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Working at Home During Covid and Rockin’ it! 10 tips to get more done in your home office

Has setting up your home office during COVID-19 virus been a headache? If productivity has been an issue for you, I’ll share some organizing and time management hacks that will make a huge impact on your work.

What people working at home don’t realize: everyone has an inner productivity circle.

In fact, if you think about your home office as a series of circles radiating away from you (like the parallel ripples that radiate out when you drop a rock into a still pool of water), you’ll realize that what you keep close to you is important.

Concentric Productivity Circles

I first learned about this concept from my organizing mentor, Porter Knight. She talks about it in her book, Organized to Last. In it, she coined the term ‘concentric circles’.

I recently taught this productivity principle at a lunch and learn for a large local company. Several people were blown away by this principle; the idea that your work output increases when you only keep frequently used items within arms’ reach.

It makes total sense to me, if you spend less time getting up to use tools in the office, your workday will be more efficient. I will illustrate.

Circle 1: For me, the tools I use every day several times a day need to be in my inmost work circle of my home office. I should not have to roll my chair or even swivel it to get the items I use more than twice a day.

Items in my inner productivity circle: computer, mouse, planner or to-do list, pens, Post-its, stapler, tape, tool drawer, timer, hand lotion, drawer of important files, and trash can.

You may need additional tools like a 10-key, calculator, or specialized items for the work you do.

Circle 2: The next layer for efficient work at home would contain tools and resources you might use once a day. For example: file drawers, your tissue box, projects file, business card binder, cork board or whiteboard, speakers, etc.

Circle 3: The Third layer, the one farthest from you, would have things like resource books, archived files, office supply storage, camera equipment, supplies you travel to clients with, a briefcase or bag for networking events, etc. This layer holds supplies or archives used occasionally or rarely.

When I work with a client, we concentrate on creating open space around them in their home office, The problem with most work spaces is they have TOO MUCH STUFF cluttering their inner circle. this is true for many who are working at home.

Stuff that clutters up our desks: papers that need to be filed, projects, ideas, mail, Post-its, business cards, books, food, and personal items unrelated to your work or comfort are some of the clutter.

Did you know that clutter actually distracts from your work? Visual clutter, like stacks of paper, magazines, or too much in your inbox contribute to a state of low-level anxiety for some people.

Watch what happens when you clear off all the clutter from your desk and floor in your home office. I know every time I put all my papers away in files or project binders, I feel a rush of energy and am motivated to tackle the most important task of the day. Try it, you’ll like it!

Some people I’ve worked with are comfortable with one pile of work on their desk or a large inbox, and that’s fine. The important thing is to find what works best for you.

Everyone has their clutter threshold.

To help you even more, I’ll share a list of tips for staying productive while working at home. Time management tips like these are sorely needed in these unprecedented times when all the kids are home attending virtual classes because of COVID.

10 Secrets to Get More Done in Your Home Office

Tip 1: Focus Time

Figure out what your best focus time is. Do the work that requires the most brainpower then. If you’d like to pinpoint the time of day, email me and I will send you a quiz that will show you when you do your best work! jennym@efficientspacesco.com

Tip 2: Limit Distractions

If your spouse or kids are home during work hours, make sure they know not to disturb you. Close the doors if you need to.  Put on headphones with some music that helps you focus. This has a dual job: to let people know you don’t want to be disturbed, and it keeps you from hearing background noise.

Ambient sounds, especially with words, occupy about 5-10% of your intellectual bandwidth.  By wearing ear protectors, you acoustically isolate yourself.  This freed up bandwidth can now be focused on the desired task.

It’s a great deal.  Just put on some earmuffs and you become 5-10% smarter.”

