Saturday, March 3, 2012

Get your writing space organized

"When you're organized, you're in control.
Lisa Kanarek
Papers here, flash drives there—and behind it all a cascading mountain of books and magazines to read, mail to open, receipts for reimbursement and files to, well, file! And then there is the inbox—that steadily expanding accumulation of important (and not to important) emails that you will read sometime—assuming “sometime” ever comes.

Lisa Kanarek
If your organizational skills need a little fine-tuning, Lisa Kanarek is here to help. One of the nation’s leading home office experts, Kanarek is the author of five books, including Organize Your Home Office for Success and Working Naked: A guide to the bare essentials of home officelife. She’s the founder of HomeOfficeLife, a firm that advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home and founder of this blog and is also the creator of Organize Your Home Office Day celebrated on March 8.
As this month’s guest expert, she is giving us tips and techniques to help us manage the clutter and get us out from under the physical and virtual stuff so we can do what we do best: write!

For more than 20 years, you’ve been helping individuals and businesses become more efficient. What led you to this career?
Kanarek: When I was working in the corporate world, I read about a woman who was a professional organizer and thought, “I love organizing. I had no idea I could help others get organized, too!”
Were you always an organized person or did this grow out of a need to get your own space under control?
Kanarek: I've always been organized. My mom is an extremely organized person and I take after her. My older sister didn't get that quality, but she's very creative.
Have you always worked out of a home office?
Kanarek: Yes, I've been working from home for 20 years. I worked from home before it was cool to work from home.
For those estimated 64 percent of people who do at least some work in their home office, what are some of the issues that may make it harder for them to stay organized at home versus in the office?
Kanarek: A few issues are: 
  • Distractions. It's tempting to raid the refrigerator, throw in a load of laundry or spend time with friends, family or neighbors, while working from home. 
  • Being taken seriously. When I worked from home, friends and family asked me to babysit, wait for UPS deliveries and wait for the washer repair person. I finally made them understand that although I had a home office, I was still working. 
  • The freedom to work anytime can be challenging. Those of us who work from home tend to work more hours than our counterparts. Considering that there's no commute when you have a home office, it's easy to think you're going to work in your home office for only a few minutes, but then a few hours later, you're still working.
Some people think being organized means having a depersonalized sterile environment with no tchotchkes or mementoes visible. Is that the case, or is there space for keepsakes and personal items in an organized office? Is there room for whimsy in an organized office?
Kanarek: The beauty of working from home is that you can personalize your office. There's no reason to avoid displaying personal photos, awards or mementos. 
The key is to keep those items off your main worksurface and instead put them on a secondary surface (I have an L-shape desk and I put photos and personal items on the return). You can display them on the wall or on shelves above or near your desk. I'm an office product junkie and I share my favorite finds on the Bare Essentials page on my site.
I like to keep the top of my desk as free of clutter as possible with my paperwork out of sight, while other people might prefer to have neat stacks within reach. Is there a “one size fits all” approach to organizing a workspace?
Kanarek: There's no one-size-fits all solution to getting organized. Actually, the reason that people get frustrated with their home office is that they think they have to organize their office the same way their spouse or friends have organized theirs. In one of my videos, I include brief descriptions of different working styles. If you organize your home office based on your working style, it's more likely to stay organized.
What are some indicators that the disorganization is getting the better of us?
Kanarek: When you start missing deadlines or waste time looking for lost items, it's time to make a change and get organized. Also, if you're frustrated and feel stressed when you walk into your home office, it's time to make a change.
What are the downsides to allowing clutter to take charge?
Kanarek: The downsides are frustration, stress, and a feeling of being out of control. It not only affects your work life, but your personal life, too.
One of your books is Organize Your Home Office for Success. What’s the connection between being organized and being successful?
Kanarek: When you're organized, you're in control. You're not facing last-minute deadlines, you can think clearly and you can meet your clients' needs.
Have you worked with writers to help them get their space organized?
Kanarek: Yes, I've worked with several writers. Some of the common problems they have is too many papers and disorganized files. Those who have set up files don't always use hanging folders with interior folders inside.
For many writers, handling the accumulation of stuff is a big challenge. What are your favorite tricks for keeping your physical paperwork from turning into an overwhelming pile?
Kanarek: Will you ever refer to the piece of paper again? If you needed that piece of paper again, could you replace it? What is the worse thing that would happen if you didn't keep that piece of paper? When you ask these questions, you make it easier to get rid of the papers you don't need.
When computers entered the scene, there was a lot of talk about having a paperless office. While I have found that I keep less paper files, the amount of information I receive via email and the Internet results in a massive e-stack that needs to be retained in some easily accessible fashion. What are some effective ways to keep ahead of the e-influx?
Kanarek: Avoid printing papers as much as possible. Instead, set up files on your computer that are easy to reference and find. Make sure you have three backups (2 of them off-site) in case your computer crashes.
In addition to being a few home office expert, you are also an interior designer. Can you share some design success stories from writer clients?
Kanarek: One of my clients turned her dining room into a home office that she uses daily, vs. her dining room that she uses once a year. Another client converted her pool house into a home office with a great view of her pool.
Besides the obvious—handle paperwork instead of letting it pile up and don’t keep what you don’t need—are there some other design methods (such as color, furniture or structural elements) you’ve used to with clients to separate a large space into areas devoted to specific functions?
Kanarek: Tall bookcases are a good way to divide a room. Also, screens and decorative panels can make one room serve several functions.
For those who have to make do with a small space—or even a corner of a larger, shared space—what are some strategies they can use to keep their materials under control?
Kanarek: I like computer cabinets and armoires. They close up at the end of the day, but are big enough to hold all of your computer equipment.
What are your top three tips for getting it under control?
Kanarek: If you keep something, yet can't find it, it's of no value to you. Store everything you use often, within reach.  Use some type of list, whether paper-based or electronic, to track the tasks you need to handle. The list helps you stay on track.
Anything else you would like to add?
Kanarek: There's always room for a home office, no matter what size home you have. Be creative and try out a space for a month and if it works out, turn it into your permanent home office. Don't feel bad if your home office is disorganized. It took time for it to get to the point where it is now and it will take some time to get it under control. Take it one day at a time and you'll have a functional home office that you want to work in, even if the commute is only 10 seconds away.

For even more organizing tips, visit Kanarek’s website where you can check out her blog and get a free chapter from her new book! Now that you have all this great advice, spend March 8 organizing your home office! Then, on March 11, celebrate Jump-Start Day by getting the jump on your goals! Download my Calendar of Change for more details!


Sharron said...

Some great tips! Thanks.

Right about now, I've been forced to declutter. I moved from a three-bedroom home to a one bedroom condo. There went my office! Now I've got a corner in my bedroom.

I'm kind of glad though. I had to go through a lot of paperwork and toss it.

I am a leaner machine now and I truly think it will help with my writing. Nothing to weigh me down.

Again, thanks for the sharing!

Nancy Christie said...

Isn't it amazing how much lighter and energized we feel with less "stuff"?