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Jamie Collins

By: Jamie Collins

Today, we’re here to discuss productivity and the happy life. They go hand-in-hand, as far as I can tell. If you have productivity and organization, you are happy in your work life. If you don’t, it’s highly likely that you feel the law firm walls starting to close in around you.

A friend of mine once told me about a particular method he likes to utilize at work called “Eat the Frog.” Each day, once he arrives at the office, he determines what the worst project is that he will need to do that day and he “Eats the Frog,” meaning he does the task (to get it over with) and completed. Now, for us as paralegals, it’s not quite that simple. We have so many frogs that you may think you’ve stepped into the Frog Freedom Festival at the Brooklyn Zoo. In some regards, we have limited control over “what” we do because our frogs come with assigned esquires. It’s a bit trickier. While I liked the concept of “Eat the Frog,” I felt it could use some tweaking for our paralegal world. Therefore, for us (the paralegals at large) it shall be considered the “Slay the Dragon” method. Yep. You have at least one dragon which you know must be slayed today and you will slay it. You with me here? You and one dragon each day. True story.

Next, we’ll talk about the desk in your life. Yep, the desk. It’s probably wood, but you can’t readily tell because it’s covered in baskets, file folders, piles, post-its and papers galore. I have to say, I believe the desk’s closest cousin is the closet. Huh? What did she say? Yep, that’s right, I said it, “Your desk’s closest relative is the closet.” What in the world am I talking about? Please allow me to elaborate.

Several weeks ago, I found myself in one of those perpetual, paralegal states of chaos. You know the one! It’s not that there was anything wrong in particular, as there was no full-on crisis (at least not in that moment) and generally speaking, my work world was running along quite smoothly and life was good. Yet, there are those days when we, as paralegals, seem to allow all of the moving pieces that are swirling around in that invisible air in the periphery that surrounds us to start to make their way into our minds, as we type away on that keyboard. That invisible stress shield comes down and there we find ourselves, in a state of “Oh my gosh…where is that paper I need, there are 30,000 projects and deadlines looming right now, I need to do this, I need to do that, how can I get it all done…and why, oh why, does my happy, little, work world suddenly feel chaotic when nothing at all transpired to shift my stress level and precipitate a minor, inner-office, paralegal, panic attack?” You been there? (No need to respond, that was a rhetorical question – if you work in a law firm).

Anyway, there I found myself, at my desk, throughts starting to swirl, brain starting to pound (and no, I wasn’t having a real aneurysm or anything, just a self-induced one, perhaps). My heart began to beat faster – pitter, patter, pitter, patter – much like a jack hammer at a construction site when there’s a $1 million dollar early completion bonus looming and one day left until D-day. That kind of moment. Perhaps you had one recently? If not, perhaps you will.

Now, next door to my office sits another paralegal whose desk is made of wood (you can actually see it). It’s impressively tidy and uber-organized. Now, this isn’t to say my office isn’t immaculately tidy or my desk isn’t organized, because it is. All my co-workers can confirm that my office is a well-decorated and happy place where everything (at least off the desk) is always in its place. In fact, so much so, that they like to annoy me by coming into my happy space and cocking one of my client chairs completely out of place or altering some other happy fixture (in a friendly attempt to irritate me, of course). I always promptly return the item back into its place on my next pass through happy land a/k/a my office. It’s a constant battle between my annoyance and their personal amusement. Perhaps I’m a little bit Type-A, I admit it.

However, with regard to my actual desk, I’ll admit it’s organized in more of a closet fashion. I carry a heavy caseload, so I don’t frequently admire the lovely wood sitting beneath it. I can readily find anything you need in my stacks of papers, but over the years, I failed to realize that my desk was broken. Perhaps yours is too, and you just don’t know it…yet. Today, I’m sharing my story in the hopes that at least one other paralegal out there in paralegal land will take heed of this life-changing, work lesson and feel compelled to revamp his or her desk life to alleviate the “broken.” It can happen. I’m living proof.

