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Ask Eula Mae: How to Prioritize a Mess

Posted By NALS Editorial + Marketing Board, Thursday, June 14, 2018
Updated: Monday, June 25, 2018

Dear Eula Mae:

 

I work in a relatively small law firm with three attorneys and three legal assistants.  Two of the bosses were out of town today when one of the legal assistants was fired.  I was assigned the duty of getting her files and other tasks in order before her boss comes back.  It turns out that she was a real mess, disorganized and only did what she had to do and didn’t file anything back in the file room.  I even found unpaid bills!  I’m worried that I won’t be able to get all of this straight with the duties that my boss assigned me before he left.  Can you help?

 

--Afraid in Alabama


Dear Afraid in Alabama:

 

Sometimes you just have to face what has been given to you.  I can tell you that it will probably take more thinking power than doing power to get things in order.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could get it done and ready for signatures by the time the attorneys get back? You can do it!   

 

The most efficient way to begin tackling this mess is to put like items together before processing.  You will need a space to spread out the stacks of paperwork, some sticky notes, and a pencil. Gather all the things that need to be done from the fired person’s desk and try to think about how you can group all of the documents and files into categories such as bills, documents to proof and sign, ready to file, ready to mail, etc. Write the category name on a sticky note and make room to build groups of like items. Pick up one document or file at a time, write the due date in pencil on the top right of the first page and place in the appropriate named category for processing. If there is no due date and it doesn’t fit in any of the categories and must be processed before going to the file room, make a separate stack for that. If there is no due date needed (not urgent), it will need its own stack too. This is the one that you will do last.

 

Then you will gather up each category in a stack for processing.  Pick up a stack and organize it in date order from oldest due date (on the top of the stack) to the newest (on the bottom of the stack).  Do that with every stack.  Look for the oldest date of all the stacks.  That is the category that you will complete first (urgent). Items for the file room are not as urgent and can wait a little longer.

 

The purpose of this process is two-fold—you will feel like you are in control of the situation and you will only have to think about the steps for each task one time. There is something about repetition that will help you move through the stack with ease.  After you have completed your part of all items in that stack, then take it where it needs to go for the next step, which is usually the boss’s office. 

 

Next, look for the oldest date in the remaining stacks and start again with that one.  The stacks with no due dates are not urgent, but still need to be handled.  For the one that still needs processing, assign a date to complete it.  For the final stack that needs to be filed in the file room, schedule 30 minutes at the end of the day on Friday to file these documents.

 

After you get a grip on the paperwork you inherited, it will probably make your job look easier. You will know exactly what to do to get ready for your boss’s return.  Be brave.  You can do all of this and more.

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