Declutter Office

Maximize Your Home Office Productivity: Here’s How

Is your home office set up for you to maximize your efficiency? These days most of us have home offices. Sometimes it is where we work evenings and weekends or it is in addition to our main office. Other times we are in a home office full time. If so, are you making your day as productive as possible?

With 14+ million home-based small businesses in the United States, according to the SBA, maximizing productivity is critical. Most people do not maximize their home office for performance and give little consideration to areas that can make big differences. In a company environment, experts optimize layout, design and lighting among other things. But for those of us who have carved out an area in the home even small changes matter. Most people are not aware
of the changes that can made easily to improve their productivity.

Below are six areas that will help you improve your productivity in your home
Office:

1) Improve the lighting. This is, perhaps, the most important consideration. The best light is natural light from outside. If you are fortunate to have access to this light, place your desk in a spot that it takes advantage of this light source. However, not everyone is fortunate to have light streaming into the office and not every home office has overhead light. A task light directed over your work space works wonders especially on dark days. I had a CPA client whose home office was in her basement. Every time she worked there she felt dreary. Once we added a task lamp and a floor torchiere that spreads light across the room, the space opened up and she no longer struggled to read the numbers on her computer screen. All of a sudden she felt very differently about her “lower level” home office.

2) Set up a good workflow. A project often involves several steps that can be worked on simultaneously or in sequence. Think of the time wasted if you have to stand up and move across the room every time you need an important file that is part of a project. Think, too, about access to the technology equipment needed for the project such as a scanner, copy machine and computer. Good workflow depends on having the right tools and equipment at your fingertips.

While you’re at it, check periodically that your technology is up-to-date so you’re not wasting precious office time fixing it. It is frustrating – and a bit  scary — when a computer crashes and there is a possibility of losing data.  Or, what if you need to scan information for an important case and your scanner is acting up? Do you have an IT person you can count on?

3) Pare down desk items. Keep the items on your desk basic and within easy reach: phone, computer, possibly an extra monitor, a picture or two of the family, essential supplies and the project you’re working on. Everything else is a distraction. We waste 55 minutes a day, according to The Wall Street Journal, looking for documents we know we own. That is a lot of time that could have been used productively.

4) Muffle noise from other rooms. Take a hint from psychiatrists and invest in a machine that makes white noise. Not only will it improve your concentration, but will mask the sound of a dog barking when you are on an important call.

5) Evaluate your office chair. Is it comfortable? A poorly-fitting chair can cause back pain which is a serious issue and one reason that people miss work. According to The American Academy Of Family Physicians, half of the working population suffers from back pain every year and 90% of adults experience it some time in their lives. A desk chair should be ergonomically correct so that the computer screen is in the right position along with the arm height and wrists.

6) Pay attention to aesthetics. They matter. Recently I was in an office where there were attractive pictures on the wall and calming paint colors. I commented on the good-looking office. The office owner told me how proud she is of her office and how it positively affects her mood. If your walls are all-white, perhaps it is time for a change. An interesting shade of paint and a few decorative art pieces make a big difference and do not have to be expensive.

Did you identify one or perhaps two areas that you could change in your own home office? If so, it’s time to upgrade your office so it will be a place where you enjoy working. If you like your environment, I guarantee that your productivity will improve.

Please reply to this blog and let me know what you plan to do to maximize your productivity in your home office.

Is It Time To Declutter Your Desk? (Part 2)

In the last blog (http://www.itstimetogetorganized.com/what-does-not-belong-on-your-desk/) we explored why cluttered desks make it hard to focus on the task at hand and what you can do about it. When you have to push things aside to find a clear spot, you know it is time to tackle the desktop clutter. Statistics show that co-workers admit to being judgmental and assume that the owner of a messy desk is lazy. While we would not necessarily jump to that conclusion, that is the general feeling of the people with whom you work.

When clean space on the top of your desk is hard to come by, it may be time to take a look at the offenders — the items on your desk that are usurping valuable space. Unless they’re paying rent (which of course they are not) they belong somewhere else. It is your desk, isn’t it?

Before jumping into this project and bulldozing everything in sight on your desk, take a step back and decide what to do with these items. The “keep” items need a permanent home. (Your desk is their temporary home.) Moving everything to the right place requires thought ahead of time and a plan of action. You may decide to tackle this project on off-hours — later in the day or on a weekend — to minimize the interruptions that invariably come up. It will require focus.

