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By: Jennifer Devine

Gather ‘round, fellow TPS’ers! I am ON A MISSION to write and inspire the world, and am dragging you all along like aluminum cans behind a newlywed’s car! I feel a bit like a fresh-faced pioneer; excited, apprehensive, plunging head-long into uncharted waters, grasping for that new (work) life that is everything I ever dreamed it could be. This road trip may stray from its course, seduced by off-the-beaten-path attractions such as the Venti Mocha (my kryptonite), that warehouse shoe-tacular sale or even (hold onto your hat) a weekend get away, but I can’t go back now; my journey has begun. I hope you enjoy the ride and maybe, just maybe, even decide to set out on a mission of your own – in which case I would love to hear about it, if only to know I am not alone.

By way of introduction, I am an introverted real estate and transactional paralegal who loves nothing more than being the head-down, efficient, knowledgeable, wall flower, go-to, knows how to get things done team member valued by co-workers, but rarely seen or heard from outside my workplace. For 15 years I have happily and complacently transformed my skills to meet the needs of my employers – whatever they may be (translation, “other duties as required”).

My mission is to take control of my career development, work to expand my skills, improve my practice, and step out of my shell; but this time in the ways that I want and that make me feel good about and satisfied with my professional self and career.

Step one in my quest is to give myself a clean plate from which to work. Like all of us, I face a multitude of emails, telephone calls, in-person drop-ins, paperwork, files, and a million other things that clutter my space and mind. Here are the details of my plan to regain control, de-clutter, organize, and focus:

•  Clean out my email inbox. This is not a storage location, it is a transient step to completing a task. Delete or file anything that I, personally, don’t need to do. If it is something I need to remember to do later or follow up on, simply click-and-drag the email to my Outlook Tasks, make a note of what needs to be done and maybe the client/matter number, set the appropriate reminder, and delete/file from the Inbox. If it is something I need to do in the short term, add it to the “To Do Steno” pad I keep on my desk (well, actually, it is on the wire rack above my laptop so it is not taking up usable surface area). There, done!

•  Vanquish the piles. We all have those lawyers who wander into our offices with a single piece of paper, or a select few pieces from a file, ask that something be done, and off-load their burden onto our already overflowing work surfaces. Will I forget to do the assignment? Will the sheet of paper be lost, or worse inadvertently thrown out? Will that pesky bugger grow legs and decide to get cozy in another file with its little friends? NOT ANY MORE!

I will immediately write the assignment on that To Do Steno (see #1 above), grab one of the manila file folders from that stash I keep handy, appropriately label the folder in pencil (so I can erase and re-use), insert those errant pages into the folder and duly file it in the hanging files in the cabinet behind my desk. Repeat procedure until all piles are relegated to the drawer. When everything has a home, or a process for finding one, it is easier to keep my space clean and find things when I need them.  Furthermore, I never end up bumbling for things when someone unexpectedly comes by and says “where were we at on that one matter….?”

•  Show no fear of the ringing monster. I find one of the things that runs me off the organizational rails is the unexpected phone call from attorney or client, unloading extensive details of a matter and requesting action. These spawn loose notes all over my desk and bulletin board which inevitably become part of the scenery and fall off my mental list of things to do. I now keep a separate “Notes Steno” pad next to the phone with a dedicated pencil. When that call comes in I grab the Notes Steno and scribble away as needed. As soon as the call is over, I return Notes Steno to its designated spot (never to be parted, of course, from its companion pencil) and the assignment gets added to the list on the To Do Steno. When completed, the task it gets crossed off both Stenos so I don’t have a heart attack in 3 weeks when I see the notes and can’t remember if I did what I was supposed to do.

Now I have an organized workspace, an organized To Do List, and an organized mind. After a few short visits with my attorneys to verify priority of tasks, I annotate the To Do Steno with the days particular projects are due and, like magic, the priority of my work appears before my eyes. I no longer fear forgetting work, suffer for not knowing when or how I am going to get things done, and move quickly from one task to the next with confidence.

The corollary benefit of my new (work) lifestyle is the ability to leave my work in the office. When I go home at the end of the day, my desk is clean and my To Do List cheerily bids me “have a great night!” While I am at home, I don’t need to think about anything in the office because I KNOW it is under control. I can give my full focus to my family time now; really immerse myself in that Lego building, help with homework without saying ‘hang on a second, I need to send this email,’ revel in the sensory pleasure of making that home-cooked meal. Most poignant to me is the ability to hug that little one just a little longer without my mind wandering to work, to listen to the recitation of his day with full attention and appreciation, and to know that I can do it all over again every single day.

Thank you for joining me on this first step of my new adventure. As I blaze this trail, I look forward to your feedback, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, personal stories, and criticisms (yes, those too; you be genuine and I promise to try to stay objective) — each of which I will incorporate into the structure of the road I am building ahead of me as I go.

Be sure to look for new and “exciting” episodes, covering a wide variety of topics, such as:  “Get Your Feet Wet” about breaking out of your pigeon hole or “Put on a Brave Face,” which will cover my first face-to-face networking event.

Take that first step fellow adventurers, be brave, fear not the face plant!  “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.” – Victor Kiam

Jennifer M. Devine
Paralegal
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

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Love the quote, Jennifer! Do not fear the face plant, indeed.  Sometimes, it’s the only thing that teaches one never to make “that mistake” ever again during his or her long and prosperous legal lifetime! Firm face plant does the trick.

Wishing you an absolutely lovely, stress-free (heh, I know – that one’s funny – but can’t blame one for daring to dream) and partially sane day, paralegal gladiators. We’ll see you on that coveted paralegal holiday otherwise known as “Friday.” Until then, fear not the face plant. Fear only not having the courage to begin.

Carpe Diem