Newsletter: September 2012

In this newsletter: home office organisation tips, National Work-Life Week, why clutter may trigger migraines, apdo-uk makes transatlantic headlines, and regional focus on members based in Wales and the Bristol area. 

Taking charge in your home office

September with its bright days and crisp freshness always seems a more motivational month for making a fresh start than that dark and gloomy time after Christmas. Maybe it’s a throwback to childhood when September meant the return to a school desk and new challenges after the long lazy days of summer. Of course we haven’t seen much real summer this year, but the onset of autumn is nevertheless just as good a time to make a clean sweep of your home office as it is to tidy up fallen leaves.

When you’re busy running a home or a home-based business, and especially if you’re doing both, there are always other priorities demanding your attention that can leave you muddling on and feeling more and more stressed as a result.

Pile of paperwork Piled-high paperwork can be overwhelming

Well, there’s a big pay-off for spending a little time decluttering your work space – you’ll feel more in control, you’ll save the time you spend looking for stuff, and you’ll get more done. So what’s not to like? As Rachel Papworth from Brighton-based Green and Tidy explains: “When I reach the point where I can’t put any more papers on my desk without covering others up, I know it’s time to bump tidying my desk up my list of priorities. Even if I’ve got other urgent work to do, I’ll take half an hour to clear it. I look on the time as an investment because it makes me more productive.

“When I’ve decluttered and reorganised my home-office I can find whatever I need straight away, I’ve got space in which to work, my mind’s clearer and I’m not frustrated. No matter how good your working systems are, clutter will build up, so the longer decluttering and organising your office (or home) stays too low on your list of priorities for you to get round to it at all, the less productive you’ll be.”

Sorting and filing

So how and where should you start to take charge your home office? Assuming you’ve already got somewhere to store your important household documents – financial statements, manuals, guarantees, insurance and the like – tackling the paperwork that piles up on your desk is the big issue. Leave two or more pieces of paper together and you know they’ll breed, don’t you? So sorting and filing is step one. And why don’t we do that? Because there’s always ‘work in progress’ and we’re afraid we might mislay those notes we need for next Tuesday’s meeting or that bill we need to pay by Friday. So to get things under control every single document on your desk that requires action at some point, but not today, needs a home and a date when you’re going to pay attention to it.

Secretaries and administrators will be familiar with one of the most popular office organising systems, the ‘bring forward’ or ‘tickler’ file – but unless you’ve worked in an office you may never have heard of it. It’s simply a more structured form of a ‘to-do’ list – a system of folders for each day of the month that are effectively ‘mini in-boxes’. It can also have an additional 12 folders for each month of the year. Keep them in a box or filing cabinet close to your desk and file everything under the day it relates to or needs action by, from medical appointment letters to car tax renewal reminders to theatre tickets. So anything relevant to Monday September 24, for example, will need filing in folder 24. If you’ve got paperwork for an appointment on October 24 or tickets for a carol concert on Christmas Eve they can also be filed here or in separate month folders if you have them. Rotate each file daily so you always have today’s date at the front – that’s why it’s known as a bring forward system – and yesterday’s (cleared out!) folder at the back, and if you have month folders move the next month’s papers into the relevant day files on the last day of each month.

You can find lots of explanatory videos on YouTube. Here’s one of them:

It’s also possible to apply the ‘bring forward’ principles digitally, setting  reminders/recurring appointments or blocking out time in electronic calendars to remind us x-number of days in advance to deal with particular documents, tasks or activities (post birthday cards, book car in for MOT, renew TV licence, etc).  In addition, there are now various home filing software applications available which enable you to set reminders on documents you’ve scanned and stored – either on your computer/laptop/mobile device, or in cloud storage such as DropboxSugarSync and Google Drive. Space-saving and memory jogging all in one – marvellous!

Decluttering the desk-top

OK, so that’s one way to clear your ‘to-do later’ stuff, but what about all that ‘work in progress’ that can also hijack your desk?  If you’ve got several tasks or projects (work or home) on the go they can quickly pile up into either one teetering mountain or several separate heaps that threaten to swamp your work space completely. Sound familiar?

Office organisation specialist Cassie Tillett, of Norfolk-based Working Order says it’s all too easy for in-trays to become a dumping ground so the simpler your desk-top system is, the better.  She organises her own desk with a stack of three trays. “The top one is for post and things that need doing or filing today. The second is for non-time-specific stuff that I’ll get around to when I’ve dealt with the urgent bits in the top tray, and the third is items that are awaiting a response, where the ball is in someone else’s court so all I need to do is check regularly to see if I’ve heard back or need to chase them.”