Now that you have a better understanding of where items might be relocated, it is time to begin. We have already discussed tips in the previous blog on handling: Loose Papers, Post-It Notes, and Reading Materials. Now we will move on to other things you may find on your desk:

Project Files

  • Keep the current project on the desk top — Other on-going projects can be relocated to a nearby desk drawer or placed on the desk in a step (or tiered) organizing unit. As long as they are not in the way and do not throw you off track, both options are fine.

Meeting Notes

  • Decide where they should go. Most people have no idea what to do with them so they end up under piles in various corners of the desk. If they are no longer needed or are now in electronic form the answer is obvious. Consider adding them to the folder belonging to the specific project.
  • Create a folder and label it “meeting notes”. Now you will know where to look when you next need the information.
  • Scan them  to an electronic folder with a descriptive name and throw out the paper notes.

Business Cards

  • Gather them together and decide which ones to keep.
  • Add a few phrases on the back of these cards reminding you where you met, what the other person was wearing, what you discussed, or if there was any follow up. These clues will help you remember the discussion.
  • Place the cards in one location such as a small box. That is a far better solution than leaving them scattered all around your desk and credenza where they can be lost. When we work with clients, we find them on top of the desk and every other flat surface in the office plus thrown in drawers. Many people return from a networking event or meeting and do not know what to do with them.
  • Enter the cards into contacts. Include the notes you made on the back of the card. Microsoft Outlook and other CRMs include note sections where you can provide information about the person and the meeting. Use a scanner when there are a large number of business cards. It is a lot faster.

Mail

  • Confine incoming mail to a box that sits on the corner of your desk. Without a home for mail, it will end up strangling your desk (and maybe you, too).

Items To Take Home

  • Designate a place somewhere else other than the top of your desk for your keys, wallet, smart phone, articles to read, documents, a briefcase and/or a purse. These types of items belong in a desk drawer or in a filing cabinet where they are out-of-sight and safe.

 Personal Items

  • Clients typically want to know what is acceptable. Of course, a photo or two is a nice addition to your desk and helps you remember why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening.  We recommend displaying a few special pictures — that’s all.
  • Take away most, if not all, decorative items that sit on your desk. Donate or take home most knick knacks, especially if they have no meaning and you do not remember where they originally came from.
  • Rotate your personal items regularly to keep your desk looking fresh and interesting.

Cords and Electronic Devices

  • Designate an out-of-the-way spot so they do not need to be continually shifted about while you are working. Also, it will be easier to remember your cell phone or tablet when you leave the office if they are in the same location every time.

Printers and Scanners

  • Find a spot off your desk, if possible, for your scanner and printer. Or, at the very least, relocate them to a corner of your desk. These items are often big and bulky and take up valuable desk space. Just be sure they are handy to reach.

Supplies

  • Extra pens, pencils and notepads are annoying if it is necessary to move them from spot to spot every time more desk room is needed. Instead, stash them in a drawer, move them to a supply cabinet or give them away if you are unlikely to use them.Many organizations or schools can always use these types of supplies and are grateful. And, yes, they are a tax deduction.

Cleaning Supplies

  • While essential for keeping a desk clean, storing unattractive bottles and cans on top of your desk is not a pretty sight. Find someplace else.

Binders

  • As much as we find binders very handy, they take up a lot of room on a desk. Move them to a bookcase or arrange them on a shelf above your desk, if you have one.

Bonus Tip: Take a few minutes before you leave at the end of the day to clear off your desk and make it presentable. When you walk into the office the next day, you will be able to find what you need and can get down to work right away. There will be no down time and you will be off to a good start of the day. How nice!

 

 

 

 

 

What Does NOT Belong On Your Desk?

Often items strewn on your desk get in the way, literally and figuratively.  Many items do not belong on your most valuable piece of real estate. You probably have no idea how they got there in the first place. Papers, business cards, file folders, coffee cups and an assortment of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. When it is hard to focus, it is hard to achieve your personal best. Clutter and extraneous items take you off course and reduces efficiency.

