10 Home Office Systems Essential to Entrepreneur’s Productivity
One of the keys to an entrepreneur’s success is developing strong home office systems! And one of the most important ways to stay organized is not just setting up your home office space, but designing the systems to maintain it all, exactly for your organizing style! Your home business needs many things in place to maintain productivity and success. One of the best ways to get more productive and get your office working is to focus on your key business systems.
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Here are the ten most essential systems to help kick start your organized office, or get yourself back into control.
1. Create Your Work Action/Control Center
One of the first Home Office Systems to create is a ‘Command Central’ that contains everything you need, 90% of the time. The most effective setup enables you to get what you need within arms reach. Some productivity experts refer to this as your control panel (borrowing an aviation analogy). It’s also important to make a note – if your time is split between an office and mobile location, you may need to build redundancy and/or portability into your Action Center or create a mobile office in your vehicle.
I once worked with a pharmaceutical sales manager who struggled to stay organized, while porting her son back and forth to activities in the same vehicle she used for work. We created an Action Center that rode in the passenger seat of her car, which she could remove when she had to make room for her passengers. By creating file names and redundant systems in her mobile office she was able to port things in and out of her car to her customer locations, and into her home office. This made it so much easier for her to stay organized.
2. Contact Management System
You need a way to funnel all your contacts into one place that allows information to be easily tagged and retrieved. And, the sooner you do this, the better. Online contact management systems have made this easy, and as productivity apps and tools have become more universal, often synchronizing has become a pleasant automatic surprise. We recently purchased a new car with onboard phone technology. On my first voyage, I was able to instantly sync my phone, and my entire electronic database was available from the drivers’ seat!
To make your home office system work you’ll need a way to manage incoming leads and sales prospects. Tools like Teamzy, 17-Hats, Dubsado, Streak, Monday, Thryv, and honey book are business game-changers. Any of these tools can easily work as your Lead Capture System to gather prospect’s names and information.
Handling Outdated Business Cards
If you’ve been sitting on piles of old business cards, it’s likely time to purge. Many people have moved to electronic data sharing. If you’re sitting on a stack of old business cards and you haven’t done anything YET with those cards, chances are – you won’t. Even if you do, the effort and time to reconnect and input their information may not be worth it. Old contacts are old. Face it, the connection made was not followed through. So, chances are if you haven’t kept up with a casual, one-time acquaintance you have my permission to let that card go. In fact, it would be surprising if you even remember what the person looked like. (Sorry to break the news to you.)
Remember, contacts are not about accumulation – they are about building relationships with people who trust and will refer you to others. If you have a mad stash – it’s okay to throw those old, unrecognizable business cards away… you have my permission.
3. Money Management System
To make a home-based business work, you need an easy and reliable way to track sales (income) and expenses. Additionally, if you have a product-based company, you’ll need to track and manage your inventory, and orders. And if you have a service-based industry, you’ll need to create a way to track and manage your client data and information. So your Money Management System should track all your sales, profit, expenses and finances.
Although many entrepreneurs get assistance with their ‘numbers’ from contracted, licensed professionals, efficiency should be a goal for your Home Office Money System. It’s good to think your process through so you can create a workflow to track your finances, incoming flow, and outgoing expenses and stay on top of what is happening in your business on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Money is about flow, and the better you track it, the more shows up!
4. Your Home Office Communications System
Your communication system handles all different types of communication that come in and out of your business. It’s important to design a communication home office system to easily manage incoming messages and turn them into tasks, contacts or projects. A successful, productive communication system helps you process, attend to, sort, categorize, retain and retrieve information easily.
When a new message comes in, your home office system should allow you to focus on ONE thing (the very next action). When processing an incoming message ask: “Do I need to take action on this item? ” If yes, you’ll need to build a process that allows you to manage it and remind yourself of it. If your office system doesn’t allow you to act on messages, you’ll soon be lost in the never-ending email sea.
Your goal should be to figure out the best way to get to Email (or message) homeostasis. If you can process all incoming mail daily, adding important tasks to your list, you have a winning formula. If your communication system is missing key elements, return to the list of skills above, and discover your skills/systems gaps. A breakdown is likely lurking amidst those skills listed. When you uncover the breakdown area, build a repeatable routine to solve for it and you’ll be on the path to email-zero! Ahhhhh…
One of the best ways to consistently communicate with your fans is to create an email newsletter. These days, many people feel inundated, but a good connection who needs your services will be happy to receive useful information regularly.
