Create office zones
Every item in your home office should have a designated ‘home’ so it can be put back, instead of into a pile to be dealt with later. Use vertical space, cabinets and shelving to create zones for your files, office supplies, mail/bill-paying (envelopes, stamps, checkbook) and resources (books, research). An L-shaped desk will give you maximum space in your main work zone for computing and planning. And as long as you’re creating boundaries, establish work hours for the home office, post them and abide by them.
Keep things convenient
If you have to walk across the room (or worse, into another room) to retrieve a file, new file folder or office supply, you are that much less likely to do it. It’s just one extra step in your already-busy schedule. Keep office supplies and file folders handy. On that note, keep filing cabinets and garbage cans within easy reach so papers may be filed or trashed easily (instead of ending up in piles).
Use a tickler
Transition papers — those papers that come into the home that don’t warrant either a new file or an immediate response — are piles waiting to happen.
“I printed the e-tickets for our trip to Vegas in May, but I don’t have a place to put them for the next few months, so I’ll just rest them here so I don’t forget them.” Sound familiar? Instead of joining the Pile High Club, use a daily reminder or tickler system like the one described in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done to give your upcoming to-dos a place to hibernate.
Avoid office root canals
Just as you spend five maintenance minutes at the beginning and end of each day brushing your teeth to stave off a few hours in the dentist chair getting a root canal, so should you schedule five maintenance minutes at the beginning and end of each day clearing off your desk to avoid hours searching for lost papers. Open mail, file and purge. Paper management is simple: inch by inch it’s a cinch. Yard by yard it’s hard.
Find what you filed
There are those people who can find any piece of paper in a giant pile, when asked. The problem with this piling system comes when there are other people in the household who might also need said piece of paper and will have no way to find it if the piler is not available to ask. A filing system is the only answer, and of the myriad options out there, Freedom Filer is the best. This self-purging system with its pre-printed labels and color-and-category-coding is “filing for dummies.”
Keep paper to a minimum
Eighty percent of what you file never sees the light of day again. So before you file something, avoid the “this may come in handy one day” syndrome and ask yourself: Can I find this information anywhere else? If the answer is “yes,” — and it usually is, thanks to Google — toss, recycle or shred the paper.
Take advantage of technology
With technology and websites like NeatReceipts, CardScan, Intelliscanner, and ScanDigital, you can get rid of business cards, receipts, archive papers and photographs. There is also software like Blis home-life management organizing systems to keep your to-dos in check.