Categorizing your documents
Begin by listing the names of the categories that comprise the vast majority of documents in your home office. As usual like items need to be grouped together! If space is at a premium in your home office, you may want to have one folder for all credit card bills, rather than five separate folders for each of the five credit cards you own, for example. Similarly, you will want to keep all insurance documents in the same category, so that auto, health, life, and homeowner’s insurance documents live together.
Label the folders using short and structured names. Category and year is usually sufficient. For example, Tax Return 2011 is a good label. So is Paris Vacation 2009.
Elements of the Home Office
Now, not every home office will have the same list of items in it. However, there are a number of common elements that will most likely exist is most home offices. The following list includes many of the most common items that exist in home offices.
Furniture items include desk, chair, filing cabinet, and bookcase. Paper products include plain file folders, hanging file folders, 3-hole punched lined paper, unlined white printer paper, and unlined colored printer paper. General office supplies include calendar, letter trays, pens, pencils, ruler, letter opener, calculator, paperweights, batteries, markers, index cards, staples, paper clips, tape, glue and rubber bands. Printed materials include books, magazines, and newspapers. Technology items include shredder, computer, printer, monitor, and telephone. Cables include ethernet, USB, power, extension cords, power surge strips, and other cords. Blank media include CDs, DVDs and USBs.
Now go through this list and select all the items that you think you could use but do not yet have. Add these items to your shopping list the next time you head out to the store. Select all the items from this list that you already have but do not regularly use (or have not used in the past 6 months), and discard it. You can recycle it or donate it to a thrift store, but do not, under any circumstances, keep it in the house.
Arranging Your Space
The most useful piece of furniture in your room will likely be your desk. Arrange it so that your back is not facing the door. Make sure your office chair provides adequate back and wrist support, especially if you will be spending extended periods of time in the space. A filing cabinet should be located nearby so that you don’t have to travel far from your desk to reach your files. Shelving, either as part of a bookcase or freestanding, is important for storing reference materials and books.
Make sure you plug all your electronics into power surge protectors. You don’t want a power loss/surge to cause your expensive electronic equipment to short out, costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars in repair/replacement fees. Always try to stick with a multi-function printer, if possible: one that will scan, fax and copy. This type of machine will save room and nowadays they are no longer cost-prohibitive. Try to aim for a large, high-resolution monitor. Make sure the lighting in the home office allows anyone reading to have sufficient light. Utilize a combination of general light (for the room as a whole) and task light (desk lamps geared for person sitting at desk).
As you collect documents that need to be filed (from either the incoming mail or a project or elsewhere), you need to designate a spot for these items in your home office that are waiting to be filed. Consider getting a separate basket, or a letter stacker, or any other designated paper holder to keep these documents together until you have time to file. Set aside 15 minutes every few days to sort all those documents properly in your filing cabinet.
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