~ Peter Rogers, Straight A Stanford and on to Harvard

Tip 3: Plan

To be effective, make a plan for your week and then break it down by the day. I I start out with a ‘dump list’ then transfer the tasks to my planner, which uses a funnel-down system to help me choose which day to put each task. I use my planner for my to-do list, but a notebook or a sticky note works well to identify the most important daily tasks. For most people, having a daily purpose is a huge motivator. It’s satisfying to check those items off when they’re finished! I would be lost without my to do list. Most professionals who excel at time management use some form of a to-do list, whether electronic or paper. *I use the Planner Pad Organizer.

Tip 4: File Emails

With emails, you can take one of 3 actions: File, respond, or delete. Try not to think about it too much!  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  The general rule of thumb: if it takes 2 minutes, do it now.  (From Getting Things Done by David Allen)

Also, have folders for emails or email categories. Organize them by topic, project, or individual names. A person wastes 6 weeks annually searching for lost documents or because of unorganized folders for the one project they need. Be consistent about filing them. It helps so much when you need that information later!

Tip 5: Clear your inbox

Have an inbox for paper, and clear it daily.

Tip 6: Prioritize projects

Have a “hot spot” for today’s most urgent project.  Personally, I prefer a clear file folder standing up in a vertical file sorter.  My home office file sorter holds 5 files.  Also, put your to-do list in plain sight and review it each morning before you start.

Definitely prioritize projects based on their ROI and on the deadline or due date!

Tip 7: Set a timer

If you tend to distract yourself:  ahem… yes I do that!  I find that setting a timer is very helpful.  This works well if you are easily distracted by “bright and shiny” new emails.  Say your purpose for opening your email is to write one necessary email and then close the email so you can focus on a project.  Set a timer for 15 minutes before you open your inbox to avoid getting “sucked in” by your email.  This really works! (I keep my timer within arm’s reach in my home office.)

One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.” ~ Daniel Goleman

Tip 8: Turn off alerts

If texts, incoming emails, Zoom pop-up, or calendar notifications have alerts that distract you when you are trying to focus in your home office, make sure to turn off those alerts for the hour or 90 minutes when your project needs your full attention.  (Before you do this, check your calendar to make sure you don’t have a meeting or scheduled phone call.) If you are not sure how to do this, ask a tech-savvy friends!  Or link to the article I provide at the end of this post.

Tip 9: Delegate

Delegate email deletion and unsubscribing from sites to your kids or grandkids (it works great!).  Also, make sure to limit spam by having good firewalls in place to limit what gets to your inbox. 

My daughter Kate creates a time management map for a client.

Tip 10: Scan

For information you want or need to keep, have it scanned by someone you can delegate to (an assistant, tech-savvy son/daughter, grandchild, high school student) and file or organize it into files. Make sure and have the helpers to do it at a time when you’re doing something low-focus, like responding to emails. That way the interruptions with questions won’t affect your productivity in your home office.

Use these 10 tips to achieve more and reach your business goals!

Related posts: 5 ways to keep distractions at bay: https://efficientspacesco.c.wpstage.net/2015/02/5-tips-distractions-bay/

New Habits: you can do anything for 30 minutes: https://efficientspacesco.c.wpstage.net/2014/05/30-minutes/

How to get an extra hour of productivity daily: https://efficientspacesco.c.wpstage.net/2014/02/extra-hour/

How to turn off distracting notifications:  http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-distracting-desktop-notifications-turn-windows/

Productivity Secret: It’s not Sexy, but it’s Smart & Savvy!

Q: When an organizer procrastinates, what will she be doing?

A: Organizing her desk or her closet.

We are one month into the new year. You are still feeling the energy to make changes in your office, but maybe not quite sure how to start. I am here to help!

The Urge to Purge

A project I love to do at the beginning of the year: cleaning out my office files to start fresh for the new year. My friend Susan McKenzie, who is a feng-shui designer, tells me when you make room for new clients they will come. You have to allow some space in your life for new opportunities.

I know it’s not sexy, but we all need to do it: the file purge. I have been feeling the urge to purge these last few weeks. It’s true that when files move freely in the drawer, it is much more likely that I will file my own paper. I know it works with clients too; they always want to use their new and improved file system after we have set it up. It gives me great satisfaction to know I’ve helped yet another person to be organized and find what they need quickly.

