Be a Better Paralegal 10 Day Challenge-Day 2-Clearing Out the Clutter

Being a paralegal often means working on the fly, juggling several tasks at once, and working with a lot people at once.  When that happens, it's easy to let clutter pile up.  I don't mean just the clutter on your desk.  I mean the clutter that piles up in case files, your computer desktop, your contacts list, your emails and yes of course, your desk drawers. The question to ask yourself is this: Would I be more efficient as a paralegal if I was organized and cleared out the clutter? Well, of course you would! 

Knowing where everything is, knowing how to get it quickly, and having resources and vendors at your fingertips quickly makes the job a whole lot easier.  I know from experience that it is hard to find the time during the work day to keep up with these things, and it can eventually end up slowing us down. I have a few tips for finding the time to clear out the clutter, and tips for organizing that will help you keep it that way. 

Your Email

1. Unsubscribe.

If I find any spam, e-newsletters that I did not subscribe to, coupon offers, promotions, or anything else that I don’t want to read in my Inbox, I immediately unsubscribe from their mailing list. I’ve been doing this for a while and it’s amazing how quickly my inbox shrinks! It only takes a few extra minutes up front, but I think you’ll be surprised at the results.

2. Trash any emails you don’t need.

After you unsubscribe from the above emails, you should immediately put them in your “trash bin”. Don’t let them continue to take up precious real estate in your Inbox!
Similarly, if you get an email that is just for informational purposes {like the time of a meeting} or only needs a very short response, simply note that time and/or send your response and then trash the email.

3. Create and use folders, categories, or files.

Depending on what type of email interface you use, you will almost certainly have the option to create “folders”, “categories”, or “files” to organize the emails you want and need to keep for longer periods of time.
Some ideas of folders or categories you might want to create are:
  • Urgent or Follow Up
  • The names of coworkers or your boss — of you tend to receive lots of emails from them
  • The names of specific projects or clients
  • The names of different committees or groups you are involved in
  • The names of different companies you work for — this is a great idea for contractors or freelance workers
Your Contacts List

1. Face the Facts

Take an honest, hard look at your contact list:
Do you have lists you’ve never sent to?
  • Do you have a consistently high bounce rate every time you send out an email?
  • Is your list messy and confusing?
  • Does it stress you out?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, proceed to Step 2.

2.  De-Clutter

Sometimes your contact list contains unused lists that just create clutter. At one time they may have been created to segment your contact lists, but they may no longer be relevant or make sense for what’s going on in your organization today.

In that case, they should be consolidated to your main email list or deleted.

To determine if a list should be deleted:
  • Identify all the lists you hardly use
  • Determine if the contacts in these lists also appear on more active lists
  • Determine when you last sent an email to these lists
This should help you determine if the list can be deleted and the contacts rolled into more appropriate, active lists.

3. Deal With Your Bounces

If you haven’t been keeping track of your bounced emails, start doing so by using tags.
Create a tag to manage all of the contacts that bounce back when you send an email. After you send a few emails, you’ll start to see that some of the same contacts bounce with every campaign.
Here’s how to stay on top of email bounces:
  • Identify contacts that consistently bounce with each sent campaign
  • Salvage any email addresses you can by correcting obvious typos
  • Ask for updated information from anyone who you have additional ways to reach
  • Remove those marked by Constant Contact as ‘Recommended for removal’
Your Computer

