How to Layout and Organise an Office at Home or Work

Control your Office Chaos!

How to Layout and Organise an Office at Home or Workby Jacquie Wise

Does this sound like your office?  Or home?

Have you found it hard to layout or organise your office at home or work?  How can you control the chaos?  Now is the time to systemise your files, documents, emails, phone messages and reading materials.

If you’ve attempted a filing system, lever-arch folders slide off their pile onto adjoining piles on the floor.  Every available surface is covered with documents.  And, of course, the one you are looking for is always to be found (some wasted hours later) attached to a totally unrelated matter.

If this scenario sounds uncomfortably familiar, rest assured you are not alone!  It is easy to think that chaos is just the nature of work, an aspect simply to be tolerated.  But there are various helpful techniques, whether you work alone or are looking for ways to work more efficiently with others.

It is true that some papers have to be left out until they are actioned.  It’s too silly to put something away only to have to go to all the trouble of fishing it out again when you need to act on it.  Besides, if you put it away, you might forget it!  But does the whole client file have to stay out?  Not necessarily—you can only deal with them one at a time.  It’s often more practical for a single document or reminder to be placed with other papers requiring a similar action such as telephone calls to be made.

The same principles of organising papers apply to organising your email inbox. Transfer emails out of your inbox into folders called: Follow Up, Project 1, Project 2… Meetings, Research, Personal, and so on. Remember to file emails out of your sent box in the right categories so that you have the complete history for that topic. Any emails requiring immediate attention in the inbox could also be colour-coded for easy retrieval.

Aim to handle papers twice only:  once to decide what action to take; a second time to take that action.

The first step is to classify documents.  A quick glance should tell you whether you can deal with it immediately and get rid of the task, or whether you should put it with other items of a similar nature until you can save time by attending to them together.

Stackable paper trays to replace a vague ‘In’ tray, are the most practical solution for a high volume of paper.  An alternative, if you have no spare bench space near your desk, might be a series of colour-coded manila folders in a portable rack, or clearly labelled suspension folders if you have a file drawer within reach.

How to layout and organise your office

The following categories have been found to work most efficiently:

Action In Writing

For papers that need some written action such as letters or reports.
I recommend a different coloured folder, perhaps in the same tray, to contain financial matters such as accounts to pay or clients to bill.

Phone Follow-Up

Keeping documents together will enable you to make calls one after the other without wasting time.  A folder such as this can travel with you, enabling you to make calls from wherever you are, confident you have all the necessary documentation and contact details with you.

Pending Reply

These are matters about which you are waiting for others to respond. If you need to chase, you could move them to the Phone Follow-Up section, to remind you or your secretary to attend to it when you have time.  A diary note could remind you when to chase if the matter has not been finalised before then.

For Discussion

It would be sensible to have a different coloured folder for each person or regular meeting you attend, to contain issues you need to raise for discussion when next you meet.

For Review

For printouts or articles you want to read when you make the time.

What about things requiring action at a later date?

Perhaps you need to contact someone when they return from leave in three weeks’ time, or a matter needs to be followed up in six months.  Of course, you can write a reminder in your diary, but where do you put relevant documents?  Not jammed into your diary, surely!

Bring Forward Systems

Often called ‘teaser’ or ‘tickler’ systems, they are designed to bring matters to your attention at a specified future date.   On a small scale, a concertina folder with 31 numbered divisions for 31 days of a month will be adequate.  Papers are placed under whatever date you want them ‘brought forward’, whether in the current or in a forthcoming month.  If the document needs to remain in the client file, a reminder note can be placed in the Bring Forward System.  Remembering to look in the System each day is just a matter of establishing a new habit—which, according to experts, often takes 21 days!  Longer, if you have to unlearn an old habit!

On a larger scale, the system can take up a whole filing cabinet drawer and can be shared by a team. Twelve suspension folders are labelled for each month of the year, as well as one concertina folder kept in front for the current month.  As each month draws to a close, the papers for the following month can be brought out of their suspension section and slotted in, day by day, into the concertina folder.

Loss-proof filing systems

The test of a good filing system is that you should need to look for a document in no more than two possible places. Files called ‘general’, or ‘miscellaneous’ are useless, and alphabetical systems can be confusing.  Only client or research files should be in alphabetical order.  Large client folders stored on bookshelves should also be in rough alphabetical order for easy retrieval.

The best filing systems are divided into categories—like with like.  Even your library is best sorted into categories.  Several people using the same system should be able to use logic to locate document.  Each broad category may be subdivided, perhaps in alphabetical order.  For example, a Premises category may be subdivided into folders containing Insurances (further subdivided into Contents and Property), Maintenance and Rent.

Being methodical in your approach will help you be methodical in your thinking.
Establish similar systems at home too, and save your sanity!


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