According to Entrepreneur.com, over 13.8 million of us operate home businesses. For 9.7 million our businesses are are primary source of income; 4.2. million run home-based businesses part-time. My guess would be that a large number of us who are entrepreneurs operate more than one business. Whether or not you have one or three home-based businesses, we all need to have a system of organization that works for us. Currently, I am in the process of reorganizing my home office/studio and the large walk-in closet that serves as storage for everything from clothes, linens, archive for papers, photography materials, luggage, frames and shipping boxes...well you get the picture. Not only is the closet a catchall for everything, the ample space is not well organized.
For several years, I have been gradually building several primarily home -based businesses. I am an author, a photographer, and a counselor, and recently I started a small publishing company. In the past, I was moderately busy working on one project or another, but recently business has increased, and I am finding that the system I had been using for my home office and studio was no longer adequate for my needs.Among other things, I realized I needed assistance. Not only was I wasting a lot of time doing very non-creative, production-oriented work, but also I was overwhelmed by deadlines, time commitments, and paperwork. For anyone familiar with the 12-step programs, you might say I got to the point where I admitted I had a problem. My problem was my business had outgrown the organization and system I had been using to operate my businesses. Time for change.
After clearing my desk and beginning the stacking of ‘like objects” in piles all around the room, I realized I had no idea what my end-goal was. That’s where I find myself now, and here are the questions that I have asked myself to help me get a new sense of direction with my home-based office and studio.
Here are 7 questions to help you identify what you really want to achieve when you reorganize. Spending a little time answering these questions, can provide you with a more satisfying experience when get started organizing your home office. Let your next reorganization process really provide you with a home office that more adequately reflects and serves your professional and personal lifestyle.
What best reflects the work I do and the way I work?
As I begin the process of reorganizing, I begin by asking myself, what kind of organization best works for me and my needs at this point? Simply replacing everything back on my desk after cleaning it, was not the answer to my organization problem. Here are some suggestions:
Write out a list of how you use each space (5-6). For example, is my desk where I mainly write, or is it where I lay out project maps? Knowing that your desk is where you ‘do your sums’ or handle correspondence rather than where you compose or write, changes how you organize the desk. I have a small desk in front of the window that I use for writing. I also sit on the couch with a back support and a coffee table for sorting through research, hold my tea cup, or place a dictionary or other books I may use for research or inspiration. When working on photography projects, I spread out in all directions, and need the detailed work about clients and specifications in one, neatly organized, and always-at-hand spot. Different needs for different tasks. Look at what you actually do as opposed to what you think you should do.
Decide what each space, surface, and area is meant to be. Using my laptop, I seldom sit at my desk to compose. A good friend of mine feels more comfortable using a traditional keyboard and sitting at a desk to work.
- Prioritize between daily use, monthly use, and big-ongoing projects. There are times when we may have a big project spread out all over, and when we need to keep the momentum going so we leave everything in sight.
- Have a contingency plan for these times so that instead of just stacking things or hiding them away in a drawer or closet, you have a designated place for those items you need to have at hand (address books, postage, job specs, tools and supplies).
Plan according to what you do and who you really are.
- Change your space and equipment to reflect the way you work.
- Get rid of old floppy discs and outmoded computer equipment. If you can get the information off say a disc, it can be scanned into your computer. My photography supplies include frames, mats, prints, and boxes of supplies.
- Sort through materials, getting rid of whatever is no longer functional, useful, or necessary for your work.
How do the work surfaces and the storage serve my purposes:
- Look at your work surfaces, drawers, shelves, wall and room space, and decide what is working and what is not. For example, I have a large work table that becomes a place to put whatever has no home. When it comes time for me to use the surface, it usually requires clearing and making a mess and wasting time. So this is a big issue for how this space is being used. Unlike some, I now have ample space to work; however, the way I use the space is not working.
- Decide how your work surfaces and storage are working or not, and make plans for how to change what is wasting space, time, or resources.
What is my plan and what are my goals for reorganizing? Once you have determined what you need and how you might want to use your space differently or better, make a plan.
- Decide how long you want the process to take, and what steps you want to break the task into.
- Have an idea file. Check different magazines and websites for ideas about how to use space. Apartment Therapy and Real Simple have great online sites and ideas for home organizing. Take ideas from the homes of friends. Notice how they have used space and solved problems with home office organization.
- Break a major project down into steps. This helps make the process more manageable.
- Envision the end result. Whether you use your Feng Shue bagua to map out a plan, or draw a pencil outline of what you want and where you want it, do something concrete to help you envision the ‘finished project’.
- Measure space needs and requirements when you are thinking of moving furniture or determining needs for storage.
- Calculate your budget if you are thinking of adding anything new.
- Utilize Community Resources. Visit Goodwill, thrift shops, garage and estate sales, or online sites like Free Cycle. Head out to the Last Chance Mercantile. Look for used office chairs and file cabinets, tables and shelving on these sites. You can find curtains and fabric at Goodwill, allowing you to brighten up your office or recover old chairs. Once you've begun clearing things out of drawers, closets, your office, garage, or basement, take a load to recylcle as you go in search of treasures waiting to be reused and repurposed.
- Set aside time to work on your reorganization, and plan for breaks, exercise, and ceremonial clearing and cleansing of your spec
4. How does my schedule reflect the diverse needs of my business/es? Consider how you are using your time, your space, and your resources.
- Establish a regular schedule, setting aside time slots for different activities and purposes. You can always change your schedule, but having a regular schedule helps keep us focused and productive. It also lets other people know what your office routine is. Most of my friends and clients now know that most mornings I dedicate my time to writing. I do not return calls or pick up calls before noon. My appointments with counseling clients and business meetings are generally scheduled in the afternoons or evenings. I see clients two afternoons a week, I write daily, and work on photography at least four days a week. Field trips require time away from the office, and fortunately, I can write anywhere.
