Organize and eliminate clutter, bring peace to your office.
As law firms review their methods for increasing revenues and bringing in new cases, issues of productivity tend to garner a lot of attention. Completing tasks efficiently and without undue strain on one’s mental health is a constant battle for professionals of all stripes. But lawyers in particular are dealing with clients who ask them to be more accountable for their time. Firms are being prodded to look for ways to increase their efficiency.
The chorus of demands constantly bouncing about in everyone’s heads may help fuel disorder and disarray in our physical space. These voices are not all work-related. They tell us we forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, that we need to take the dog to the vet or that we need to call our child’s teacher about that conference. Preoccupation is a way of life.
Reducing chaos and clutter can help boost productivity and make for a happier office. Try some of these exercises to reduce distraction and put the focus on practice building.
Give yourself space. Time management expert Paul Burton says that attorneys should practice sequestering. 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 that not all emails have to be answered immediately and some phone calls can go to voicemail. That is your time.
Follow projects through to the end. Following through includes the clean up that is always necessary after wrapping up a case or finishing a long meeting or any of the many tasks that give off peripheral clutter. Even if you have to delegate the clean up and finishing touches to an assistant, make sure they get done.
Bigger picture plans are great – and necessary – when building your practice. But, focusing on the end game and ignoring the details makes the process less enjoyable and less likely to be completed. If you are surrounded by mental or physical clutter (or both), chances are it is having a negative impact on your stress levels and in turn a negative impact on your productivity.
Stop multitasking and organize. Research has shown repeatedly that multitasking is a myth. Multitasking makes it harder for people to pay attention and control their memories. The human mind can effectively remember only about four things at a time. 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. People get more done when they focus on one thing at a time.
Take stock of what you have and give it a home. It seems like an insufferably obvious statement, but 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, it may be time to clean house. Take advantage of technology that has been created to help attorneys organize their practice. Time tracking apps, practice organization software, writing/editing assistants like WordRake – all of these are developed for lawyers and can provide valuable management assistance. The ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center is a great place to start when looking for useful apps and programs.
Learn to say no. Schedules fill up fast. It is easy to succumb to the temptation to say yes to every offer that comes across your desk. But the truth is that you have a successful practice and no longer need to take every scrap that is offered. When scheduling engagements, think about your goals and whether saying yes will offer a real benefit. Often, you will find reasons to say yes, but sometimes you will find you are better served by respectfully saying no. You can even turn saying no into an opportunity to build new relationships by referring items that do not fit on your plate to your colleagues.
Some people and relationships are toxic. It is easy to discover who they are. They take an inordinate amount of your time or add unnecessary stress but provide very little in return. You can say no respectfully but forcefully. You do not need to justify or apologize. If you would like, you can blame your schedule. Everyone can relate to that. Just make sure that when you say no, you are confident it is the best course and stick to it.