When I first started organizing (as a vocation, not just for my own cracked way to have fun), I imagined that I would focus almost solely on home or workplace offices. You all know I’ve moved through a variety of work settings. Whether it was a cubicle or a corner of a studio apartment, I’ve always enjoyed arranging those settings in my own way as much or more than any room in my home. So it always kind of breaks my heart when I see a home work area that doesn’t live up to its potential (or worse - no area at all!). Since my early PO days, I’ve happily moved on to organizing all sorts of rooms, but the office will always be a particular favorite. Following are five of the most common mistakes I see when I’m out and about, so read on and see if you’re making any of them...
1. Not prioritizing the space. “Oh, I have a spare bedroom - I’ll just set up the card table,” or “No one uses the dining room, so I’ll stack all of the supplies in there,” just doesn't get you quite far enough. Those spaces can both be great options for an office, but who wants to work in a location that’s essentially an afterthought? Coming up with a list of what your true needs are and thinking through how to set up for comfort and ease of retrieval will make a huge difference in your productivity. A solopreneur photographer is going to require very different items, supplies, and space planning than say, a non-profit board member. If your budget is tight, there’s still no reason why you can’t think through the furniture you need and how it can be arranged. Take that card table - maybe it’s going to have to suffice for now, but make sure it’s centrally located and not covered in other stuff (like the unfinished world map puzzle you got for your birthday). Find a chair that puts you at a comfortable height for working at it. Sit down, channel your inner Captain Kirk (or Picard, depending), and see if your bridge works for you.
2. Conversely, overdoing the space. The lure of office supply stores can be mesmerizing for some of us, but don’t go out and spend big $$$ on things you don’t need or are overkill. Promise me, promise me, that you won’t go anywhere near that store without a list. It’s neat to get a big whiteboard and all sorts of markers, but will you actually use them or will they end up being utilized for your 8-year-old’s Pokemon-inspired graffiti? Organizing your office is much easier when there’s not too much to organize, so cool it on the BOGO paper clip offer and the giant pack of printer paper that you won’t use up in three lifetimes. Splurging on furniture that looks fab in a catalog can be dangerous, too, and I’m a firm believer that office furniture needs to be “test driven.” If you see a really sleek desk, go sit down at it and make sure there’s room for your laptop, charging station, files, or whatever else you need to be productive. Sometimes things that look good aren’t very comfortable or functional, and you might do just as well or better repurposing Grandpa’s old library table.
3. Not having enough (or the right kind of) light. You may have escaped the corporate world recently…remember those humming fluorescent bulbs? Or did you work in a space with four walls and no windows? Yes, it’s all coming back to you now. So why did you park your new desk in the darkest, drabbest corner of the bonus room? While it may be the only nook in your home for work, you have a golden opportunity to plan a comfortable, well-lit environment, so don’t squander it. Various studies indicate that worker satisfaction and productivity is tied to adequate light (with natural light being best). If there is any possible way to take advantage of a window or skylight, use it. If not, I love and often recommend Ott lights for task lighting - or you can experiment with some of the lamps you already have and see what keeps you bright-eyed when you need to work.
4. Having no document plan. Whether you are in charge of the family finances or running your own company, thinking through what paperwork to keep (and how you’re going to keep it) goes a long way towards reducing clutter on the desk. And the floor, the kitchen counter, the futon... Talk with trusted advisors like your accountant, financial planner, and/or attorney about what pieces of paper are critical for the long haul. You may be surprised at what you really don’t need to hang onto, or what could be maintained in a digital format. Whether physical or digital, be sure that files are labeled and you can make sense of those labels (“DD” could stand for “Due Diligence”, “Direct Deposit” or “Donald Duck”, so try not to use acronyms). Additionally, preventive measures like unsubscribing from print publications you don't read or signing up for electronic delivery of statements cuts down on unnecessary paper.
5. Skimping on aesthetics. This is so often overlooked, especially if the selected area has become pretty much a dumping ground for papers and “things to process". Once you get your space arranged and organized, why not treat yourself to a plant, framed pictures (I’ll bet you have some old ones gathering dust in the garage), or a nice area rug? One of the cheapest things you can do to perk up a room is a fresh coat of paint, and if you’re just using a corner or wall the paint can be used to help delineate what is office space vs. the other functions of the room. Studies show that blues and greens promote focus and effectiveness, so choose your color carefully. When I recently rearranged my office, I was a little dismayed to rediscover that the back of my desk had, well, no back. I’m not a sewer, but I found some inexpensive upholstery fabric and just nailed it to the rear of the desk. It really perked up the space, and as you can see, Ringo totally approved of it.
So take a long look at that home office and see if you’ve been neglecting an important part of your living space. What goofs have you made that are holding back your productivity?
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?