- Schedule trips to coincide with multiple purposes. Even short trips around town, calculate what needs to be done and save some time and gas thinking ahead. On longer trips, arrange meetings, interview, field work, book signings, appointments in the same region.
- Arrange Skype or phone meetings with clients who live in different time zones. Use a free Google computer phone to save on phone costs.
- Schedule certain time blocks and days of the week to different projects. I write some columns on specific days of the week, and I work on ongoing, larger projects on a regular schedule.
- Keep space in your schedule for special orders, opportunities, and projects. For example, framing a photograph requires time, resources, and equipment that I need to get ready.
- Calculate the steps you might need for getting something done, and then give yourself time to do it. Keep your clients and customers informed about changes or updates.
- Schedule breaks, meals, exercise, and contact with the outside world. Also, schedule your personal appointments so that you can take care of your health and hygiene. One of the benefits of being self-employed is having the time to take care of our lives; don’t bury yourself in work at the expense of your emotional and physical health.
5. What aspects of my job can I delegate or automate?
This is a big one. If we are fortunate, we get to the point where we have more to do that we have time, energy, or resources to take care of. Women especially have a hard time asking for help with their business. We have been socialized to believe we have to do everything ourselves, and we now have this skewed and warped idea that asking for help or needing help is somehow a weakness. We may have gotten this way having to prove ourselves when we were younger or when the workplace was having trouble accepting the idea that women could do the work that men had done. We may still have some of that going on, but good business acumen is based on the idea that we need to utilize our resources and put our energy, attention, and creativity to its best use. Good business practices require that we take ourselves seriously as entrepreneurs.
To be professional, when we are not capable of keeping up with the demands of our business, our finances, our paperwork, our research, or our customer service and relations, we need to get help. I learned how to receive help from two people: my executive assistant, Rosa, and my daughter, Shanie. In the first case, my job required me to have an assistant and a staff. I was not expected to do everything, and I had to learn the ropes about delegating tasks and letting go of having my fingers in every pie. My daughter, taught me about accepting help when I broke my ankle and had to stay off my feet for 7 weeks, in her house. I was there to help her out, and had to let her take care of me while she held down a full time job and took care of her young daughter. It was a lesson in letting go of false ideas about being strong and letting people help you.
For a home-based business, it becomes essential if you wish to have your business thrive and grow. As a writer, editors, and copy writers are indispensable. As a photographer, wholesale frame and mat suppliers, photography supplies and equipment, and quality development are necessary.
Determine the kind of help you need. In addition to specialized needs of your work, are the basic needs for financial help.
- Have a bookkeeper and a CPA.
- Get help. Look into getting a Virtual Assistant, or consider training an intern from a local college or university. Consider how to get assistance that allows you to get your work done. When I realized I was spending more time on non-creative work than on the creative work, I knew I had to make changes. It’s not that we can’t do all things regarding our work. It’s that it’s neither necessary nor advisable to do so once your business grows and becomes more than you can do alone.
6. What does my work require me to do, have, and be? Determine what your needs.
Break your job down into the essential work you perform. For example, write, publish articles and books, edit articles and books, write queries, do book signings, maintain a website and blog, interview, maintain a client base, and the list goes on.
- Have a dedicated schedule, calendar (short and long-term), and list of priorities. and a way to keep track of them (online and hard copy). One of the best ideas my secretary gave me was a printed copy of my itinerary for any given day or trip. Printing off a daily schedule and keeping my eye on it so I don’t get too side-tracked, helps me a great deal. Discover the ways that work best for you.
- Determine what equipment you need to do your work. Starting a framing project without the essential tools and supplies, can create serious delays and can waste time. Rather than using the ‘poverty mentality and scarcity thinking’, equip your office and home with what you need.
- Have enough. Enough paper, printer cartridges, pens, the up-to-date software or printer or whatever you need to run your business effectively.
- Invest in yourself and your business. Instead of telling yourself what you ‘can’t afford’ something, identify what you need, and start telling people what you are looking for. I have had more things come to me by simply mentioning that I was looking for chairs or a table or a toaster oven. Actually I bought a cheap toaster oven and then found out a friend had one to give away that was better quality than the one I bought. With all the ‘stuff’ people have and all the ways people are giving away, selling inexpensively, it is not difficult to get items we need if we look and don’t stop ourselves before we start with thoughts and statements like “I can’t afford that”. We can barter and trade services as well.
- Take a risk. Think of all the things you’ve done in life that you thought you might not be able to do. Imagine if you had never taken the risk to go to college or learn a skill or trade. Imagine never learning to sew or speak a foreign language, or becoming a yoga teacher or computer engineer. Whatever it is that you have done successfully began when you took a risk. Successful business people take risks, taking a risk of having our business expand by spending some money to get some help, is a good risk to take.
7. What is the best use of my space, time, and resources? Once you have assessed your current work environment, your needs and resources, and how you are using your time, space, and energy, you might want to make some changes.
- Decide what you no longer need.
- Decide what no longer serves the purpose of your space, time, work, or energy.
- Decide what you need. Do you need some help? Do you need an upgrade on some old piece of equipment?
- Make seasonal changes. Get the heating and lighting fixed before it gets colder and darker. Move things around to take advantage of natural light and to avoid drafts. Often seasonal changes require change in closets that serve multi purposes. Clothes and shoes may need to be taken out or put away. This might also be a good time to reorganize and repurpose items in the closets, drawers, and shelves.
Once you have answered these questions, then you will be ready to begin reorganizing your home office. Your space and time will more allow you to be more efficient with your use of time, energy, and space. Enjoy the process!