Home, Productivity

How to design the best home office. Three things that you should do to before you start working on it.

While the country is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses of all kinds and sizes are struggling too.  Many people are still working from home, in some cases, permanently.  The idea of having a home office suddenly becomes as good as having enough living space.  During the first couple of months of this emergency, many people were improvising a small space to work.  Now that it is a reality that you will be working from home either part-time or full time, it is time to stop improvising and start “building” your workspace at home.

A workspace should be a space dedicated to work only.  Create the habit of working in this area only and do not leave any work items anywhere outside our workspace.  The ideal situation is to have a separate room but, not everybody has a spare room available.  It is helpful to practice 5S around the house to eliminate clutter and create more space.  You can transform an underutilized area like the guest room, the baseman, or even a corner or a wall in your room or garage.  If you have a nice shed with lighting and insulation, big enough to steal space for your office, that will work too!  

But before you choose the space, there are three things that you need to do, understand and learn the purpose of your office, your needs, and how to maximize productivity.

Understand the purpose, what exactly are you going to do?

Take your time to plan and create your workspace.  Start with the purpose of the area, are you going to work on the computer only, or you will have conference calls?  Any chance of a video conference?  How about visitors?  What do you need from your internet service?  Are you going to use multiple web-based applications, VPN, firewall? Are you going to print or file documents? 

What do you need to accomplish your work?

Once you know the purpose of the area, think about your needs.  What do you need besides the basics like a desk, chair, and computer?  Be aware that I said needs, not wants.  We all want to have a modern, well-equipped office home, but do you need to have all the equipment you have available at your workplace? Create a list of what you need, what type of equipment, storage, cabinets, and others.  Do not forget internet service speed and reliability, electric outlets, and lighting.  Knowing all these things, you can estimate the space you will need.

Create the environment to maximize productivity

After identifying what you need to accomplish the purpose of your home office, you are ready to choose the best space.  Know the area before you start moving or buying stuff to create the office.  Remember that even when you are home, you need to keep your productivity levels.  With that in mind, plan the layout and how you are going to use the space.

Consider some basic ergonomic rules, like the following.

  • The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or a little below. 
  • Position your keyboard so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. 
  • Adjust your chair so that your feet rest on the floor, or a footrest if you’re short.  

While planning the layout or how you are going to organize your equipment, follow these organization rules.

  • Set minimum and maximum limits for office supply items.  
  • Identify the best location for each item based on the frequency of use and ease of access and return.  Most used items go closer to the user.  
  • Incorporate 5S into the area from the beginning, use visual management.  Mark the location and inventory limits of each item visible.  Use color code for your filing system and create signage to communicate to your family that you are busy in a phone call or video conference, have visitors, or in time-out (no interruptions).

Also, use these tips to create an environment for better productivity.

  • Privacy and the appropriate environment to foster concentration and productivity are critical considerations.  
  • Boundaries are necessary to keep separate home and office spaces.  You can use partitions and free stand dividers to create a physical limit.  
  • Also, thick carpets and drapes, bookcases, and plants will help to soundproof the area. 
  • Follow your work routines or create new ones, like getting dressed, work schedule (clock-in and out times), and time for your breaks.
  • To keep focus and feel connection with other humans, you can get out of your home office and work from the library, a co-work office, or a nearby cafe every once in a while.

Create your space and start using it.  If something does not feel right, change it.  The beauty of a home office is that you don’t need to ask for authorization to change things.  If you follow all the steps indicated before, you plan how to create the office, create the office, start using it and identify what did not work to change or adapt them.  You just follow PDCA and 5S as guides to create the best workspace you can.  You can follow these same guidelines if you are in need of creating a space for your home-schooling child.  To create the best workplace at home start with understanding the purpose of the space, know your needs, and design the area to maximize productivity.   

Home

How organized is your wardrobe or closet? Is it a good place for 5S?

Every morning you stand in front of the closet looking at the clothes, wondering what to wear.  Probably, you have a couple of suits that you rotated every week.  You are doing that not because you intend to have a uniform or be practical, but because the closet is cluttered, and you cannot reach some areas.  It is possible that you have clothes that you have not seen in years.  

All the house closets are perfect targets for 5S, but this time I will focus on the bedroom closet.  Follow the five steps for cleaning and organization, one at the time.  The best way to see everything you have is to empty the closet.  If you are using more than one, place all items in the same place to start sorting.  When you finished sorting, decide what is the best location but do not put anything back until you clean the area.  This time is going to be the best moment ever to vacuum and clean the entire closet.  Find below a couple of tips for each step.

Sort

Sorting through the closet items should be an easy task.  Look out for these things that you can get rid of without hesitation. 

  1. Old clothing, shoes, and accessories that you never wear, either because you don’t like them anymore or do not fit.
  2. Mismatched socks
  3. Clothing that is either in bad shape, broken or stained.
  4. Eyeglasses with old prescriptions. 
  5. Old towels and bedding

You can do the following with the discarded items.

