When running a home office, it’s important to manage your time effectively. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do all that we want to do, and if you have to share your time with family priorities, you want to maximize every minute. How we manage our time has a profound effect on what we are able to accomplish, and bad time management produces stress.
So where do you start? The best place to start is with determining your goals. What do you want to accomplish today, this week, this month? What are your priorities? What can you push down lower on the list and what needs to be pushed up?
Next, organize your goals from what’s most important to you to what’s least important. A great model for prioritizing your work comes from Stephen Covey’s 4-Quadrant to-do list . He suggests prioritizing your activities into the following segments: 1 – Things that are Important and Due Soon, 2 – Things that are Important but Not Due Soon, 3 – Those items that are Not Important, but Due Soon, and finally, 4 – Items that are Not Important and Not Due Soon.
Categorize your tasks into these segments and work through your priorities in order of importance. This will help ensure you’re concentrating on what’s most important first, and it will help you to better manage your time.
Time management and organization go hand in hand. To work more efficiently, an organized desk space is the key. Paperwork can easily get misplaced if you don’t have a good filing system. You can also lose valuable time in searching for documents if they are not readily available and easily identifiable. Here are some suggested ways to organize your paper files:
Pending/Tickler File – This filing system allows you to organize your paper files by the day you plan to work on an item. You start with 12 hanging file folders labeled for each month of the year (January – December). You then make a set of 31 manila file folders labeled 1 through 31 for each day of the month. Place your working documents in the day’s folder that you plan to work on it. This will help you in both managing your time and staying organized.
Pocket Folders – Office supply stores have a wide variety of filing folders. One useful type is the single pocket folder pouches. These paper or plastic pouches expand and can stand upright when filled. One way to use these folders in organizing your work is to label one for each of the Stephen Covey 4-Quadrant to do list segments (1 – Important and Due Soon, 2 – Important but Not Due Soon, 3 – Not Important, but Due Soon, and 4 – Not Important and Not Due Soon). You can now arrange your documents by importance, ensuring you’re working on the higher priority items first.
For your electronic files, there are many options for organization. You can set up file folders on your computer hard drive, labeled to clearly identify the contents. You can sync your calendar with a PDA or a phone/PDA combo to keep your files close at hand.
Whichever method you use, just remember to stick to it. Every activity you choose to do has a cost associated with it. Once you spend 10, 15 or 45 minutes on an unimportant or frivolous activity, you can never recover that time. Learn to set your goals, prioritize your goals, and then organize your day to align with your priorities. By doing this, you will be able to better manage your time and achieve more in your home office.
 Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (August 15, 1989)