One of the nice things about the Internet (“where the men are men, the women are men, and the teenage girls are FBI agents”) is that work can, and does, get done from everywhere, including your home. In our next couple of articles, we’re going to chat about how to set up a home office and how to keep it tidy, the latter being significantly more difficult and a task I hope to complete someday. But first, how do you set up a home office?
Step 1: Choose the space. A spare bedroom or part of the basement might do fine. Be sure there is adequate ventilation, enough light and it is large enough for the furniture and equipment you’ll want in it. The natural light of windows is pleasant but an easy distraction. Of course you’ll want to set it up so that you’re not intruding on the rest of your family…and they don’t intrude on you.
Step 2: Get connected. You’ll need telephone service and computer connectivity at a minimum. Remember that you’ll want surge suppressors, if not battery backup systems, for your computer and other electronic devices. You can save some wiring problems by going wi-fi, but remember to install the security features and firewalls. If you’re using a laptop, you’ll want to consider a wireless keyboard and mouse as well as wireless printer connections. Although a wireless phone is handy, remember that when the power goes out, the base stops working so your phone won’t work either.
Step 3: Get the right furniture. You’ll want not just a desk but you’ll want both filing cabinets and storage for your supplies as well. You may want a bookcase. You may be sitting for long hours, so be sure your chair is comfortable. Although everything else can be used, you may want a new chair. It’s going to get the most workout. In general, the bigger the desk, the better. You want enough workspace to be able to spread your papers out when you’re working. When you put the pieces in the room, think about what you’ll be using most and place it close to hand.
Step 4: Get the equipment. As you’re setting up your computer, printer, fax machine, copier, calculator and telephone again remember to put the devices you’ll use most, close to hand. The prices on 4-in-1 machines (printer, copier, fax and scanner) have dropped significantly in recent years and these are a great way to save space. External hard drives have also dropped way down in price and it is a sound business practice to keep a backup of all your work. They’re much easier to use than a batch of CDs or DVDs. I read that 90% of identity theft comes not from Internet databases but from your paper documents. Buy and use a shredder.
Step 5: Organize. Separate out the personal items from the business items. You don’t want to have to sort photographs when you’re preparing your taxes. If you have a home based business, the IRS only allows deductions for what is used exclusively and regularly for business. You can get more details at the IRS website (www.irs.gov) or from your CPA. There’re lots of options for organizing your paperwork, with color coding or labels. Take a visit to an office supply store to see what your choices are. Personally, I like manila folders inside hanging folders, everything with a label on it. I also keep all my bills together sorted by year, and when the new year comes, box everything from the old year together.
That’s pretty much the basics. Next time we’ll tack the endless, and unenviable, task of keeping it tidy.