Law Ruler April 2024
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Time Management

Finishing: The Second Hardest Thing

By Paul H. Burton

The deal is done. The case is tried. It’s over—now you can go home and rest. Tomorrow, you’ll clean up this mess. Repeat.

Soon, though, colleagues begin to comment about the federal disaster area your office has become. Next, you only take clients to the clean conference rooms. Ultimately, you retreat to empty offices to get your own work done.

Or maybe your office is tidy and well kept. Maybe you don’t hear disparaging remarks. Yet you do still have a number of client projects in various stages of completion. You struggled mightily to get each started, gained some momentum in the middle of the effort, then lost steam on the upward climb to the finish line. Now, clients and colleagues are reminding you of your neglect with mounting urgency.

Both scenarios describe the progression of dysfunction that happens when you don’t finish up your work—whether substantive or administrative. Eventually, your reputation and your productivity suffer. Yet you just never feel you have the time or inclination to get the work finished.

Now You’re Done—Finish It!

Whether it’s cleaning up at the end of a project or simply failing to get work out the door, not “finishing” can be devastating to a successful legal career. Here are five suggestions that will help get those loose ends tied up, and eliminate that risk.

  • Sequester. Juries are sequestered, sent away to deliberate on their case and reach a verdict. You can leverage this same behavior to finish your work. Take one thing to a separate, quiet place and work on it until it is complete. Stay focused and drive to the end.
  • Specifically identify the time. Do you do your best work in the morning? Or is it in the afternoon? Slot the work that must get finished into the most productive time of your day. This reduces the sense of resistance you will experience.
  • Schedule maintenance. Housekeeping is always an administrative task, but we find ways to make it happen at home and for our vehicles. Why not in the office? It could be daily. It could also be weekly or monthly. Setting aside a specific time to close up all that is dangling will ensure it gets done.
  • A place for everything and … Spend a few minutes identifying where everything should go. Once a spot is identified for everything, everything can be organized. Seems too simple, but it’s a highly effective way to keep ongoing work separated from work product and junk.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate. Most assistants enjoy helping their attorneys clean up. That’s because they know where that mess goes when the damn breaks, it flows right downhill to their desks! Give them a head start by placing a sticky note on every file with directions on where it should be filed. This, at least, gets the clutter out of your office.

As the creator of the QuietSpacing method, Paul H. Burton helps people regain command of their day, get more done and enjoy their personal and professional lives more. Learn more about Paul’s speaking, writing, training and coaching at

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Paul H. Burton

Paul Burton is a former corporate finance attorney and General Counsel who helps lawyers and legal professionals make the best use of their time. The author of eight guides on individual and leadership productivity, he delivers seminars and coaching services to busy professionals across the United States. You can learn more about Paul and his practice at

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