Organize and eliminate clutter. Bring peace to your office.
Professionals of all stripes struggle at times to complete tasks efficiently, without undue strain on mental or physical health. And not all demands are work-related. Internal voices remind you that you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, that the dog needs to go to the vet or that you need to call the school about that parent-teacher conference. Preoccupation is too often a way of life.
Attorneys in particular must balance legal responsibilities with clients who continue to expect more accountability for time. Increases in competition and changing client expectations are forcing some firms to look for ways to boost efficiency.
Unfortunately, the chorus of demands cluttering your mind can translate to disorder and disarray in your physical space. Reducing chaos and clutter can help boost productivity and make for more harmonious office environment. Try some of these exercises to reduce distraction and put the focus back on practice building.
Give yourself a place. Time management expert Paul Burton says that attorneys should practice sequestering. Human behavior is often situational — we tend to behave certain ways in certain spaces. Tapping into this subconscious phenomenon can help you put your mind in the mood to work. Give yourself a place to focus, choose one item to work on and stick with it until you are finished. This may be your office or a favorite off-site hideaway, whatever is most conducive to quieting the mental noise. When you are sequestered, remember: you own your time. Not all emails or phone calls must be answered immediately. You would not think of getting up to go to the mailbox and check your physical mail every five minutes, and you should look at email the same way. Constant checking is a distraction, and distractions will quickly kill productivity.
Follow projects through to the end. Work creates stuff: papers, notes, files and documents that mount an attack on your space. Truly finishing a project includes the clean up that is always necessary after wrapping up a case or finishing a long meeting. Even if you have to delegate clean up and other finishing touches to an assistant, make sure they get done.
Take pleasure in details. Big picture plans are necessary when building a practice. But focusing only on the end game and ignoring the finer points — the little tasks that make the big goal possible — works against you. When you are thinking only of the end game, the process of getting there is less enjoyable. Behavioral studies have shown that people who do not set incremental goals are less likely to complete bigger picture tasks. You have to take pleasure in the journey.
Stop multitasking and organize. Research has shown repeatedly that multitasking is a myth. Attempting to multitask makes it harder to pay attention and remember important details. The human mind can effectively remember only about four things at a time (seven on a good day). If you have a running list of things you should be doing constantly competing for attention in your brain, chances are none of them will be done efficiently. Forget multitasking and do the one thing you are working on correctly.
Take advantage of technology that has been created to help attorneys organize their practice. Time tracking apps like Kohorts Time Tracker, practice organization software like Clio and MyCase and writing/editing assistants like WordRake have been developed for lawyers and can provide valuable management assistance. The ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center is a good place to start when looking for apps and software.
Take stock of what you have and give it a home. Too many offices suffer from “organization by wherever things land.” Give everything its place. If you find you have things that do not have a logical place, you may want to let them go. If you are surrounded by mental or physical clutter (or both), chances are the mayhem is having a negative impact on your stress levels and in turn a negative impact on your productivity.
Learn to say no. Schedules fill up fast, and you simply cannot say yes to every offer that comes across your desk. You have a successful practice and no longer need to take every case available. When scheduling engagements, review your goals. Will saying yes offer a real benefit? Is there another way you could better use your time? Often, you will find reasons to say yes, but sometimes you will find you are better served by respectfully saying no. Turn saying no into an opportunity to build new relationships by referring unworkable projects or cases to your colleagues.
Some relationships are toxic. These relationships take an inordinate amount of your time, adding unnecessary stress and providing very little in return. Say no respectfully and unapologetically. Be confident you have taken the best course and stick to it.