How to Organize Your Home Office With Lean 5S
In my career as a consultant, I focus on using lean principles and practices to help large organizations save money, reduce waste, develop a better culture and ultimately have more success. These same principles apply to businesses of all sizes, including several of the small businesses that Ariana and I run. For that reason, today we will walk you through how you too can utilize the principles that I use with Fortune 500 companies to help either just get your personal life more organized, or to help your small business as well. Our example today will focus on our home office. We will walk step by step through the progression of our home office over the years and provide detailed information for how and why we organized our home office.
Our Home Office Progression
Office #1: Our Spare Bedroom
We moved into our house in 2007, a year after we graduated college. The house was nothing fancy, a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath ranch. Being that we were engaged with no children, this was more than enough space for us. As a result, we turned one of our spare bedrooms into the office. Fast forward, I decide to invest in real estate and the office quickly becomes overwhelmed with papers, books and everything else needed to run a real estate business. At this point it was just me, but the office was a total mess.
Office #2: Moving to Our Other Spare Bedroom
As time went on we shifted our office into the larger of our 2 spare bedrooms. This was because the bedroom that we moved the office into was larger, so it provided space for a second desk for Ariana as she began assisting with the growing work from the businesses. We also had our daughter Elena on the way, so we needed to turn the smaller room into her nursery. To keep costs low, Ariana took over my desk and I created a low-cost desk by placing an old door over 2 filing cabinets. It was cheap and provided me with plenty of surface area.
With this second office, we began to see the benefits of being organized. The office definitely was overrun with papers still, but we started getting organized. I started using the concept of Getting Things Done [Read our GTD Book Review] and we purchased some office supplies to implement GTD.
Office #3: The Basement Transformation
After Elena was born and we planned for a second child, we realized that we would need both bedrooms for our kids. This meant that we no longer had a place for the office. Given the amount of work we had to support our businesses, we were in vital need of a dedicated office. After much debate, we decided to adjust our basement plans (which originally included an elaborate bar) and relocate the home office down there. Given the scope of our businesses and the amount of time we would be spending in the office, we realized that it would benefit us to invest in some planning and getting furniture and a setup that would really support us. We looked around for new desk options, but couldn’t find what we wanted and the ones that were close were very expensive. After doing many searches, we came across one that we thought would work out great for us (seen below). Essentially it was 2 corner desks with a common middle area.
We carved out a space in our basement, took some measurements, made some adjustments and came up with designs for our own desk. We found a corner desk design with instructions that we liked from Ana White and modified it to double a double corner desk. I then went out, purchased materials and began construction on our “MegaDesk”. After about a week, MegaDesk was complete, we moved everything in and began enjoying out new office.
We loved our new office and it was working out well. But as we approached the end of the first year in the office, all was not well. We initially bought some items to keep our new office clean and organized, but without a consistent system to follow to keep it organized and clean, our new office quickly became disorganized and overrun with paperwork (as seen below).
As we closed out the year and looked to our goals for this upcoming year, it was clear that we would be busy and needed to have an organized office to keep up with everything. So we went through a process called 5S (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) to get our office back in order. Below are some details about each step and how we accomplished them.
The 8 Wastes, In the Context of Our Office
Before we walk through the actual 5S implementation that we did in our home office, it’s important to understand the different types of waste and how having them in your workspace can lead to being less productive and focused.
- Defects – This is equated to re-work. If you do something, then have to do it again, time is wasted and you are not able to do as much. The focus is on doing things right the first time.
- Overproduction – Creating more of a product or thing that is needed, or creating it well before it is needed. The focus is to produce the right amount at the right time.
- Waiting – You are not able to proceed because someone else needs to be done first, or things take too long. The focus is on reducing wait time or eliminating it.
- Non-Utilized Talent – People have a variety of talents. If we are using the wrong people to do the wrongs things and missing out on their talent, we are missing out on being able to produce more value. The focus is on maximizing the use of everyone’s talents.
- Transportation – When things are moved around multiple times. Again, the focus is on reducing or eliminating the need to move things.
- Inventory – “Stuff”. This waste occurs when we have too many materials or products. They pile up and need to be stored, organized and managed. The focus is on reducing inventory to only what is needed.
