Effectively prioritizing what you work on can make a dramatic difference to your day.
Between angry partners, demanding clients, and your own feeling of actually getting things done – choosing what comes next can be extremely difficult.
So what can you do to make sure you’re making the right choices?
Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate More
I’m not suggesting you annoy people, but by far and away the biggest complaint of senior lawyers is that junior lawyers agreed to do something within a particular time frame and then didn’t.
Of course, clients frequently have the same complaint.
Normally, this is because something more urgent came up – or at least, that’s what the junior lawyer thought.
However instead of telling anyone that they now had competing priorities, the junior lawyer just tries to “push through” – usually failing.
So if you do nothing else – communicate with those to whom you answer about what’s going on with their work, and manage their expectations.
That way, when you are deciding what to focus your efforts on, you at least have the input necessary to make the decision what has to come next.
Don’t Dance from Urgent to Urgent
Danger, Danger Will Robinson!
If you spend your entire legal career only doing what is the next most urgent thing, you are stuffed.
Because you will never, ever, run out of things that you or someone consider to be urgent.
The problem is that there are any number of hugely important tasks for your career that you must do, but that are never “urgent”.
Here are some:
- administration – reviewing files, doing paperwork, organising systems and the like – tedious, but important
- marketing – never seems urgent, but it really is the lifeblood of your career
- client care – just touching base, because you can
- keeping up to date with the law – you know you’ve gotta do it
- mentoring or being mentored – such an important role, and so frequently put to one side
There are many more, of course, but you get the idea – the next most urgent thing is not necessarily what you should be working on.
Instead of constantly running from fire to fire – make sure that you deliberately leave some space to do the important things – otherwise they just won’t get done. The urgent will always get done. You know why? Because they are urgent.
Maximise your Peak Operating Times
What to do next is not always contingent upon your “to do” list. Sometimes you should decide what to do based on when you function best.
If you are a morning person, perhaps you should be putting certain tasks on your “morning” list?
If you work better on some types of task when you’re alone, then perhaps you should shift those tasks to when you’re most likely to be left by yourself.
You get the idea – play to your strengths.
Tackle The Big Task, or Many Little Tasks?
This is a common issue. You’ve got a gigantic task that you know you have to do, but you’re also collecting a series of smaller matters, letters, calls and issues to deal with.
So what do you do – get straight into the massive job, or deal with the little tasks first?
For my part, it depends on the nature of the tasks. As part of my overall philosophy of “generous productivity” if I can get a few things done fairly quickly that will allow others to carry on productively (for example settling letters, dictation, or smaller emails or calls), then I’m probably going to do that first thing in the morning. That way other people aren’t waiting for me, and their work can continue to the benefit of the other clients while I then get stuck in to the larger task.
Mostly – Just Don’t Procrastinate
When we get really busy it can be tempting to spend our day planning, listing and thinking about what to do.
How about this – just do the best you can, and get on with it.