Whatever kind of work you do at home, your office is one place you want to spend the time to make comfortable and convenient. Take 10 of our tips on organising, fixing, and streamlining that space.
Photo by pdsphil.
10. Get more natural or ambient light
If you aren't blessed with ample windows or non-annoying overhead lighting, getting a bit of illumination around your workspace can be accomplished in ways more subtle, and less expensive, than adding more lamps. One of the Dumb Little Man blog's 10 cheap home office improvements involves a strategically placed mirror, which helps those with bright light going the wrong way re-capture it. When Jason was deep in his extreme home office makeover, he found that cheap rope lights made for great ambient illumination, especially as the sunlight changes in early morning and late afternoon.
9. Keep you PCs clean and quiet
For a dedicated work desk, a desktop PC makes sense—it's far more bang for the buck, and you can use whatever size monitor you'd like. But desktop systems tend to get dirty, hot, and louder over time. Luckily, you need only a can of compressed air, some household oil, and a screwdriver to evacuate PC dust bunnies and get your system running with lower drag again. If it's just a noisy, case-shaking hard drive at the heart of your overly-audible system, try quieting it with rubber shocks or elastic suspenders. Starting over with a new system? Build it for silence from the start, and you'll hardly ever know your system is running.
8. Cover the non-obvious comforts
A really, seriously comfy chair. Wall colours other than white or beige. Extras of everything you occasionally run out of. You've probably put a whole bunch of thought into the precise layout of your computer desktop, but the trim and details of your home office often go sorely under-attended. The tail end of Sara Rimer's write-up about her perfect home office explicates the niceties that made her work-from-home life much more bearable. And readers gave up their own tips, like keeping the printer away from the computer (enforced away-from-screen breaks), and making the trash can and shredder as universally accessible as possible (clutter killers).
7. Install a worthy whiteboard
Even if you're a total computer obsessive, having a space to leave must-notice reminders and sketch out your thoughts. If the tiny-but-affordable models at your local office store don't do it for you, or you want something a bit more personalised, think outside the wood-framed white. A glass version isn't quite as high-contrast readable, but certainly durable and might work against a white wall. You could also grab some stick-on, removable dry erase sheets for those moments of fleeting big-picture inspiration. Know a supposedly busted erase board about to hit the curb? Draw over the permanent marker or stuck-on erasable ink with another dry-erase marker, wipe it away, and you might be good as new. Need just a little reusable note space? Grab a CD "jewel" case and put one together.
6. Rescue your filing cabinet
It seems like everyone over a certain age has a file cabinet of some sorts, but so many of them end up as supplemental shelf space cluttered with paper, and sometimes even the paper you would file inside it. That's a pretty clear sign that something's gone awry with your filing system. Gina rescued her own cabinet with better labels and a re-thinking of its purpose and use. The Simple Dollar helps out those who mostly use their cabinet for financial backup with the best document organising system.
5. Charge and stash your gadgets away
Remember when one power strip was all you needed for everything electronic in your life? Yeah, we do too. But these days, your cell phone, camera battery, iPod, work phone, laptop battery, and other gear require both space and voltage. Keeping them off your desk space, yet still easily found and charged, is easy to accomplish. You can simply convert a cheap bedside table or soften up a simple box, or get fancy by adding switches or automatic lighting. If you've just got one or two things to keep handy but out of the way, a wall-mounted charger, made from an empty lotion bottle, no less, might be all you need.
4. Keep wires out of sight
The entirely wireless workspace can be a reality, but not everybody's upgraded every single component in their work life to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Plus, non-iMac monitors will be wired into the immediate future. It's really cheap and not at all handyman-level to get wireless, either. Adam did it in 2006, Gina did a 2007 redux, and we've revisited the gear and guidelines a few times since. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but the project is almost always worth the two-coffees price of entry.
3. Make it easy on your eyes, arms, and ... seat
Your body didn't evolve over 200,000 years to sit at a desk and use a computer eight-ish hours per day. The best you can do is try and lessen the impact of a modern work day on the parts that get the most taxed. The Ergotron site has a really helpful ergonomic workspace planner that provides ideal heights for desks, chairs, monitors, and other office components, along with a workspace assessment to see how your current setup holds out under stress tests. If that's all too much, simply move your monitors to just below eye level, as Reader's Digest suggests. If you're really keen on getting away from the standard office routine, gather up the tools and build your own standing desk space.
2. Get a label maker—the lightsaber of organisation
Next time you feel the deep, strong need to run out and buy another plastic box for your stuff, ask yourself if you couldn't get just as far by putting a new label on a box you already have. That's the key to a label maker—it lets you design an organisation system from your own work flow, not the other way 'round. Just remember to check the price of supples — as with printers, a cheap model may cost a fortune in consumables.
1. Keep it clean
Sounds easy at first glance, doesn't it? Buy some stacking inboxes, put the coffee mugs away when you're done with them, and file everything you're not working on away. Boy, don't we wish. Our own Jason totally remade his entire home office space, from floors to walls, using a number of tried and tested organisation and physical re-arrangements. I have only a single desk to manage, but found it cluttered enough to clean it and keep it that way, mostly by banishing my "junk drawer" and maximising the horizontal real estate on it. However you tackle your decluttering project, pick something that sticks, and which makes putting things away take no more time than throwing something out. Photo by frischmilch.
What makes your home office a great place to work? How do you keep it both comfortable and productive? What productivity problems do you need to tackle in your setup? We want to hear it all in the comments.