By Vicki Voisin, ACP
Do the piles of paper and stacks of files on your desk
seem to multiply and take on a life of their own?
Are you afraid to put anything away because you might forget about it?
When you open your mail, do you think, “I’ll just put it
here for now”? Does the ‘put it here for now’ pile keep growing?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of the above, you are delaying making decisions.
This delay results in increased clutter on your desk. The clutter leads to overwhelm. Overwhelm leads to decreased productivity. You can see that this all leads to nothing good.
There are only three decisions you have to make:
Decision No. 1: What to do with your mail. When your mail comes in, go over it by your trash can and take one of the following actions:
- Toss it. If you don’t need it, throw it in the trash (which may include shredding or recycling). The more you throw away, the less you’ve got to take care of. You win!
- Delegate It. If someone else can do it, pass it on.
- Do It Now. If this is something that can be done in two minutes or less, do it NOW. This may mean actually doing the task or scheduling the task in your planner or putting it on your ‘to do’ list.
- Do It Later. If this is something that you will need later, can’t take care of right now, or it will take you a while to finish it, move on to Decision No. 2.
- Keep It Forever. If this is something you need to hang on to, move on to Decision No. 3
Decision No. 2: When do you need to see it again? When you’ll need to refer to the paper in the future (such as an invitation or a map) or you need to remember to take action on a specific date, you’ll need a tickler file. This is what you do:
- Gather these supplies:
* A drawer or a box that will accommodate hanging files
* 43 hanging file folders
* 43 hanging file folder tabs, 31 of one color and 12 of another color
* Your favorite pen or Sharpie
- Take these steps:
* Write the twelve months on 12 tabs of one color; insert them down the left side of 12 hanging folders.
* Write the numbers 1-31 on the 31 tabs of the other color; insert them in the remaining 31 hanging folders, staggering them in positions other than the left so you’ll be able to see them at a glance.
- Put the folders in your drawer or box:
* Whatever month you’re beginning with (as I write, this is February), put that month tab in the front of the drawer with the numbered folders for the rest of the month behind it (ie 27 through 31, even though February does not have 31 days).
*Behind those is the folder for the next month (March) followed by the files numbered 1-26.
* Behind that are the folders for the remainder of the year.
*File your papers according to when you will need them, allowing time to finish the project. For instance, if your deadline is March 25th and you think the job will take two days, put the paper in the March 23rd folder. If you just need to remember to do something in June, drop it in the June file.
*Begin every day with the folder of the day and then move it. When you’re through with a day, move it to the back of the next month.
*Near the end of each month, go through the papers that have been dropped in the next month’s folder and put them in the appropriate date. Again, allow for time to finish your project.
Decision No. 3: If you need to keep it forever, file it. Here are some hints for your filing:
- Do you really need to keep it forever? Organizing experts say that you refer to only 20% of what you file. The remaining 80% is unnecessary and never looked at again. Don’t fill your filing cabinets with that 80%….this includes multiple copies of the same document.
- Don’t overstuff the file drawers. Keep two inches of empty space in each drawer so that you can get files in and out without landing in the emergency room.
- Use an incline desktop sorter. If you have stacks of files on your desk that can’t be put away because you’re working on them, put them in an incline desktop sorter. They’re available at any office supplier. This will keep the files visible and easy to find. You’ll also be less likely to lose them or forget them.
Your challenge: Resolve to make a decision about every piece of paper when it comes into your office. Do not ‘put it here for now.’ Making decisions will lead to huge benefits. When you walk into an office that is free of clutter…when you no longer waste time looking for papers and files…when you no longer miss deadlines…you will feel less stressed and you will get more work done in less time. Take the time you save for continuing education, a vacation, or to just chill out. You’ll be a better paralegal in the long run.
© 2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by setting goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available atwww.paralegalmentor.com