Do you feel rather disorganized with some aspect of your home office? Perhaps you’re a hoarder of papers, like I am, and you don’t always file documents properly. Or maybe your email inbox is unwieldy. Or perhaps your entire home office is a bit of a disaster zone. Regardless, you’re wondering how to organize your home office… and finally get your home office under control.
There is nothing shameful about it when things are a little chaotic in the environment around us. It might seem as though things are far beyond your control, but that is not the case.
What you need is a formula for getting it back under your control and organizing your home office, once and for all. We’ll address each one of those issues in this blog post.
First of all, why does it even matter to get your inbox under control or to create a welcoming environment to work in?
Well, if your inbox is cluttered, there is a very real possibility that you will miss an important opportunity with a prospect, or you’ll forget to respond to a client’s question. Besides that, a cluttered inbox can lead to a cluttered brain. The more free space in your inbox, the less it’s going to stress you out.
And if we aren’t happy in our work environment, we’ll find more excuses not to spend time there. The more we enjoy the physical space around us, the more invigorated we will be to continue working.
Now, You might be thinking to yourself that it’s all well and good, but the space you have for a home office is really tiny, or it’s in the basement. I hear you! In fact, I spent a couple years working at a 9 to 5 job in a windowless basement office. Seriously. So I know that it can be challenging and even demoralizing to be in that situation.
If that’s your case, then I encourage you to explore creative solutions to handling that environment. For example, you could do most of your work out of the home, such as at the library, or in a coffee shop, or at a coworking space.
Or, another example, you could hang beautiful paintings on the wall, hang fairy lights along your desk, get a plant that doesn’t need much sun, or prop up a photo of your loved ones on your desk. These little extra touches can make your workspace more welcoming and a more inviting place to spend your time. And that’s largely what this is about. It will be so much easier for you to be more productive when you want to do your work—and that includes wanting to spend time in your office.
Okay. Now that we’ve discussed the value of having a work environment that makes you happy, let’s explore some practical solutions for dealing with chaotic messes so you can finally organize your home office…
Starting with paper messes and an overflowing filing cabinet.
This has always been one of my personal big hangups. I’m a total hoarder when it comes to paper. I have no problem decluttering most other things in my life, but paper is a trickier area. I always think that I might need this document or that document sometime in the future… so I hold onto everything.
Here are a few ways to handle it when your filing system is a mess:
1) Categorize everything. You don’t want to throw documents around all over the place. Things should go into their proper places. So at this time, identify what documents you have and what categories you’ll want for them. You might have different file folders for each client, plus a section for phone bills, equipment manuals, etc.
2) Decide how you want everything to be arranged within your filing system. Personally, I like to alphabetize my categories, and also sort things based on dates. For example, if I have a folder with my taxes, they will all be in one section of the filing cabinet, but they’ll be organized by date with the most recent easiest to access.
3) Make a clear decision about what will stay, what will get scanned and then shredded, and what will get tossed. Write this down, and pin it to the wall while you’re undertaking this massive project. The idea here is that you are telling yourself out loud what you are allowed to keep—and then committing to it, because it will be written down in a prominent place. You might decide that anything from before a certain date will get shredded, or you might decide that there are some things you don’t need to keep in their hard-copy form, and that they can be digitized instead.
4) Set aside a large chunk of time to go through all your documents. Set aside more time than you think. Ideally, you’ll want to do this in one sitting, because it’s going to look like a bigger disaster before you’re finished with the project. You don’t want to lose momentum! This will entirely depend on your unique situation, but you might want to set aside an entire morning or afternoon to do it.
5) Sort through it all. Organize documents into piles that represent their categories. Toss or shred anything you don’t absolutely need to keep. Then put the papers in their respective folders, label them accordingly, and organize them inside your filing cabinet.
To prevent this from happening to you again, allow yourself one tray on your desk as your physical inbox. Write it into your calendar that once a week you will deal with everything that’s been added to your inbox that week, and file it accordingly. Voila! Mission accomplished.
Moving on to dealing with an unwieldy inbox…
The first thing you need to know is that your inbox is not a to-do list.
Let that sink in for a minute. Your inbox is not a to-do list. Stop using it like it is one!
