5 Easy Office Organization Tips
To improve your office organization, focus on task reminders, labels, and lists.
If you walked into my office, you could reasonably assume I am a lawyer on the run. The surface of my desk is often immaculate, my email inbox ranges from light to empty, and my hard copy files rest in my bookcase when not in immediate use.
For those who wish to keep legal practice chaos from transforming documents into furniture covers, and from straining their email inboxes beyond capacity (if such a thing were possible), I have some simple wisdom to share.
1. Put it away now.
I often see colleagues set documents and emails aside to handle later. Though big-picture thinking requires that you prioritize, you don’t have to keep non-priority documents on your desk, and emails in your inbox, until you have time to address them. Take a few minutes to place things out of plain view—doing so will pay huge dividends in time-cost savings and peace of mind.
2. Plan for its retrieval.
Of course, success with your “put it away now” mantra will depend on your retrieval plan. Before you file away a document or an email that will need your future attention, schedule a task reminder to get back to it at a specified time.
This approach benefits you in two ways: First, it frees your mind from worry that you will forget to handle a document or email once it’s filed away. Second, it affords you a realistic picture of how much time you actually have in a typical work week to get things done.
This latter point is critical to our culture, where being busier is often misperceived as being more productive. To the contrary, having more to do in a day than we can realistically get done is a setup for failure, malpractice, and disappointed colleagues and clients. Figuring out when you will handle each piece of work allows you to be honest with others about how much you can take on, and when you will deliver on the work you’ve agreed to do.
3. Label documents consistently.
Both on paper and online, I label documents consistently. This may seem an obvious point, but my experience in various offices informs me that people generally lack uniform labeling methods, leading to several unnecessary question-and-answer conversations about where one colleague can find a document filed by someone else. Worse, I’ve heard people ask themselves where they themselves put something, because they don’t have a system that would tell them exactly where that type of document or email would be.
4. Keep a running list of delegated and pending items.
I have an Outlook task list item labeled “delegated/pending” in which I keep a running list of everything I have delegated that has not yet been done, and documents I’ve sent to court, an opposing counsel, or a client that have not yet come back to me.
I read my running list first thing every morning, deleting items that were resolved the preceding day, and following up on any that I need or want to handle immediately. Then, I set the revised list to pop up for me the following morning. Throughout the day, I pull up the list and add to it. Knowing that I’ll have eyes first thing tomorrow on everything I throw on the list today lets me put non-urgent issues out of my mind while I focus on the work that I’ve prioritized for today.
5. Do what works for you.
Some familiar with my utilitarian workspace say they like their desk piles. These colleagues can switch between tasks more easily than they would if their desks were clear. Their inbox emails remind them of the matters they need to address. And though it may appear that clutter threatens to subsume everything in its path, they know where in the stacks everything is. Whatever system you use to stay organized, you should have one—and to be effective, I believe it must include time spent upfront to ensure back-end efficiency.
Katie Burke practices family law at The Wald Law Group in San Francisco.