So, how was my desk “broken?” Well, having spent the past four years at the same firm, it’s become a whole lot like my closet. That is unfortunate. You know how you continue to keep clothes you just don’t need, won’t wear (some new with tags and other so old it’s like you’re holding onto a dream) and the only real reason you aren’t getting rid of them is because that would require a lot of time, effort, and endurance in sifting, sorting and reorganizing?

Desk = first cousin to the closet. I told you!

My desk was still neatly organized with piles. In my life, it looks a little something like this:

(1)   discovery pile
(2)   demand pile
(3)   medical request pile; and
(4)   miscellaneous pile

Besides these, I also have a “what I’m doing today” pile, although I don’t always make it all the way down to the wood because I may be just a wee bit overly optimistic when planning that particular pile. In reality, we could refer to that one as the “go-getter pile.” On the really fun days, I may even have two of those “go-getter” piles, with one cross stacked on top of the other; the “miracle worker, high priority” pile and the regular “go getter” pile. What fun!And then there are the “needs to be signed” and “outgoing mail” piles, in addition. As I stated above, if you need something, I can promptly find it and I generally know where all my stuff is at any given time. However, it wasn’t until that day of person panic that I realized the systems of organization on my desk were broken.

Systems? What systems? I know there used to be systems. Once I started cleaning (and I mean really cleaning) it became readily apparent. I have a 3 tier basket behind me which was basically a fully functioning, dust-bunny collector. Granted, I had some useful items on the bottom two shelves for regular usage, but the top basket? Ha. That was a doozey. I had food coupons which had expired so long ago it was embarrassing, random papers, notes, post its, etc., that I no longer needed, fax confirmations for things so old they were pointless and a multitude of other random, dust-bunny collecting, tree-killing, paper items. (It bears mentioning this was all personal papers, not work papers, which we all love to keep for about 7 years…just to clarify). Other baskets I rarely used or used in a different manner than originally intended. I began to elevate my happiness via the sort and pitch method for about an hour. I re-evaluated each and every tray on my desk to see: (1) if I even used it; (2) if so, if it was being used for its labeled and intended purpose; and (3) if not, what would make more sense for that particular spot? Could I work every dedicated pile into the baskets? Oh yes. You bet I could. Sort and pitch, sort and pitch, sort and pitch. I was on my way to paralegal happiness.

My desk now boasts trays which all serve a very specific and intended purpose, which was clearly determined and set forth, pursuant to the “Slay the Dragon” method. I infused those piles of paper with an assessment of my current reality. Each and every thing now has a place that makes absolute sense for my current work life. Those 6 piles that used to live on my desk just above the striking, cherry, wood-grain desk have made their way into their new, basket homes. Organized? You betcha. Happier paralegal? I’d say “paralegal euphoria” would be a better descriptor! For about the next 14 days that followed, every time I walked into the place, I was doing a personal shout out to myself for my organizational glory and ready to erect a dragon slaying monument in my own honor. It was my desk – and I was taking it back!!

To all of the paper pushers out there, I say, take back your desks!!! Take a closer look at those areas on (or in) your desk that you believe to be a first cousin to your closet. Whether you’re holding onto a price tag or a dream (or even an Arby’s coupon from 2009), the time has come to let…it…go. Dedicate one hour this week (or next) to slaying the dragon, transforming your work space, and getting rid of that wretched, pitter-patter, construction site, jack hammer, heart rate and self-induced aneurysm. It’s time to slay the dragon, my friends.

In case you were wondering: My desk is made of wood and my mind is at peace.

The Dragon Slayer


So who’s gonna reclaim their desk? That’s right – take it back – it’s yours! We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had a similar experience or have a confession to make about your closet’s closest cousin, the desk. Just hit that comment button and tell us all about it!

We’ll see you next week, TPSers. Until then, bask in the R&R that comes standard with this most fabulous, upcoming weekend! We’ll see you soon…hopefully, with a dragon slaying sculpture and a cleaner desk.