By Tracy McEvoy
Is your home office working effectively for you or are you finding it a real struggle to keep focused and organized? If you are struggling, you are not alone. In fact, many home-based entrepreneurs have told me that they find it very difficult to keep organized and to stay on top of things while running their businesses. As a result, deadlines get missed, paperwork gets lost and frustration builds. With this in mind, I sat down with Michelle Panzlaff, the owner of Tidy Tiger Solutions, and the Vice Chair of The Professional Organizers of Canada (BC/Yukon chapter) to get some expert tips.
So, what can you do to create some meaningful and positive change in your home office?
- Create space for yourselfNo one wants to be crammed in a corner looking at a wall. Isn’t that where they put the bad kids in elementary school? Nor do you want to be sitting at a desk surrounded by towers of oppressive and distracting paperwork. With the odd exception, most people find that they can think clearer and be more creative when they have an uncluttered workspace. So, ensure that you have enough space for your file cabinets, desk, computer and other tools of your trade and organize the layout so that your tools are within arm’s reach. If you are keeping old records, plans or other items that you do not reference regularly, consider placing them in file boxes and storing them in the garage or at a well-managed self storage facility.
- Invest in proper toolsIf you are running a professional business, you need the proper tools to do your job effectively. The drawers on your filing cabinets should open smoothly and effortlessly, so that it is easy to file. If it is not easy to file, you will not do it. Purchase a rectangular recycling bin, large waste bin and a good quality paper shredder and place them within arm’s reach. You will also need an inbox and some filing trays to keep you organized. Having good equipment not only helps you be more effective, but it can make you feel inspired. If you do not believe me, think back to when you were little and how exciting it was to purchase new school supplies. We had to watch our pennies at our house, so when Mom decided to splurge on a new paint box or set of pencil crayons, it was a really big deal and we spent a lot of time enjoying them. We may be older now, but we are still kids at heart.
- Conquer your inbox
If you are like me, you have an inbox full of all sorts of paperwork. Some of it is important and much of it is not. The goal is to keep no more than two to five items in your inbox on any given day. This will require you to make decisions quickly and will make you more efficient. Ask yourself:
- Does this item have value and a high deadline? If so, put it in your “TO DO” folder.
- Does this item have value but no deadline? If so, put it in your “VALUABLE” folder.
- Does this item have some value but no deadline? If so, put it in your “SOMEDAY MAYBE” folder to read when your brain needs a rest break.
- Does this item have no value and a deadline? If so, throw it away.
- If you find that you have many items in your TO DO folder, you may want to implement a bring-forward system for items that need to be handled at a future date. My goal is always to keep it simple and straightforward. Commit to spending fifteen minutes a day on filing. If that means that you need to set the timer for fifteen minutes to keep you focused, just do it.
- Work on your game plan ahead of scheduleBefore you finish work for the day, spend fifteen minutes preparing for the next day. Check your calendar for appointments, put files aside that you may need and determine what you would like to accomplish. I find it useful to keep a journal and to use lists. By planning ahead, you will be less likely to forget an important meeting or deadline and will be more focused when you begin work the next day. At the end of the week, take some time to revisit your TO DO, VALUABLE and SOMEDAY MAYBE folders and your current projects. Determine what needs to be brought forward and create your overall plan for the next week. Accept that you will never get everything done and do not attempt to be a perfectionist. This may not sound sexy, but it works.
- Allow yourself to have an archiveDespite your best efforts, over time your filing cabinets will become full and you will need to consider your options. Rather than purchasing more filing cabinets, consider archiving some of the older documents that are rarely referenced. Archiving does not need to be complicated, fancy or expensive. Simply acquire some well-constructed file boxes and place files in the box in an order that makes sense to you. At Maple Leaf Self Storage, we have created an area on the file box where you can itemize the contents so it is easy to find the items when needed. As mentioned above, keep these boxes in a safe and dry place like a garage or well-managed self storage facility.
So, if you are struggling to keep focused and organized, reflect on these ideas and perhaps implement a few of them. Take it step by step, celebrate your accomplishments and over time, your home office will be running like a well-oiled machine.
Tracy McEvoy has been managing commercial real estate for over 25 years and has held senior management positions with several of Canada’s largest real estate companies. Presently, she runs Maple Leaf Self Storage Inc. in Canada and has over 14,000 tenants. Maple Leaf Self Storage has been helping families and businesses for over 30 years. Michelle Panzlaff has been a professional organizer in Greater Vancouver for over three years and can be reached at www.tidytiger.biz.