Sit back and envision a filing system where your files move freely and easily, you can see each file tab with the topic or category, and easily slide papers into their proper place? Even better, when you need information FAST about that client you spoke with last week, instead of frantically searching through the papers or notebooks or Post-its cluttering your desk, you will know exactly where it is and be able to quickly review the conversation. Talk about reducing stress!

How to get from where you are today to that level of organization, though? There’s no secret formula. And I don’t have a magic wand to whisk away the clutter. Just elbow grease!

Like I said, not sexy, but purging does wonders for any surface, any drawer, any home or office.

From Piles to Files

Now, when I work with a client I think of myself as a clutter counselor. I am coaching each person to decide what to do with their clutter. Training him/her on what to do with each piece of paper. Sometimes it is slow going at first, but after a little bit they get to the point when they see, say, an insurance document similar to one we’ve come across before, they know if they should trash it or file it. Of course if there is any doubt, I am there to guide them. Along the way, we are constantly setting up new files.

A recent client Southern Oregon needed some help with her home office. Her life was so busy, she did not have the time to set up systems for the different businesses she and her husband own.  She did have some great files set up, but an unskilled assistant filed things in weird places. So ‘Abby’ could not find them. Once we set up systems to keep her desk free of clutter, and went through her files, she breathed a sigh of relief. Now she knows that everything is within reach, and that she will find what she needs quickly and easily.

So as a clutter counselor, here is some free advice: a large percentage of papers you file never get referenced again. Think hard about whether you will ever look at that information again.

Purging

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I use this?
  2. Will I ever need this information again?
  3. If so, is there somewhere else I can get it?
  4. Will I remember where it is; does it fit in the category it is filed under?

This brings me to what I call file laziness. Instead of creating a new file for a new kind of information, you talk yourself into believing you will remember you filed your Notes on a new client inside the receipts file. You may think ‘I’ll just put it here for now; it’s only a couple pieces of paper. It’s not worth creating a new file. I’ll remember I put it here!’ If any rationalization is going on inside your head as you file it, stop right away, pull out a new hanging file, label it.

To prevent file laziness, I keep a hanging file in the very front of my most-used drawer, with plastic tabs and white file labels inside. New hanging files sit just behind it. This makes it easy. Then I am bound to use these when I need a new category or add a new client. You see, since I made it super easy for myself, I will create that new file when I need it instead of misfiling something or combining it with info it has no business being combined with.

So start the year off right with purging your files! You can pace yourself and just take 4 files a day or even 1 a day to go through. It will be worth it! You’ll be able to see labels clearly, file and retrieve your documents easily! Opening your file drawer will give you satisfaction instead of dread.

And if you need help, just call on me!

Please let me know if this post helped you! Click on this link to my FB page: http://www.facebook.com/OrganizingAttics2Basements/?pnref=lhc

Link to designer Susan McKenzie’s website: http://suemac2.houzz.com/

Organized home office

Deal with Desk clutter for good!

Do you clear off your desk only to find paper clutter piling up within a few days?

How much does handling invasive paper clutter cost you every week, every month, every year? How much time does your office staff spend looking at, filing, piling, looking at it again, re-piling, and finally filing it or throwing it away?

You’ve heard the rule ‘touch it once,’ but are not sure how to do that AND get the paper to its destination in just one step. This article teaches some tried and true tricks professional organizers like me teach clients.

  1. Refuse paper—Don’t bring it in

The first step to managing your clutter is preventing paper from coming into your home or office. Yes, refuse to let it come in. Don’t take papers, flyers, subscriptions, etc., unless you have something further to do with it. Ask yourself: is there an action linked to this paper?  If the answer is no, then let it go, let it go!

