How To Organize A Home Office?
When you are working already for some time in your home office you may notice that in time your desk is cluttered more and more. It is harder to find documents, items pile up on your desk, file cabinets are filled with items you don’t use and overall it feels just like a treadmill. Then probably it time to get organized in your home. However, the question is where to start, how to organize a home office?
Well, at first it may seem overwhelming. It might even be that you did not see your actual desk for some time, since over the past weeks or month things just were piling up. And the longer it takes the harder it may seem to start to organize your home office.
But since you are looking at this article it means that you are at least considering to organize your home office. Congratulations! Seriously! This is the first step and we will help you to get a good organized home office in no time. Just stay with us and actually do it step by step.
Imagine how your organized home office will look like
It’s like cooking a meal by using a cookbook. The pictures in the cookbook look delicious and you can imagine how it would taste. But, if you are not actually follow the instructions and get to work you will not get your great meal.
So the first step is simple: Imagine how your home office will look like when everything is organized. Visualize the clean desk, no clutter anywhere. Everything you need on a daily basis is near at hand. You are able to find everything right away.
Every important task is clear and structured – that means you can stop worrying about missing something when you should enjoy your free time. When you work into your home office in the morning it looks fresh clean and organized. Imagine how this will make your feel and motivated!
Get you see it? It’s like the great picture in the cook book. It makes you an appetite for the meal. And a clear picture about the great benefits of an organized home office does just the same. This is your motivation to get started. So let’s do it!
Start to organize your home office – the desk
To come from a messy desk and overfilled cabinets to a clean and organized home office is not that hard. However, you need to have a completely fresh start.
Empty your desk completely
Take everything from your desk first. Yes, that includes just EVERYTNING, including your laptop, monitor, printer, ALL paperwork, pens, photo frames, coffee pots… and so on.
It might be a long time since you have seen your desk like that. Just put everything on the floor.
Put all paperwork on one stack. We will go through it later.
If your desk has drawers, empty them out completely. Juts leave the desk as you brought it in then you first bought it.
That gives you now the opportunity to clean your desk. Get a cloth and some water and give it a thorough cleaning. Remember, it is all about motivation. Cleaning will give you already a great sense of accomplishment. You have done the first step!
And since now everything is on the floor, you are forced to just keep going. So let’s go on.
Sort things out – throw things away
First leave your paperwork aside and focus on all the nick nags you had on or in your desk. The cute little photo frame, the coffee mug, old cards. These are all nice to have but it has no place on your desk.
I know some may disagree and saying it just makes the home office cozier. But researches show that a professional and organized work space needs to be defined as such.
So sort out first all these things that are not related to your work at all and either throw them out if they are not needed anymore, or find another place for them – BUT NOT INSIDE OF YOUR HOME OFFICE. Otherwise, you simple would move the clutter to another plie in your office.
Next focus on things that you never use like the old pen that does not work, paperclips you never use, the gadget that was hip in the 90s and so on. Again, sort everything out that you do not need you’re the job that you are currently working on.
Throw out things that you have not used the last year at all. If you have not touched the item for one year you probably never will. It just takes space on your desk and makes it look cluttered.
The only items that should have left are things that you need for your work, your technical equipment like your laptop, printer, monitor, cables and of course the pile of papers.
Rearrange and clean you home office desk
So start putting back your technical equipment back to your desk. Your monitor and laptop together with the keyboard and mouse is of course the center of your desk.
Since you already have your cloth and water wipe them down as well, including the cables. They usually are dust magnets and this is your chance to given them a fresh look as well. (I assume you may not have one of those bulky 90s monitors that used to take half of your desk space. If you still have of those, it is time to throw it out and get a new one. Seriously!)
If you had your printer, scanner or desktop computer on your desk try to find another space for them. A desktop you simply could put on the floor. You really don’t need it on your desk. It just would make your desk seem to be overloaded right away.
Also your printer. If you can put it at another place, maybe on your file cabinet (No worries, we will organize it as well and make room for it).
If that is not possible, invest in a small simple table to put your printer on. Just don’t have it on your desk. Having a wireless printer makes it much easier to put it aside to another space in your office. This would also be the space where you keep all your printer items, like toner and paper.
Organize your cables
Now organize your cables and bind them together. You can use either inexpensive cable ties that you open again or simple use tape. Make sure your cables are not in the way. In addition, if you use power cord extensions tie them to your desk legs if possible so that they are not on the floor. It looks cleaner and it is easier to keep your place clean if there are no cables are covering the floor.
So everything that is on your desk is now your essential equipment, nicely arranged– and the scent of a clean desk. Great job! How does it look? Well, get used to the view, because this is exactly how your desk will look like from now on!
