From the June 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Whether you've recently moved into a new office or worked in the same one for years, it's never too late to evaluate your workspace to ensure it fits the needs of your growing business. Do your employees have the right furniture? Do you need more filing space? Is there a place to store reference materials? Answering these simple questions and making just a few changes will give you a noticeable boost in the overall productivity of your business.

One factor that can affect the productivity of everyone in the office is ergonomics. Carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive injuries can be the result of using computers, but can be eliminated or at least minimized by using the right products. Set your employees up with wrist rests, mouse rests, elevated footrests and the like--these tools will keep the productivity level high and the pain level low.

Using the wrong desk and chair can cause back, neck and shoulder pain; fatigue; and eventually, lost days at work. So make sure every employee works at an ergonomically correct computer workstation. That should include a keyboard that users can pull out and adjust up and down. And replace standard office chairs with ergonomically correct chairs that include (at the minimum) an adjustable height feature and adjustable armrests.

Outdated hardware and software are other sources of frustration. Upgrading is worth the investment when you consider how much time and energy your company wastes on obsolete technology.

All growing businesses face the challenge of managing incoming information. When it comes to electronic information, make sure your company backs up data every week, whether it's burned to CDs or stored to a virtual file cabinet on the net. Small files can be backed up to a flash drive; for massive backups, burn data to DVDs.

Paper files, magazines and more can quickly spin out of control if not kept in check. Magazines and newspapers don't belong on a desk. Instead, store them in large containers. Papers that need attention should be stored in stacking bins (they're larger than stacking trays) placed on the floor and labeled "To Read," "To File" and "To Do." Bins or baskets are temporary storage spaces for papers that need to move forward. Before placing a piece of paper in a bin or basket, make a note on a to-do list of any action needed.

The most highly visible parts of any office are desks. Uncluttered desks eliminate unnecessary distractions and make it easier to focus on the tasks that need immediate attention. Here are some ways to keep desks in order and make the best use of space:

  • The only items that should be on a desk are those that are used often. Place less frequently used items on shelves above or next to desks to increase storage space and reduce desktop clutter.
  • A desktop hutch or a nearby four-shelf bookcase (ideally with adjust-able shelves) is perfect for storing books and reference materials. Adjustable shelves make more sense than fixed shelves because they eliminate wasted space above and below the shelves.
  • The best place for a desktop computer is on a surface to the left or right of the desk or parallel to it.

Whether you replace your company's uncomfortable desk chairs, bite the bullet and update your office equipment, or change the way you handle incoming information, making just a few changes to your office can improve the productivity of your business and, ultimately, your bottom line.

Making It Fit
Plan to squeeze even more activity into your schedule.

The average person wastes at least one hour each day searching for lost items, putting out fires and dealing with interruptions. The key to making the best use of your time is having a good planning system. Whether you choose a paper-based planner, a PDA or a computer program to plan each day, make sure the system fits your needs and comfort level.

No matter which planning system you use, ringing phones, demanding clients and looming deadlines can blur the distinction between tasks that need your immediate attention and those that can wait. Important tasks need to be accomplished soon yet not necessarily today, while urgent tasks have a specific deadline and must be done immediately.

Even the best-laid plans can be sidetracked by interruptions from others. Rather than wait for the ideal time to tackle projects, set aside time to work uninterrupted.

In addition, schedule regular meetings with your staff to discuss any concerns they may have. Ask employees to hold their questions (those that aren't urgent) until the meeting.

You can't increase the number of hours you have in each day, but you can control what you accomplish within that time.

Paper Chase
These simple tips will straighten out your loose-leaf lifestyle.

Technology has changed the way we work, but no matter how much technology advances, paper is here to stay. Here are some easy tips for improving the way your company files. Training employees on these tactics will keep your files in tip-top shape.

  • Use hanging folders. Label each hanging folder with a main category and place interior (or manila) folders, broken down into subcategories, inside. Hanging folder tabs should be staggered so they're easy to see; do the same with the interior folders.
  • Keep interior folders to a minimum. Each hanging folder should have no more than four or five interior folders. If an interior folder has more than 20 pieces of paper in it, divide the papers into separate interior folders within the hanging folder.
  • Use color. Colorful hanging folders, interior folders and tabs make it easy for your staff to differentiate between file categories. Financial records could be labeled in green, hot projects in red and marketing projects in blue.
  • Make organization a priority. Files and notebooks are useful if they can be located easily. Have employees store current files (those used at least weekly), reference files (those accessed only occasionally) and historical files (tax-related or legal documents which are referred to rarely) separate. Current files should be located inside an employee's desk file drawer or next to his or her desk, while reference files can be stored nearby in file cabinets. Historical files should be removed from file cabinets to make room for reference files; store historical files in sturdy boxes all in one place, labeled by year and contents.
  • Know what to toss and what to keep. It's easier to keep papers than to decide what to do with them. As you and your employees go through your files and purge unnecessary papers, ask a few questions: Will you refer to this piece of paper again? Do you have a place to file it? If you tossed the paper and needed to refer to it again, would it be difficult to replace?

If you answer no to the above questions, toss the paper in the recycling bin. Small steps like these will make it easier for you to find the information you need--when you need it.

Priority: Mail
Reinvigorate your inbox--and the way you e-mail.

E-mail is great for communicating with others, but it can quickly spin out of control if you neglect to organize all those messages.

The first step to managing e-mail is developing a system for reading, responding to and storing e-mail messages electronically. Set up electronic file folders to store e-mail messages worth keeping, and label the folders clearly. Treat the electronic folders the same as paper files, and regularly purge documents you don't need to refer to again.

Managing incoming e-mails is easier if you install a good spam filter. Investing in an effective filter will pay off in reduced time spent deleting junk e-mail.

Make it easier to distinguish important e-mails from general ones by setting your e-mail to flag messages from clients and other key contacts. Some programs will alert you when designated contacts send messages.

The key advantage to e-mail is the ability to communicate with someone immediately, day or night. Avoid the urge, however, to check your e-mail every few minutes (unless, of course, you're waiting for an important message). Checking your e-mail a few times each hour can help you stay focused on other tasks.

Home-office expert Lisa Kanarek is the author of Home Office Solutions and the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com, a firm that advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home.