To build a working home office system for outgoing messages, consider creating a valuable free offer. Free offers are compelling for your ideal clients, consumable via email, and desireable enough that ideal prospects will be willing to trade their email in exchange for your offer. Using a free offer to seed your newsletter list is an excellent way to build your following.
You’ll want to build your home office communication system as soon as you can. If you start now, you can enhance your system later. But if you wait, you may miss out on new connections.
5. Inventory, Storage and Spaces for Tools & Supplies
Storage is a very important element of an organized office. And nothing beats a well-organized home and office to keep you productive and on track! When determining your need for inventory storage areas, it’s important to distinguish between your tools and supplies.
- Tools are what you use daily to get your work done – including hardware, software and may include office supplies such as stationery, pens and a stapler.
- Supplies are distinguished as ‘back up’ tools and resources that need to be periodically replenished.
One of the best ways to feel more organized in your home office is to separate any overflow supplies, from your working tools and supplies. To accommodate overages, create a space to hold overflow, take an inventory and post it. This will save you from your tendency to wander around office supply stores, dropping items in the cart that you don’t need.
One of my past clients had a Hopper Time Style Preference, and he would move through his house with his laptop-based on his biological need to move to stay in the flow. At times he’d work at a desk, then move to the dining room, then move up to the study. He always complained about feeling disorganized – and as a result of his work style, he had a trail of supplies sequestered in each closet throughout his house, (just in case he needed something).
We relocated ALL of his supplies and tools to one area, converted a walk-in closet – and he finally figured out how much he had. As a result, not only did he finally have a container for his vast inventory of back up supplies, everything was then labeled, and he saved hundreds of dollars by not repurchasing already-existing supplies.
So if you’re guilty of over purchasing supplies, it’s time to sequester your supplies into one centralized, convenient, inventoried and organized location. This one step is an easy way to organize a home office system for tools and supplies. It’s a simple project that will really help.
6. Incoming Decision/Paper Processing Center
Whether your office is the kitchen table, a closet, or a corner suite, you need an easy home office system to help you process incoming paper. The best way to track papers is with a ‘Dispatch Center’ designed to support all your high-level decisions. This area should also have an already-set-up way to manage trash, discards, and anything that requires shredding.
To get started, create a simple 3 folder system: File, Act, Contact. This will allow you to easily sort the incoming papers into their ‘next phase’. Just build time into work those folders to empty weekly. OR – If your business requires ongoing tasks, an action center is often helped by creating ‘Action Files’ for those tasks. Create folders for each action, labeled appropriately for commonly repeated tasks such as Pay, Call, Waiting on someone, Weekly, In Process, and File. The most critical part is that this system should be meaningful to YOU. If you’re trying to copy someone else’s system, it’s likely NOT going to work as well as designing a system around your unique business’ needs and your unique work style.
7. Master Calendaring and Scheduling Home Office System
Calendaring and scheduling are two home office systems that handle very similar tasks but are unique. Calendaring includes ways to remind, and time-activate your appointments. A scheduling system is what you and others use toe assign your time. Both home office systems are critical to your success.
Therefore figuring out a way to manage your daily schedule and tasks will be important. Too many entrepreneurs try to bounce between several calendars and schedules, and invariably lose data, dates, appointments, and contacts in the madness. Decide on what calendar system best serves you, and move over to it – consistently. Be sure to remember that planning, scheduling, and reminding are ALL distinctly different skills than managing and working your list of tasks. Yes, they all work together, but your calendar is best used to schedule meetings, appointments, and reminders.
Consequently, it’s important to separate tasks into a separate home office system. Many entrepreneurs schedule ‘time blocks’ used for certain ‘tasks’ you need to regularly accomplish. For instance, I have a recurring appointment to remind me when to do laundry, garbage and stop to make dinner. I also block recurring time for many business tasks.
Another home office system that simplifies scheduling time with others is an automatic scheduler that links to your public calendar. Some examples of scheduling tools are TimeTrade, Calendly and vCita. I love my online scheduling tool because it saves me so much time and hassle.