Cassie says tackling those paper mountains can lift a weight off your mind as well as lightening your workload. “One client had a pile of paperwork about 12 inches high and by the time we’d sorted through it all there were only four things she actually needed to do. The rest was either rubbish, filing, or somebody else’s problem. It’s very common to see this ever-growing pile in your in-box and think it’s all work, when most of it’s not.”

Eliminating email overload

It’s a new day. You turn on your computer/tablet/smartphone and there are 25 new emails in your inbox. On top of the 49 unread emails you didn’t get round to before you last logged off. And before the day’s over there’ll be a hundred or so more. Welcome to email overload, the curse of the digital age.

email screenshot If there’s this much in your email inbox it’s time for a proper clear out – especially if lots is unread!

Email can be great – last month I cleared a long-running financial logjam after firing off an e-plea direct to my mortgage provider’s UK head of operations (I found her address in her personal blog) – but it can also be a great big drain on your time and productivity.

Like un-tackled paperwork, email overload can overwhelm you. Apply the same organisational rules to your digital inbox as the one on your desktop and you can keep the power balance as it should be, and email as a useful servant, not an over-demanding master.

Try these tips to conquer e-clutter:

  • Sort incoming mail into subfolders so you know where to find messages you will need again.
  • Use automated filters and rules to sort email automatically into the right folders and minimise the amount of mail you have to sort manually.
  • Check your settings. If you get an email every time someone mentions or replies to you on Twitter or Facebook, or posts to a Linked In or another web group you’re part of, change your notification/alert settings.
  • Delete and unsubscribe ruthlessly. If you don’t need it, bin without reading. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that aren’t relevant or bombard you with emails (or set a rule to send them straight to the trash folder).
  • Don’t be ‘always on’. Turn off ‘new mail’ sound alerts and set regular time aside to process email in batches instead – you’ll deal with it faster and won’t be constantly distracted from other work. At least once every six months have a ruthless clear-out and give yourself a reward if you can empty your inbox completely.

Creating a welcoming workspace

One aspect that can be easily forgotten in the quest for a productive home-based workplace is perhaps the simplest of all – creating a space you are happy to work in.  Obviously setting up systems that really work go a long way to help with that but décor and lighting are important too.

Cherry Rudge of Rainbow Red in Surrey says: “One area that often gets overlooked in the home office is lighting. I’ve helped several clients where all their papers are piled in one place – sometimes on the floor, not even on a table or desk, purely because that’s where the only decent light was in the room!

“The rest of the room was badly lit and the décor is also adding to the gloom, as a result of either too much furniture, dark furniture, dark wallpaper and/or flooring, so it was like going into a cave.  Hence the room wasn’t being used to its full potential; filing wasn’t being done, clutter was gathering (not to mention dust), and the clients were even putting off essential work like keeping accounts up-to-date simply because the area was such a depressing place to be in.”

Re-energise your work-space by adding appropriate lighting, brightening up the décor, cleaning the room, and re-arranging furniture so that the desk, keyboard and screen are more ergonomic, and your home office can became far more user-friendly and a much more productive and inspiring environment to work in.

You can find out what motivates others to declutter their living or working space in this apdo-uk blog post

And if the prospect of organising – or reorganising – your home office still gives you a sinking feeling, apdo-uk members can work with you to help set up a system that will really work for your household or home-based business.

Kirsten Nielsen from KGN Design in Edinburgh explains how she works with clients. “I start by getting them to sort a small space full of paper the way they usually do. It establishes the status quo and helps them – and me – realise how long it takes for them to sort papers and what habits they’ve got that aren’t working for them.

“Then I chat about what their priorities and dreams are to define the end goal of the process and start organising to those specifications, showing the client ‘how to’ as we go. I always use terms they will understand, so their brain is able to focus on the decision making.”

Scientific genius Albert Einstein once famously listed Three Rules of Work: “Out of clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” That’s as true of your home office as any other workplace. Sounds like he might have been not just a brilliant physicist but a pretty good declutterer and organiser too!

