Our office moved this month. We’re only four blocks from the old office, but a new world of restaurants, lunch trucks, and coffee shops has opened to us. For a fancy lunch, Manny’s is the new Atlas (yet, strangely enough, Caribou Coffee is the new Caribou Coffee).
The move included practical jokes (with hideous objects being tagged for the wrong offices), lots of shredding, and a few tears. I was ridiculously impressed with the corporate movers who used an elaborate system of stickers and stackable plastic totes to relocate our entire office over a weekend.
Most importantly, however, the move offered all of us an opportunity to think about how we organize our place of work — our individual spaces as well as our entire office. On day three, my new space is already working so much better for me. I am kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to make some of these changes at my old space. While the new furniture is nice, a few moments of thoughtful reorganization could have made a difference without a move.
My new office has a sit-to-stand desk. I am delighted to use a standing desk for several reasons, but mostly because for the past two years I have been psychologically tortured by an article I read in the New York Times. In 2010, the Times published an article, The Men Who Stare at Screens, detailing the horrible health effects of sitting at a desk all day.
Even frequent gym visits (which I do not achieve) cannot alleviate the health problems associated with sitting. So, for two years I fretted about my all-day sitting, but I didn’t do anything about it.
Bragging about my fabulous standing desk, however, I learned that lawyers across the Twin Cities have been rigging their own standing solutions for years. At one downtown firm, the cool people are bringing in bakers’ racks to create standing solutions. One attorney friend described her own elaborate system of rules to encourage standing: she stands when reading a document and answering the phone.
The lesson? With a little initiative, it turns out I could have been standing on my own.
My old office resembled an iceberg — still and calm at first glance, but a jagged and dangerous mess once one plunged beneath the surface into the filing cabinets and desk drawers. The move forced me to confront my “hide the mess” tendencies.
I scanned. I culled. I shredded.
As I was going through my 500th legal pad of notes, I had a flash of insight into my soul. I am the type of person who likes to take detailed hand scrawled notes — interview notes, research notes, notes during in-office conversations. This works for me. I needed, however, a better system of sorting and storing these notes.
At my new office, I am introducing Organizational System 2.0: hand scrawled notes meet the binder. I resolve to place my notes into case-specific binders. Never again will I spend five minutes searching for the legal pad detailing my conversation with that guy I met last week.
When I started practice, I had no idea how I would organize and store documents. Each attorney creates his or her own system. Until you know whether you are a binder person, a file folder person, or an iPad devotee, it’s difficult to design your space to support those tendencies.
In this respect, the move came at an ideal time. I have been practicing for a year and a half, and I now know how I work. If the move had not occurred, however, I might have continued piling up legal pads in my drawers and file cabinets until the T.V. show Hoarders staged an intervention.
Of course, at this point, Organizational System 2.0 is aspirational and untested. I won’t write off a Hoarders intervention until I can report success with my new system.
For the last year, I knew that the move was approaching and I took a “what’s the point” approach to decorating. My new office and I, however, are in it for the long haul.
I carefully selected the prints I wanted for the wall (and by “carefully selected” I mean picked out some items at a recent garage sale). I am grateful to have artists in my family, and I’ve brought in my favorite pieces to hang. A vase and a paperweight round out my display. I still need a plant and would appreciate recommendations for tough-to-kill varieties.
As a result of my fairly minimal efforts, however, my new space feels comfortable and calming 3 a good place to spend time. I wish that I had tried harder in the old space so that I could have enjoyed this feeling the whole time.
While I did not need the move to create a better organizational system or institute a standing policy, the move provided me with a moment to think about these details — details that can so easily become subordinate to a lawyer’s everyday work.
For this reason, I am putting our move anniversary on my calendar. Every August 10, I resolve to think about the physical aspects of my practice — my organizational systems and my office set-up. There is no reason that I need to wait another 10 years to think about these details.
Sybil Dunlop joined Greene Espel in 2010 after clerking for the Honorable James M. Rosenbaum of the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Her practice focuses on representing individuals, corporations and public-sector entities in business and governmental defense litigation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.