8. Project Planning & Management Home Office System
One of the essential ways to manage your home office systems is to implement a way to manage projects. o make sure you track all projects that run behind the scenes, you need home office systems that are easy and retrievable. As the world has become more mobile, so have business apps. There are some amazingly useful apps out there – and many offer robust support for free. You’ll need a way to brainstorm, write down, collate, plan and manage your bigger projects. For this, I work from broad to specific.
I love online tools such as Asana, and Trello that help you ‘dump’ your ideas into a repository that is easy to find. These apps are also universally available to everyone on your team. They’re flexible enough that you can easily add, organize and time-activate tasks. Online tools automatically assign, update and remind remote team members as well. I have used Asana successfully to support my business and personal projects. This online app is an essential home office system.
9. Home Office Task Management System
Any business needs a home office system to manage tasks. If you’ve only used a to-do list, you may never have considered task management as an essential home office system. And, as is the case with many productivity practices, there are many ways to manage your tasks. Since each person is different, you’ll need to know your style and tweak your task management system until you find your sweet spot.
Task management is highly personal and is best suited to your natural habits and styles. If you love capturing and managing tasks in a list, NO ELECTRONIC APP will ‘feel’ the same as an old fashioned list. Basically, DO what works for you. It’s important that your system captures tasks and reminds you to push them forward when incomplete.
You may need a hybrid task management system
The other trick to a working Task Management system is to be sure it fits for you and helps keep you on track. I think I’ve tried just about everyone out there, and I have to say – although I am a huge Asana fan to capture my ideas and plan them out, I still gravitate back to a daily hand-written to-do list. When I’ve attempted to drop a paper planner, it never has felt the same. I like to write things down because it helps me remember. It’s my comfort and style to use paper. Writing on paper helps me remember and provides a solid anchor. SO I’ve incorporated a paper planner with checklists to capture and prioritize my daily tasks.
Your home office systems can be unconventional
You may prefer a blend of electronic systems, reminders and Action Files. Action files should be intuitively labeled with the daily actions you take to keep your business going. Because task management will be an essential home office system to master, consider several approaches.
- For cyclical responsibilities consider using 1-31’s. This system assigns a file folder to each day of the month. Within, you’ll store tasks and reminders for the calendar day.
- If you manage tasks weekly, you could consider consolidating tasks into a 5 folder system that coordinates with the weeks in a given month. Since some months have 4 weeks, and others have 5, you’ll create a folder for 5 weeks. To be sure your system works, label the folders Week 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 accordingly. You’ll use them to store tasks that will be handled during that week in a given month.
Remember there is no right or wrong way. Your success will be to design a system that allows you to capture tasks, prioritize, and find what you need as you work. It’s also important to work ONE system for at least three weeks before deciding if it works for you. Whatever you choose, be sure you’re willing to work consistently.
10. Home Office Information Storage & Retrieval Systems
Although many productivity efforts focus on information storage and retrieval, it remains only ONE home office system. In order to synthesize the workings of a productive office, consider how you manage information. To be sure your filing meets the essential needs of your business, create files (or a or a home office filing system) for the important information in your business.
Your information storage and retrieval system is another way to name your home office filing system. To be most functional, it should include folders for reference, vital/essential information, legal files, and quick access records. Look for ways to encode, categorize and store files so they are easy to retrieve and accessible when you need them.
Remember that some people prefer to ‘see’ their filing systems, while others prefer to have these systems ‘behind closed doors’. Whatever your style preference, it’s essential to create easy-to-understand file naming constructs and stay consistent.
Regardless of your Space Style Preference, you want to feel organized. To do so you must know what you have, have what you need, and be able to find it when you need it! So it is important to establish the 10 essential home office systems every entrepreneur needs for success.
Most electronic systems have incredibly robust search tools so don’t start there. Instead work your way through the systems listed above and create them around your needs, style and space. Remember to LABEL all your folders before you fill them with items. Without labels, filed information disappears.
Although the 10 home office systems above are a great start, this is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started. Or use it to refocus and re-purpose in your home office. If you want additional guidance on setting yourself up for success, click here to discover a quick-start program to get your mom-run business set up for success!
Of the home offie systems above, which are the areas that need to be remedied for you to be more productive? Please share your comments and ideas below, and share this post with others who may benefit!