You can control your work or be controlled by it. These tips for how to manage better will help you stay in the driver’s seat.
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The practice of law is dynamic. Existing demands on our time compete with new ones added throughout the day. Each demand is a puzzle piece we must fit in to assemble the day. And we must constantly reassemble the ever-changing pieces into a day that is effective and efficient. How? Here are four tips for better managing your workday.
Taking Command of Your Workday
Taking command of your day — driving your bus — requires acting affirmatively. You must do something to be in command. Moreover, managing your work is fundamentally different from doing your work.
Managing is an administrative process. It takes time — time that is in short supply. However, failure to act — to manage — is the relinquishment of control over our days. You become a passenger on your bus instead of the driver.
1. Conduct Periodic Reviews Throughout the Day
The most efficient way to manage work during the day is to conduct periodic reviews. A periodic review consists of four steps:
- Stopping work. You can’t manage your work if you just keep working! The first step to managing is to stop doing.
- Assessing what’s changed. Things change continuously. The first objective of the periodic review is to determine what has changed since the last time you took stock of the situation.
- Updating ourselves and others. The second objective of the periodic review is to update your own expectations and deadlines. You also need to communicate these updates to others as necessary.
- Continuing work. With the assessment and updates done, you can return to productive work knowing you are driving your bus.
This is a simple process that is extremely hard to integrate into the day — there’s so much to do we feel we can’t spare a second for anything but doing. The reality is, taking time to manage your practice and workload well is a much more productive and effective way to work. The trick is to make it a habit. Try three times a day to start: morning, noon and night.
- Start each day with a periodic review.
- Do the next one after the lunch break.
- Conduct the final periodic review before “leaving” work for the day.
Three periodic reviews per day will develop the habit. Eventually, the habit will get ingrained and periodic reviews will happen more frequently.
2. Use a Quick-Capture Device
Electronic information is, by definition, already captured. It’s in our email or electronic files or on some sort of digital platform. It’s in a persistent system most likely being backed up on a regular basis.
But what about all the other information legal professionals must manage? The to-dos from a meeting or a client call. The thoughts that bounce around in our heads. The errands and other personal matters.
We have historically used a combination of our memories and notes to manage this vital information. All lawyers know that memory is unreliable, especially when things are hectic. Notes are a good idea. At least with those, the information is committed to paper. Unfortunately, the mechanisms used for note-taking often lead to problems.
For example, many attorneys assign a notepad to each new matter. This can lead to a proliferation of notepads. And, because the information comes at us so quickly, we often grab the nearest notepad to capture the new information. Unfortunately, many times, it’s not the right notepad! Now we have information about two matters on one notepad.
A simplified note-taking mechanism is to use a single pad for all notes — a quick capture device. This device acts as a central location for all the information coming at you during the day. It lets your mind focus on what needs doing instead of what you need to remember to do.
Specifically, use a smallish (6×9 inch), spiralbound notepad. The Business Source Composition Book (10966) works perfectly for this purpose. It’s portable. The spiral binding ensures pages don’t easily get torn out and serves as a holder for a pen. Moreover, you can jot down anything and everything here for the sole purpose of capturing it. Later, you can move it to a persistent environment like an electronic document, a calendar appointment or an email (to yourself or others).
3. Ramp On/Off
Our attention gets pushed and pulled around all day long. Emails ping in our inboxes, phones ring, texts and chats chirp, and people stop by. It is hard to stay focused on work or return to it once we are distracted.
Try ramping off and back onto tasks when distracted. It worked for Earnest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote every morning. At the end of his writing session, he wrote down all the thoughts that were in his head. That’s off-ramping.
The next morning, Hemingway looked at his notes from the previous day, which put him back on the writing path. That’s on-ramping.
When interrupted mid-task by the outside world, take a moment to jot down (in a quick-capture device!) all your circling thoughts. That secures them during the interruption. It also makes getting back on track easier when you return to the effort.
4. Take Three Deep Breaths
The mind is productivity’s engine. It requires periods of rest to perform optimally. Rest seems like an anathema to the modern world’s need to do more sooner. However, mental exhaustion — decision fatigue — is a very real consequence of failing to rest.
Naps won’t find their way into the workplace anytime soon. But there’s always time to breathe deeply. Take a moment right now to try the following exercise.
Breathing Exercise How-To
Breathing, the most fundamental of human behaviors, offers opportunities to control focus. Do the following:
Put everything down on your desk or table. Sit back and relax for a moment.
- When you’re ready, take a long, deep breath in.
- Then, exhale smoothly.
- Take another deep breath in and out.
- Take a third deep breath in and out.
Pay attention only to your breathing during the exercise. Once you’re finished with the third breath, take a quick inventory of how you feel physically and mentally. A bit calmer? More at rest? Less stressed and anxious?
This exercise facilitates something called attentional control — mindfulness in the sense of directed effort. Making use of this exercise several times a day can greatly improve productivity.
You’re ready to jump back into your work refreshed and relaxed!
You Can Manage Your Work or Be Managed By It
You can manage our work or be managed by it. You can be the driver or passenger on your bus. It’s ultimately a choice you make every day. These tips and tricks will help keep you in the driver’s seat and your bus en route.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series produced by Paul Burton for Attorney at Work. Read “Communicating Better in a Post-Pandemic World” here, and watch for upcoming articles here. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.
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