Another reason to clear the desktop clutter? Research shows that 57% of supervisors, co-workers, and clients pass judgment on how dirty or clean people keep their workspaces. They are often “appalled” by how messy the office is and consider them lazy. As good as your work product is a messy desk leaves a poor impression. (Note: survey by staffing firm Adecco) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/03/27/the-dangers-of-a-messy-desk/

Below is a step-by-step plan for a functional desktop that will help you stay productive throughout the day.

Prepare for your desk clean-up ahead of time.  

1. Choose a date and enter it into your planner.

2. Decide where items should be relocated. One of the reasons we end up with so much on our desk is that they have no home. A lot of things currently on your desk may end up in the trash so begin thinking about homes for magazines, project folders, meeting notes, business cards, personal items and extra supplies, to name a few.

3. Secure a large trash bag.

Now the day has arrived for you to begin. 

Gather like items together. A quick sort will identify the contents on the top of your desk. It is a lot easier to make decisions once you have divided everything into broad groups. Below are the types of items that you may possibly encounter while de-cluttering this valuable space:

Loose Papers

  • Decide what to toss and what to keep by glancing quickly at each document. If you stop to read each one, it will slow you down and can easily get you off track.
  • Divide the “keep” papers into two piles: active and reference. Place active documents into a file folder with similar items and keep in easy reach either on the desktop in an organizing unit that has “steps or tiers” or a close by desk drawer right next to you. Because you may not go to reference materials as often, they can be kept farther away such as across the room.

Scanning

  • Store documents electronically instead of keeping paper. First, however, devise a plan for the location of electronic files. The last thing you want to happen is to lose an important document because it was misfiled. Also, do not forget to backup.
  • Toss or shred the paper documents once a copy resides on your computer and the original is no longer needed.

Post-It Notes

  • Stash these bits of information into electronic software such as on-line post-it notes, One-Note, EverNote, or even the computer desktop.
  • Or store the information in a binder in an easy-to-reach location.

Reading Materials

  • Relocate them. Magazines and newspapers on top of the desk rob you of valuable real estate. It is unlikely that you are going to read a magazine as soon as it arrives. Look around your office. How about moving them to the credenza or the top of a filing cabinet?
  • Decide how long to keep them. Once six months have passed, recycle them, even if you have not yet read them.
  • Unsubscribe to the magazines that you hardly glance at. Be honest with yourself and let go of unread magazines that take up valuable space.
  • Read a magazine at lunch or while waiting for an appointment. Before leaving on a plane trip, I stuff my briefcase with unread magazines. Out they go as soon as I read them; no magazines make the return trip.
  • Tear Out Articles – The fastest way to go through a magazine is to glance at the table of contents and decide if there are any compelling articles. Rip them out and toss the magazine.
  • Pass them along to doctors’ offices, the Y, hospitals and places where others can enjoy them.
  • Recycle whenever possible.

Be on the lookout for the next blog. We will continue the discussion on what does NOT belong on your desk. We will cover:

Project Files … Meeting Notes … Business Cards … Mail … Items To Take Home … Personal Items … Miscellaneous Items … Electronic Devices … Supplies … Cleaning Supplies … Books and Binders.

Isn’t it amazing what your desk can hold?

Improve Time-Wasting Habits Now

To DO

How do you spend your time? We all have the same number of hours in the day and yet some of us achieve quite a lot while others less so. Author Harvey Mackay suggests that improving our time-wasting habits is the answer. As productivity specialists, we agree with the article he wrote in the Atlanta Business Chronicle August 30-September 5, 2013. It contained seven smart suggestions:

1) Begin With A Plan Every Day so that you can focus on the right tasks; otherwise you will lose sight of what is important. Remember to make a to-do list for the following day so you can be productive as soon as you enter your work space.

2) Prioritize based on what is most important. Complete important items first.

3) Be Realistic and don’t take on too much at one time. There are times when saying no is necessary so you can complete your work on time. Otherwise, you’ll be adding stress when it can be avoided.

4) Keep Your Workspace Neat. Spend 5-10 minutes daily to put away files and get rid of the clutter. It will make a big difference and will prevent you from searching through documents to find the one you need. Statistics show that workers spend 50 minutes a day searching for documents they know they own.

5) Focus. Interruptions and distractions pull you away from what is important. While 20% of the interruptions are good, try and avoid others such as answering the phone and checking email often.