- Motion – This occurs when people need to do uneccesary movements, such as walking to different places of the office to get or do things. The focus is on reducing/eliminating unnecessary movement.
- Extra-Processing – Doing more than you need. Often times a process may have extra steps that are not needed, but are performed anyways. The focus is only doing what us needed and removing extra steps.
What is 5S?
5S is an organizational strategy that is often used in lean. It was developed in Japan and often used in manufacturing settings, but it can apply in other areas, such as our home office. The main benefits of implementing 5S is a clean and organized workspace that minimizes and exposes waste and make issues very visible so that they can be addressed.
Step #1 – Sort
The Sort step is focused on removing anything that is not needed in your workspace. Our preferred strategy is to take everything out of the office/area. This then creates a “blank slate” and we can focus on only putting back things that we think we will need. We have a pool table next to our home office, so we removed all of the clutter from our office area and put it on the pool table.
Step #2 – Straighten
The Straighten step is now the real organization step. With only having the items in our workspace that we need, this step focuses on putting things in the right place and setting up any organization tools that are needed.
Below you can see a picture of my workspace after we did sort/straighten. As you will notice there is no clutter and everything that remains is sorted and in its place.
To help explain more, below is a detailed view of the workspace and each piece of it.
- TV Remote – We have a 32″ TV on the wall in the space between our two desks. There is nothing worse than not being able to find the remote. So we attached velcro to the remote and mounted it right under the TV.
- Printer/Scanner/Copier – Since we both have a need to use this device, we have placed it in the common area between our two work spaces. This allows us to share it and provides easy access to both of us.
- Wall Paper Organizer – Ideally we scan everything when it is ready to be scanned. But in case we can’t scan something right away, we have a place to store paper until it is scanned. It is labeled “To Scan” so we are both aware of what those papers are for.
- Office Supply Shelf – There are some items that are useful while working but not always needed, such as tape, paper clips, a stapler and scissors. These items have been placed in the window so they are within reach but out of the way when not needed.
- USB Microphone – I use the microphone for recording videos and doing video calls. It is out of the way from daily work but readily available as needed.
- Printer Supplies – We have a common shelf under the printer that has everything we need for the printer, such as various types of paper, envelopes, ink, label maker, etc.
- Paper Shredder – Just like the printer, our paper shredder is shared, so we have it on the floor between both of our workspaces so it is easily accessible.
- Post It Flags – These little flags are invaluable, you never know when you will need to quickly tag something. I keep them on the base of one of my monitors for easy access.
- Post It Notes – In the same regard, it is always useful to have post it notes nearby for quick notes. I have them on the base of my other monitor.
- Daily Kanban Board – We have a larger kanban board to manage our lives and businesses, but I use this board for daily activities. When I sit in the office in the morning, I’ll quickly add the tasks that I need to get done that day to my board.
- Pen Holder – Keeping writing utensils close is key. In order to keep my desk space not cluttered, I have a small pocket mounted to the back of the bookshelf.
- Drink Coaster – Coffee is the key to productivity. Having a coaster means my desk stays clean and my coffee has a permanent spot.
- Filing Cabinet – We have 2 filing cabinets in our office for quick and easy filing of our business paperwork. This cabinet contains paperwork for our real estate business as well as paperwork on each property.
- Open Shelves – Shelves that are not currently occupied but are available for other items that I may need quick access to.
- Open Space – The right side of my desk is open for working with paper or to place my laptop.
Below is a picture of Ariana’s workspace. As you can see, it is drastically different from the earlier picture. We were able to remove all of the clutter and all that is left are the items that she needs on a daily basis.
Just like we did for mine, here is a detailed breakdown of Ariana’s workspace.
- Wall Paper Holders (Inboxes) – We have 4 of these, which act as “inboxes”. The first one is for “Sunday Review”, which is anything that isn’t needed right away and we process once a week on Sundays (read more about our Sunday Review Batching). We then have 1 holder for our real estate business, wine/liquor store business and personal.
- Wall Paper (To File) – Just like we have paper holders for things coming in, we have 1 for things that need to be physically filed. Things go here if we can’t file them right away for some reason.
- Filing Cabinet – We have 2 filing cabinets in our immediate office area. Tom’s is for the real estate business, this one is for our wine/liquor store as well as our personal files.
