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Making Your Work Space Work

Now is the time to put everything into place. Your goal? Fingertip management of everything you do. The way to get there? Blueprint your workspace. You may not be an architect, but anyone can benefit from drawing up a floor plan to find the most productive office placement. You may discover a new way to face your desk for better concentration, hidden space for another file cabinet, or a nifty arrangement to put all your reference books within reach.

Drawing up the blueprint

One great way to organize your office is to blueprint it, to scale. Mark the windows and doors, and create furniture cutouts. Add cutouts in a different color to represent equipment.

Start playing with placement of your cutouts on your floor plan to come up with one or more schemes that put each task within easy reach.

  • Purge: Get rid of all unused or ill-suited furniture and equipment. Distracting artwork can be donated or go elsewhere.
  • Like with like: Line up your file cabinets. Find one spot for all your books. Create work centers for different activities by grouping together everything you need for a task.
  • Access: Arrange your workspace by placing furniture and equipment in a parallel, L-shape, or U-shape layout for better fingertip management.

• A parallel layout places furniture in two lines opposite each other — most frequently a desk and a computer workstation, credenza, bookcase, or file cabinet. Parallel layouts provide a space-efficient floor plan for jobs requiring a limited number of references and resources.

• For an L-shaped layout, furniture is arranged in two perpendicular lines to create a semi-enclosed space. Instead of turning a full 180 degrees from one side to the other as in the parallel layout, you swivel just 90 degrees from the desk to the bookcase, cabinet, credenza, or computer.

• U-shaped puts most resources within reach. You may have a desk and computer or drafting table parallel to each other, with a bookcase or file cabinet forming the base of the U. Don't need a computer station or worktable? Put a file cabinet parallel to the desk and a bookcase at the base.

    The printer should be as near the computer as possible, while the fax may be farther away. Move infrequently used equipment, reference materials, and supplies to another room. Do you have extra supplies? Return them to the supply room or cabinet.
  • Contain: Put files into file cabinets and books into bookcases or credenzas. Use overhead cubicle bins for binders, computer programs, or extra stationery. Under-desk drawers can keep supplies off the countertop. Finally, make sure you have a way to contain everything — for instance, add a credenza for the books and binders currently stacked on top of your workstation.
  • Evaluate: How do you feel when you walk into your office in the morning? How does your flow go in the thick of a project or stressful situation? How do you feel when you leave your office at the end of the day?

Using space effectively

Here are some more tricks of the trade to fine-tune your space once you decide on the pieces of furniture you need and arrive at a basic layout.

Use the space beneath windows by placing a desk, short bookcase, or two-drawer file cabinet there.

Windows aside, move the desk out toward the center of the room to slip a credenza, bookcase, or file cabinet behind it. However, don't face your desk to the wall. Feng shui, the ancient Asian philosophy of flow, and many a worker can vouch that this placement can wall up your thinking and make you susceptible to scares when people walk up behind you. Like you need more stress in your day?

Don't face your desk directly out the door. Suddenly every passerby becomes a pleasant distraction, which becomes a major interruption when a colleague catches your eye and decides to tell you about her weekend tennis match. Place your desk perpendicular to the door, out of view of people passing by, for the right combination of concentration and control.

Take a ruler and measure your files from front to back to assess how many inches of storage space you need. Allow room (1 to 2 inches) for growth.

Allow clearance to pull out file cabinet drawers to double the cabinet's depth. Typical file cabinet dimensions are:

  • Vertical: 15 inches (letter) or 18 inches (legal) wide by 21 inches to 36 inches deep.
  • Lateral: 36 inches (letter) or 42 inches (legal) wide by 18 inches deep.

Use four-drawer file cabinets to maximize your vertical space or two-drawer cabinets to provide an additional surface on which to put equipment or collate papers. The top drawer of a five-drawer model is basically only good for binders and books because the top drawer is too high to see files.

After you get your desk and file cabinets situated, add guest chairs and possibly a table to your layout, if appropriate.

Got a closet in a home office? A closet is a natural place to store supplies, especially if you add built-in or freestanding shelves. Remember to put your heaviest items — reams of paper and so forth — on lower shelves or the floor.

Natural light from windows provides a great mood boost, but can create glare when sunlight shines directly on a computer screen. Light placement is a particular concern if you work with art or design.

Give your interior design and the artwork on your walls the eye. Is the effect pleasant and harmonious, or distracting or distressing? A beautiful environment can bring out your best, but anything that your eye fixes on long or that you don't like can drag you down. Toss, donate, relocate, redo.

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