Three ways to organize a home office

February 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Make home base a pleasant place.

Your home office can be as basic or as elaborate as you want, but the way it is laid out will affect your productivity. The key is to make it work for you. It has to be a place you enjoy, and it has to be organized in a way that both suits your working style and meets your business needs sufficiently.

Organize from the ground up

Organizing your workspace to suit your needs is the first step to taking control of your home office. Once you start thinking in terms of greater efficiency, you are on your way to organizing every aspect of your business.

People have told me that they were born disorganized and will probably die disorganized. You don't have to be born organized in order to get organized. Getting organized requires what I call the four keys to organization: acknowledgment, desire, direction and action.

Acknowledgment. First you have to admit that your home office needs to be organized. Even if in reality your office already works for you, you probably could make changes that would contribute to your greater productivity.

Desire. You won't alter your habits or your habitat unless you see a need and want to change. A motivating idea that works for most people is the fact that organizing is the key to greater professional success.

Direction. Once you've acknowledged a need to change, professional advice is helpful in getting you started. Although organizing your home office is largely a matter of common sense, there are tricks, products and systems of which you may be unaware. This article will give you the direction you need to implement changes.

Action. Good intentions alone won't get you organized. Now that you've located the best place for your home office, it's time to take action.

Where to begin

Here's a game plan for setting up your own personalized workspace. Developing exactly the right layout for you will take time, so please don't try to rush through these steps. The more thought you put into your office layout up front, the fewer adjustments you'll need to make later.

Write down your needs. Do you need an office that will comfortably accommodate clients? Do you need space for samples, or forms, or reference books? Do you need special shelves or flat files for watercolor paper or architectural renderings? Do you need to fit in a drafting table or a large, open surface for cutting fabrics or laying out paperwork? How would you arrange your ideal office and what would you put in it?

Consider your options. Most offices roughly follow one of three basic arrangements (see below), but the possibilities are endless. What are the advantages and limitations of your chosen space?

Think about furniture. What do you have on hand, and what do you need to buy? Maybe you can raid a table or desk or chair from another part of the house. (Warning: if existing furniture doesn't quite suit your needs, don't try to make do with it. It will only cause you irritation.) Furniture manufacturers have finally realized the need for affordable, good quality furniture for home offices.

Read for ideas. You may find that there's a product you weren't aware of, a way of handling paperwork that requires a certain type of file cabinet, or a way to use your wall space to your advantage. Before you make up your mind about how you want to arrange your workspace, review the organizational methods that will best work for you.

Plan your office on a grid. It's a good idea to measure your office space, draw it on a grid, and then fit in any furniture you plan to use.

To make the best use of your space, you may discover that you need to go out and buy a desk or table that is exactly 40 inches long, not 38. Playing around with various arrangements on a paper grid beats wrestling with actual furniture, and you can think more clearly when you aren't surrounded by office equipment.

There are computer programs available that give you a virtual layout of your home and home office. Unless you're remodeling or building a home, these design programs are probably more than you need. An alternative to a computer program is a paper-based product that has pre-cut furniture and can be customized to simulate your office.

Shop for what you need. Bring your office layout as well as a list of what you need to buy, with exact dimensions. The fewer surprises you have at the end of this process, the better. After you've been through all of these steps, you'll be ready to move in. PR

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