Now you have still on your floor items you need for you work. Now think about what you really need for the work you are working on right now. Do you really need paperclips? Or do you need 20 different pens? What about the old business cards, sticky notes, scissors and so on.
The rule is: If you have not used the item last month when you were working, it does not deserve to be at your desk!
Categorize your office items to get organized:
1. categorie: items you used last week:
These are items you need to have close at hand. But not on your desk, but these belong in the upper drawer in your desk. If your desk has no drawers, find a small box that can contain these items and place them anywhere nearby – but make sure to label the box. You can use a label maker of any other means.
You may think why should I label it, I will remember. Well researchers say that putting a label on the boxes helps you to stay organized, since you are constantly reminded of your new way of organizing your home office. And it’s much more likely you continue doing so.
If you are unsure of what items you really need during one week, here is a suggestion: Put all the items into on box and keep it close to your desk. Once you need an item, take out of that box and after using it put it in another box.
After one week, you have exactly the items you are using on a regular basis in the second box. Start with those. And if you see that you need a few more the coming weeks you always can add them later as well.
But the idea is to keep the desk completely free of those items. More information on how to keep your desk free of clutter you can find in our article THE CLEAN DESK PHILOSOPHY: INCREASE THE PRODUCTIVITY OF YOUR HOME OFFICE.
2. categorie: Items you used at least once last month:
These items are needed but not on a regular basis. Have all those items in the lower drawer. Again, if your desk has no drawers have them in a separate box and place underneath the previous box.
3. categorie: Items you have used at least once last year:
These may be the laminate machine, binders and so on. These items do not belong anywhere near your desk. Put them aside. We will make room for them in your file cabinet.
4. categorie: Items you have not used during the last year:
If you really have not used them during the last year you really don’t need them. It even be that you actually forgot you have them; they were just buried somewhere underneath other clutter.
These items do not belong in your home office at all. Throw them out! Don’t make the mistake of thinking the newly discovered items can be of any use for you in the office.
If you have not missed an item for an entire year you will not need it.
This could be old gadgets that are no longer in use, old hard drives you never will revive again, books, magazines and so on. Get rid of them right now and throw them out. You will feel much better if you are letting them go. If you really really cannot do that and you need to cling to them ban them from your office and find another place in your home.
A good suggestion for the items you think you simply can’t throw out, is to collect them in a box and put it in the garage. If after another year you still have not used or even missed the item you can throw out the box then.
Organize your documents
So by now you have on your desk you laptop, monitor, keyboard and mouse. And your drawers you have only items you need for the work you are working on right now. All other items you either have thrown out (congratulations if you were able to do that!) or they are banned from the office.
What is left is now the stack of papers on the floor.
In the past, you may have used paper trays on your desk for your paperwork. Honesty I do not like them at all. In reality, those paper trays are like simply graveyards for paperwork we never touch again.
Everything we do not want to take care of right now or not knowing what to do finds it place here – and stays. If you have a different experience please leave a comment below. I am eager to hear from someone who can stay organized in home office by using paper trays.
But we don’t need them to stay organized. Rather we take a much simpler and faster approach to organize your paperwork. For this you only need one box for incoming documents
But lets first organize the documents we already have. Take all the paperwork you have on the floor and organize them in 4 different categories. Go through the papers one by one and organize them simply by making 4 piles like this:
1. Paperwork with tasks you can do right now
When you go through your pile of papers you no doubt come across things that can be done right away. That could be just making a phone call, paying a bill or writing a short email. Everything that can be done within 5 min you should do right away.
When you have done your task, either throw out the paper if you don’t need it or place it on stack number 3 for items that need to be filed.
2. Things that need be done later
Be very careful with this category! It’s very tempting to simply put everything in this category. But really think about. Is it really still an open task that you need to work on? Or is it actually so long overdue that it has been resolved already?
If that is the case or actually no OPEN task is connected to that piece of paper you either need to throw the paper out (pile 4) or you need to fie it (pile 3).
However, if this is really a task that you need to work on and it cannot be done within 5 min you need to place the paper in this category.
3. Papers that just needs to be filed
Now in this category you want to put all papers that you actually need to keep. It might be payed bills, documents for need for your business and so on.
Just be careful not to file papers that you actually do not need. So old greeting cards, advertisements and tings lie these are o papers that need to be filed in your office.
If you want to keep these personal papers then find another place in your home, but do not clutter your home office with it.
4. Papers that can be thrown out
Go through your pile of papers and throw out everything that you do not need to work on and that you do not need to keep. These might include hand written notes you don’t even remember what they were for or advertisements for things you never will buy, letters from your bank you don’t need to keep and so on. The more you can throw out the better.
