Saturday, February 23, 2013

Step Twenty-Six: Organize Your Office

Whether you're a professional office manager or a first grader, paperwork is a part of your life. With paperwork comes tape, folders, paperclips, pens, scissors, staples, and a bunch of other stuff that clutters up drawers, desks, and entire office areas. Though paper is recyclable, it still seems wasteful when you think of all the business cards, calendars, newsletters, appointment reminders, and bills that have gone through your home. Today we're going to stem the flow and make your office, whether it's a  counter or a whole room, into a manageable, organized space.

Let's start by listing the things you need from an office. I surf the web, manage my finances, work on my writing, schedule appointments, write letters, put together photo albums, and review to-do lists.  You may draw, coordinate schedules, book vacations, conduct business, place orders, or plan for the future. An office serves many purposes, but I find it to be helpful to identify the ones you use most.  When you know what you do most often in your office, you know what processes you'll use often, and what supplies you'll need.

Luckily, we live in a time where almost everything  can be digitized and managed online. The fastest way to get rid of office supplies is to put everything online. When you e-mail documents, use Google calendar, shop and pay bills online, and keep digital records, all you need for an office is a laptop. I used to aspire to this kind of simplicity, but for many things I work more easily off of paper. For example, I keep a paper calendar, rely on a physical address book, and prefer to send handwritten letters and cards.  I also receive printed papers from organizations for my grant writing work, keep important documents in physical form, and relish writing and drawing in a journal. I used to have boxes of office supplies and paperwork, but have since cut my things down to one shoe-box of supplies and two magazine files of paper. I miss nothing, and actually find myself more creative without all the junk confusing my senses.

The first, and most expensive (but also most impactful) thing I did was get a scanner and scan everything I could. I took apart my yearbooks, went through years of letters, and got rid of all of my old schoolwork. I have everything in digital form now, which gives me peace of mind (further enabled by regularly backing up my computer), and I keep only the most important things in their original paper form. This allowed me to get a  few vertical files and keep all of my papers in six inches of bookshelf space, rather than several cubic feet of file-box storage.

Next, I went through my common processes, and looked at what I needed to complete them. A dependable pen with a few replacement ink cartridges in reserve, index cards, post-it notes, a pair of scissors, some glue, a Sharpie, a small amount of paper clips, note paper, a few vertical file folders, and some art supplies were all I really needed. Staples were replaced by paper clips, tape was replaced by glue, and I saved a lot of space by choosing not to have a printer. What I do need to print off I can go to the local copy shop for; the extra effort makes sure I don't mindlessly print anything I don't need.

Now I have more space in my home office (really just a desk in the corner), and I never wonder what to do with myself when something comes up. I have a dedicated to-do list on my phone, a calendar in the back of my journal, an index card full of thoughts and ideas, a computer for my bills, and a scanner for anything I want to look at later. I decline reminder cards by writing appointments in my calendar as soon as they're made, take pictures of business cards with my phone and hand them right back, and get so little junk mail that it's easy to call the company and be removed from their mailing list. By identifying things I do regularly, and working out the best way for me to take care of them, I've streamlined my time, gotten rid of clutter I don't need, and ended the once-endless flow of paper through my home. I have a lighter footstep on the planet, but more importantly, less weight on my mind.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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