Spring cleaning your remote office

If you spend any time working from home, your home office setup likely needs some decluttering since where you work is also where you live.
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With the Wisconsin weather seemingly turning more springlike — fingers crossed — now’s the time when many of us look to do a little spring cleaning. That may not always be necessary at the office, but with many professionals still working from home at least part of the time, it’s likely that your home office setup could use some decluttering.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 71% of employed Americans were working at home during the height of the COVID pandemic. That number is certainly smaller now, but if you’re still working at home even some of the time, you might find that you’re disorganized as you try to juggle work and your personal life, which very well might include parenting.

There are many ways to clear up your workspaces — both digital and physical — and declutter your mind in the process. According to Remote.co, there are several tried-and-true steps for bringing order to you home office:

1. Assess

“Stand back and survey your space. Notice where items are stored, and where they have migrated while in use. Take stock of what gets in the way versus what you’re often reaching for. Identify wires to be rerouted or tech that belongs here.

“Think about what you wished you had but currently don’t. Acknowledge what might be better placed in another room, or what items first need to be tested (pens, dry erase markers, etc.) to determine if they’re worth keeping.”

2. Sort

“Start with what occupies your desk and any drawers. Be swift and ruthless. Hang onto physical documents only if it’s necessary; otherwise, take photos of them for your records and place them in a tossing pile.

“The earring backs, stray caps, and random pennies can be returned to their rightful match or location, or they, too, can be tossed. (Whatever you decide to hang onto will be organized later.) Aim for growing any empty space; it frees up room for your mind.”

3. Purge

“Toss the items from your pile of discards into the garbage or set them aside for recycling or donation.

“Important: do not leave the non-trash items sitting in your office for weeks on end. Make immediate plans to rid yourself of them so that the purge is complete. This stage is liberating. You’ll truly feel as if a physical weight has been lifted from your shoulders, and you will be even more content if some of it went to charity.”

4. Clean

“Gather the necessary cleaning supplies for surfaces, including window cleaner and dusting wax, along with cloths or paper towels. Before spraying anything, open the windows to allow fresh air into your space even if it’s a cooler day.

“Then go to town wiping away the dirt, dust, and coffee rings that have accumulated over time. Thoroughness is key here; leave no paperweight or knickknack unturned!”

5. Categorize

“Sort items into specific categories based on functionality. Separate those that you use daily from those that are accessed weekly or are sought out only on rare occasions.

“Think of your desk as being within your personal orbit; place the materials you most frequently use within arm’s reach from where you sit or stand. The rest can be located much further afield — in drawers, on shelves, or in bookcases.”

6. Rearrange

“Question why certain things stay in the same place. Is there nowhere else they’d fit, or no spot that’s better suited?

“This stage is especially helpful regarding your laptop; examine your folder hierarchy (or lack thereof) and institute deliberate changes. Rename files so that they fall into chronological order and more accurately describe their contents. Test out your new virtual or physical desk organization to gauge whether it’ll work for you in the longer term.”

7. Maintain

“Commit to preserving your newly organized and clean workspace. Be conscientious of what new items you bring into your home office and think carefully about their placement. Take the time to clean up small messes or toss unneeded mail or paperwork before it begins to pile up. This ongoing attention will save you time and will enable you to continue working in an environment conducive to greater productivity and mental concentration.”

One final note on email.

It’s very easy to fall victim to the trap of never deleting emails because you might need to refer to them again someday. And because emails never stop coming, it’s important to find a method that works for you so you can stay on top of them. That can mean scheduling time each day to read and organize email or making a rule to touch an email only once; whatever your strategy, there are plenty to choose from. The key is finding an effective way to deal with email that you can stick with long term.

“As you figure out your preferred process, take time to also learn about your email or inbox provider’s functions,” writes Melissa Cafiero for Smartsheet. “Many offer the capability to set rules for automated actions (like filing newsletters in a folder or marking items from a specific sender urgent) and all providers should provide a way to organize and set up a filing system. Getting these foundations in place first will help you tackle the mayhem more effectively. Once you’ve identified your filing system, you can begin to sort, flag, and prioritize.”

Another tip Cafiero finds useful is to set aside 15 to 30 minutes each week to unsubscribe from emails. She notes you’ll only need to do it for about a month, depending on the frequency of random emails you receive.

“It can be a painful, rote task, but it pays dividends,” advises Cafiero. “Your future self will be free from unwanted emails that only bog you down — like retailer messages advertising the latest sale or automated job posting alerts you signed up for when you were job-hunting. Remember: If you end up missing anything you unsubscribed from, you can always re-subscribe!”

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