Once you have identified those papers, shred them. If you don’t have a small paper shredder it good to invest in one.
For one it makes sure you do not throw out documents with personal information on it and second once shredded you will not be tempted to put them somewhere else.
After you have gone through your pile of papers like that completely you actually left with just two piles:
- One with things you need to work on, and
- second, papers you simply need to file.
Get a filing system for your documents
Let’s focus first on the last part – papers you simply need to file.
There many ways to file papers and you need to find out what works for you.
But keep it simple! If you come up with a complicated way of filing your papers there is a great chance you will not do it all and go back to your graveyard paper trays.
Some suggest having different colors for different categories.
So for example one color for all your financial documents, another for medical records and bills, another for insurance matters, and again another color for your house and so on.
This is certainly a good idea, but requires that you stick to it, have your hole puncher in the upper drawer of your desk (not on your desk!) and do it right away.
Another suggestion is to simply file your documents alphabetically.
This may sound easy but requires even more work to file. You need to decide is your car insurance to file under I as “Insurance” or under the Company name.
Then you need to find the correct folder, open the correct tab and file the document. So personally, I don’t like that system.
But important is that your find a system that you feel comfortable with and motivates you to continue doing so.
After all – the goal is not just have an organized home office but also to keep it like that.
Another option is to use a file cabinet with hanging folders.
The advantage of those folders is that you do not need to get the correct folder, get your pincher, pinch holes open in your document, put away your pincher, close the binder and put it back on the shelf.
You simply would have to open the drawer, open the hanging folder and throw the document in. It may sound not much of a difference, but if you are lazy as me, you certainly are much more inclined to file your papers if it is as easy as possible.
Another advantage of using a hanging folder file cabinet is that is more likely to stay clutter free. If you are having a regular cabinet you will be surprised what you will din in there after some month or even years. We will get to it later in this article.
Another option is to scan your documents.
Since more than 5 years I’m using this method and it is the easiest way to file documents. I bought a little scanner that scans all documents that I need to keep as searchable document to evernote.
After that, I throw out documents I do not need to have as original. The rest comes all in one box. And whenever I need to find a document I can type in evernote any word or phrase and have the document I need right in front of me.
Evernote is cloud based inexpensive document and note keeping tool.
A great description on how this works you can find in the article “How to go Paperless W/ Evernote”
Every paper that you do not need to file as original helps you keep your home office organized. However, even if you cannot do that right now, having a file cabinet helps already a lot.
Organize your home office cabinet
So, by now you are having a clean desk, organized drawers and a file system for your paperwork. Let’s move on to your cabinet.
Basically, we follow the same pattern as we already cleaned out and organized your des. So let’s start by taking everything out of it. Most likely, you will find items in your drawer you never thought of for month.
Place everything on the floor and use the opportunity to clean the closet inside and out,
Again, separate now the items into
- papers and documents, including already existing folders,
- private items that are not work related and
- items you use your work.
Let’s focus again first on the items that are not work related. Maybe you found drawings and pictures from your children, toys, framed photos and other nick nag.
Of course there is nothing wrong with having those items. But remember that our goal is to have a defined and organized home office.
So put private matters to another place of your home. Or hang the picture on the wall. But don’t occupy office space with private items.
Now have a closer look at the items that you consider as related to your work. Are you using them all?
Identify items that you have not used during an entire year. Most likely, you never will. So take them out and throw them away.
If you think you can’t do that right now put them the box in the garage with other things you can’t let go for now. After one year, you may not even know anymore what is in the box and you can throw it out then.
Now you can place the items that you have used during the last year back into the cabinet. Use baskets or boxes for smaller items. It helps greatly to keep your home office organized and avoids clutter in your cabinet.
Now all that is left are papers and folders.
Some folders may contain important documents. If you are not inclined to shift through these documents right now it’s all right. You can do that later (although to be honest, it may never happen). But as long as you know what’s in the folder you can keep it as is and put it back into your cabinet.
Other papers you can organize in the same way as you did with the documents on your desk. Make a pile with documents that you can throw out and another with documents that you want file.
Now you can start to file the documents as described above.
Stay organized in your home office
By now you have your home office well organized. Now the challenge is to keep it like that. See also the article HOW DO I KEEP MY HOME OFFICE DESK CLEAN AND CLUTTER-FREE?
Be determined to reserve 10 min at the end of every working day to completely empty your desk. File documents that need to be files and remove all office tools from your desk and store them in your drawers.
At the end of every day your desk should again look like that:
It just feels great to have an organized home office. It gives you the right motivation and you get things done. Researcher show that an organized office greatly increases your productivity.
So stay on top and keep working to have your home office organized!
If you have any tips that helped you stay organized in your home office please leave a message below or email us.