- Magazine Holder w/ Manila Folders – These contain active “projects” that Ariana is working on or items that we processes ever week (ex. invoices for the store).
- Useful Information – Ariana has some information that she references often. She has cork board on the wall to hang this information. For this one, she has a list of each piece of real estate along with relevant info (rental amount, current tenant, account numbers, etc).
- 32″ TV – We have a TV in our office for a few reasons. The first is to view the security cameras from the store. The second is to screen share when we both need to view something electronically. The third is to watch TV while doing some work, or to allow Elena to watch her shows while we work.
- Useful Information – Ariana has another cork board with useful information. In this case, it is the monthly schedule for the liquor store and important tax related dates for the store.
- Desk Organizer – This contains pens, paper clips, post it notes and other office supplies that she uses often.
- Business Checks – We have physical checks for each business. Since Ariana pays the bills, these are within reach for her.
- “Quick Reference Binder” – These are several things which are useful, but not needed all of the time. For example, postage cost by weight/size. Instead of having these out and cluttering up space, we decided to compile them into an easily accessible binder.
- Labels & Printer Materials – We have several different things that we print, so we keep them all in a tray near the printer for quick and easy access when needed.
- NAS Share & HDD – Storage and backing up information is important. We have a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive and HDD (Hard Disk Drives) to store and backup our files. We also store and backup files to the cloud using Dropbox.
Step #3 – Shine
The shine step focuses on optimizing the workspace. At this point the office should only have what is needed (or we believe is needed) and it should be organized. At this point we look at is the office clean and have what is needed. Are other tools or items needed to really make your office the space you want? Maybe some new furniture, paint, lighting or other tools.
We decided that our office was missing a few things at this point.
- A Whiteboard – Anyone that knows me knows that I love whiteboards, yet we never installed one when we moved the office into the basement. I did some searching and came across this, which is actually a custom glassboard.
Given that the space to the right of my workspace is largely unused, this will be a perfect space to install a glassboard. Look for updates on this in a future blog post.
- Properly Route Ethernet Cable – We have a cable running from our router to the office, which at this point is running down the wall in Ariana’s workspace. We made a note to run this through the wall to clean up the space.
- Outlet Covers – We have several outlets and cut outs in the wall (ex. for a gas turnoff and a water turnoff). We made notes to pick up covers for these.
- Finish Renovation Details – There are some small details that were never addressed before we moved into the office (the final punch list). We have a little bit of caulking and painting to do.
- Pictures/Decorations – Having a clean and orderly office doesn’t mean not making it your own. We have been bad about hanging pictures, so we are going to find some and hang them on the wall space that we are not using.
- Quick Cleaning Kit – There are some common items that are useful for keeping the office clean. Since the office is right next to our laundry room, we are going to put a kit together that contains all of the things we need to keep the office clean.
Step #4 – Standardize
This step focuses on preparing for sustainability. Your office is now exactly how you want it, but will it be that way a few months from now (ours did not). This step is critical to identify how you will keep it they way you want it (clean, not cluttered, etc). Determine areas that could collect clutter or other problems and determine a process to fix/avoid the issues.
For us, this was focused on how does “stuff” come into our office, go through whatever needs to be done with it, and end up in its final state.
Inputs (Things That Come Into Our Office)
To start, it is important to understand all of the things that come into your office that require action. Below was the basic list that we identified.
- Mail – Physical mail is what creates a lot of our paperwork. We receive bills, account statements, marketing material, junk mail, etc.
- Email – We get quite a bit of email as we look across our personal email and our various business emails. Emails could be bills, receipts, actions, marketing material, spam, etc.
- Printer – Whenever we print something, that creates paper that we need to do something with.
Final State (Where Things Will Ultimately End Up)
Once we identify where all of the inputs, we need to identify what are all of the possible end states for those inputs. Below was our list of potential end states.
- Garbage – Anything that we no longer need will get thrown away.
- Filed (Physical) – If we need to keep physical copies of paperwork, we will need to file it away in some sort of cabinet.
- Filed (Electronic) – Part of going “paperless” is filing/storing as much as we can electronically.
