We refer to attorneys who pile their desks with files as having an “Everything Out” approach to their desk, their credenza and sometimes their floor. Lacking a filing system that they feel confident in, these attorneys store their files where they can see them. This gives them the false confidence that they will not forget anything. Piles of files are created and distributed according to their importance. Each individual attorney has his or her own formula, but usually the more important the file, the more prominently it is displayed. This means the urgent files sit on the desk and the less time-sensitive items are relegated to the floor, gaining urgency with every hour that passes.
On the other hand, we see many attorneys who take an “Everything Away” approach to their desktop. These attorneys put things away because they have trust in their filing system. In fact, a clean desk usually indicates a well-organized filing system is in place. Files are not left in stacks, any files not currently being used are stored away in either a holding area in their desk or credenza, or given to their staff to file in the outer office. These attorneys rely upon their calendar and to-do list to tell them what to work on – not piles of files. Because they follow their time template religiously, they have faith that they will touch on every important file in their case status review meetings and weekly planning session. Every night before leaving the office they stop a few minutes early and clear their desks – a small step that helps them maintain order and feel like they’ve imposed some clarity in the midst of chaos.
It takes discipline, staff support and a good system to operate in this way, but it is possible to see the top of your desk. Make 2017 the year you can see yours.