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Organization Strategy: Spreadsheeting My Professional Life

By Ruth Carter

This simple upgrade to my organization strategy makes me feel more in control of my projects and my day.

organization strategy

For years, I kept my professional life organized with what I lovingly called The Wall of Pain— a color-coded system that allowed me to see all that I had on my plate at a glance, on my office wall. I would organize my to-do items on individual slips of paper that I taped to the wall and could move around. I could easily identify my top priorities, and I got a sense of satisfaction each time I ripped a completed item off the wall.

But, alas, recently, I reached a point where I needed more than The Wall of Pain could provide.

The Wall of Pain’s Shortcomings

Here’s the problem with The Wall: I had one section dedicated to projects to work on today, and another section of open client projects, where I’d done everything I could do at the time and was usually waiting on a client or a governmental body to respond.

This led to a section of The Wall becoming more of a list of “dormant” projects. I found myself looking at this section and wondering things like, “How long ago did I send the draft of that contract to the client?” I felt like I had too many loose ends hanging out there.

The Organization Upgrade: Replacing The Wall With a Spreadsheet

I decided to replace The Wall of Pain with an organization system that would allow me to quickly see the status of each open matter at a glance. I opted to go with a spreadsheet. I use Microsoft Excel for this, but it works equally well with Google Sheets.

My new spreadsheet has five columns:

  1. Client and matter number
  2. Client name
  3. Description of the matter
  4. Task or activity
  5. Due date

I keep it sorted by the due date (column 5), and then by client name (column 2). My new system is still color-coded, using the highlight function:

  • Orange: Today’s tasks
  • Green: Future tasks and due dates
  • Yellow: Save the date (e.g., Don’t schedule anything on this date because you might be taking a deposition)
  • White: Matters that are in a holding pattern, documenting last task performed for the client (e.g., “Sent contract draft to client on 7/1/2020” or “Waiting on response from opposing counsel, sent 7/1/2020”)

It’s the Sheet

I’ve been using my spreadsheet-based system for a few weeks, and I’m loving it. It’s even easier to see at a glance what I need to do than it was with The Wall of Pain. I can see what is on my professional horizon weeks ahead of time, and avoid overloading myself on any given day because I easily see how much I’ve scheduled. Since I can see the last time I worked on a particular matter, I hope this organization strategy will help me avoid losing track of clients who have “gone dark” in responding or put a matter on hold. I also use the spreadsheet to track tasks like responding to emails, writing this column, drafting my e-newsletter, and sending reminders to clients.

The spreadsheet also helps me stay on task.

At the beginning of the day, I open the spreadsheet and begin work on an orange highlighted task. When I finish, I do another task on the orange list, and then the next. There is satisfaction in being able to finish each item and turn it white or green, depending on what’s next for that particular matter, and move it lower on the spreadsheet. When I finish all my orange-colored tasks for the day, I’m allowed to go home.

I love this new organization system. It makes me feel more productive and more in control of my day-to-day life.

Has the pandemic motivated you to reevaluate how you organize your day? What’s working for you? …

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Categories: Lawyer Organization, Nothing But The Ruth!, You At Work
Originally published July 15, 2020
Last updated October 16, 2023
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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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