- Outside of Office – Some of the items that come into the office may need to leave the office. For example, they may need to go to our store or be given to someone else.
The Workflows (How Each Input Makes It To A Final State)
Now that we know inputs and final states, we have to determine the steps that need to be taken to go from each input to the final state. From a lean perspective this process is commonly known as Value Stream Mapping (VSM), which is essentially what we will do, but very lightweight. A key piece of VSM is removing unnecessary steps (wastes).
- Mail first comes into our house once Ariana or myself bring it in. Currently it ends up either on our kitchen table or one of our desks. We decided to add a new shelf near the door. That way, when we come in, mail can be put on this shelf.
- When one of us goes to the basement office, we can grab the mail from the shelf and take it to the basement. Once in the basement, we will sort it by context and put it in the correct wall paper holder (Real Estate, Liquor Store, Personal). Any junk mail will be shredded at this point.
- When we are working on each business work, we will then review the mail for that business. At that point we will do one of a few things:
- Take an actions now.
- Put it into the “Sunday Processing” container.
- After taking an action, we will then either throw it away, file it, scan it or scan and file it.
- E-mail is a little more difficult to manage, given that we have multiple email addresses and it comes to both Ariana and myself. We have simplified the input by at least having all mail come to either Ariana’s Gmail or my Gmail (see Combine Multiple Email Addresses with Gmail for more information).
- We have tried a few different tools/strategies in the past with mixed success for managing email. One of the common challenges with most of the tools that we use to manage email is that they are outside of our email box. To combat this, we just started using Streak, which is a “CRM, inside Gmail”. We will have a blog post soon on our we are using this system and our experiences/reviews of it. But essentially what we are able to do with Streak is move messages out of our inbox and into a workflow. We configured a workflow for each business and can then manage all of our to-dos through “the pipeline” to get them to “Done”.
This workflow follows the same workflow as physical mail. Paper that is printed goes to the correct inbox and we process it from there.
Step #5 – Sustain
This step focuses on sustaining. Determine how to make your standardization a habit. This is usually the make it or break it for most people. All of the work in steps 1-4 will not provide the full value if you regress to clutter after a short time.
Our sustain strategy consisted of a few aspects:
- Watch for Clutter – When your office is clean, it is clear when clutter starts building up. We have committed to each other to keep an eye out for clutter and bring it up as we see it. When can then identify why the clutter is happening and adjust to avoid it.
- Sunday Review – We are going to keep our Sunday Review and just become more disciplined. We are working on a list of things that need to be done every Sunday (ex. empty all of the inboxes, file anything in the file box, scan anything in the to scan box). This will help us keep on top of things. Additionally, we are makings list of things that need to be done less frequently (ex. once a month, quarter or year) and putting them on the calendar for specific dates.
How Did We Use It? The Final Result
So that was it. It took us a few weeks to go through everything, but we are happy with the results. We know that this is a long post (6,000+ words), but we don’t write “Epic” posts that often, and this is a topic that a vast majority of deal with. Below are just a few more images of the office as it stands at this point.
Our Office Supplies & Tools
The tools we use in our office has evolved (and continues to evolves) over time based on our needs. The important aspect as you look to implement this in your office is to figure out your needs and what tools will work for you. To aid, below is a list and direct links to each of the items that we use in our home office. If you are going through and setting up/organizing your home office, this list may be a good thing to review to see what you may be able to use in your own office.
Dual/Triple Monitors (Viewsonic VX2250wm-LED 21.5″ Monitor – $139) – Tom has triple monitors and Ariana has dual monitors. We both benefits from this as we can see more while we are working, some of which we describe in Why You Should Use Multiple Monitors. We found a great deal and have been happy with our Viewsonic VX2250wm-LED 21.5″ monitors, but you may be able to find some better deals depending on your needs. Also note, if your computer does not have a graphics card that allows multiple inputs, you will need a to purchase a graphics card. We are using EVGA GeForce 6200 graphics card.
- To display the security cameras from our wine and liquor store.
- To display electronic information as we are reviewing it together. Even though our desks are back to back, it is still a pain to try and look over the other person’s shoulder. With the TV, we can switch a display from one of our computers over and discuss it together on a larger screen.
