East Meets West

Out Of Order

Let's face it: Clutter is more than a small hindrance for most home offices. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers in Austin, Texas, paperwork is a small business's biggest burden--and 80 percent of all documents filed are never referenced again. It gets worse: The Wall Street Journal recently reported that U.S. executives lose an average of six weeks per year searching for misplaced information.

"If you're not organized, you waste valuable time, which is equivalent to valuable money," says Donna McMillan, owner of McMillan & Co. Professional Organizing in Los Angeles. Since the company was founded in 1984, McMillan has seen her share of disorderly work stations and offices. But most notably, she has helped countless businesses clear out the clutter and, in the end, increase productivity.

So how do you know if it's time for a major overhaul? Your first warning sign, says McMillan, is when you find yourself murmuring "Where is my (fill in the blank)?" A good standard to live by, says McMillan, is if you can't find something in 30 seconds, it's in the wrong place. Once you decide you're ready to tackle the job, the following suggestions will help you get started:

*Sort your paperwork. Purchase and assemble several cardboard file boxes. Once you pick a category for each box, sort the entire office. Every shred of paper gets filed in its proper box, from paid bills and magazines to newspaper articles and tax returns. Also toss out all that junk mail you've accumulated.

*Organize the information. Go through each box and further organize the documents.

*Arrange your space. Now you're ready to tackle your work station. How many filing cabinets do you need? What should be boxed and stored in the attic? Where should office supplies go? Keep the items you need every day within reach, and put everything else away.

*Set up an organization system. McMillan suggests file folders for information accessed infrequently and three-ring binders with dividers, placed on a nearby bookshelf, for documents referenced more often.

*Develop new habits. Always put things back in their place, and reorganize before leaving the office each night. Says McMillan, "Accept this as a new habit, and grow with it."

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