From the Multnomah Lawyer: Seven Tips for Spring Cleaning Your Practice

Perhaps it is time to dust off the resolutions you set for your practice at the end of 2019, or maybe you are just now deciding to make a change. Regardless, spring has sprung and it is an opportune time to do some spring cleaning. Whether you are a solo practitioner, or part of a large firm, you can each benefit from taking time to tidy up. Here are seven tips you can use to freshen up your practice:

1. Be Systematic. First, sort and purge. Begin with one section of your office and work your way through, sorting things into piles and purging what you no longer need. Then organize the piles into categories that make sense to you, such as by client files, research, and administrative information. Then redistribute the piles according to their assigned location. Apply this to all areas of your office as well as your digital files.

2. Utilize To-Do Lists. To-do lists allow your brain to release ideas from the “rehearsal loop” of your working memory and help you to prioritize tasks. However you want to maintain that list is up to you, whether it is in your calendar, in a Word document, or in a to-do list app. The key is to constantly update the list, by continually adding new tasks and removing completed tasks.

3. Personalize Your Approach. There are many ways to manage a law practice. Base your approach on your particular strengths and preferences, whatever they may be, such as your learning style. For example, if you are a visual learner, try color-coding your files and using a sequentially ordered system.

4. Make Your Desk a Command Center. You can maximize your productivity by organizing your immediate workspace in an efficient way. Your computer screen should sit in front of you at eye-level and approximately an arm’s length from your body. Place frequently used items, like your telephone, on your dominant side for easy access. Limit personal items, sticky note reminders and non-essential office supplies to minimize clutter and distractions.

5. Take Back Control of Your Inbox. An overflowing email inbox can easily seem overwhelming. Consider creating folders within your email program that allow you to move messages out of your inbox into specific folders by category, such as by client. You can then easily save the emails as part of the client fi le and delete them from your inbox. Unsubscribe from promotional emails. Set up filters within your email program to automatically place particular messages into folders, such as listserv postings, so they won’t distract you during the day or clog your inbox. Instead of just deleting spam emails, mark them as spam to cut down on the emails you receive.

When reviewing your emails, consider applying a concept known as DAFT, which stands for Defer, Act, File, Toss. Look at each email and determine first whether it can be deferred. If so, keep it in the inbox and add it to your to-do list. If not, ask whether it needs attention immediately. If yes, complete the task and move it out of your inbox. Then ask whether it can be filed. If so, file it in the appropriate folder. Lastly, ask if the email can be tossed, and if it can, delete it.

6. Set a Date. Staying organized requires commitment. Set aside recurring times dedicated to maintaining the organizational system you have crafted and put them on your calendar. Ideally, set aside time at the beginning and the end of each day to assess and update your to-do list, as well as clean your desk. Set aside time once a week to again reassess your to-do list and update your calendar. Set aside time at least quarterly to reorganize paper and digital files, catch up on scanning, and inventory office supplies. Lastly, set aside time at least once a year to go through your file list and destroy files that have reached their date of destruction, determine important recurring dates for the year, and update your office procedures manual if necessary.

7. Ask for Help. We all get by with a little help from our friends. Teach your organizational system to your office staff so they can help you maintain it. Ask your peers or colleagues for their perspectives on maintaining an organized practice. Reach out to the practice management attorneys with the OSB Professional Liability Fund. Practice management attorneys provide free and confidential assistance to all Oregon lawyers for a wide range of needs.

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