6) Get Enough Sleep. Everyone functions better when they feel rested. It puts you in control, reduces your stress level and helps you tackle problems better. According to the experts, most people need between 7 and 8 hours.

7) Take A Break. While it is tempting to continue persevering on a project until it is done, short diversions are recommended. Stopping and doing something else for a short time will take your mind off of it. When you return to the project, you will feel renewed. That is why activities such as exercise and taking time to eat lunch are a good idea and help refresh you.

Many of us are aware of these steps but putting them in practice is not always easy. Choose one of them that you currently do not do and give it a try for a week or two. Our guess is that you will like the results.

 

 

 

 

What’s On The Top Of Your Desk?

images[10]We all know that feeling — the times when nothing can stop you from reaching your maximum efficiency. Ideas come to you quickly and projects get done. By organizing your desk, you will know where everything is. It will save you time and energy. In the March 27, 2012 article from Forbes Magazine, author Jenna Goudreau talks about “The Dangers Of A Messy Desk.”

Keep only the essentials on the top of your desk within arm’s reach to help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day. Other items scattered on your work space can get in the way, literally and figuratively. Papers, business cards, coffee cups and dozens of pens scattered about can easily distract you from the task at hand. And when it is hard to focus, it’s much more difficult to achieve your personal best.

In any discussion of desk surfaces, clients typically inquire about their personal items such as framed photos and other decorative objects. Our recommendation: limit personal items to two or three things that remind you why you come to work in the morning and why you leave in the evening. Rotate these items regularly to keep things fresh and interesting.

Schedule time in your planner to organize your desk. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

Clean Up Your Workspace in 2013!

Did you know that January 9 is Clean Up Your WorkSpace Day? It’s that important and crucial for your success that a special day has been designated. And it is at the beginning of the new year. As productivity specialists, we highly endorse sprucing up your workspace. It will help you be more organized and efficient in 2013.

Try this tip: Limit the items on the top of your desk to phone, computer, current projects, office supplies and planner.

These items are all essential organizing tools that sit on the top of your desk within arm’s reach and help you stay organized and efficiently manage your work day.

These five work tools will help you concentrate on the task at hand and help improve your productivity.

Your Planner: This is your #1 work tool. If you don’t do anything else, update and check your planner at least once or twice a day, if not more. It doesn’t matter if it is paper or electronic. What does count is a dependable system that keeps all meetings, contacts and tasks in one place and handy.

Your Computer: Are you able to find the electronic document you need immediately? From personal experience, we can vouch that a task takes a lot longer when you spend the first half hour (or hour) searching for a file folder.

Organizing your computer file folders now — in the beginning of 2013 — is well worth it.

Your Active Projects: What are you working on today? Reserve your desk surface for projects and tasks that represent today’s priority items. Projects and tasks that will be priorities at a later date can be kept in your working files drawer or a step-up file folder.

Your Phone: Keep a phone log or spiral notebook beside your phone to use as a record of voice mail messages. Or, record the information into a to-do list on your computer that synchs with your cell phone for easy callbacks.

If the caller is someone whom you will need to call again, record their information in your contact list. So long back-of-envelope!

Supplies: If you have to shove aside stationery, envelopes and boxes of business cards to reclaim your work surface, it may be time to rethink what you need at hand. Keep a few items and move the rest to the supply closet.

Take a look at your own desktop tools. Are they going to help you stay the course?

By following these tips, 2013 will be off to a great start!

 

Maintain Your Organizing

If you have recently organized your office, you know the type of work it takes to accomplish this feat. Are congratulations in order? Most definitely yes! And what a wonderful feeling! At long last you can put your hands on a document quickly without wasting time searching. The clutter is gone, old files have gone to storage, current files are in a nearby drawer, binders on the credenza are labeled and the sole project on your desk is the one you are working on currently.

And here’s another plus: You can invite clients and co-workers without feeling embarrassed by the appearance of your space. The message is loud and clear that your office is totally functional and you are in control.

Now can you cross that project off of your list? Well, yes, but not the part about maintaining the organization. Just because your office is in ship shade at the moment and you are able to be highly efficient, does not mean that the organization will stay that way on its own. Some people forget about the effort needed to keep your space clear. If you let it go, your office will be back to square one in no time at all. It will be messy and cluttered and will require all of your energy to navigate — energy you would prefer to put toward your job.

