Step Two: “Must Have” Office Essentials
It doesn’t matter what your personal style is: All home offices need basic essentials, such as:
- A calendar system
- A filing system
- A company manual
- A scheduling system
- An ergonomic, comfortable layout
- Good lighting
After that, it is up to you to decide on further needs. You might decide that an office door is essential for the way you like to work, to shut out distractions—or if you’re the mother of younger children, you might infinitely prefer your “kitchen nook” office open to the kitchen and living room, so you can keep an eye on them while still getting your work done.
Or for you, an essential might be a large (or not-so-large) erasable whiteboard so you can jot down important notes, reminders, appointments and scheduling details… or you might prefer a small, cork bulletin board inside your cubicle-style desk, on the wall, where you can pin up printouts of your Basecamp schedule, stick affirmations to inspire you, or include photographs of family members—or your dream home (or whatever goal you are working toward).
Appointments & Scheduling
One of your most important tools should be your calendar. If you have problems with organization, try two types—a long-term calendar for keeping track of deadlines and appointments over several months and a daily scheduler for reminding you of immediate activities and helping you track your time.
Your long-term calendar should be whatever works best for you—a paper wall or desk calendar… or a program such as Google calendar.
One of the biggest benefits of using Google Calendar is the option to create multiple calendars and selectively share them with others. For instance, you might create a promotions calendar to share with your VA and a family calendar to share with your spouse. You can see all of them at once, or just the calendar you’re working with.
Not only that, but you can color-code appointments so you can see at a glance exactly what’s on your schedule for the coming days, making it easy to plan ahead.
For short-term, daily scheduling, if it’s just a matter of scheduling yourself, a tool that I really like is Wunderlist and worth checking out. This simple yet powerful desktop, smartphone or online tool gives you “a way to structure your day in a way that you feel absolutely compelled to focus, take action, and get things done, once and for all!”
With Wunderlist, you can…
- Create your own project lists
- Add or delete tasks instantly
- Make notes on each individual task
- Set Due Dates and Reminders (you can even assign to-dos if you are working with a team!).
You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you “tick off” each task —it’s like your own, personal Accountability Partner.
Organizing Physical & Digital Files
Most homes and businesses use a combination of both physical and digital filing. While it’s a great goal to “go paperless,” the reality is that many critical documents arrive in paper format every day. You’ll need a way to organize:
- Bank statements
- Tax forms and payment documentation
- Miscellaneous receipts
Physical files, by necessity, rely on a hierarchy of folders for organization. You’ll want to spend some time setting up a folder system that makes the most sense to you. For example, you might choose to have a separate file drawer for family/home paperwork and one for business.
Start with hanging files or manila folders, colored labels, and a Sharpie marker. Spend the time now to fully organize your filing cabinet, and you might even find that you actually enjoy filing! Well, you will at least come to appreciate the resulting organization when going back to find a document you need.
Using your current paperwork as a guide, decide on the folders you will need. Some common folders include:
- Current year tax receipts
- Past year tax documents
- Home repairs
- Medical information
- Car repairs (keep a separate folder for each vehicle)
- Client files
- Business procedures/checklists
Once you’ve decided on and created your folders, simply sort all your current documentation into your new filing cabinet.
Pro tip: Set aside time right now (block it off in your calendar) to do your filing each week. Getting organized is only half the battle. Upkeep is the ultimate goal.
For your digital files, you have more options. Since physical files can only exist in one place at any given time, you are forced into the folder hierarchy model. Digital documents are much more flexible, and the tools to manage them are nearly endless. Consider these possibilities:
- Dropbox: Store any kind of digital file “in the cloud” and access it from anywhere. Set up your folder structure to mimic your physical files, or rely on your computer’s search function to find what you need.
- Google Drive: Similar to Dropbox, but works best with Google Docs. Google Drive is perfect for collaborating with others, sharing documents with your team, or creating while you’re on the go.