Clare Parrack
Newsletter Editor

Working towards a better work-life balance

This month campaign group Working Families is promoting its efforts to get Britain’s businesses more family-friendly with National Work-Life Week (September 24-28). Incorporating National Go Home On Time Day on Wednesday September 26, the aim is to encourage employers to explore more ways to help staff who are parents or carers get a better life-work balance.

Flexible hours and more opportunities to work from home are often touted as top of the wish list for workers with family responsibilities. However, systems and procedures that help an organisation function as efficiently and effectively as possible can help everyone, including the boss, have more, and more productive, time out from work. Sometimes an outsider can provide the objective second opinion that’s needed to streamline office policies and processes to save time and money – and that’s where apdo-uk can assist.  As well as domestic decluttering services, a number of our members specialise in workplace organising and processes too, so get in touch if your office could use one-off or regular organisational help.

Sort that decluttering headache

The start of September was Migraine Awareness Week – but are you aware that clutter may be a migraine trigger? Researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University have found that even without a headache, migraine sufferers process visual cues better in an environment with few visual distractions. One theory is that nerve cells in the brain of migraine sufferers are excitable, and when exposed to certain triggers the increased excitability may cause clusters of nerve cells to become overactive, and bring on the headache. Sufferers instinctively head for a dark, quiet room when a migraine is coming on, but isn’t it interesting that less cluttered and distracting surroundings might help head off an attack in the first place?

Making headlines in America

apdo-uk is part of a growing global family of organisations dedicated to helping bring order to people’s lives around the world. We support and share ideas with each other, and our president Cassie Tillett has contributed this article on Organising the Brits  to the latest edition of NAPO-News, the official publication of the National Association of Professional Organizers in the US.

Regional Focus

In this issue we find out a little more about the services offered by some of our members in the Bristol area and Wales

Get Sorted
I’m Anna Roberts and I have a guilty secret: I used to be a bit of a hoarder so I understand people’s reluctance to let go. I’ve also moved house 17 times so I’m well equipped for organising seamless house moves! Helping clients streamline their belongings and organise the layout of their homes and offices gives me great satisfaction.
Get Sorted is based near Cardiff and covers South and West Wales, Gwent and Mid-Wales. We offer general decluttering; storage and layout consultations for the home/home office; paperwork and home office organisation; bereavement support (sorting & clearing); home staging including the management of repairs and refurbishments; support for clients downsizing or moving house.

Sort Your Space
Sort Your Space offers clients practical hands-on help and affordable advice to re-think, re-design and achieve the best use of their space for organised living.  Based in North Bristol, Jenny Berry has a background in office management and teaching, with an additional Diploma in Professional Interior Design. As such she has an ideal skills set to empathise, motivate and empower people to visualise changes and make progress at the right pace.
Sort Your Space has earned a good local reputation with excellent client feedback since its conception in 2009 and continues to attract a wide range of clients from all walks of life, all looking for an injection of energy and direction with a wide variety of sorting and design projects.

Home Decluttered
Your home is the most precious space in the world, my passion is perfecting it. I am Alison Armitage, creative property stylist and organising professional. I understand how to get the most from every kind of home – whether it’s to ensure your house is sold for the best possible price or to create a harmonious, stress-free environment for you and your family.
Qualified in Interior Design, Soft Furnishings and with a BA honours and Master’s degree in Fine Art, I can de-clutter your environment giving you the space to breathe and relax or inject fresh life into your four walls with a complete make-over. Home Decluttered covers Bristol and surrounding counties.

Lumen Domus
Kimberley Delius created Lumen Domus in 2006, after several years organising homes and offices in Canada. Based in Bath but operating throughout the West Country and beyond, Lumen Domus offers a wide range of services, from helping to move home to dealing with the belongings of a loved one. The approach is gentle and the process intended to be enjoyable. Kimberley is keen to dispel the hard image often portrayed of de-clutterers on TV, instead opting for a more positive and supportive role in aiding her clients. Most of her business is through word-and-mouth, so the approach obviously works!

Simply Sorted
Simply Sorted is based in Bristol and run by Alison Parry who specialises in de-cluttering and re-organising paperwork for home offices and small businesses, Alison works with clients of all ages and in all walks of life to reduce piles of papers to the essential and upgrade the filing and storage of office supplies, reference materials and projects so that what’s needed can be easily found.
Simply Sorted can also help with a wide range of challenges from making sense of financial and legal paperwork to assisting with house moves or other property issues. Enabling older people to keep on top of their affairs, so that they can remain independent, is another area of expertise.

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