As 2012 draws to a close, you might be thinking about productivity, “time management”and what you can do to improve in the new year, so here is my final time management tip for 2012: Get rid of “I need to see it” syndrome.
What is “I need to see it” syndrome? It’s that habit – common to many lawyers – of keeping files, paperwork, etc. in piles on their desk, floor, office chairs, etc. as a ‘reminder’ that they need to accomplish a particular task or work on a particular file.
The problem is that once the pile, file, or note stays in one place for too long, it no longer serves as a good reminder. Instead, it becomes part of the furniture – you become so used to seeing it in the same place day after day that you stop noticing it. Once that happens, it just becomes clutter. Clutter obscures what is most important by making it difficult to distinguish the truly important from the unimportant.
Clutter piles up because you’re afraid that without a physical reminder of what you need to do, it won’t get done. But sometimes using the thing itself (like the file, or the CLE flyer) actually reduces, rather than increasing, your efficiency and effectiveness. It’s more difficult to focus on the task at hand with those reminders physically looming over your head – you’re literally getting buried under your ‘to-dos!’
Break the habit by putting good systems in place to ensure that important tasks get done. If you are keeping that file in your office because there is important work that needs to be done, look at your calendar and schedule an appointment with yourself to do the work. Then put the file away until the appointment date and time arrives.
If the task is something that needs to be done ‘eventually,’ but is not urgent and you can’t fit it into your calendar now, schedule a reminder for a specific period of time in the future and put the reminder on your calendar with the name of the file or task and a short description of what needs to be done. When the reminder date arrives, you’ll decide whether it is important enough to schedule or whether you should push the reminder into the future.
If you really can’t do without the physical reminder, consider using David Allen’s system of folders or lists grouped by category. Instead of keeping a big bulky file in your office, you’ll have only an item on your list or one piece of paper noting what you need to do. Use a ‘tickler’ system with folders for each month and numbered 1-31 to diary items for follow up and put the file back in the file room.
Resolve to cure yourself of "I need to see it" syndrome in 2013 and start by clearing out the clutter now - my next time management post will tackle how to do it.