- To watch TV. Sometimes while we are in the office we can catch up on TV shows, or Tom can watch football games on Sunday.
USB Microphone (Blue Snowball USB Microphone – $49) – We use our microphone for a few different reasons.
- Since we don’t have a traditional phone, we will often use Google Hangouts or Skype to do calls/video calls. An external USB microhpone is much better quality than the one built into our computer.
- Recording videos and podcasts. We create video walkthroughs of processes for our employees of different process or steps and keep them in a library for them to reference. We have also been guests on a few different podcasts and use the microphone to record those.
USB Webcam (Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 – $74) – In the distributed world that we live in, we often end up communiting with people across the US and around the world. The webcam allows us much better communication and interatcion with people with we can see them and they can see us. Additionally, when Tom is traveling we can do video calls with him so being away isn’t as difficult.
Printer/Scanner (Canon PIXMA MX922 Printer/Scanner/Copier – $99) – This is an essential tool for our office. Not only is a printer required, but part of our ongoing sustaining strategy to keep clutter down is to scan and electronically store a lot of our paperwork. Our favorite thing about this scanner is that paper can be scanned and stored quickly and without input.
Paper Shredder (Royal 112MX 12 Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder – $61) – The other key component of keeping paper clutter down (as well as security of our sensitive documents) is our paper shredder. We shred lots of our junk mail, as well as all of the paper that we don’t file. For paper that we can and store electronically, we then shred it afterwards.
Label Maker (Brother P Touch Labeling System – $81) – A huge part of staying organized is knowing where everything is and goes. To this end, our label maker has been invaluable. We can quickly print and place labels and clearly see what should go where. This is also useful in many other areas of our house.
Smart Phones (Samsung Galaxy GS5 – $0 – $500) – We refer to our phones as “the office in our pocket”. Combined with the software tools that we describe below, we have access to the majority of the information we need and can do just about anything on the road as we can do in our office.
Laptops (Asus 15.6″ Laptops – $200-$800) – It may seem like overkill (and maybe it is), but both Ariana and I also have laptops in addition to the desktop PCs that we have in our office. We purchased one laptop several years ago so that we could work outside of the office if needed. This works out very well, especially now that we have Elena. By each of us having a laptop, we have the ultimate flexibility in terms of where and when we work, which is essential. Also note, if you already have a laptop, you can often get a docking station or simply hook your laptop up to larger/multiple monitors when working in your office.
Gmail (Free) – Email is an invaluable part of communicating and receiving information. We each have a personal email account with Gmail, and in addition we have configured Gmail so that we can receive and send email from any of our email addresses from Gmail. To learn more about this, check out Combine Multiple Email Addresses with Gmail.
Google Voice (Free) – Google Voice will give you a free phone number, which can save your business some money. In addition, it allows many benefits such as being able to ring to multiple phones, voice to text (which is still pretty poor) and having a complete history of every call (see our full review of Google Voice).
DropBox (2 GB Free – 1 TB $10/month) – Dropbox is a free cloud storage solution. There are many other cloud storage solutions out there, but to us Dropbox is the best. With the free plan you get some space (granted less than others), but you can increase that amount by referring others. If you end up needing more space (we did as our businesses grew and we went paperless), the monthly rates are a reasonable business expense. Having all of our files available on our all of our devices at all times is critical, truly allowing us to work anywhere.
Google Drive (15 GB Free – 1 TB $10/month) – Although we prefer Dropbox, we also use Google Drive for cloud storage. Everyone who has a Gmail account gets 15 GBs for free, and it has additional benefits like being able to have multiple people collaborate on a document at once.
WordPress/BlueHost (Domain Free, Hosting $4/month) – We have multiple websites setup, for both personal and business use. We use WordPress to create the websites and BlueHost to register the domains and host them. This combination has been so cheap and easy that it is what we recommend to everyone else who is looking to start a blog/website. Check out our How to Setup WordPress in 10 Minutes and The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Website/Blog for more information and instructions on how to get started.
Keepass (Free or Donation) – If you are like us, you have a lot of accounts and password. It is very difficult to keep track of them all, and it is not very secure to use the same one. We have been using Keepass for years. It is a password management tool that creates very secure passwords based on the criteria you set, then stores them for later reference. There may be better software out there for this purpose now, but we are happy with this one.
