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Organized for Success: Five Keys for Making Home-Work Work

If only you could work from home you would be able to get more done. No interruptions from co-workers. No pretentious banter with your boss. No sitting in meetings for hours thinking about all the work you could be doing, or better yet, daydreaming of being someplace else altogether. And beyond all that, you'd have no worries about who would pick up the kids or prepare dinner or how you'll manage to squeeze in your daily workout. Heck, if you worked from home, you'd be able to do all that and more because your life would be so much more convenient and organized. Yeah, right.

Home-based business owners have it tough when it comes to staying balanced and getting things done. Although working from home seems like the ideal situation for being more efficient and organized, and maximizing your time and effort, it doesn't always work out that way.
Getting and staying organized is more than just buying a PDA and writing a to do list. It involves making a commitment to be efficient in everything you do - from home and family to leisure, fitness, and of course, business. But what do you do when you have a million things to do in one 24-hour period, and no one to help you - or so you think? You get organized.

According to LaNita Filer of Organizing Concepts Plus, a Houston, Texas-based professional organizing firm, you must have a system for everything. 'Determine your personality style and find a system that works for you, whether it's electronic, a planner, file folders, a Palm or good old fashioned paper and pencil,' she advises.

But how do you go about getting organized? Try these suggestions to help manage your time, know where things are when you need them, make the most of your day, and be more efficient.

Organize
Being organized isn't just for the anal-retentives out there. Nor is it a matter of being meticulous about every aspect of your life. But the benefits of basic organization in your home office can save you time, money and perhaps some embarrassing moments. While it might take you some up-front time to get things in order, it will definitely be to your advantage in the long run.

First of all, take a good look at your work area. If you're like me, you might not work at a desk. Since I work from home using a laptop computer, my desk is wherever I am - my bed, kitchen table or living room sofa. Wherever you work, place often used items within arms reach so you don't waste time and energy searching for the cordless telephone, the stapler, the memory key, data CDs or other items critical to your daily tasks.

If you're comfortable with technology and want to use it to the fullest, automate as much as possible. Get rid of that antiquated Rolodex that's collecting dust on top of your desk. Take the time to add contacts to your electronic database. Stop using that old-fashioned calculator and start using the one on your computer or PDA. Simple adjustments such as these can help you focus on the task at hand and avoid being distracted by time-wasting activities.

Next, make staying organized an ongoing task. 'When you start a new project, immediately make a new folder for it,' advises Filer. 'If you prefer to go the electronic route as well, be sure your computer filing system reflects the one in your file cabinet.'
And finally, at the end of each day, create a 'To Do' list for the next day. This way you'll know exactly what needs to get done so you don't waste time trying to remember that one thing that absolutely, positively has to get done tomorrow. Take it a step further and rank items, placing the most important items first and least important items last. What a great segue to our next suggestion.

Prioritize
Okay, so you're reviewing your 'To Do' list, which includes ten 'must do' business items for today. Besides that, you have to mop the floor, take the kids to golf lessons, drop off Duke at the vet, hit the gym and probably take a nap. But what really needs to get done today?

As you prioritize your daily tasks, take a tip from Stephen Covey, author of 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People'. Handle important tasks so they don't become urgent tasks. Think about what's important for today. Prioritizing doesn't mean putting things off for days and days. That is how important tasks become urgent. Prioritizing simply means ranking and executing tasks based upon their relationship to the other important things you need to do today.

As Filer puts it, 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' She suggests first looking at which of your tasks offers the biggest payoff. 'Tackle that one first and then work on the next three most important items. The rest will be cake,' she shares.

Do you really have to file all those papers today? Could you mop the floor tomorrow? Do you have to contact everyone in your database today or just a dozen or so? Maybe you'll have to forego the nap and just hit the sack early tonight. Perhaps you could ask your wife to take the dog to the vet. Which brings me to the next point.

Working from home doesn't mean you no longer have a support team to help when you need help. As a home-based entrepreneur you should have a team you can count on.

Delegate
Whether your team is your family, friends or sub-contractors, begin to place a higher value on them and learn to trust your team and their ability to help you. Delegating doesn't mean passing the buck. It is a smart practice that all successful executives employ regularly.

Surround yourself with people who are qualified and whose strengths complement yours,' suggests Filer. Don't wait until you're overwhelmed to call upon your team for help. When you review your 'To Do' list, determine if someone else would be better suited to handle a task than you. Perhaps your daughter would enjoy entering your contacts into your database for a few bucks. Have your bookkeeper organize those files. Assign your designer the task of researching ideas for your new brochure. Enlist the neighbor to walk the dog. Hire a housekeeper.

If you're new to delegating, giving up control might be the hardest part. But Filer gives wise advice in saying, 'Relinquish control and that will give you more time to do the things your love.' Give people small responsibilities, ask for regular status reports, reward a job well done, and then build upon their successes.

Delegating activities to others on your team, frees you up to work your day in a way that makes the most sense for you. Speaking of that -

Structure Your Day
I know what you're thinking, 'I decided to work from home because I don't like structure!' Think about it this way, structuring your day doesn't mean giving yourself one hour to do this or thirty minutes to do that. It simply means arranging your daily tasks to suit your own mental and intellectual flow.

Filer suggests you set boundaries, set reminders for tasks and use a timer as a cutoff for projects or activities. You know yourself better than anyone, so use that knowledge to structure your day so that you can be your most efficient. How many hours do you want to work each day - three, seven, twelve? While every day is different, you do have control over how much of your 24-hour day you spend working. So make the most of your workday by tackling each task with a fresh attitude.

Do you dread making phone calls? Get that done first thing when you arrive at your desk. Do it and get it out of the way. Tackling those dreaded tasks first can boost your confidence, clear your mind and allow you to move on to things more to your liking. Is your mind clearer and more creative in the middle of the day? Use that time to brainstorm, create designs, plan activities or write. Are you more objective in the evening? Take this time to review, assess and evaluate.

Progress Not Perfection
Let's face it, there will be days when you just don't get as much done as you would like to. But if you employ these suggestions, you will find that you're able to function more efficiently in each task and get more done with ease and enjoyment. Aim for progress in your day, not perfection. As human beings, we make mistakes, we miss the mark, we forget things and we even blow things (and people) off - we are not perfect. But being committed to making progress each and every day will yield the rewards of success.

About the Author

Anita Paul is a freelance writer, marketing consultant and owner of The Write Image, a marketing communications company that caters to small businesses and non-profit organizations. With over ten years experience in marketing and public relations, she is the author of "Take The Mystery Out Of Marketing" a guide to help business owners create, execute and evaluate a strategic marketing plan. She can be reached at www.thewriteimage.net.


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