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Five Tips to Help Young Attorneys Stay Organized

Mark Rooney

Five Tips to Help Young Attorneys Stay Organized
Nora Carol Photography via Getty Images

Attorneys of all ages and experience levels know that staying organized is critical in this profession. But that does not mean it’s easy or that we always live up to the task. This is especially true for younger lawyers who are navigating the demands of the job for the first time. Here are five tips to keep you focused, organized, and productive.

  1. Make a list (or two or three). There are countless ways to do this. On paper versus on an app. Numbered versus bullets. Color-coded. The key is to find a system that works for you. In my experience, at a minimum your list should capture every pending task and indicate which items are priority. You can consider separate lists for different aspects of your job or life. I usually have three running lists—for active work tasks, longer-term projects, and personal tasks. I prefer putting pen to paper for my lists as the writing process helps me think more deliberately about the chores at hand.
  2. Put your phone away. This is good life advice overall as phones (and the little dopamine hits they dole out) prove more distracting. I find myself most productive when I stash my phone somewhere entirely out of reach and view. Do this as you start your workday or when you are making your to-do lists.
  3. Make liberal use of your calendar. Your calendar does not need to be used exclusively for meeting invites. If you need two hours to focus on writing that brief, block it off. Some interruptions may be inevitable but blocking off your time signals to you (and anyone else with access to your calendar) that you are committing this time to this task. Do your level best to stick to it.
  4. Know when to say no. This one is especially difficult for younger attorneys who are focused on pleasing the senior ones by accepting ever-more cases and assignments. But stretching yourself too thin helps no one. As an alternative to rebuffing requests for your help, let the senior attorneys vie for your time. Try: “I would be happy to help after I finish [my many current assignments with attorneys A, B, and C].” It puts the onus on others to assess whether your time should be re-prioritized.
  5. Regularly evaluate how you spend your time. There is at least one fringe benefit to the tedium of timekeeping—you have a very clear record each month of how you spend your time. You might think you know your priorities, but the timesheets never lie—they reveal what you actually prioritize. Take some time to look back and assess whether the things you spend time on reflect what you believe are your priorities. Identifying any mismatch provides an opportunity to re-calibrate.

Proper time management and discipline are critical to success as a lawyer. For younger lawyers who may not feel in control of their own time, hopefully these tips will instill some measure of organization and ownership.