2. Take time to Purge

This is the most important way to prevent paper clutter.  Be ruthless! Decide on a time each day or at least once per week to purge unnecessary  paper from your desk.  What can you purge?  Anything you’ve delegated to another person, completed, spilled coffee on, decided on, or is outdated information, like old agendas, et cetera. **

  1. Rip open Mail daily

This habit will help you stay on top of the mail, which is one of the main paper clutter-makers.  And while you open the mail, make sure you do it over the trash can or recycling container.  Then you just let the junk mail slip down into the disposal.

I recently worked for a client, a well-respected business owner, who had 2 years of mail piled up in boxes.  When we finally ripped through that mail and disposed of it, he heaved a sigh of relief.

  1. Do those 2-minute Tasks now

I credit this tip to David Allen’s brilliance.  It makes so much sense everyone should be doing it.  Instead of putting that paper on a pile or putting that action on your to-do list, do it now!  Sort through the papers on your desk (or your emails) and do everything that requires 2 minutes or less.  I promise you will feel like you accomplished something, and the paper won’t weigh you down any more.

5. Transfer the Action (to calendar or to-do list)

To be more effective, take whatever action the paper demands and transfer it to your to-do list or calendar.  You kept your meeting agenda because you want  the information the team leader shared about the new production team, but are you ever going to look at it again?  Or did you use writing as an exercise to help you remember the information? (As many do.)

Here’s what I do:  any information I want for later, I type into my tablet or phone in a nifty Note app while I am in the meeting.  Then I email it to myself.  The information is not lost, and doesn’t end up cluttering your desk.  Later, usually during planning,  I transfer any action items to my to-do list or calendar any events. Sweet solution!

  1. Paper is not a reminder

Say you kept the agenda from last week’s staff meeting to remind you to call the head of HR for a link to a training she talked about.  Why not just email or call her right now, or write it down so you won’t forget, then toss the paper?

  1. Refuse to pile up magazines, newspapers

Just like you did with mail, flyers, and other paper, refuse to keep stacks of magazines to “read later.” This is a trap.  If you have trouble with this, discipline yourself to recycle last month’s magazine when this month’s arrives.  If you have more than 2 magazines unread, stop your subscription or put it on hold.  Especially if you get a sinking feeling when you add a new magazine to the pile of older issues.  If getting the magazine still gives you joy, that’s fine.  Just see step 8 for options about information you want to keep.

  1.  Scan articles and other information to read later

Instead of keeping an entire magazine, newspaper or other publication, take 2 minutes to scan the article that interests you most, then toss the original.  Or, if you don’t have a scanner, cut the article out and create a file– “Real Simple articles,” for example.

I actually have a file of Real Simple articles because I love the practical solutions and timely topics they present in the magazine. So it’s OK to keep some information– in reasonable amounts.

I’ve been a professional organizer since 2008, and these steps work wonders for my varied clients.  Which tip is the most helpful to you?  Please share with me!

Email Jenny your comments: jennym@efficientspacesco.com

**Be sure to record next actions and tasks you’ve delegated on appropriate lists… For more on this, read David Allen’s book Getting things Done.

woman on the phone

10 Secrets to get More done in your Home Office

Tip 1:      Figure out what your best focus time is. Do the work that requires the most brainpower then. If you’d like to pinpoint the time of day, email me and I will send you a quiz that will show you when you do your best work! jennym@efficientspacesco.com

Tip 2:     Limit distractions. If you spouse or kids are home, make sure they know not to disturb you. Close the doors if you need to.  Put on headphones with some music that helps you focus. This has a dual job: to let people know you don’t want to be disturbed, and it keeps you from hearing background noise.

Ambient sounds, especially with words, occupy about 5-10% of your intellectual bandwidth.  By wearing ear protectors, you acoustically isolate yourself.  This freed up bandwidth can now be focused on the desired task.

It’s a great deal.  Just put on some earmuffs and you become 5-10% smarter.”

