A home office is more than a desk and a place to store binder clips and papers. For most, it’s the nerve center of our homes. We go there to pay bills, to check email, and to correspond with friends. We also go there to dream, to create, to process memories, and to plan our lives. In short, a home office works hard. But it often it feels out of control. If your home office needs a reboot, consider these six secrets, and make your office work start working for you:
#1: There is no paper fairy, we're the reason desks get buried by paper
Paper is the number one item that clutters desks. It shows up in the form of bills, envelopes, sticky notes, printer paper and notebooks. What’s important to keep in mind is that paper comes into our homes in only one of two ways – either we print it or we carry it in. Believe it or not (tee hee) there’s no magical paper fairy that comes into our homes and dumps paper onto our desks at night.
As I shared with Good Housekeeping, to begin reducing volume, be more conscious about the paper you bring inside. And be more accountable for what you print. To minimize the inflow start with what you can easily control, like bills and junk mail. To reduce bills, enroll in paperless statements. It’s free, safe and easy to do (call the toll-free number on your statement or go online). It can be more difficult to stop junk mail, but you can learn to control it so it doesn’t overtake you. Get in the habit of pulling junk from your mail the moment it comes in, with your first sort. This includes advertisements, coupons, and blank envelopes inside bills. Also be mindful of paper that sneaks in, like instruction manuals (for electronics) or inserts in magazines.
#2: Embrace digital scanning and filing, if you can
Not everyone is ready, but if you feel buried by paper that you feel you must save, embrace digital scanning. This is ideal for tax returns, receipts, business documents and important life papers that we need – but as reference only. I get asked all the time, how can I toss the originals, won’t I need them in case of an audit, or a legal review? With rare exceptions, a printout of paperwork is just as good as the original. Even in rare cases (like a tax audit) everything you need can be printed out. As of 1997, the IRS accepts scanned and digital receipts as valid records for tax purposes. You can even contact credit card companies and banks for copies of records going back 5-10 years, if you need them.
There are countless options available for digital document storage, so find the solution that works for you. Then drop by Staples or your local copy center and have reference only documents digitally scanned, or do it yourself. The originals can then be safely shredded. I went digital years ago (I use Google Drive) and I never looked back. If you’re still not convinced, take it for a test run with a small batch of papers. When it comes to organization, it’s always best to start with baby steps.
# 3: Location matters, so choose wisely
Location, location, location. It’s the most important factor in real estate, and the same goes for your desk. Before you do anything else, find a location for your desk that can be free of distraction for blocks of time. A spare room is ideal, if you have one, but not everyone has that kind of space. So a home office can be a basket that lives in a corner of the living room, with your couch serving as chair and your coffee table serving as desk. Or, a stretch of counter in the kitchen. More important than physical space is creating an environment that enables mental focus. So hunt for a spot in your home where you can comfortably concentrate for stretches of time – just long enough to get things done – and create your home office there.
# 4: Keep calm so you can carry on
The ability to concentrate is more than self-discipline. When we are naturally relaxed it’s easy to get things done. Think about how time flies when we first start planning a vacation. But when we’re stressed or rushing about accomplishing basic tasks can be a slog.
In addition to choosing a location where you can concentrate, look also for an area of the home that makes you smile, or where you can turn on the happy center of your brain. If quiet calms your mind then choose an area of the home where the noise of life won’t penetrate, like a back room, basement, attic, or unused corner of a low-traffic room. If you can’t get things done without sunlight or nature (like me), center your home office around a window, or a cluster of houseplants. Focus first on what surroundings you need to be productive. Then from there, seek out an area of your home that supports this plan. And when locating quiet space is out of the question, embrace getting things done under headphones. A stream of meditative music works wonders to drown out noise.
# 5: Be honest about your 'concentration window'
In order to avoid getting distracted working at home, learn to be realistic about your ‘concentration window.’ For many, focused work lasts only 20-30 minutes before a break is necessary. And with our beeping, buzzing, smart-phone, texting world, many of us have even shorter attention spans. That’s ok, sometimes all it takes to refocus is a pause to breathe, stretch or get a sip of water. Find your ‘concentration window’ and then reinforce it by setting a gentle alarm. Learn to stop, press pause, breath at regular increments to reduce burnout. Learn to break projects down into manageable, bite-sized chunks. Manage your expectations up front about how much you can get done in an hour, or in a day. And do not try and get through all your projects at once. The mind is designed to wander, and often our best brainstorms come when we mentally drift away. So embrace your wandering mind, accept that your brain has other things to do and when you need a break, step away.
#6: Good tools make all the difference, so make smart choices
Last but certainly not least, we all need good tools for an effective office environment. Here’s what we recommend, and for more detail on how to set things up check out my blog 11 Tips for an Organized and Productive Workspace:
A good surface
Without a doubt, when it comes to a home office we all need an effective surface for writing, planning, thinking and getting things done. This can be a desk, lap-desk, or a coffee table. Choose a surface for its ability to keep you both inspired and motivated to get things done.
A good chair
A good chair with proper back support is important. You’ll also want an ergonomic desk setup. Take time to position your body in proper relationship to your desk or laptop. If you have to crane your neck, slouch for stretches of time or otherwise be uncomfortable, you’ll want to take frequent breaks, or simply enough set things up right the first time. Check out this awesome ergonomic how-to Mayo Clinic guide.
Light and air
I cannot stress enough how important proper light and air circulation is to a productive brain. A stale or dark working environment will slow you down. Our bodies are not designed to be strapped to chairs all day, nor be in sunlight only on our lunch hour. So make sure you have ample natural sunlight, if you can, fresh air as well. If you can’t, no worries, bring in a plant for ambiance and clean air. And if you truly have no light to speak of, bring in a fake plant. I’m not kidding.
Do you have a perfect home office secret to share? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo Credits: Picjumbo, Pixabay, GoDaddy, Kaboompics