One of the most important parts of being a social worker (albeit not the most exciting part) is the paperwork and documentation. Paperwork is unavoidable. If you work for a non-profit, there are often lots of different things you have to fill out to justify seeing a client. If you work in the private sector, you will usually have to fill out certain documents to get paid.
How do we keep up with the demands of our clients, scheduling sessions, AND completing the required never-ended piles of paperwork on top of attending staff meetings, training, and other appointments?
The answer is simple: Get (and stay) organized.
Creating a System That Works For You
Saying you’re going to get organized is one thing, but actually DOING it is another. First things first, you need to create a system for yourself. Here’s what helps me: the dreaded deadline.
Sometimes we have set deadlines for when things are due, other times things are more open-ended. No matter what, set deadlines for yourself! Give yourself a week (max!) to complete all progress notes for the previous week. Those monthly reports? Do them a little at a time- that way they won’t feel so overwhelming when it’s the end of the month and you’re trying to complete them.
Even on busy days, take 10 minutes out of your day to do at least one piece of paperwork. It may not seem like a lot, but every little bit helps.
Stick to Your System
When I was first starting out I created all sorts of systems for myself. Check boxes, client specific charts with due dates, generated my own documents to track what I still needed to complete… You name it, I made a system for it. But guess what? I NEVER stuck with using them! I would forget to print out the weekly template I made, wouldn’t write the information down in the place I needed to, etc. I had too many papers trying to track similar things. Then it hit me- I don’t need a bunch of fancy templates. I just need an easy way to access all the information in one place.
The most effective thing for me was (and still is) using a planner! Simple as that. There are so many planners and organizers out there that can help you get organized. Planners work great for me because they are easy to use and carry with you and already have things organized for you. Plus, some of them are super cute! Click here to see some of my favorites!
Organization is KEY
I use my planner like it’s my lifeline. I carry it with me wherever I go (so much so that my friends and family joke that I must have secrets hidden in it). But it’s SO convenient! I have my schedule with me whenever I need to reference it and can easily figure out my priorities for the day. I love having a place where everything is all together- my sessions, due dates for things, and check boxes to mark off my to-do list (which, let’s be honest, is such a great feeling). I became much more productive when I had all my stuff in one spot rather than trying to track things down. I was able to use my time more wisely and get more done!
I Got a Planner – Now What?
One of the most important things, of course, is make sure you aren’t using client names in the planner! Unless you are going to keep it locked up (which would defeat the purpose of a planner), don’t put any identifying information in there! Use initials or client numbers to keep track of clients- NEVER put names, birth dates, socials, or any other identifying information in your planner. This way, if it gets lost or stolen, you don’t have to worry about breaking confidentiality.
Now that that reminder is out of the way, decide what you want to put in your planner. This will look different for everyone. Here are some things to consider:
- Home visits (where are you going?)
- Scheduled appointments with clients
- Paperwork deadlines
- Report due dates
- Court dates
- Upcoming training to attend
- Contact information for important people
- Probation Officers
- Child Welfare
- Referral Sources
- Treatment Centers
Basically, you want to put anything that is important to you in that planner. The more you put in your schedule, the easier it is to look at what you’re doing each day.
I know saying practice filling out a planner sounds kind of silly but if you’re not used to having one it’s harder to remember to use it! Be mindful, try to bring it with you wherever you go. This will help because instead of trying to memorize what you have on your calendar two weeks from now, you can easily pull out your planner and check. This makes scheduling meetings, follow up appointments, and really anything else so much easier!
Remember, you don’t have to use it just for work. I’m constantly scheduling in happy hour with coworkers and movie nights with friends.
Make It Yours
The most important thing is to make it yours. If you don’t have the time or energy to use a million colors or washi tape- don’t. First and foremost, the planner has to be a functional tool for you to use. If it’s taking up time and causing you stress, reevaluate how you’re using it. Sure, it’s nice to have a beautiful looking planner, but functionality is much more important. Also, there are so many beautiful planners that even if you just used a pen in them, they would still be great to look at!
Also, make sure you’re checking your system you’re using. Sometimes we create these systems that seem like a great idea (like how we’re tracking documentation) that end up taking too much time to create or just aren’t practical for everyday use. That’s okay! Re-think it and try a new system.
I’m confident that if you commit to keeping track of a planner and figuring out what systems will work for you as far as tracking clients, appointments, sessions, meetings, and documentation that you will feel much more organized and productive.
Tips and Tricks
One thing that I like to do is to get cute stickers, pens, or other things to write in my planner with. It makes me happy to open my planner and seeing a colorful page looking back at me. Plus this helps keep things organized. I add stickers when there are important dates I need to remember and color code my planner based on clients, location of appointments or meetings, and type of session. Of course, this part is optional. A simple pen is really all you need to have with you in addition to your planner to help you get more organized.
Another easy way that I keep myself organized is grabbing a sticky note and adding ongoing to-dos to it. This way, I can quickly reference what tasks I need to work on and I can move the sticky from one page to the next so I don’t have to keep writing the same thing over and over if it takes a while to complete.
Don’t underestimate highlighters! They’re a quick and easy way to highlight important information that you may need to reference later or to draw your eye to something that you can’t forget.
If There’s a Will, There’s a Way
There’s a planner out there for everyone. No one’s planner is going to look the same and what organizational system works for you may not work for the next person and that’s totally okay!
Find a planner you love, start writing in it, and eventually it will become second nature. Once you start organizing things and have it all in one place, you’re sure to love it!
Do you have a planner? How do you stay organized at work? Drop a comment below!