One of the most common questions I hear as a Professional Organizer is: "Where do I start with organizing my home office?" The best approach is to think in terms of SYSTEMS, so here are the Basic Six systems to set up:
1. Daily Personal Information: Whether you choose a traditional paper planner or a smartphone, having one place to capture each of these elements and make them portable will make it easier to find what you need and to prioritize.
- Calendar - Google Calendar is an easy option because it can synchronize with other calendars like Outlook and can be accessed on any smartphone or computer. You can also manage other calendars simultaneously and overlay them, meaning you could set it up to see your spouse’s schedule too.
- Tasks – One of my favorite apps for keeping up with my to-do list is called Remember the Milk. You can synchronize it with Outlook, and it exists on the web and on your smartphone too. Other popular task apps are Awesome Note and ToodleDo.
- Contacts - Centralize all contacts into one system, and delegate the data entry if necessary to make sure everything stays updated (a great job for a teenager or babysitter!). Once a year, print out your personal contacts and put them in a family binder for everyone to reference quickly.
2. Electronic Documents: Throwing everything into one big "My Documents" folder (or worse, onto your desktop) makes it difficult to find files. Create a file structure of folders and subfolders that makes sense for your home and business needs so you (and others sharing the information) can file and find things quickly. Quick trick: Force frequently used folders to the top of an alphabetical list by naming them with a symbol like a plus sign (+) as the first letter.
3. Data Backups: It's not a question of whether your hard drive will fail, it's a question of when. Ideally your backup system should be remote (not under your own roof, in case of emergency), automated (so you won't forget to do it), and secure (safe from prying eyes). We like Carbonite.com and Mozy.com.
4. Password & Software Information:
Don't use the same passwords for everything. Create a secure system for tracking them like SplashID software, an old address book, or the Internet Password Organizer® book. You can use the same system for tracking software license information and other account numbers, frequent flyer information, and identification numbers. Here's a YouTube video I made about keeping passwords.
5. Bills & Finances: Software like Quicken (for home use) and QuickBooks (for business use) makes it easier to budget and track your finances. You can store receipts and statements by month with simple January-December accordion files. For bill paying processes, here is an article I wrote here on the Good Housekeeping Home Style blog with 5 steps to organizing your bills.
Related: Organizing Tips for Summer Travel
6. Paper: One of the biggest mistakes people make is not separating Action papers (those that require you to do something like fill out a form, make a call, pay a bill) from Reference papers (those that do not require anything except that you keep them and can find them later). Think Action – Reference – Trash (ART) as you sort through your piles. Your basic equipment is letter trays for the Action items, a filing cabinet and folders for the Reference items, and a shredder and recycling bin for the Trash.
What are your biggest home office challenges? Share in the comments!
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