Improve Your Practice with an Uncluttered Office


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

With a busy law practice, it is difficult to keep control of the mess. Somehow, all of your ambitions for a clean office go out the window once the phone starts ringing and the files start coming in. Between catalogs, CLE fliers, bar association announcements, junk mail, office memos, trade publications, office supplies, mementos, and more, most lawyers’ offices, whether they are traditional law offices or home offices, are clutter magnets.

But why should lawyers care about disorganization in the first place? After all, is it really important to have a clutter-free office when you have important client work to do?

Clutter wastes time

Ever wonder where all of those hours went? Probably a lot of it was lost due to your mess: looking for paper files, the note you wrote somewhere, the client’s telephone number, or the business card of the person you met last week at a networking event.

Some estimates say that the average worker spends over 150 hours a year searching for misplaced information. Even “paperless” offices can have computer clutter, making it difficult to find a particular form, template or motion that you know you did, but that you cannot remember where or how you saved it.

Clutter wastes money

Anything that wastes time wastes money, especially if you bill by the hour. But clutter also wastes money because you may purchase duplicates if you cannot find what you’re looking for.

Clutter wastes energy

Feng shui experts say clutter suppresses energy and disrupts growth. Physically, you have to to work around or climb over it. Mentally, it zaps your energy by overwhelming you.

The existence of clutter means postponed decision-making. The longer an item (or decision) stays on your to-do list, the more it drains your energy. Clutter distracts you, covers up important documents or files, and adds to anxiety and stress, reducing your effectiveness.

In short a cluttered office does not support your practice.

Take control of office clutter

Many people have said that once they’ve moved to a new law office, things started opening up in their practice; they started getting the clients they wanted and cash flow improved. Moving gets rid of clutter and forces you to re-evaluate what you keep in your office. But even if you are not moving, you can achieve some of the same results in your existing office by taking some time to clear away the clutter: get rid of anything and everything that is outdated, duplicative or no longer useful to your practice, and organize the rest.


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  • How do you handle digital clutter? Do you have any recommendations for software to help with this problem?

  • Thanks for asking!

    Digital clutter is becoming more and more pervasive, especially since so much information arrives via email these days. In the same way that you need good organization and filing systems for your physical documents and information, you need good filing systems and organization for your digital information. Your best friend is the delete button – if you don’t need it, get rid of it. If you need it for reference, name and file it appropriately. If you need to act on it, move it to tasks and/or place it on your calendar.

    You probably already have software that can help you with your digital clutter – if you use Outlook for email, you can drag and drop emails right to tasks or calendar so all of the information is already where you need it. You can create rules to file email messages in client files when they are sent or received, saving you time and allowing you to see right away if an email has been received on a client matter.

    PDF software such as Adobe Acrobat will help you convert emails and attachments to PDF documents that can be filed in a client’s file.

    One advantage to digital documents is that even if your filing system leaves something to be desired, desktop search programs can usually find it with a minimum of fuss. Popular desktop search programs include: Google Desktop, Copernic and X1.

    (For more tips specifically on managing email, see my post on the Legal Ease blog:

  • On the Mac I’ve used a program called Yep from Lets you organize documents with tags which is helpful. I can click the the “DTE” tag and it’ll pull up all my DTE Energy Bills. Or I can click the “Energy” tag and it’ll pull up my bills from DTE and the gas company because I’ve tagged them both with that tag.

    Of course Macs have a good search function built in via Spotlight.

    On the PC I used PaperPort quite a bit which I liked

    But mostly I just try to have a good folder structure that works for my brain.

  • To avoid digital clutter, come up with file name conventions and use them. I find that using labels that categorize documents are enormously helpful in both looking at folders and using global search tools to find documents. Short abbreviations in all caps also help sort documents. So “BAR.Budget.2010” and “BAR.Budget.2009” group together in a folder and also come up in a global search for “budget.” Using “MNSCT” and “MNAPP” at the beginning of file names for court decisions helps me distinguish Minnesota court cases from other states’ decision in a folder about a particular legal topic. Kind of the poor man’s version of tags, without special software.