Goals & Planning Random Wisdom

Tips for the disorganized who want to, finally, do something about it

This post is for those readers who were not born with organization in your DNA .  If your office is filled with piles of paper, if your contact management system is made up of a collection of business cards gathering dust in a drawer, then I want to direct you to an article from the Saturday Guardian this week: How to Create a Home Filing System.   (Thanks to Mary Childs of Ethos Law for sending along the link this weekend.)

The author introduces the C.R.A.P method of filing.  C.R.A.P stands for chronological, random ascending pile. This method of document storage can be effective for those with a highly accurate memory for linking documents to moments in time.  For example, say I have a pile in my office that I started in November last year. (And please know I have no such pile as I completed a thorough reorganisation of my office in early January!) I need to pull out the invitation to a charity event that was mailed to me in early December.  Using the C.R.A.P filing system I can move through the strata, and given the pile has risen to about a foot high in 3 months, the December document is likely to be found in the bottom half.  In about 5 minutes I will have found the document in question.

Problems with the C.R.A.P. system?  Pets.  Children. Other people.  It is all too easy for innocent furry creatures to knock over a pile; a child to enjoy playing in the piles like leaves in the fall; or a well-meaning partner who puts the chronology into disarray.

Another problem with the system? The aging brain.  As people age all of a sudden they find they cannot remember which pile is which, and when did that letter arrive anyway?

The truth is, at some point most of us most migrate to a better system.  There are numerous options.  My preferred method is the simplest.

Filing A to Z.  Get yourself boxes of hanging file folders and plain manila envelopes, a labeller, and a shredder.  (The David Allen approach.  For more on this read Getting Things Done.  His system is complex, but if you choose not to adopt it in its entirety there are many chunks that can be scavenged into your own personal system.)

Assure yourself that Rome was not built in a day and allot yourself a scant 5 minutes at a time for filing. (While I advocate the five-minutes at a time approach to catching up on filing, I never practice it.  I am an all at once, spend the afternoon up to my elbows in paper, and wrestle it to the ground kind of person. If that is what works best for you, go for it!)

Slowly but surely work your way through the pile.  Either keep it and file or throw it away. And if you can’t decide, put it aside and keep filing.  Read Julie Morgenstern‘s post Weed Out Papers  and then get started.  If you are hunting for an organization road map to follow try her book Organizing from the Inside Out .

Allocate one manila folder to one hanging file folder.  Use the labeller to make nice neat labels.

When in a year or more time the file cabinets are full – purge to make room.

For the digitally-advanced get one of the latest scanners and quickly scan rather than file your documents and store on your hard-drive.  I am a big fan of this idea but this would require purchasing a more state-of-the-art scanner than my current version.  Also, I know that I cannot divest myself entirely of paper files so this would be half-way measure.

To tackle collections of business cards the simple answer is get on Linked-InHere’s a step-by-step guide to getting started.  First step is to set up a simple profile.  This takes between 5 minutes to an hour depending on how detailed you want to get.  Next, using the handy application on Linked In, connect it to your Outlook contact list and select those people you wish to connect with and send them invitations.   This takes about 5 minutes.  Now it’s time to turn to the pile of business cards.  Sort through the pile and pull out those people you actually want to be connected with.  Throw out the rest.  Then look the people up on Linked In and invite them to connect with you.  The beauty of Linked In is that each individual keeps their own profile updated and you receive alerts when they have a new job, address, or other related news.

Bottom-line, getting organized is worth the time spent for the energy it frees up and mental clarity it brings.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.