There are many common items that you would expect to see in an office, as well as some unexpected or things you haven’t thought of. Below is a list of most of these items that we have in our office. Remember, you may already have many of these items, and only purchase the ones that you truly need. Also, these items don’t have to be boring. Add a little of your personality to your office. For example, our drink coasters are Buffalo Bills (please hold back your comments on how great this team is, at least I am a loyal fan).
Desk ($20 – $2,000) – We custom build MegaDesk as we mentioned above to fit out needs, spending ~$200 on materials and probably 10 hours worth of work. Whether you keep the cost low by putting placing a door over 2 filing cabinets (like I did in our second office) or go out and purchase a pre-made desk to fit your needs, it’s important to have a dedicated area to work. As you have seen with us, this space may need to evolve over time to meet your growing needs.
Garbage Cans ($5 – $20) – One of the final states for items in your office is throwing things away, so it is essential to have at least one garbage can. We have 2, one under each of our desk.
Bookshelves ($20-$200) – We have 4 bookshelves in our office and a ton of books. Having bookshelves for us keeps all of our books close (for reference) and also acts as a partition for our office.
File Cabinets ($30-$150) – Most offices have file cabinets. We use them for mid to long-term file storage. I also initially used them along with a door to make a make-shift desk in our second office.
Manila Folders ($9 per 100) – There is a reason that you find these in every office. From short-term grouping and storing of papers to long-term filing, manila folders are cheap and useful.
Post It Notes ($1-2) – These are one of our most useful items. We both have them at out desk. They are quick and easy to use. We use them for brainstorming, annual goal planning/tracking, quick notes to each other, etc.
Scotch Tape Dispenser ($3) – Every office needs scotch tape. It’s such a huge benefit to have it in a dispenser for each access.
Stapler ($7) – Just like scotch tape, every office needs a stapler.
Scissors ($8) – Scissors are another office staple that every office just needs.
Paper Clips ($7) – There is nothing more useful for quickly compiling and grouping stacks of paper.
Pencil Holder ($8) – There are some things that you just need within reach (pencils, pens, post it notes, etc). Having a little storage unit like this organizes them all in 1 place.
Drink Coasters ($10) – Staying hydrated (and caffeinated) are important as you work, just make sure you don’t ruin your desk furniture by having some nice coasters.
Other Potential Items
Wall File Storage ($15) – These are useful for organizing papers/inputs and keeping these items off of your desk. We use them extensively as part of our workflow.
Stackable Storage Bins (Various Sizes – $5-$15) – These bins are great for storing various office supplies. They come in various sizes, can be labeled and the contents are visible as well. We use these for everything from ink to electronic cables, and they are great for organizing other parts of our house (outside of our office).
Binders ($1-$3) – These binders are great. We use them to store many of the documents that we print but want somewhat accessible. We can store them in one of the shelves in our desk, or they easily store on the bookshelves on the other side of Tom’s wall.
3 Hole Punch ($8) – Storing papers in binders will not be too successful without being able to punch holes in them. A basic 3 hole punch will do the trick.
Magazine Holders ($2-$4) – These holders are again useful for either in your desk area or in storage. Ariana uses these for her active projects with manila folders, while I use these to actually store magazines that I need to read.
Hanging File Folders ($8 per 25) – These folders work great in filing cabinets for storing and organizing paperwork. The bonus of using different colors makes certain groupings of folders quickly identifiable.
Post It Flags/Page Markers ($5) – These are the best items that I never knew I wanted. They are useful for tagging important pages in books/magazines, as well as noting where I need to sign on paperwork. Ariana will prepare paperwork that needs to be signed and place a flag over each signature area.
Envelope/Brochure Holder ($6) – These are very useful for storing envelopes. We have pre-printed envelopes next to our check binders, and also have one for outgoing mail.
Letter Opener ($5) – When you open the amount of mail that we do, a simple gadget like this will save you time and paper cuts.
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Let’s See Your Office!
Reading a blog is one thing, but it is worthless if you don’t take action. Our challenge to all of you is to take a look around your workspace and make some improvements. If you do, please comment below and let us know what you did. For bonus points, we love to see before/after pictures of your office.