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Many dream of being able to work from home. What could be better than getting up, throwing on sweats and being there for your kids when they need you? It sounds ideal, but with the demands of family and business, we need to be as organized as possible in order to be productive.

The key is to keep your work area separate from the "family" areas of the house. Otherwise, your office can easily become a sea of paperwork, toys, kids' snacks and files. The disorganization can make you feel like you're spinning your wheels. A separate area not only helps you stay organized by keeping the chaos out, but also helps you focus and gives you the feeling you're "at work."

As you set up your office space, keep reference materials close at hand. As most of us know, the further we stray from our desks to find something, the greater the chance of being distracted by something else that needs attention in the house.

It may take awhile to get things in order, but set time aside to get it done. Start by creating categories. Use this system to put things in piles and make the necessary files. Once it's in order, obviously the goal is to keep it that way. If being organized has been a struggle for you all your life, there'll be a learning curve and a new habit to develop.

Now that you have your physical work space in order, you're ready to start a life of organization. Use the filing system you set up for your paper files as a template for your computer and email files. To begin, use the "one-touch rule" when reading emails or opening mail. After reading the information, file it in your email or computer folders, or delete it. This will prevent things from piling up in your inbox, and you'll be able to access the information easily when you need it.

At the end of each day, it's helpful to clean off your desk. Decide what should be filed, tossed or set in an in-tray to be handled tomorrow. But you should look through the in-tray each day, so nothing settles to the bottom of the tray to be forgotten. Having a clean desk gives you a fresh start the following day because you don't get overwhelmed by clutter.

Do you find receipts tucked in a drawer, your pocket or your purse? Use bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks to stay on top of expenses and income. Create a folder to hold receipts and payments, and schedule time each week to enter them. This is important, so you are aware of your bank balance and are prepared when quarterly taxes are due. You'll also find that tax season becomes a snap.

Finally, schedule work hours. This may require hiring someone to watch the kids for "x" number of hours per day or week. But it helps provide focus time and it shows your family that this is your work time and you're "hands off."

Getting yourself organized adds value to many levels of your business. You're more productive, which also sends a message to your customers that you have your act together. Organizational skills for work can also transfer into other areas of your life. You'll find you can reduce stress when you put aspects of your life in order and get out from under the pile of paper.