6 steps to getting organized

Improve your operations and time management with these tips

In this issue, InsideCounsel’s editors tackle the concept of innovation—finding solutions for common and urgent problems we face within the practice. While in-house counsel can (and will) have strong feelings about this, without a strong foundation, our attempts at innovation will often fall flat.  

Many in-house attorneys will confess that organization is a struggle. This problem becomes more pronounced under stressful and hostile conditions. A phalanx of fast-moving and stressed clients can tax even the most finely honed system. For those in small or solo legal departments,
the issue is even more noticeable.

Organization is a tremendous money-maker for a variety of enterprises, as the tools for getting your life in order are paramount across modern society, and as technology and multitasking stretches this generation of workers beyond prior limits. Without the proper mentality, buying the best tools on the market will be of little assistance. So I offer you six steps toward getting everything in its right place:

Step 1: Realize you have a problem. As with any personal or professional foible, knowing the problem exists will allow you to consider a solution. We are prideful by nature and training, but people around you will definitely notice your disorganization. Some of them won’t be shy about letting you know it.

If you miss meetings or forget professional obligations, if your desk is littered with paper, if every nook and cranny is packed with trade magazines and old work product, you probably have an organization problem.

Step 2: Research your remedy. One size fits one when it comes to organization strategies. The Internet is littered with sites geared solely toward getting your life in order. My personal favorite is Lifehacker.com. It has tips for all aspects of your life, and the staff draws heavily from sister sites that are technology driven. Technology will improve your life. Just a smartphone and a laptop, when they have the proper apps and tools, will be instrumental in beginning your new, organized existence. Task lists and note-taking tools can replace much of the paper that creates clutter and stress. A simple Google search will have you well on your way. Personally, relying more on my tablet and less on paper has gotten me started on my quest for organization.

Step 3: Ask for help. Many of your peers suffer from the same issue. Solicit opinions from colleagues in your company or on in-house member message boards like those found on ACC.com. You will be surprised how many people reach out to try to help.

Step 4: Phase it in. Disorganization is a state of being, and that does not change overnight. When you form a plan to become more organized, create phases to bring some order into your day. Trying to do everything at once will prove daunting and may give you an excuse to quit the exercise all together.

Step 5: Get others in line (or die trying). If clients feel that you are a 24/7 on-demand resource, they will use you accordingly. You have to force some prioritization. Your clients must be at least partially accountable for planning ahead and trying to use your time in a thoughtful way. Department processes will be helpful in creating some accountability. A legal department without some client-based processes is akin to a crowded deli counter without a number system. Not everyone will abide by the new rigors, but if only 65 percent of people fall in line, it will be far more helpful than never attempting to impose any structure whatsoever.

Step 6: Bask in your newfound free time. Just kidding. People will probably just ask you to do more work with any free time you have. But at least you will be able to properly triage and respond to all of those new requests, and carry out the tasks precisely. You will be more proficient and, most importantly, happier with yourself and your work product.

Stephen Kaplan is senior vice president and general counsel of Connextions Inc.

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