Find More Time by Organizing Your Writing Space

by Michelle Jean Hoppe


Have you ever:

  • wished for more time in the day?
  • walked into your writing area and right back out because of all the clutter on your desk?
  • lost important papers or files?
  • had difficulty finding a reference book amidst the stacks on your office floor?

Unfortunately, we can't add hours to our days, but we can add time.  How?  By setting up an organized work space.  By efficiently filing and storing your papers, you will gain more time and be more productive.  You will spend less time searching, which will in turn give you more time to do what you love--write.

How can you have a more productive work space?  The first thing you must do is set aside a space in your home specifically for writing.  Whether it's in a corner of the bedroom, a desk in the family room, or your very own den, the space must be yours alone. Designate the space for writing-related tasks only. If you try to mix too many unrelated tasks in with your writing, you will create chaos.  Remember, writing is your business.  It's not household bills, or postcard reminders to call the vet, or your mother's lasagna recipe.  Set your space up as a professional writing area. 

How do you organize the existing clutter?  Set aside a day or two to do nothing except sorting and filing.  If you can't spend a day doing this, then break the task into smaller parts.  Start, for example, with your desktop one day.  Move on to your filing cabinet the next.  Then work on the stacks of books and papers on the floor.

When sorting through your papers, start with piles such as "To Do", "To File", "Toss", "Store", "Move to Another Room", etc.  Look at each paper for no more than ten seconds.  As you are doing this, try to remember if you already have this item stored on your computer and a back-up disk.  If so, toss the item. Once the piles are established, you can do more specific sorting. 

This is when you'll need file folders.  Use color-coded folders for easy spotting.  For example, use a different color for each project, or a different color for each area of writing, such as Research, Writing, Submissions, Contests, Promotion,  or Organizations.  If you don't think you'll remember what each color stands for, type out a list to paste to the outside of your file cabinets. 

Within each category, file papers alphabetically or numerically.  For example, use a "To Do" folder for current, pressing projects such as bills to pay or submissions to follow up on.  Place papers in folder according to due date, with the earliest in front for easiest visibility.  Do the same for Contests, filing the forms by entry deadline, then by finalist announcement date once they're submitted.  Or sort by name of contest.  Whatever system you use, choose one that will work logically for you when looking for a paper later.

After you've sorted through your papers and placed them in folders, label the folder tabs with a label maker or permanent marker.  You now have an idea of how much filing space you'll need.  Buy a filing cabinet small enough to suit your needs, but large enough to allow for expansion. You may want to buy two smaller units, one to keep current materials near your desk, and one to place off to the side.

Once the paper work is sorted, start on supplies.  What do you really need close at hand?  What do you use every day that needs to be within easy reach?  Most likely, this will be your pens, pencils, letter opener, stapler, paper clips, back-up disks, etc.  Place those items within easy reach on your desk, preferably in an organizer.  The only files that should be on your desk are ones that require immediate attention.  Otherwise, place in a file folder off to the side. 

For supplies you use on a regular basis, but not daily, such as mailing envelopes, stamps, extra sticky-notes, etc., place them within easy reach, such as on a rolling cart near your desk. Spare ink cartridges or printer paper, which is accessed only occasionally, should be stored farther from your desk, but remain handy.  Files and binders of research material no longer active should be stored off site, either in a closet, the basement, or another room.  Clearly label all boxes so you can easily find what you may need later.  Be sure to toss old or broken items, and give away anything you no longer use, but is still in good condition.

Again, you should now have an idea of what your storage needs are.  Buy file drawers or bookcases for office supplies and equipment.  Perhaps you even have an old dresser in the basement that's not being used.  The drawers are handy for holding anything from extra paper clips to reams of paper.  Buy a unit large enough to store your needs, with room for expansion.  Always have extra supplies on hand, such as ink cartridges, so you don't run out in the middle of an important project. 

To maintain a productive area, sift through your files and supplies on a regular basis.  Toss outdated entry forms, old newsletters (after tearing out the articles you wish to keep--and file!), and first drafts.  Create new folders for new ideas or items, and toss folders you no longer need.  Keep an eye on your supplies.  Rather than run out to the store every time you use something up, keep a sheet of paper on your supply cabinet  on which you can write what is used up or running low.  Then call your office supply store for a delivery (many deliver free after a certain dollar amount), or take a trip to the store yourself. But don't go overboard!  Buy only what you need, and only what you have room for.

Remember, a neat office is a productive office. And a productive office gives you more time to write.



Organize Yourself! by Ronni Eisenberg and Kate Kelly, Macmillan, 1997

Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, Henry Holt & Co., 1998

Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin, Storey Books, 2002

For more resources on Organizing, see the "Writer's Resources" section on our Researching the Romance page.

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Copyright 2004, Michelle Jean Hoppe