~ Peter Rogers,  Straight A Stanford and on to Harvard

Tip 3:     With emails, you can take one of 3 actions: File, respond, or delete. Try not to think about it too much!  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  The general rule of thumb: if it takes 2 minutes, do it now.  (From Getting Things Done by David Allen)

Tip 4:     Set up folders for emails. Organize them by topic, project, or individual names. A person wastes 6 weeks annually searching for lost documents or because of unorganized folders for the one project they need. Be consistent about filing them.

Tip 5:     Have an inbox for paper , and clear it daily.

Tip 6:     Have a “hot spot” for today’s most urgent project.  Personally, I prefer a clear file folder standing up in a vertical file sorter.  My file sorter holds 5 files.  Also, put your to-do list in plain sight and review it each morning before you start.

Tip 7:     If you tend to distract yourself:  ahem… yes I do that!  I find that setting a timer is very helpful.  This works well if you are easily distracted by “bright and shiny” new emails.  Say your purpose for opening your email is to write one necessary email and then close the email so you can focus on a project.  Set a timer for 15 minutes before you open your inbox to avoid getting “sucked in” by your email.  This really works!

One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.”    ~  Daniel Goleman

Tip 8:     If texts, incoming emails, skype pop-up, or calendar notifications have alerts that distract you when you are trying to focus, make sure to turn off those alerts for the hour or 90 minutes when your project needs your full attention.  (Before you do this, check your calendar to make sure you don’t have a meeting or scheduled phone call.) If you are not sure how to do this, ask a tech-savvy friends!  Or link to the article I provide at the end of this post.

Tip 9:     Delegate email deletion and unsubscribing from sites to your kids or grandkids (it works great!).  Also, make sure to limit spam by having good firewalls in place to limit what gets to your inbox.

Tip 10:     For information you want or need to keep, have it scanned by someone you can delegate to (an assistant, tech-savvy son/daughter, grandchild, high school student) and file or organize it into files. Make sure and train the workers to do it at a time when you’re doing something low-focus, like responding to emails. That way the interruptions with questions won’t affect your productivity.

Use these 10 tips to achieve more and reach your business goals!

Related posts: https://efficientspacesco.c.wpstage.net/2015/02/5-tips-distractions-bay/

https://efficientspacesco.c.wpstage.net/2014/05/30-minutes/

https://efficientspacesco.c.wpstage.net/2014/02/extra-hour/

How to turn off distracting notifications:  http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-distracting-desktop-notifications-turn-windows/

Three Reasons we Procrastinate

Procrastination is like a leaky faucet.

Procrastination –it’s a killer. It slays good intentions, New Years’ resolutions, and big-picture goals.
When is the last time you procrastinated? What did you put off? I procrastinate blogging, big time. Other people procrastinate cleaning out their pantry, their sock drawer, their shower, whatever. Oh yeah, I procrastinate cleaning my shower, too. Since we’re being honest…

The point is, if you want to stop procrastinating, you MUST figure out what the root reason is for your Herculean procrastination efforts. If you find yourself cleaning the fridge (assuming you work from home) just to avoid having to call someone back or write a proposal, there is a reason for that. Because cleaning out the fridge is a nasty job, so you must be desperate to avoid something.

Sometimes you procrastinate because you don’t have enough information. An example: If I need to call someone, but first I have to look up some information online, I may put off the phone call every time I think of it because I have not made the time to go online and find out about the XYZ product they want for their desk. So if the task has too many steps, that may lead to procrastination.

Sometimes you procrastinate because you don’t have the skills to do a task. Example: organizing. Many people berate themselves for not knowing how to organize their miscellaneous drawer at the office, or their files, or their pantry. Whatever the chore is that you’re putting off, it may be that you simply don’t possess the skills to accomplish it. That’s when you call in an expert, like me. If you had a leaky faucet and your water bill goes up, it makes sense to hire a plumber to fix that leak, right? The same goes for organizing. How many hours are you going to waste looking for those post-its or envelopes which you wrote a potential client’s phone number on? Not only do you waste time looking for it, it also distracts you from the productive flow of work because you get flustered and possibly upset with yourself, which can cause you to “lose your place” in the day’s work.

