Time is not an infinite resource. But we so often behave as if it is.
It’s a new year and the perfect opportunity to take stock and do a time management audit. We’ve been in and out of lockdowns, worked from home, and some of us are back in the office. Most of us will probably settle on a combination of the two.
There are many common obstacles to being more productive. For example, multitasking might fool us into thinking we’re powering through our work but what we’re actually doing is switching between tasks. Research shows it’s less productive than focusing on one thing at a time.
Oscar Wilde once said he never puts off till tomorrow what he can do the day after. Procrastination can be a major problem for lawyers particularly. Why do we procrastinate? Perfectionism, fear of making mistakes, and disapproval can get in the way of productive work. Anxiety can lead us to want to delay an unpleasant task. It might provide short term relief; however, it can also lead to a vicious cycle of self-doubt, escalating fear and avoidance.
Time management tips
We can all use some tips to help us use our time more efficiently.
One technique popularised by Stephen Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) is the Eisenhower Matrix.
DO the critical and urgent tasks. These are the spot fires, the crises you need to deal with immediately. Maybe they were unforeseen, or possibly the things you didn’t get around to.
SCHEDULE the important but not urgent things – the marketing, proactive client engagement, or maybe quiet time reviewing files when nothing is super urgent.
Free up time and DELEGATE tasks that are neither important nor urgent.
And decide which low or no value tasks you can ELIMINATE to free up more time to spend on the essential things.
Once you have prioritised, how do you remove distractions and carve out time to work productively?
The Pomodoro Method, invented by Francesco Cirillo, was so named because his kitchen timer was shaped like a tomato (pomodoro in Italian). It’s a fantastic way to kick start your work, and it’s also a handy tool to prevent procrastination. Pick a task and set a timer for 25 minutes. No multitasking is allowed. Don’t look up or check your phone or emails for 25 minutes. Take a five-minute break and reward yourself with anything that helps your brain to refocus and refresh. You might like to repeat this a few times if you’re on a roll and then take an extended break.
Perhaps, most importantly, try to avoid harsh self-judgment. There is always room for improvement. Show yourself some compassion and self-forgiveness. Let go of perfectionism and harsh self criticism. Let your mind wander – you might surprise yourself.
Here are a few links if you would like to do some further reading.
- “3 Reasons Your Time Management is a Mess & How to Fix it”, 15.06.2020, accessed at https://lawcpd.com.au/blog/3-reasons-time-management-mess/
- Audrey McGibbon “Why You Procrastinate and What to do about it” Lawyers Weekly 05.03.2019 accessed at https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/biglaw/25175-why-you-procrastinate-and-what-to-do-about-it
- Anna Hinder “Turning Procrastination into Productivity” presentation 16.06.2021 held by LPLC accessed at https://lplc.com.au/resources/webinars/turning-procrastination-into-productivity
- Jordana Atter Confino “Reining in Perfectionism” Law Practice today 14.01.2019 accessed at https://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/reining-in-perfectionism/
- Judith Bennett, “How to stop procrastinating” 03.04.2018 accessed at https://www.liv.asn.au/Staying-Informed/LIJ/LIJ/April/How-to-stop-procrastinating
- Bill Knaus, “Freedom from Self Doubts, Anxiety and Procrastination” Psychology Today, 01.06.2015 accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/science-and-sensibility/201506/freedom-self-doubts-anxiety-and-procrastination