Expert Hints for Getting Organized from Jamie Novak

Jaime Novak
Jaime Novak

Getting organized can make your home or on-site work office a positive environment for accomplishing your tasks and getting the job done. Love To Know Cleaning sat down with Jamie Novak, author of The Get Organized Answerbook about practical solutions to organizing your home office.

Your Office: Free Hints for Getting Organized

Clutter drops and paper trails are two of the top problems facing home office organization. Jamie Novak offers some practical hints for getting organized and clearing the clutter before it starts.

Love To Know (LTK): Despite living in an electronic world, paper can be overwhelming, so how can you tackle the paper organizational needs for your home office?

Jamie Novak (JN): In order to avoid piles of paper from accumulating, be sure you have a large enough waste can and recycling bin located within arms reach. Also have the shredder ready to plug in when you need it so a "to be shred" pile does not accumulate.

For the paper you need to keep: out of sight out of mind can be your motto for filing cabinets; however they only work for long term archival storage like old client files or tax returns. A desktop file box allows you to have all the papers you regularly need at your fingers tips, plus you can see them so you won't forget tasks. It is the perfect compromise!

LTK: Working from home means that family members often drop things off on your workspace. How can you set your home office up to avoid clutter, but still meet the family needs?

JN: Place an "in box" off your desk or closer to the office door. Family members can leave you items that require your attention without interrupting you or cluttering your workspace. For the other stuff that just gets left behind like toys, sunglasses, phone charger cords and all those other miscellaneous items, create a lost and found. This can be a single basket, drawer or container where you can toss all those leftovers until the owner comes looking for them.

Managing Time and Space

LTK: Organizing one's personal computer is an area that many home or office workers don't think about. What suggestions can you offer for organizing the computer to make work time more efficient?

JN: Often we save things to our desktop so we can find them easily, but that is just like leaving papers out so we don't forget - it is not the best system. Folders are the best way to go. Think of the folder as the hanging file folder in a filing cabinet; inside the file names are corresponding papers. Give the folder a broad name then label each file with a meaningful title so you can find what you need. Also, don't forget about your computer's search feature. Use it regularly to find "lost" files - it can save you a bunch of time.

LTK: Time management is a huge issue for home-based workers. How can organization help with regard to time management and vice versa?

JN: There never seems to be enough time in the day, but getting sidetracked certainly doesn't help. Working from home is convenient but you can easily get off task. For instance, you might start out planning to weed your filing cabinet. When heading into the kitchen for a garbage bag you notice the countertop can use a wipe down. A little cleaning turns into a lot of cleaning, and before you know it, you're tossing in a load of forgetting all about the filing cabinet.

LTK: Is it better to do a big organizational sweep to start fresh or organize the home office one item at a time?

JN: Very few of us have the time or energy to tackle every space we'd like to organize in our office at one time. Instead of dumping everything out and trying to sort it before running out of steam, try working in small blocks of time. Carve out fifteen minutes to work on a single file drawer, one shelf of a bookcase or a handful of computer files. Once your 15 minutes of sorting is done, make your newly organized space feel refreshed as a spritz of Febreze Air Effects in an energizing scent (I love their new Brazilian Carnival scent) to help you get back into work mode. Taking this time everyday will get you back in order and will avoid distractions.

Office Space

Free hints to get organized in your office space provide you with creative solutions for managing your office space at home, at the office and on the go.

LTK: Home space is at a premium these days whether you live in a single family home or an apartment, how much space should be dedicated for a home office

Organize Your Work Space

JN: I'm not a huge fan of dedicating a whole room as an office that only gets used part time. If you have the extra room, great! But if not, get creative to take advantage of the space you have to make a home office area that works for you. Some of us are able dedicate a whole room but not everyone can and it is not always necessary.

A "mobile office" is a great idea as well as a space saver; simply roll a file cart with drawers up to the kitchen or dining room table. Work at the table and when you are done roll your cart into a nearby closet. Speaking of closets, you can turn almost any closet into a home office. Slip a desk inside or install a wood shelf as your desktop, adding a filing cabinet. Stick up a white board on the wall for notes. With the closet doors closed, no one has any idea your office is inside.

LTK: What is the best way to lay out an office?

JN: Whenever I'm called in to help a client layout his or her office space, we first position the desk. Some people prefer to have their desk in a corner while others prefer facing the door. Then I have the person sit down at the desk and we bring over supplies (the wastebasket, recycling can, printer, for example) that they'll need to reach without having to get up when working. We then build outward from there. A filing cabinet needed once a week can go across the room and excess office supplies like printer cartridges can be tucked away in a clearly labeled box on a shelving unit. Keep what you use most often closest to you to avoid wasted steps.

Often overlooked, but equally important to the placement of furniture, is design of your creative environment. Good lighting, inspiring artwork, and a pleasant scent means you'll be more productive. Freshen the air in your office with Febreze Air Effects, which not only freshens, but actually eliminates odors from the air. Febreze comes in various scents, including Citrus & Light and Vanilla & Refresh. Spraying an air freshener in your office space can make you feel confident when having clients over without the worry of common home smells, such as burnt popcorn or the family dog. Also, creating a scent experience in your office space separate than the rest of your home can differentiates the space, making you more focused.

LTK: Should an office space be away from the rest of the house or in the house? Why or why not?

JN: Where you choose to set up your home office depends on your clutter and work style. Some need to be far away from the rest of the house if they're going to make piles of paper that will annoy others in your home or if they are easily distracted. Being away from temptations such as the television, home phone, or chats with family discourage getting sidetracked.On the other hand if you keep the space presentable for guests, and have the ability to stay focused or successfully multitask, then you can set up shop closer to family members and gadgets.

Sometimes we have no choice, we have to use the space we have and make it work.

LTK: How can the average mom working from home create this illusion of office security while still balancing the needs of home life?

JN: A great way to keep your child near you, safely is to set up a gated area in your office (or as close as you can get) using a play fence or a screen. If your child is able to play independently using a baby monitor works well as you'll be able to hear them play or call for you.

You may also find that you need a mini-portable office, which would be a small rolling cart or handled caddy. By placing the project you are currently working on your caddy you can bring it anywhere around the home, including wherever your kids are. Take advantage of quiet times, like nap time or when your children are doing homework. These are great work opportunities as you'll know they are occupied as well.

Top Tips for Organizing

LTK: What top three organizing tips can you suggest to help people who work from home build better work habits?


  • Adopt the two-minute rule: if you can do a task in two minutes or less, do it right then! You'll have less loose ends to tie up.
  • Make a list! When you work off a short (5-7 items) daily to-do list you are much more likely to accomplish what you set out to do. Not having a to-do list is like trying to drive cross-country without a map.
  • Know what to keep and what to toss: Update your to-do list regularly so you'll know if you should keep a document and file it, or if you can recycle it.

LTK: What are the three worst mistakes that people make when organizing their home office?


  • Overloading drawers. You can only fit so much in desk drawers while maintaining organization. Stop cramming all three tape dispensers in the drawer, but rather put one in the drawer and store the others in an office supplies bin. When you run out, you'll know exactly where the extras are.
  • Not wrapping up at the end of the day: put everything away (current project files, papers to be filed, etc.) and shred sensitive documents daily to avoid the clutter.
  • Wasting storage opportunities: Think vertical! There is a lot of space on walls and inside closet doors to build shelves and store stuff.

Making the Most of Organizing Hints

Everyone has a personal style and clutter tolerance level. The key to using Jamie Novak's organizing hints is to apply those that best fit your personal needs to make the most of your time and your space.

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Expert Hints for Getting Organized from Jamie Novak