Running any kind of business out of the home is never easy. There always seem to be so many potential distractions, including well-meaning friends who think that because you are at home means you’re available; spouses who see no problem with you running errands during the work day; children who expect you at their beck and call, particularly in the summer; and a mountain of household chores that call from nooks and crannies.
But I’m preaching to the choir.
We all know the problems. Now, what are some solutions?
Over the years, I’ve found the following 5 items to be mandatory to maintaining my schedule, my professionalism, and my sanity.
- A good calendar: to keep all my projects and appointments organized. I used to be exclusively paper, before I had any technology that enabled me to go beyond the calendar on my desk. One year I used one of those large blotter-type calendars, but soon found that was inconvenient to take with, so the next year I switched to a book type, two pages per month, that laid flat on my desk. But I struggled to take that one with me. So last year I upgraded my cell phone and am now using that calendar exclusively, except I still have a paper one on my desk where I track my blog activity and other in-office things, such as newsletter dates and birthdays. I only take the paper calendar with me when I travel, because otherwise I’m in the office every day and can check if there’s something I need to attend to. In my cell phone calendar, which I also sync with my husband’s cell phone and my tablet, I color code each activity. Coordinating calendars is imperative, and you and whoever you coordinate with should make a commitment not to add anything without checking the calendar first. You might prefer an online calendar such as Google calendar: https://calendar.google.com/calendar or Windows Calendar: http://www.wincalendar.com/desktop-calendar . There are plenty of online choices.
- A digital filing system: Since I’m old school, I learned to create and use paper filing systems, and honestly, my digital filing system closely mimics a paper system. I create a major “filing cabinet”, such as Business, then I create subfolders that I treat like “drawers”, such as “Writing”, “Accounting Stuff”, “Government Stuff”, and so on. In each “drawer”, I then create subfolders that are like “sections”. So in the “Writing Drawer”, I have “Editing Clients”, “Non-Fiction”, “Fiction” sections, for example. And so on, down to the final folder with the piece of information I am saving. I store all of this in a section of my computer called “My Files”. There is only data in this section. No downloaded files. No programs. Nothing with an .exe extension that could interfere with my data files. Software should be installed in “Program” folders, and any programs you download from the internet should be stored in “Downloaded Program” folders, all kept separate, so there is less chance of one corrupting the other.
- A backup system: I back up “My Files” on a regular basis. In reality, these are the only files that are changed on a regular basis. Program files are either on disk or accessible online, so you don’t need to keep backing them up.
- An external drive for photos: If you’re anything like me, I take thousands of pictures. To keep them safe and not clutter up–and therefore slow down–your computer, I store mine on an external hard drive. I sort them into folders by their subject matter, then into subfolders by their location. For example, I have a folder called “old houses and mansions”, and in that folder, subfolders such as “Avery House”, “Harvey House”, and so on. In the “Avery House” folder, I have several folders because I’ve been there a couple of times.
- A deadline white board: I keep this propped up on my desk, and I make notes of things I specifically need to do today and this week, with an estimated time to complete. Here is a picture of a recent board. I can add, cross off, erase when done, change the due date when necessary, leave an item there to deal with later, such as with an editing client who I’ve sent work back to and am waiting for their next installment. And the coolest thing of all is I can take a picture of the board when I’m going to be out of the office for a few hours or days, and I have my To Do list with me.
I’d love to hear about your must-have organizing tools. Leave a comment and share with us!
Donna lives in Denver with her husband Patrick, who is her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She has published four cozy mysteries and a devotional for accountants under her pen name, and a collection of short stories, a book on writing tips, and several devotionals under her own name. She is currently under contract with Barbour Books in a novella collection on the Pony Express. Donna is a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She will be teaching an online course for American Christian Fiction Writers in March 2017, “Don’t let your subplots sink your story”. Donna loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and online at: www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com and www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com. Her books are available at Amazon.com in digital and print.