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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Home Sweet Home Office

For them, Back to School means the end of carefree days of sleeping late, playing with friends and family beach trips. For you, it’s the return to relative sanity as you drop them off and let someone else think of something for them to do all day.

Once you’ve spent a couple of days vacuuming, wiping and scrubbing the summer fun out of your carpet, car, and furniture, Back to School time can also be an excellent time to get started on creating or improving your home office.

Whether you’re looking for a way to balance work and family, seeking an economical way to turn that great idea for a small business into a reality, or considering giving full- or part-time telecommuting a try, your home office (or dedicated workspace) can be as professional, organized and efficient as any cubicle or office building.

When you’re working from home, managing your time is essential, and staying organized comes with an all new set of challenges, but with a little flexibility and a few tips from See Jane Work, you can make your home office a functional and stylish extension of both your professional and personal lives.

Make Office Rules
Success in any venture requires focus, self-discipline and cooperation. Nowhere is that more evident than when one is working for from home. In order to stay on track, it’s helpful to lay down some ground rules and then stick to them.

  • Set regular working hours. Whether you work from 9 to 5, or from 3pm to midnight, establish a regular schedule so that family members know when you are, and are not, available for non-emergencies. If you have to park your car around the corner so that friends don’t see that you’re home and decide to pop by to chat, you need to gently but firmly explain your office hours. If they’re just not getting it, suggest going out for a cup of coffee. Then when your “coffee break” is over you can leave and get back to work.
  • Make sure your workspace works for you. If you’re comfortable and productive spread out on the kitchen table, don’t force yourself to set up your office in the back room. Designate a few drawers in the kitchen for office supplies, or use letter boxes to hold desk tools and paper. Then just make sure you wipe the jam off the table before you start work.
  • Enforce the dress code. No you don’t need to put on nylons and heels, but you do need to shower and put on clean clothes before you start your work day. Even if your client can’t tell over the phone that you’re wearing bunny slippers and a bathrobe, your ‘just rolled out of bed’ demeanor might come through. It’s okay to check your e-mail while you’re waiting for the shower to warm up, but before you take your first call, or make any critical decisions, be sure you are dressed for work.
  • Don’t forget to “clock out” at night. One of the downsides to working from home is that you never leave the office. Avoid burnout by stopping work at, or around, the same time every day. Shut down your computer if that helps, or at the very least close all the files you’ve been working on. Let business calls go to voice mail, and put your Blackberry in a drawer so you won’t be tempted to “just check on one thing.”

Don’t Let Your Worlds Collide
Some interruptions are unavoidable. If your 9-year-old takes a softball in the eye, your inventory report may have to wait, but you can cut down on the number of starts and stops in your workday by maintaining a division of work and home.

  • Take real breaks. You didn’t mop your kitchen floor, or mulch your flowerbeds on your lunch hour when you drove to an office…don’t start doing it now. Do household chores after work, or better yet, hire help.
  • Go wireless, if you dare. If having a Blackberry means you can make it to your kid’s baseball game without missing an important call, that’s great. If it means you spend family time surreptitiously replying to e-mail, you’ll need to get that electronic monkey off your back.
  • Always keep business and household paperwork separate. When your client calls and needs information, you do not want to put her on hold while you sift through the stack of spelling tests and grocery store coupons that landed on your desk. Designate an in box or bulletin board for family paperwork and make the rest of your desktop a business-only zone.
  • Keep at least one file cabinet just for your business. If you don’t have room for file cabinets, keep file boxes on your desk or bookshelf. Use one color for business and another for home, and then label them by year, account or category. Magazine Files for catalogs and directories, and large binders for documents are also space-saving alternatives to traditional file cabinets.
  • Consider using a post office box for work-related mail. If the nearest postal center isn’t conveniently located, sort mail daily using office tabs and letter trays to keep personal correspondence from getting mixed in with business mail.

Don’t Buy Too Much…or Too Little
The excitement of creating your own office can sometimes get in the way of efficiency. Before you run out to the nearest office superstore to buy everything you had when you worked in an office building, take a moment to consider exactly what you need and how much to keep on hand.

  • You won’t need a storeroom full of office supplies. For most of us, working from home means borrowing space from other rooms. You may have your desk in the den and store copy paper in the hall closet. That’s fine as long as you don’t buy so much paper that the vacuum cleaner will have to be kept in the living room. Now that you are a staff of one, resist the urge to purchase in volume. Instead of buying the “value pack” of ballpoint pens, choose one nice pen with some refill cartridges.
  • Look for products that do double duty. A file tote keeps folders and paperwork orderly on your desk, and is also easy to take along to business calls and appointments. The handy Marker Wheel has five different highlighter tips for categorizing line items, and a Memo Mouse Pad saves space on your desktop.
  • Purchase a separate set of desk tools and supplies for your home office. Getting up to find the scissors in your sewing basket every time you need to clip a tear sheet is not time-efficient, nor is digging around in the kitchen junk drawer for a paperclip. Keep scissors, tape, a stapler with extra staples, paper clips, and a letter opener in or on your desk. (It may be necessary to threaten your family members with a month of laundry duty if they are caught “borrowing” things from your desk.)

When Managing the Household is Your Job
If the purpose for your home office isn’t to conduct business, but rather to be a hub for household scheduling, bill paying, and communication, you may be less concerned with file storage and more concerned with clutter control.

  • Keep it current. Hang a row of magnet boards over your desk for messages, to-do lists and schedules. Edit frequently tossing outdated notes and invitations.
  • Look for family friendly storage solutions. Large art boxes are perfect for storing art projects, award certificates and A+ tests. Keep one for each child, labeled by year or grade level.
  • Have an action plan. A planning calendar designed just for busy families will remind you to drop-off at soccer practice before you have to pick-up at ballet lessons.
  • Get it in writing. Encourage older children and tweens to actually write down a phone message, and leave a note telling you where they are by keeping a supply of notepads and pencils on hand.

If you’re looking for some inspiration when it comes to office design and d├ęcor, be sure to check out the Desk of the Month archives on See Jane Work. From Basic Brown to Silver Sparkle, we’ve got all kinds of ideas for making your workspace as beautiful as the rest of your home.

If one of our ideas or products works for you, or if you have a solution you’d like to share, please let us know at