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Five Simple Steps to Organize Virtually Anything

Step 1: Minimize the obvious - Begin by removing the most obvious items that don't belong. In your office space, look for things like bulky, seldom-used office equipment, dead plants, or boxes of old files that should be archived, stored or thrown away. People frequently cart unopened boxes of files from their last job to a new office. If you think you will ever reference those old memos, letters or pleadings, put them on a thumb drive and then toss the paper. Practice the 80/20 rule, which says that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your effort. Recognizing this principle, keep those "20 percent" activities/clients within easy reach and file the "80 percent" elsewhere.

Step 2: Plan before you touch -
One of the biggest mistakes people tend to make in an organizing project is to jump in and start examining the contents of all their files or drawers. Instead, create a plan with an end result. Incorporate your existing office case management/document management system into your plan. There will be categories that fall outside the existing office management system (think: CLE, pro bono, law office administration.) Develop a system of categorization for those items too. Use five to seven primary categories, not more, not less.

Step 3: Label the boundaries -
Once you create the primary categories referenced above, apply them to everything: physical files, digital files, flash drives, bookmarks and sometimes even email. No matter the device, the structure should be the same on your laptop as your tablet. This is how you build no-brainer systems. No one likes to file, so make it easy.

Step 4: Start sorting -
When applying this new organization system to your computer files, begin by creating a new file folder for each of the primary categories. Add numbers at the front of the folder name (i.e. 1-CLE, 2-Employee Benefits, etc.) so that files will automatically sort to the top. You can rename them when you are finished. Then drag and drop existing files into those big buckets. Once all your files are in those folders you can create the sub-files for each, fine-tuning the layers as you go. This allows you to work in chunks of time rather than waiting for the big stretch of time that will never come.

Step 5: Work the system -
For an organizational system to be effective, it must be trusted. To be trusted you must use it frequently. In the beginning, it is a learning process that must be practiced. By continuing to practice, you are converting it to an unconscious habit. In time it will be like an automated system, happening with very little human thought.

Download a PDF of this practice pointer here!