If you find yourself leaving emails in your inbox for the sole purpose of serving as a future reminder to deal with a task or respond to someone, then that is not a good enough reason to leave it in there.
1) If an email includes action items in it, then move those action items onto your calendar or task list. They do not belong in your email inbox. They belong on your calendar or to-do list.
2) Mass delete, or mass categorize, emails if you have a huge amount of them. If you have hundreds of emails in your inbox, you’ll be doing a big excavation. Just like with your filing cabinet, you may need to set aside a couple hours to go through it all and categorize or delete as appropriate.
I would be cautious with the “delete” button when it comes to emails, however; it’s generally best to categorize them and move them from your inbox rather than deleting altogether, because having a record of communication in writing can be extremely helpful for referring to things in the future. I can’t count how many times I’ve looked up an old email for one reason or another, and it makes me grateful every time that I don’t often delete emails.
3) Categorize all emails on a regular basis. I recommend creating a category or subcategory for every type of email you get. For example, all of my clients get their own subcategory, which are grouped together under a Clients category in my inbox.
4) Make use of features in your inbox like the Snooze feature in Gmail. If you want a reminder to follow up with someone next week, then you can snooze it to reappear in your inbox a week from today, for example. It’s a fantastic tool for moving it out of sight, while knowing it’ll pop up again when you need it to.
5) Once again, choose a day of the week where you commit yourself to achieving Inbox Zero, just like with your paper documents. Do them on the same day each week so that the activities are linked together. And who knows—you might even find that you start automatically make it a habit to get to Inbox Zero on a daily basis, rather than a weekly basis!
Remember, your inbox is not a to-do list. Stop treating it like one.
Okay, moving along to our final part of this blog post, which is how to organize your home office in general…
1) Assess your current space, and decide what you want and need, and what you don’t want or don’t need. You might realize that you are lacking some key office supplies, or that you’re cluttering up your home office with supplies you really don’t need. Take the time now to toss, give away, or sell anything you don’t want or need, and collect any additional supplies you do want or need.
2) Find a space for everything. You don’t need to go overboard with desktop organizers and shelves, but everything in your office should have a “home.” Try to arrange it so that the supplies you use more frequently are easily accessible; other supplies can be tucked away. At this time, you also might want to ensure you have both a clock and a calendar readily accessible and within eyesight—these tend to be tools that we refer to constantly throughout the day.
3) Take your personality and productivity style into consideration. For example, I find that I do my best work when I’m standing, as opposed to sitting. I didn’t own a standing desk for a long time, so I created a makeshift version for myself by getting a large, sturdy cardboard box, and propping my computer on top of it. You might want to come up with creative solutions for yourself, too, depending on what works best for you.
4) Personalize your home office with things that *speak* to you. If you struggle with insecurities or imposter syndrome, then you may wish to hang your diploma on the wall, or print out your favourite testimonials and compliments you’ve received from clients to frame them. Or, if you find that bright colours bring a smile to your face, you might want to get colourful office supplies, or decorate your existing office supplies with pretty washi tape, or use a colour-coded sticky note system for your task list.
5) Once again, choose a day of the week to do a quick clean and tidy of your workspace, so that everything returns to where it belongs. You also might want to set aside 5 minutes at the end of every single workday to return everything to where it belongs, which will make it that much easier the next morning to start the workday clutter-free. Doing this will also make it easier for you to dust your office on that weekly basis, or however often you want to do so.
There you have it. Those are your tips for how to organize your home office when you’re dealing with a chaotic filing cabinet, email inbox, or general workspace.
Now, perhaps your personal chaotic area is that your computer filing system is a mess, or something else altogether. Regardless of what it might be, you can use the practical tips from this lesson and apply them to your situation, to take back the control and start making your work environment the welcoming, productive space of your dreams.
Your action step? Identify an area of your workspace that feels chaotic, and implement the strategies from this lesson to deal with that chaos.
Also, I strongly recommend that you grab the ultimate home office checklist to ensure you have everything you need for your home office.
Can’t wait to hear about how organized your home office becomes as a result of implementing these action steps!
Note: This article is an adapted “sneak peek” of a lesson from my upcoming e-course, Productivity Powerhouse. Stay tuned for more details! Productivity Powerhouse will be available for enrollment in the coming months.