  • If the clothing is in good condition, donate it.  
  • Donate old eyeglasses.
  • Fix or have someone fixing for you those items with missing buttons, broken zipper, of need a little adjustment job.
  • If you have dogs, you can use towels and other linen for them.  You can also use some and donate the extras to your local shelter.

Set in Order

  • You need to be able to see what you have without opening drawers or boxes.  Use open shelves and boxes when need it. 
  • Organize hangers to maximize the use of vertical space.  For example,  you can have blouses and shirts on top hanging space and below it another for skirts and pants.
  • Use drawer organizers and dedicate each drawer to one item type, for example, socks.
  • Divide your items by use or season, work clothes vs. home, summer vs. winter, and others.
  • If you have one available, you can designate one closet or space for bulky winter items.
  • Use shoe racks whenever possible, avoid using shoe boxes unless they are clear.  

Shine

  • Clean all shelves and hanging systems.  
  • You can paint the insides of the closet now.
  • Look for missing knobs, broken parts, loose screws, and other things.  Repair what you can and replace what you need.

Standardize

  • You can use temporary labels to identify what goes where, at least until you get used to it.  Unless you do your laundry, you need to ensure that everybody sees, understands, and does the same.  

Sustain

  • You don’t need to wait until spring to clean your closet or wardrobe.  Put in a calendar to check your closet every other month or so.
  • As soon as you grab something that does not fit anymore, decide what to do with it.  If you do not want to get rid of things that fast, designate a small area to put those items and check them as part of your closet review per calendar.

To clean and keep the house clean is everybody’s responsibility.  You can make 5S a family activity, teach your kids how to do it, and have them check on their closets the same day you do.  Doing this regularly, you will avoid planning how or where to build additional closet space for your clothes. 

Home

How much you use your kitchen? Is it organized, or need some 5S?

Years ago, my grandma was the queen of the kitchen.  She reigned supreme on that space, and nobody dares to interrupt her while she was on the zone.  I know this situation was similar for many families.  Over time, these changes and now families gathered around the kitchen to participate in food preparation and cooking.  

Even children participate, mixing and preparing things.  During friends and family meetings, everybody is in the kitchen while the meal is being prepared.  For many, this is the place to plan parties and other family activities. The kitchen is then the heart and soul of the house.

With everything happening there, it is easy to find some clutter.  That is also the reason to keep it clean and organized at all times.  Remember the 5S?  The five steps cleaning and organization program is effective in the kitchen also.  You can read about the method and ideas for 5S in the house, in either one of these previous posts.  What is 5S? How can I keep my pets stuff organized? How can you organize your garage? or How can I organize my books?  Either one of those articles will help you to understand the 5S process.  

Plan your Kitchen 5S.  You have no idea how much stuff you have stored on those cabinets and drawers until you empty them.  Yes, you will have to empty every one of them and also the pantry, fridge, and freezer.  Engage the family in this activity.  If everybody participates, chances are, they will also help to keep it organized!

  • Designate areas to place items to keep, move out, and trash.
  • Think ahead of time how you want to organize the kitchen.  Items that you use more frequently should go closer to the area where you are going to use them.  For example, spices where you prepare the food and dishes, glassware, and silverware close to the dishwasher.
  • Have readily available the cleaning utensils and detergents you are going to use.
  • Go one cabinet at a time, including the drawers.
  • After the cabinets, take care of the pantry.
  • Check the fridge and freezer.
  • If you have a small desk or office area, include it as part of the project.

The following are things that you should be looking for while sorting. 

  • Things that we collect thinking that we can use them later, but never use.
    • Plastic silverware and condiment packets from take-out orders.
    • Utensils and kitchen tools from which you have double, or triple.
    • Small appliances like waffle maker or rice cooker.
    • Take-out menus
  • Expired items
    • Spices lose flavor over time, while flour and sugar do not perform as well as fresh ingredients.
    • Expired coupons, old shoppers
    • Medicines
  • Broken or damaged things
    • Warped food storage containers
    • Mismatched containers and lids
    • Old towels
  • Items that do not belong to the kitchen
    • Old bills and receipts, last year calendar
    • Power cords with no equipment, old cell phones, and TV remote controls
    • Greetings cards, crafting supplies
    • The user manual or warranty papers for appliances that you don’t have any more or are way beyond warranty

It will take quite some time to finish all this, but in the end, your kitchen will be ready for the next party.  Enjoy! 

Home

How can I organize​ my books?

Some people keep a big collection of books, are you one of them? Chances are a few are from your university days. Part are reference books gather through your professional life. Some others are a reflection of your interests or hobbies, or those of your family. Do you know how to avoid clutter? How can you keep them organized?

Let’s start by taking a look at all the books you have. If you have books in different locations, go and find all and put them in one place. You want to take a look at them in the same place. Why? Because you need to visualize what you have to sort what you need or want to keep.

