Home Office Primer

Professional organizing expert Matt Baier of Stamford beams when asked how to set up an efficient home office; he lives for this. As a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, he helps clients unclutter their files and streamline their businesses—80 percent of them home-based.

His philosophy is that less is more, so simplify—and clean off your desk. “A work surface is like a computer,” he says. “It can hold a lot of memory, and it can work well for a long time . . . but when it gets overloaded, eventually it will crash. And if you don’t manage your paper, you’ll crash, too.”

“Computers were supposed to make us a paperless society, but what’s happening more and more is that we are printing out our emails,” he says. Baier has a strategy for managing paper (and everything else we surround ourselves with in a home office); he calls it the “target model.”

“Imagine a target with concentric circles and a bull’s-eye,” he says. “Every circle represents something you need—but most of them don’t have to be anywhere near you when you work. In the outermost circle are your archives and your backup supplies. The next one is for reference materials: books, printer, binders and CDs. They should be handy but not in the way. The next ring is for things you need at your fingertips: your computer, telephone and action files.”

What goes in the bull’s-eye? “Nothing,” says Baier. “Because a clear work surface is absolutely the No. 1 organizing tool.”

That said, whether you work out of a suite in the basement or a corner of the kitchen, how do you deal with all that paper?

“Think of it in four stages,” Baier says. “The first is ‘Running’—it’s paper we must take action on. It shouts ‘Pay me!’ ‘Read me!’ ‘Review me!’ The second is ‘Sitting’—this can go into a cabinet but it must be easy to get to. The third is ‘Sleeping’—some of it is very important, some of it we hold onto just in case. It can and should be stored remotely. Finally, there’s ‘Dead’—this is paper that has lost its value.”

Baier guarantees your home office will run smoothly if you categorize everything that comes across your desk in this way—especially your (USPS) mail, which, despite email, just keeps on coming. “I say be as ruthless with your mail as it is with you,” concludes Baier.

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