Where should I start if I want to get my home office more organized?
Start with purging the paperwork pile-up on the desktop. Even though papers from every direction and multiple aspects of your life (work, personal, kids, pets, family, home info, etc.), there are only three categories of information: action, reference, and archive.
Action This group includes paperwork and requires you to do something with it, then it passes to someplace else (a file, back to the sender, etc.) Resist the urge to group the information by category (like “kids,” “school,” “work,” “volunteer,” or “pets”). Just take ALL of the items you need to deal with and put them into one “To Do” folder – invitations to respond to, bills to pay, etc.
Reference Reference papers include documents you need to refer to every so often, but they do not need action. These can live in a file in your drawer, a closet – or somewhere accessible, but not on top of your desk. In fact, I personally scan many of my reference items, so I access them digitally when I need them – and they don’t take up space anyplace. For example, my health insurance card. That is scanned, and I can access it from my phone or computer – at any time.
Archive This category includes paperwork you want to keep, but you rarely need, like past taxes or memorabilia. These items can be stored in a banker box or other storage bin farther away. You don’t need it on your desktop – or even within an arm’s reach. (In fact, scanning much of this paperwork is an excellent way to save the documents, but eliminate clutter.)
Next, clear off the top of your desk, so it only contains what you use on a frequent basis. Is your 3-hole punch or stapler dusty? Do you have a printer taking up space on the top of your desk? In the ‘old days,’ those items saw a lot of use. Today, not so much. Move them off the top of your space. How many jars of pens and notepads clutter your desktop? You only need one at a time. If you respect your desk and its value, don’t let objects clutter it up that don’t get used. Find a home in a closet nearby.
If you still have the energy to continue, move on to systemizing your work habits. Create a paper(less) workflow, so you’ll have less paper to deal with over time. Your goal isn’t necessarily to have NO paper; it can be to have less paper so you can find what you need quickly. Just make sure you don’t trade a physical mess for a digital mess. Make sure you set up a digital structure that works for you, regardless of where your files live (in the cloud, on a hard drive, etc.)
Business Cards. Using Evernote (or their Scannable app for mobile), scan your business cards (both sides if you’d like) and ditch the card itself. You can adjust Evernote’s settings to store the contact information in Evernote alone, or to populate the default address book on your phone/computer.
Receipts. Use your scanner to create digital images of your receipts. Store them in a cloud service – like Evernote, or set up a custom management system in a program like Dropbox. Any way you do it, you can lose the paperwork once you have an electronic copy.
Other relevant paperwork. Car registration, insurance claims, prescriptions, copies of passports or drivers licenses, and more: scan, scan, scan. Use the cloud to your benefit.
Finally, if you can maintain your system by addressing the paperwork and other clutter on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, cleanup should be a snap. You don’t need a perfect system – you just need to stick to it.