Taming Your Work Space: Techniques for Organizing a Home Office

I admire secretaries, office managers, executive assistants, and other professionals dedicated to keeping the particulars of a business in mind every day. When I worked as a writing tutor, one of our staff members was a specialist in various organizational “areas” of academia — study skills, learning disabilities, and so on. She worked with students in developing such useful habits and skills. I was lamenting, one day, about my own lack of organizational ability and she said to me, “Being organized isn’t something you’re born with. You have to learn how to organise.”

And, of course, a great weight was lifted from my shoulders because to that day I had operated under the assumption that I would never be able to organize myself, my work, my life. To hear that becoming organized was something that I could learn was like hearing about chocolate for the first time! Since then, I have been ever on the lookout for different techniques and methods I could use or adapt to my own purposes. I have read any number of books about organization; I have talked to friends and family about how they organize their files, kitchens, classes they teach or take, and so on. And from these innumerable sources, I have developed some pretty simple, straightforward guiding beliefs about organization.

  1. “File those papers, don’t pile them!”

    I am such a packrat. I hate throwing away papers because you never know when you’ll need that list of books you plan to buy or the recipe for chocolate mud cake you found online. I keep copies of check stubs from my clients, receipts from any business purchases I make, and other paperwork related to my business. However, I have a bad habit of piling these papers smack dab in the middle of my desk. What works for me is to end each day with a quick filing session — usually about 15 minutes or so. The result is a clean work area and less paper work.

  2. Make sure everything has its own home.

    Many grandmothers are quoted as saying “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” (Funny I don’t remember my grandmother ever saying that!) I’ve spent most of my life ignoring this often-quoted phrase, not knowing the true origin nor the original intent. I suppose I’ve assumed that it came out of a housewives’ manual from the 1950s or some similar publication. In any case, this particular phrase is true. Your office will simply function better if you have a home for everything in it — from pens to printer paper, from envelopes to disks. The idea is simple: if you know where it goes, it’s quickly popped into its home and quickly found when you need it. My pens and pencils live in two cracked-but-groovy coffee cups next to my computer. My web documentation books live on a small shelf that’s part of my computer desk. All my office supplies are housed in the middle drawer on my computer desk. I am currently working out what items should call the two drawers on my writing desk home. Until then, I always know where my pens and style manuals are.

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