- Evernote: Often referred to as a “digital brain,” Evernote stores notes of all kinds, and will even handle attachments. With its built-in tagging system and stellar search function, it’s perfect for those who prefer the “shoebox” form of filing. You’ll still be able to find exactly what you need with just a few clicks, even if you never properly file anything.
These are my personal favorites and they are FREE but they do have paid plans if you need more space or options!
The key to filing is to determine how you want it to look, and then take the necessary steps to maintain it.
Every successful business—from the mom-and-pop hardware store on the corner to Wal-Mart—owes a large part of its success to systems.
When you have a company manual that outlines your business processes, you’ll never again waste time re-inventing the wheel, and you’ll never lose your focus.
Your company manual should be your go-to resource for:
- Performing routine tasks efficiently.
- Accessing important business information such as hosting accounts and the contact info for your accountant.
- Deciding on new programs and offers (does it fit with your overall business vision?)
In addition to key information such as your mission statement, licensing numbers (if you have them) and contact information for key staff members or outsourcing contractors, leave a one-page list of instructions so that if anything happens to you:
- Contractors and clients can be notified
- Subscriptions can be stopped
- Bank accounts or online accounts such as your merchant account or PayPal can be accessed by your designated second-in-command—or executor
You can do this with simple MS Word typed lists… or print out an Excel spreadsheet containing “Key Company Information”.
Your lists should include the following for each subscription, contractor, client or account:
- Contact person name, phone number, and email address
- What you need this person to know (or do)
- The amounts in question (if we are talking a service, contractor payment or subscription)
- Payment arrangements for contractors, subscriptions, etc.
- Payment method for each: (E.g. “Business bank account” or “PayPal automatic payment”
- The date each payment is due for each item
Also include a separate page stating where, on your computer, such things as client files or projects can be found—and anything else that will make life easier for family members or business assistants or project managers struggling to keep your business together (or get it ready for termination), should disaster strike.
Finally, be sure to discuss this plan beforehand with a trusted family member, your project manager or business assistant.
If the person you are designating arrangements to will be handling them “long distance”, make sure you really trust them and that they have access to this information.
Desk Space Do’s and Don’ts
Do you feel your desk layout is perfect… or is there some problem you’re experiencing?
(Really think about this: We tend to “blind” ourselves to inconveniences—especially when we are focused on deadlines.)
- Is the light perfect… or do you suffer from eyestrain? Does the sun blind you for a certain period every day?
- Is your office chair perfect… or is it too low? Too high? Does it hurt your back?
- Is your keyboard at the perfect height… or is it too low? Too high? At an awkward angle? Does it hurt your wrists or make your shoulders ache or are you frequently hitting wrong keys?
You have to spend hours per day in your home office, and even if you work part-time right now, you still deserve—and need—to work in comfort.
Here’s something you might not know about desk chairs: They are rated according to their recommended number of hours of use per day. If you purchase an inexpensive “task chair” designed for only an hour or two of use daily, then proceed to spend marathon, 14-hour days in it, you’re going to have problems.
Not only will your chair break down quickly, but you’ll suffer back and shoulder issues as well. Invest in the very best desk chair you can afford. You’ll work better and more efficiently if you do.
An ergonomically-arranged desk-chair-lighting layout will increase your efficiency and enjoyment—and stop you finishing the day with a sore neck, blinding headaches or carpal tunnel syndrome!
In addition to your chair and lighting, spend some time thinking about the tools you use most often. Are you constantly hunting for a pen or notebook? Save space in your office redesign for these essentials so you can keep them close at hand.
On the other hand, if you never use your office phone and instead connect with clients and others via Skype, then why is that desk phone taking up valuable space? Stash it in a closet, and save that corner of your desk for something you can really use!
In order to save you time, I have created an office essentials plan to help you to keep track of your tasks that need to get done. Just download, print and complete.
Once you decide on the your office must have tools, get started!
Just in case you missed the other installments of this series, you can get them here:
Part 1 - Organizing Your Home Office For Maximum Business Productivity
Part 2 - DIY Home Office Organization Made Simple
Let's talk again next week.