1. Before you begin do a bit of recon

Before you go about simply deleting everything off of your desktop, it is worthwhile thinking about what you really want to keep on your desktop. This will be vary from person to person, of course, but most people treat their desktop as a place where they put files, folders, and app shortcuts that they want to quickly access.
Take the time to think about what you use the most and which files and folders you really need to access instantly or which you use all the time. An easy way to figure this out is to simply auto-arrange your icons by right-clicking on an empty area of your desktop (where there are no icons) and selecting Auto arrange icons. This will arrange your icons into a grid format that makes them easier to see and work with. Then, right-click on empty space and hover your mouse over Sort by and select Date modified to order the icons by the date they were last modified, or opened, with the latest at the top.
2. Create holding and app shortcut folders
People often use their desktop to hold files like downloads, photos, screenshots, and even email attachments. This can lead to an incredibly cluttered desktop in a short amount of time.
In truth, you probably don’t need all these shortcuts on your desktop. What you can do is create a folder on your desktop where all non-essential files and folders go. A folder like this is great to hold downloads or files that will only be used for a short amount of time.
The key here, is this folder is used for non-important, or temporary items. If you don’t plan on keeping it, put the file, icon, etc. into this folder. Once you are done with the file, simply go into the holding folder and delete it.
It could help to also create a shortcut folder. When you install new programs on Windows, a shortcut icon is often automatically added to your desktop. However, these desktop shortcut should be for frequently used programs only. For programs that aren’t really used that often, it is best to create a separate folder the shortcuts. This not only reduces desktop clutter, but puts shortcuts in one central location, making them easier to find.
3. Be ruthless
Once you have your folders set up, it’s time to start getting rid of the clutter. As with any clearout you should be ruthless. If you haven’t used a file, folder, etc. in the past two months or so, you should seriously question whether you can get rid of it.
To make this easier, open your desktop via the File Explorer. You can do this by opening any folder and clicking Desktop from the left-hand menu bar. This will make all of the icons and files on your desktop easier to see and work with.
Go through these and uninstall programs you no longer use, delete images you no longer need, move unimportant files, and place files in their relevant folders. Once complete, take a look at your browser to see where it downloads files too. If you have your browser set to download files to your desktop by default, try going into the settings and changing the download location to another file like the Downloads folder.
4. Stick with it
Once you have de-cluttered your desktop, try to stick with the rules you have set. With downloads ask yourself whether these need to be on the desktop or whether they can go into a folder somewhere else.
Of course, sticking with it won’t always be easy, so maybe take time once every month or two to revisit your desktop and clean it up a bit.
5. Use the taskbar or Start for apps, not the desktop
With Windows 8 and 8.1 and up you can actually pin apps to the Start menu, so when you click it the apps are available in the window that pops up. This is a great alternative to simply having program shortcuts on your desktop. Pin apps to the Start menu on Windows 8 and 8.1 by opening your apps list (clicking the down arrow from the Windows Start screen) and right-clicking on the program you would like to pin. Select Pin to Start to be able to access it when you hit the Windows key on your keyboard.
If you prefer the traditional desktop view of Windows 7, or are using Windows 7, why not pin your important programs to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen? This can be done by right-clicking on an open app and selecting Pin to Taskbar. The programs will remain at the bottom of the screen, and can be opened by simply clicking on them.
6. Strategically pick your wallpaper
An interesting way to minimize clutter is to pick a wallpaper that you enjoy looking at. Be it a favorite picture, slogan, etc., try to frame the image so the focus is in the center of your desktop. Then, place your icons around the image in a way that they still allow you to see the image. If you can’t see the image, then you have too many icons and it may be time to get rid of a few.
Your Desk

Reduce your Office Items. The first step in keeping your desk clear is keeping less things on it and around it. Seems simple enough… almost so simple that it often gets overlooked. Take a look around your desk surface. What doesn’t absolutely need to be there? Photos, calendars, books, supplies, and food should all be considered. If it’s not essential, remove it permanently. 

Use Drawers. Using drawers isn’t cheating, it’s smart. It keeps your projects, tools, and supplies at your fingertips while still removing them from your line of sight. In my drawers, I store all of my supplies (pens, stapler, etc.) and my current projects. My current projects are stored in labeled folders in my top drawer for easy access. And only the current project that I’m working on gets to be on my actual desk surface.

Finish Your Projects. One of the biggest enemies of desk clutter is unfinished projects. Sometimes, they lay on our desks for weeks distracting us and taunting us. The mind clutter of an unfinished project can be crippling at times. If the project can be completed in less than 20 minutes, see it through to completion right away. If the project will take longer, find a drawer to store it in until you are ready to pull it out and work on it again.

Store Things Digitally. A simple Contacts program and Tasks program can probably remove 95-100% of the notes cluttering your workspace (I have always used Microsoft Outlook). Find one and learn to use it. Those sticky-notes will no longer clutter your screen or distract your mind. And you’ll never lose one again either. I have found this method to be both liberating and essential.

Limit Computer Distractions. While your computer can be essential in helping to eliminate the clutter from your desk, it can provide distraction of its own. Help your cause by decluttering your computer desktop along with your physical desk. For starters, find a non-distracting wallpaper image and remove all unnecessary icons.

Set aside 5 minutes. Take the last 5 minutes of every day to clear the surface of your desk. Rest assured that once you get started with the habit, it’ll take far less than 5 minutes. But set that much aside at the beginning. Trust me, your morning you will thank you.

1 comment:

Crystal Thomas said...

Great advice. I am going to implement some of those immediately. Thanks.

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