Tuesday, November 11, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Putting Together Your Organizing Tools

Day 15's goal: Put together your organizing toolkit.

At the end of last year, I looked around my office and felt dejected: Piles of paper on the floor, my one tiny bookshelf crammed with books and magazines, and the rest spilling onto the floor, underfoot and under tables. Every week, I was looking for a new way to hide the things I needed to conduct business.

The system wasn't working.

Today, things are better, but not perfect. I was inspired by reading Janine Adams' tips on the biggest organization busters, and struck by the tip to delay buying organizing supplies until you've weeded out what you need to keep. I didn't do that with my organizing efforts, but happily it worked out OK.

As I prepare to spend money on my business for end-of-year tax deductions, I'm thinking about what the tools are in my organizing toolkit, which work, and which I need to add or replace.

My Current Organizing Toolkit

Yours may be different but here's what I have so far:

A taller, bigger bookshelf on which most of my magazines and books fit;

Stackable trays for printer paper, to-file/to-scan papers, and to-shred receipts.

A faux-leather bin in which I store irregular-size items that don't fit on the bookshelf, and office supplies like document protectors, file folders, manila envelopes and a spare mouse.

Filing cabinets for old article files and clips for potential story ideas.

A desktop file holder for current articles.

A bulletin board on which to pin my weekly workflow schedule, a timezone map, reminders about journalism award deadlines, my business plan cheat-sheet and papers I'll need but don't want to file away and lose, like my itenerary for my flight home for Christmas.

Small, pretty storage boxes in which to place CDs/CD-ROMs, DVDs, reporters' notebooks, and miscellaneous office supplies that I need access to but don't use often.

A wall calendar.

A monitor riser with a drawer for postage, business cards, pens, highlighters, push pins, paper clips, scissors and the like. (I don't have any drawers in my desk.)

A shredder for personal documents, non-deductible reciepts, etc.

An all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier so I don't have to go to the local copy center to scan things.

A recycling bin next to the shredder to place all paper products that don't need to be shredded.

How It All Works Together

All these things for an organizing system:

After I'm done with a file, I put it in the to-file bin so I can either put it in the filing cabinet or scan what I need and shred or recycle the rest.

The bookshelf holds the current and back issues of magazines to which I pitch stories.

When I get an email from my accountant about how much and when I should pay my quarterly taxes, I can stand and put the due date and amount on my calendar immediately--and then forget it.

All these things are arranged around me in a corner of the room so I don't have to reach too far for any of them. I can turn left and pick up the stuff from the stackable rack to scan or shed, turn around to the all-in-one behind me to scan it, and turn to the right to shred or recycle it.

Whenever any of these things gets too full, I know it's time to act on it. So I set aside a half an hour to do some shredding (an oddly cathartic activity), or a half an hour to scan or file some of the things in the to-file bin.

I mention all this stuff because I know some of you don't know what you might need for organizing your offices. Maybe this will give you some ideas.

Finding The Right System for You

Or better yet, figure out what will work for you. Here's how I did it:

I inventoried what I had and what I needed.

I knew I needed magazines. I knew I needed someplace for mail to go. I knew I needed a place for my files to go once I finished with the stories (not everyone uses files, but they work for me). And I knew I needed my own shredder to quickly and easily get rid of things without asking my roommate to use her shredder. So I went out and bought one last week at Costco.

I asked myself how I would use the things I kept.

I knew I needed my magazines visible, but that I didn't want to see extra iPod cables or spare highlighters. I knew I didn't want to get rid of my story files in case I covered the same topics again, but I didn't want to look at them. I knew I wouldn't replace the printer paper if I had to dig for it. I knew I'd never file anything if the pile didn't stand there mocking me.

Consequently, I figured out that some things needed to be in open storage (magazines, current files, stuff to shred or file) and others needed to be hidden away (completed story files, miscellaneous office supplies).

I thought about and envisioned what might help me accomplish those goals.

File storage was easy--they make things for them. They're called filing cabinets. Magazines were also easy. A larger bookshelf would fit the bill nicely.

Other things I just guessed at. I made a start. Would small boxes fit the computer software CD-ROMs? What could I do with those weird-sized office supplies without buying a closed-storage cabinet (I'm doing this on a budget, after all)? I took a gamble, took a ruler to some things for good measure and then put it all together like a puzzle last December.

Finally, I envisioned what I wanted my office to feel like when I walked into it.

For me, I always knew I wanted plants in my office. That meant I'd need clean, uncluttered spaces for potted plants. I knew I wanted to feel like everything would flow easily. So I arranged my office supplies in the half-circle to make it easy to access it all.

Tweaking the System

Of course, a year later, not everything is still working so well, and my organizing system continues to evolve. For instance, I didn't think about the fact that I'd need someplace to store old printer ink cartridges until I could recycle them. Right now they pile on my desk to the right of the computer.

It likewise didn't occur to me that the pretty cherry-and-tempered glass bookcase I bought wouldn't be able to hold as much weight as shelving that was made of solid wood. Consequently, my magazine storage was obsolete before the year even began.

Finally, I realized that three half-filing cabinets were too many for me. So I bought an external hard drive and started a process of scanning and shredding or recycling old story files and personal financial records.

Plans for This Year's Organizing Shopping

As I plan for this year's tax-deductible shopping, I turn my eyes toward organizing once again. Just like a business plan, an organizational system is an alive thing, and it contributes to my prosperity in the year ahead.

This year's plan, so far:

Swap out the glass-shelved bookshelf for a solid wood one that will both hold more and be more sturdy.

I'm eyeing a low bookshelf which I can place under my window and on which I can place plants and my printer. The vision is to create something airy and organized.

Ask fellow freelancers how many back-issues they keep of their target magazines.

Then I'm going to purge the magazines I don't need, or get rid of magazines that have gone under or I don't plan to pitch in the next year.

Plan storage for new purchases.

I expect to buy a digital recorder and digital camcorder to branch out into multimedia journalism next year, and I have to think about where those will be stored. I'm also going to figure out where and how to store the spent ink cartridges that now clutter my desk.

What's your organizing toolkit, and what more do you need to make your office functional?


Anonymous said...

I admire the patience you have for scanning and shredding your important documents. I can see how it might be relaxing, but I've always kind of resented it.

Have you heard of Shoeboxed or Neat Reciepts for organizing receipts?

Megan said...

I have really been enjoying your organizing challenge posts. I'm a small business owner who works from home, but I'm hoping to make a bigger leap into freelance writing next year. I feel like I must tackle my office space before I can take on any new ventures. Your posts have been insightful and inspriring. Thanks!