Personal Productivity for Lawyers
This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.
Sometimes the hardest time to get anything done is when you cannot afford to be unproductive.
The next time you find yourself staring at your shoes or counting pencils, try these techniques to jumpstart your productivity.
Use the snowball effect to get things moving
Sitting down to an inbox full of proposed settlement agreements, emergency voicemails, and e-mails requesting immediate responses can overwhelm anyone. Your brain sees twenty tasks and just can’t process all of that information. So help your brain get warmed up and tackle the easy tasks first (it’s referred to financial circles as the snowball theory).
For example, scan everything and mentally rank the tasks from easiest to toughest. Get started by responding to the e-mail with the simplest question. Hopefully you can do that in a minute or less. Not only will you cross off one task, you will get a psychological jolt—focusing on the task at hand makes you happier. Work your way up to that settlement agreement that will take you close to an hour to review.
Whether I am teaching, or networking, it’s a pretty common for me to sit down to an overflowing inbox. I still freak out, but using this technique helps me deal with things quickly and efficiently—instead of simply staring and wondering how I will ever get to everything.
Use your schedule’s flexibility to your advantage
Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, most lawyers have a lot of flexibility in their schedule. While that can lead to excessive procrastination, it can also be a good thing.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. So if your head is pounding, you’re tired, or you just can’t focus, don’t waste your time typing three sentences an hour. Get out of the office and work at a coffee shop. Go to the gym and clear your mind. Pick up your kid from school and buy them ice cream.
Are you procrastinating? Absolutely. But if you can do something later, especially if you know later is your “productive time,” take advantage of that flexibility. It won’t always be the case, so do it when you can.
Many times it can be hard to focus on the most important task at hand when you have twenty other things scheduled. For example, if you book back to back client meetings and find yourself rushing client #1 out the door to meet with client #2. That’s bad business and clients notice that type of stuff.
Even if you give yourself buffers around events, scheduling too many things can create a psychological traffic jam. For example, you schedule more client meetings that usual in an attempt to handle them all in one day. There’s no rule for how many client meetings you should/shouldn’t have in one day. But if you are accustomed to no more than three a day, there’s a reason for that.
You know your internal rhythm better than anyone else. If you always have your afternoon open, or relatively free, stick to that as much as possible.