Sometimes you procrastinate because you just don’t have the desire to do a task. That’s how it is with my shower. I love my shower. It has 2 shower heads. But it is HUGE and it takes 20 minutes to clean it right. So I hire my kids to do it. They’ll do my shower for a nominal fee. That makes me happy.

So three of the reasons you procrastinate are: Lack of information, lack of skills, lack of motivation. Find the root cause and you are on your way to fixing whatever is holding you back.

Please contact me to continue this discussion…

Any time one of my blogs strikes a chord, please take 30 seconds and forward it to a friend who needs to hear it! That’s how my business grows best. Thanks!

A Lean, Clean File Cabinet

Organizing Files

A lean, clean file cabinet. . . Yes!

You know the saying about a painter’s house not getting painted, a cabinetmaker’s kitchen not getting finished?  Well I am a professional organizer and it’s been 2 years since I purged my files.

My motivation: I finally got tired of looking at those 2 metal filing cabinets in the dining room. I needed to change our files over from the metal filing cabinets to a new wooden one in the office. We had file drawers for my husband’s business, my business, our household, and topics of interest like crafting and genealogy.

I’d like to give you some organizing tips for getting this project started and staying motivated.

Here are some tips for you:

1.  Schedule a day.

2.  Purging is necessary. That means discarding what you haven’t used or looked at within a year.  The exception to this includes:  legal and financial documents, family history info, photos, and other memorabilia.

3.  Pace yourself: It takes me approximately 1 hour to purge files from  one legal-size drawer. A reasonable goal would be one drawer per day.

4.  Have a large flat surface to sort things as you take them out of the file (the floor will do, but a large table is better for your back!)

5.  Assemble your tools. Make sure to have recycling, trash and a shredder right there.  It  is more efficient because it saves you steps and time.

6.  Motivation. If music helps you, turn it up. Or anything that helps you stay focused like a picture or snacks.

7.  Plan time for cleanup.  Do it right away.

Now, I took the whole day to purge and reorganize 4 very full legal-size filing drawers.  I discarded an entire 30 gallon trashcan full of papers, essentially the contents of 1 file drawer.

I’m not sure I would recommend purging files for 5 hours in one day.  It depends on your work style. But if you are really motivated or the thought of having an unfinished job really bothers you, go for it! I find it hard to leave a job unfinished, so I reorganized all my files in a day.  What a big project! I am relieved to be done!

I believe if you follow my tips, your file purging project will be easier and smoother.

If you get stuck, give me a call or email me. I’ll help you put your files in their place!

Jenny

jennym@efficientspacesco.com

Spring Organizing Tips

Is it time for spring cleaning?  Are you ready for something better?  How  about spring ORGANIZING?  I have been working with many clients who  either want to get their act together and get the office organized or who are frustrated by the  clutter in their homes. It will be difficult to get to the spring cleaning if you have  piles of paper on your desk, tables or counters. Or perhaps your home organizing challenge is clothing or collections. 

Whatever holds you back, here are 7 organizing tips to get started and stay motivated:

  1. Have a game plan. This is the first step for any organizing project. Make sure you have some reasonable goals set.
  2. Put your plan in action.  If you don’t schedule organizing, you probably won’t get to it.  Set aside a morning or afternoon when you will “get around to it.”
  3. Make sure you have the materials you need handy for your project. For example, I always have a trash bag, recycling box and a container ready for papers to shred before I start an office organizing project.
  4. Get an organizing partner.  Someone who is good at keeping you on task. 
  5. Set a timer.  You can do anything for 15 minutes, right?  You will probably be feeling so good about starting to get organized that you will keep going longer than the time you have decided on.
  6. Pace yourself.
  7. Leave time for clean up and put-away.

If you still feel overwhelmed by your organizing project,  I’ll be happy to help.

I have a free 30 minute consultation that delves into your challenges, needs and goals for organization.  Give me a call and start moving in the right direction today!

phone: 802-598-6753;  email: jennym@efficientspacesco.com

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