Before you start, think about how you want to organize the books. There are different ways to set up the library. You can organize to be functional by subject, author or alphabetically. If you want a clean look and don’t care about function, you can organize by color, size, or cover type (hardcover/paperback).

Sort the books grouping them following your selection. While sorting remove those that you don’t need anymore. In everyday words, you are going to declutter. I understand how attached we can be with our books. Books are sources of knowledge, friends in moments of solitude, and a way to travel in our imagination. Don’t feel bad, let them go, maybe somebody needs them more than you do. Giving books away to the local school library or a friend is a gift of love. Also, remember that you need to make room for the new. Here are some reasons to remove books from your collection.

  • Outdated reference books – encyclopedia, old programming language
  • Not relevant anymore – you don’t like zombies stories anymore
  • Condition – water damage, broken
  • Not going to read it again – it was ok, but not great.
  • Duplicates – different editions of the same book, bought a new one because you could not find where the old was.

After sorting, it is time to find a home for your collection. The perfect location is the one that works for you. If you have space and want to do it, you can keep all the books in a home library. If you don’t have space to keep all together, have small spaces throughout the house. It is always a good idea to keep things close to where you use them, for example, cookbooks in the kitchen, gardening books in the garden shack, and your favorite bedtime readings in the bedroom.

Dust the shelves and all the books before putting them in place. Use labels or marks to indicate location. For example, if you decided to organize your books by genre, you can label the area for each to make sure that all the family sees where each they go. Think about those marks on the libraries aisles.

Make a habit of checking from time to time if everything is in order. If something is not, communicate your findings to the family. Cleaning and organizing is a family activity. Also, schedule to sort through your books at least once a year. This way, you will avoid clutter.

With all your books organized, the entire family can see what they have available. The hassle of looking for the specific book needed to complete a project or a school assignment is gone.

Home

How can you organize your garage?

Is your garage a mess? If the answer to that question is yes, you are not alone. Around 50% of homeowners rate the garage as the most disorganized place in the house. It is where garden equipment and tools, sports gear, and holiday decorations end up. Do you think there is not enough space in the house for all the stuff you have? The fact is that 80% of the clutter in most homes is a result of disorganization, not lack of space.

My recommendation is to 5S your garage. You know already that 5S is an excellent tool for organization and it works everywhere. Let’s use it for the garage!

Remove everything and place it on the driveway in like by like categories. Have an area for items that are either broke, don’t need, or you are not interested in keeping. As you removed things, ask these two questions: Do I need it? Do I need to keep it here? For example, the garage is not the best place to store your insurance and mortgage documents. Do you have a shack or closet outside where you can keep garden tools? Have an area for those items and set aside as well. Use a sign to indicate the future location or not needed status.

With the empty garage, you can see how much space you have available. Check the keep in the garage categories to have a sense of how much space you need. Think about the best way to store them and the best location. There are lots of garage organizing solutions on the market. Design the storage areas for the garage. What do you want to do? Do you want to park your car? Do you need a work area?

The following are examples of organizing ideas:

  • Go vertical! Space is a high-end commodity, utilize it wisely. 
  • Create overhead storage for kayaks or bicycles, or to hang bins.
  • Hang heavy items from the wall using gear tracks and hooks. There are hooks of different sizes and styles for light or heavy stuff. Use them for power tools, ladders, hoses, and others.
  • Check on organizers for specific uses like a broom holder and garden tools organizer or a sports gear organizer.
  • Create a shadow board for the most used tools.
  • Use open shelving whenever you can.

Although, you assign a place for everything first and then shine, this time it is a good idea to clean the garage first. It is easier to clean before you start hanging organizers and placing shelves. Pressure wash the garage, starting with the ceiling, walls and finally the floor. If you don’t have a pressure washer, you can rent one or just use a regular hose. After cleaning is done, you can paint the garage if you want. Avoid bringing back dirt and dust by cleaning shelves and toolboxes before moving them into place.

Put organizers and shelves in place and then move back in all the stuff you will keep. Start with what goes overhead and then move to the walls. While you put everything in its place, think again if you want or need to keep it. As a rule of thumb, anything that has not been used in the past year should be removed. Hopefully, by the end of this step, you can park your car inside the garage again.

For the standardization piece, you can create labels to indicate what goes where. I like shadow boards because they don’t need an explanation. They are easy to understand and use. If you plan to do some work in the garage, place a trash can to ensure all trash goes to the right place.

Decide what to do with those items on the not-needed pile. Options are: give it away, garage sale, donation, recycle or trash. Do not move them back to the garage! Keep yourself a deadline to dispose of them. Put in place those items that you decided to locate somewhere else.

To keep the housekeeping and organization, put in the calendar a periodic inspection and cleaning of the area. Make this a family activity engaging everybody in the garage cleaning. That way, they will be more willing to cooperate in maintaining the organization and cleanliness. Now go ahead, open that door and let your neighbors see your state of the art garage. Enjoy!