clean office
Photo: Dave Lauridsen
To gear up for O's tenth anniversary in May, we're doing a series of makeovers. This month organizing guru Peter Walsh helps one reader whip her workspace into shape.
Case Study #7
Name: Joanna Wilson
Age: 25
Occupation: Photographer

Joanna Wilson, 25, has an enviable problem: Her photography business is steadily growing—but that means she's steadily outgrowing the office she set up in her living room. To help her get a handle on the burgeoning chaos, we paired her with organizational guru Peter Walsh (pictured), author of Enough Already! Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You.

He starts by asking Joanna what works. The desk is big enough for two computers, she says, and that allows her fiancé to help out. She likes that the desk's height means she can stand to review photos. As Peter looks around, Joanna is honest about the mess. "It's hard to find things," she says, pointing at piles. "There's software. There's CDs. The desk gets cluttered fast—stuff explodes all over the house."

Uncontained business "stuff" creeping into living rooms, kitchens, and guest rooms is a common problem for people who work at home, says Peter. "They either treat their business as a hobby and don't give it the space and resources it needs or, like Joanna, ignore anything that doesn't directly generate profits."

But time spent looking for things instead of pursuing new leads does affect the bottom line, says Peter. A 2008 study found that if people regularly tidied their homes and offices, most would gain between 16 minutes and one hour a day when they could be working (that's four to 15 days a year). Like many of Peter's clients, Joanna believes her biggest challenge is a lack of space. Peter disagrees. "Most office cubicles are less than 64 square feet—not exactly palatial," he says. "Your desk should be like the driver's seat of a car: only crucial items within arm's reach. Most people need a computer, a phone, pens, paper, maybe a printer below. That's it."

Peter asks Joanna to break down her job in terms of tasks, which she does easily: scheduling new shoots, photo review and retouching, and invoicing. Joanna mentions that she hopes to bring in an intern soon who'd have her own space.

This information helps Peter decide how to proceed. Instead of one large desk, he brings in two. The one on the right is Joanna's home base, where she'll do her booking and photo retouching. He assigns the materials she needs for billing—a task she does weekly—to the left desk (in the future, she can put an intern here). In between he places a drafting table; it's high enough to clear the radiator and allow Joanna to stand while reviewing photographs.

In less than a day, they've altered the space. When O follows up a few weeks later, Joanna swears she's gotten religion: She's working more efficiently and seeing how her new skills will give the business a boost. "An added bonus," she says, "is that I'm not thoroughly embarrassed by the space anymore!"

Check out Joanna's office: From cluttered to clean

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