files will go in is important, but choosing the file folders themselves is also key to making your filing system work for you. 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 tabbed folders inside each one. If you have files that easily break down into categories and subcategories, this setup may work well for you. To further customize your filing system, play around with using different colored hanging folders, different tab placements, and different ways of labeling both the hanging and the internal folders.

If your files don't fall into categories with subcategories, you may want to use either hanging folders or tabbed folders on their own. Again, it can be helpful to try a few different setups to find the one that feels best to you. 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
It's worth repeating: for most of us, setting up and using a filing system will never top the list of fun things we'd like to spend the day doing. That said, we know it's a necessary part of keeping an office organized and usable. Like healthy eating and exercise, 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 find a file cabinet and filing folders that you enjoy using (or that at least aren't a dreadful chore to use); the payoff may just be a more organized, less cluttered, less stressful office.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Getting Your Home Office in Order (Part 2)

Tip of the Week, September 12, 2004

Last week's tip covered some first steps to take when you're ready to tackle the paper that's cluttering your home office. (Read the tip here if you missed it.) This week, we'll take a look at the first step in the process of creating a new (or improved) filing system.

It's no secret that there is no single filing system that works for everyone, so what works for a spouse, friend, or colleague won't necessarily work for you. I recommend that my clients start at the very beginning when creating a filing system: grab a stack of papers from your desk or your file cabinet and sort them into piles that make sense to you. For example, you might put magazine articles you want to save into piles based on topic (travel, home care, exercise), or you might put them all in piles based on what magazine they're from. As you create piles, jot down the name of each on a scrap of paper or a sticky note.

The most important thing early in this process is 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 to use when making piles is to ask yourself, for each item, "Where would I look for this?" The first thing that springs to mind ("In a folder called Travel," for example, or "In a folder called potential clients") is often a good indication of what sorts of categories might work for you.

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 the system I've created makes sense to me. 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.

Next week, we'll take a look at some filing supplies and products that can help you make your filing system even more useful to you. In the meantime, start sorting those piles!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Getting Your Home Office in Order (Part 1)

Tip of the Week, September 5, 2004

The next series of Tips of the Week are dedicated to the amazing and industrious women I met at the Workin' It event last Wednesday. At the event, which was a celebration of working women in the Bay Area, I had the chance to meet and chat with several women who have home-based offices; this week's tip is the first in a series that will cover several different aspects of organizing a home office so it's comfortable, efficient, and pleasant to be in.

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 (see this archived Tip of the Week for some ideas on where to begin), but it can ultimately be one of the most worthwhile and satisfying.

I recommend tackling the paper project by first sorting and purging any existing files you have. Many of us use valuable office space to store files that we don't need regular access to, such as archived tax returns, correspondence we've received and want to keep, and school or medical records. Files like these can safely be moved to permanent storage elsewhere in your home (including the attic, basement, or garage). Bankers' boxes or plastic file boxes are both great options for archiving papers.

As you sort through your files, get rid of anything you don't need to keep. Papers that can safely be recycled or shredded include old utility and phone bills (unless you need them for tax records) and outdated catalogs. To determine what financial records you can dispose of, talk with your tax preparer, accountant, or attorney. Bankte's Web site offers general guidelines on how long to keep various kinds of records, but again, it's worth checking with a financial professional to be sure you keep what you need.

Don't let your file cabinets become black holes into which papers enter but never emerge. Take the time this week to sort and purge your files; when it comes time to file the papers currently on your desk or elsewhere in your office (see next week's tip), you'll find you have the space you need.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Make Your Extra Stuff Pay for Itself

Tip of the Week, August 29, 2004

Although the desire to live or work in an uncluttered environment can be a great motivator, the knowledge that you can easily turn your extra stuff into cash doesn't hurt, either. Late summer is a great time to go through your home or office to cull what you no longer need or want and then get rid of it, either by selling it online, selling it at a yard sale, or donating it for a tax deduction.

(I should note here that I'm in no way advocating that you sell items in your office that don't belong to you; when clearing out your office, focus only on those things that you own, not on company property.)

One of the most popular methods of selling online is, of course, eBay. The beauty of eBay is that it allows you to sell almost anything, from clothes to power tools to LPs; the downside is that you need to have a digital camera (or analog camera and scanner) to post pictures of the items you're selling, and that the selling process can be somewhat involved, depending on the options you choose. Another option is to bring your stuff to a company that will list and sell it for you on eBay (such as Auction Drop) for a portion of the profits.

Yard sales are another great way to get rid of stuff and make some money for it. Planning for and running a yard sale takes some work, but consider asking friends and neighbors to pitch in and help; multi-family or neighborhood sales can be a big draw for yard sale patrons, and splitting up the work between several people means no one gets too overwhelmed. There are numerous Web sites offering tips on running a successful yard sale; the Yard Sale Queen is one of them.

Finally, consider donating your unused stuff (as long as it's in fairly good shape) to a charity, school, or other organization that's meaningful to you. Some organizations (such as Goodwill) sell the items they receive, while others (such as homeless shelters, after-school programs, and women's programs) use them directly. Either way, you get the double benefit of knowing that your things are being put to good use and getting a tax deduction for the value of the things you're donating.

There are many ways of making your extra stuff pay for itself; you just need to choose one that works for you to start reaping the benefits.