Home offices are on the rise — approximately 20 to 25 percent of the workforce teleworks on a regular basis, according to a study by the Telework Research Network. Even if you don’t technically work from home, most people consider the home office to be the hub of the home – the place where you corral vital papers and projects.

But a cluttered office can set your day off on the wrong foot before you even start working. We went to the experts to compile some best practices for creating an organized home office for maximum productivity.

1. Find Your Space.


If you have a dedicated office in your home or apartment, you are one of the lucky ones. For those who are more space challenged, the key is to be creative. All you really need is a space that is quiet so you can focus, and that offers good lighting, says Alison Kero, owner of ACK! Organizing. Even a large closet can do, under the right circumstances. The one place to avoid, she cautions, is your bedroom.

“Keep that room sacred, or you’ll find you’re not getting enough rest,” Kero said.

2. Divide Your Space.

If you don’t have an entire room to use as an office space, the key is to visually divide the room to help create a mental separation between work and play, recommends Allison Clark Nie, owner of Curio Design Studio.

She advises using a foldable room divider or even adding a small hanging light fixture to anchor the area. A small area rug is also a great way to designate a work zone within a larger room.

3. Use Your Walls Wisely.


One overlooked area is vertical wall space, according to Nie, who suggests mounting a magnetic whiteboard or bulletin board to organize big ideas, current to-do lists and inspirational images.

Done with a particular set of notes on the board?  “Snap a photo,” said Hillary Bruce, owner of Honey Hive Home.

Then you can literally wipe the slate clean for your next brainstorm, yet not lose data you might need later.

4. Don’t Skimp on the Filing Cabinet.


Stacey Agin Murray, owner of Organized Artistry, advises clients not to overlook the value of a high-quality metal filing cabinet.

“I have worked with many clients who wouldn’t file their papers because the drawers in their filing cabinet are always stuck or aren’t deep enough. Buy a quality cabinet with high sides and ball bearing drawer suspension for smooth opening and closing.”

Establishing a consistent and logical filing system is one of the most important aspects of home office organization. Color code filing folders to separate documents by category. For example, use red for personal documents and blue for work documents.

5. Cut the Paper Chase.

paper chase

While you will need to file some paper documents, chances are you can shred and recycle the bulk of pieces of paper that come through your office.

What to put in that filing cabinet? Whether they are invoices, school permission slips or your taxes and bills, paper clutter is the bane of every home office’s existence.

If you’re overwhelmed with a huge blizzard of paper, Bonnie Joy Dewkett, owner of the Joyful Organizer, advocates flipping the pile over to start sorting at the bottom.

“Chances are that most of the stuff on the bottom is old, expired, or no longer pertinent, so you will be able to make a big dent quickly,” Dewkett said.

When deciding whether to file or shred something, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that would happen if I threw this document away?” and “How difficult would it be for me to obtain this if I had to?” These questions, Dewkett says, will help you determine what to file, what to put in deep storage, and what to shred.

6. Deal With the Digital.


It’s all too easy to fall prey to digital clutter, especially if you decide to scan documents to avoid the paper pileup. Create separate data files for work and home documents, and use file names you will be able to recall easily.

“For example, if you never remember the name of the gas company, just label it ‘gas,’” said Dewkett. Or, if you are sorting by project, give the files an easily searchable name.

Declutter your computer files on a monthly basis to make it easier to find the documents you need, and keep plenty of free space on your disc drive. The New York Times has a great primer on this.

7. Corral Your Cables.


While we’re talking electronics, Bruce of Honey Hive home suggests taming those stray cords.

“Identify the ones you have with a quick Google search to ensure they’re still necessary and then label new ones as they come in so you won’t be left wondering what cord connects to your printer when you need it,” Bruce said.

Use cable management organizers to keep cords you are currently using in check. It will make it easier to reconfigure your technology set up in the future, and organized cables are much more aesthetically pleasing.

For cords you don’t use everyday, pack them neatly in a storage bag.

8. Tidy Up Daily.


You don’t have to go full Marie Kondo or anything, but clearing your workspace of anything that serves as a distraction or serves no purpose is a good idea.

Whether your home office is part of your living area or hides behind a closed door, Murray of Organized Artistry recommends using the end of the work day to tidy up.

  • Return scissors and calculators to their homes.
  • File excess papers.
  • Empty your recycle bin.
  • Return stray items to your desk organizer.

Finally, spend a few minutes prepping for tomorrow. Make a short list of the tasks you plan to tackle. Put out the files or supplies you’ll need the following day so you can jump right in.

Cathie Ericson