What can you do to ensure that your office stays tidy and neat? Try these tips:

  1. Designate a time — daily or weekly — to put everything back in its place. You may need to spend 15 minutes at the end of the day or an hour every Friday afternoon. Then add it to your calendar and be sure and do it.
  2. Decide your tolerance level, that is, at what point do you stop to sort, file and make decisions on papers that have no home. Maybe it is when the inbox is full.
  3. Ask a co-worker to “shadow” you while you get your office back to its organized state. His/her presence in the room is sufficient reason for you to stay motivated until your work space in back in working order.
  4. Change organizational systems that are not working instead of struggling with them. Sometimes a system needs revamping even though you were sure it would work when you set it up. A perfect example is a tickler system. Your colleague raved about how well it works but not for you. You are clearly disappointed in the way it performs. Instead of giving up and leaving the papers scattered about, try a different filing system. Keep trying different until you get to one you like and know you will use.

These tips will go a long way toward maintaining your hard-earned organization. True, they will require effort but the benefits in productivity are well worth it. You’ll feel less stress because you are free to focus on your tasks.

There is good news, however: It’s a lot easier to maintain systems and processes once they are established. It will take a lot less time to keep on top of papers, files and anything else that lands on your desk from here on in.

 

 

 

How To Reduce Unwanted Mail

I don’t know about you, but I dislike the piles of junk mail that show up in my mailbox unsolicited. I sift through the junk immediately keeping my eye out for important pieces of mail, hoping I do not overlook something important. Before even stepping into my house, I typically fling into the trash:

  • —  Magazines and catalogs I have no intention of reading.
    —  Coupon flyers I have no intention of cashing.
    —  Special offers from local retailers, land companies, real estate firms, etc. I have no intention of using.

Would you like to reduce the pounds of junk mail that weigh you down? Would you like to open your mail box and find only first class mail?

Below are opt-out websites that will help make this happen.

1)   www.directmail.com — there is no cost to take you off lists.

2)  www.dmachoice.org — choose particular companies in the following four categories from which you still want to receive mail; eliminate the rest for five years or permanently.

  • Catalogs
  • Credit Offers
  • Magazine subscriptions, newsletters, periodicals, promotional mailings
  • Other Mail Offers such as: donation requests, bank offers and retail promotions

3)  www.OptOutPrescreen.com — the official consumer credit reporting industry website for consumers to opt in or opt out of credit or insurance offers for five years or permanently.

It will only take 15 minutes. Do it today. Go on the websites to minimize the amount of unwanted mail. You’ll love opening
your
mailbox.

Spring: The Ideal Time To Attack Office Clutter

Most of us think of springtime as the perfect time to get rid of clutter in our homes. We envision coats bulging from the closet and drawers filled with things you don’t need any longer. But the same problem exists in many offices and home  offices; piles of paper, files strewn about and random items taking over good real estate on the desk or credenza. If this describes your work area, here are a few ways to clear your space (and your head).

Ask yourself:

1) Are you honestly going to read those papers and magazines? If the answer is no, then give yourself permission to toss them out without feeling guilty.

2) If I change my mind after I’ve thrown out a paper, then what? In many companies the person who sent the document originally keeps a copy. Or, the information may be easy to pull up on the web. Then again it might be available through a professional group such as the local bar association.

Clutter may not just be physical. It comes in other forms as well. How many times has a thought popped into your head and then disappears? No matter how often you push it aside, it keeps returning. Write it down. Often, you need to act on it. Once you add it to your to-do list or assign it to your calendar, then you no longer have to keep remembering it. The best part: your head is now clear to focus on important things.

Clutter can also be technological. Your computer, smart phone, iPad or Kindle can be loaded down with documents and apps that you do not use. They’re in the way when you are searching, making it difficult to find what you are looking for. It prevents you from being creative and saps your energy and focus.

Make the clutter disappear. It sounds easy enough but, unfortunately, will not happen without you taking action. Set aside time to deal with it, even though you prefer to be working on something else. It could easily take a few hours which you may want to do all at once or in small increments. As long as the time is blocked out on the calendar, you can feel confident that the job will get done. Before you know it you’ll be back in control of your desk and technology tools.