Would the appearance of your home office make your mother smile with pride or cringe in embarrassment? Either way, the business value of organization goes far beyond what meets the eye. An office that looks neat may be a nice place to work. But an environment that’s structured for efficiency will help you earn more money. Think about all the time you spend looking for things during a typical workday. From pens to notes to computer data to payments, it all adds up to lost productivity. Here you’ll see how organizing expert Lisa Kanarek helps Wendy Badman, the grand prize winner of our Third Annual Most Disorganized Home Office Contest, build an effective system that suits her needs.
Badman was in denial. Unlike Art Shay and Clive T. Miller, the grand prize winners of our first two contests, Badman didn’t believe that her office was a wreck. But she admitted that she feared that her disorganized work habits would begin to erode her bottom line. She referred to her domain of disarray as “creative clutter” and blamed die state of her office on having had a disorganized bedroom as a child. She also added that her busy schedule never left her enough time for her to tidy up. There was hard work ahead for Badman, but by entering our contest, she had already taken STEP ONE toward climbing out of the depths of disorganization–she was willing to admit there’s a problem.
STEP TWO: CREATE A SYSTEM THAT MATCHES YOUR WORK HABITS. Yo-yo organizing is similar to fad dieting in that most people attain great results for a short period of time. But they eventually fall back into their former routines because the new system doesn’t fit their style. If Badman was going to remain organized, the arrangement had to be one in which she felt comfortable working.
I asked Badman to describe typical workday because new office setup also needed to support the way she handled She explained that she always works on several projects at a time and that material from these projects gets scattered around the office. For example, when she’s not handling marketing and administrative tasks for Badman Construction, a business she runs with her husband, Steve, she works as a clerk in Durham Township. Badman edits the township’s official newsletter and is a freelance writer, photographer, and public relations consultant. She also designs and creates customized teddy ears as a hobby and needs a separate work surface for assembling the bears.
STEP THREE: CLEAR A PATH. Before you throw out, rearrange, or file anything, you need to take a moment to see where you stand (literally). Walk around your office and assess the space from all angles. If you’re in cramped quarters, move everything out of your office. Badman’s office is large, measuring 25 feet wide by 30 feet long. Instead of having to clear the room completely, Badman and I consolidated the contents of boxes, then removed the empty boxes, and took out anything that she didn’t use for business. We pushed the remaining boxes against the walls to free up more floor space and for sorting later.
STEP FOUR: POSITION YOURSELF. Many of my clients complain that their home offices are too small. Badman’s office, however, is so large that she fell into the trap of spreading her work over the entire space instead of establishing a main work zone that she could control.
To determine if your office is arranged efficiently, do what I call the “work circle” test. While sitting in your chair, spread your arms out and make a complete circle. Everything you need should be within that circle. To improve the flow of Badman’s office, I rearranged her desks (replacing her old computer desk with the Anthro desk she was awarded) into a U-formation.
She still had plenty of room, so we created a separate sewing section for assembling the bears. We got her sewing machine from the spare bedroom and placed plastic boxes filled with related supplies in the same area.
STEP FIVE: CLEAR YOUR DESK. People who spend most of their workday at the computer or on the phone may find that their desks are magnets for clutter. When you’re ready to manage this mess, remove everything from the desktop and put back only what you need to have in your immediate reach. Fortunately, because she used a daily planner, Badman hadn’t developed the bad habit of writing notes on scraps of paper. It’s a good idea to keep memo pads and Post-it notes away from your desk to minimize the tendency to use loose paper. Instead, use a spiral notebook, daily planner, or contact management program to keep track of phone numbers and conversations with clients.
Originally, Badman had three desks in her office, and they were littered with papers, folders, books, accessories, and plants. Two desks were positioned in an L-shape and another was placed in front of a window. Only one of the desks had drawers and these were crammed full of papers and supplies. Her computer and phone were on another desk. And she used a third table as an additional work surface. After clearing everything off the desktops, the two of us replaced items in a logical order. For example, we put the card file next to the phone so she could quickly access her client addresses and numbers.
Next, we moved rarely used reference files to a freestanding four-drawer cabinet Badman had recently bought and added more hanging folders to her desk drawers. We sorted through boxes that contained papers she needed for current work. We labeled hanging folders with general headings and inserted manila files with specific project or task labels. The Bills Paid folder, for example, contained files organized by type of bill and the Long-Term Projects folder contained files labeled by particular assignment.
The rest of the files in the desk drawer were empty and labeled as current projects. Instead of replacing the papers in the folders, Badman was leaving them on top of her desk because she said it was too much trouble to wrestle with the overstuffed drawers. To avoid this problem, we placed a vertical file holder on her desk to create additional storage. These files were labeled To Do, Follow Up, Projects, Correspondence, Photography Projects, and Bills to Be Filed. Badman will reduce her paper consumption and increase her drawer space when she starts using her Canon flatbed scanner, one of her prizes.
STEP SIX: USE HIERARCHICAL STORAGE MANAGEMENT. When deciding where to store material, you should take into consideration the frequency of its use. The things that you use the least should be filed farthest away and the things you use the most should be more accessible.
I haven’t met an entrepreneur who didn’t have some type of storage concern. Either they don’t have enough storage space or they don’t know how to make the best use of the storage space they have. Badman has both problems. Her office had only one closet that measured nine feet wide by two feet deep. Before deciding on how to store material, she first had to determine what should stay and what should go. Whenever she was uncertain about throwing something away, I asked her the following three questions: Would she use it again? Was there a valid reason for keeping it? Did she have a place to store it? The more she thought about these questions, the less time she spent deciding what she did or didn’t need to keep. The result was that she tossed more than she would have if left on her own.
Badman was actually amazed at how many bags and boxes we filled for removal. “I can’t believe I threw stuff away,” she says. “Once I started, it was easy to get rid of the things I knew I would never use again.” She tossed loads of old magazines without a second thought because she rationalized that if she hadn’t read them by no she never would.
If you find that you have an accumulation of old issues, flip through them and tear out any articles you want to keep for future reference. File the articles and throw out the magazines. As new issues come in, tear out articles at least once each month and when you receive renewal notices, only renew those that help you improve your business.
Finally, we turned to the task of maximizing Badman’s closet space. First, we added shelves and grouped similar (labeled) items on each shell Badman plans to install more shelves along the back and left side of the closet. She also has room outside the closet for a small round conference table and a cabinet or bookcase to display her bears or store books. The last three pieces of furniture–a metal bookcase, four-drawer file cabinet, and small supply table–remained along the back wall.
Six hours later, Badman could see her floor, her desktop, and her solution to remaining organized–a customized organizational system that tackled office clutter and streamlined her business.