How to be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.

This week, let’s talk about productivity.

Much of the stress I felt as a young lawyer stemmed from the feeling that I had little control over my days.  I would love to tell you that I devised a system to eradicate that feeling completely.  In reality, that’s just life as a junior attorney. It can take a while for work to trickle down to you. And when it does, you will have little or no input in the deadlines imposed.

But! Over time, I developed a system to help organize my schedule and take control where I could. It’s super easy to implement and in about fifteen minutes a day, you can enjoy more focused days, productive weeks, and relaxed weekends.

So what’s my grand plan? It’s simple, really: (1) a detailed to do list and (2) a commitment to reevaluate your priorities on a regular basis throughout the week, starting on Sunday.

Stay with me: I know nobody wants to think about work on the weekend. But let’s get real, you probably already do. Maybe because you had to work over the weekend. Or because on Sunday evening, emails about the next week start filling your inbox.  Or you’re still stressing about projects you didn’t finish last week.

Whatever the reason, I want you to set aside 10-15 minutes every Sunday and create a to do list for the week. Here are some guidelines:

  • Draft a bulleted list of all of the matters you anticipate working on that week.
    • Under each matter, list the specific tasks you need to accomplish.
    • Break out each project into chunks. So you are not just writing a memo, your tasks are: (1) research the issue, (2) draft the memo, and (3) finalize and submit the memo to your boss. If you’re really having trouble motivating yourself, make the tasks super specific, like “draft legal standard section of memo.”
    • Include meetings and calls from your calendar. They eat up time in your day.
    • Are you working on a long-term project like a document review? Break it out into smaller steps. Think about your pace – how many documents do you want to review per hour? Or how many assignment batches do you need to review per day in order to meet the project targets? If you have trouble staying motivated in the face of unending doc review, focus on billable hours. Set a goal of 3 hours billed on the review by lunch. Whatever your barrier to efficiency is, your to do list can help overcome it.
  • Break up your list by day.
    • What tasks do you want to or need to finish on Monday? Tuesday?
    • If you are having trouble figuring out how much you can get done in a day, estimate how much time you think a given task will take and jot it down on your list. You don’t necessarily need to stick to it, but it can help you structure your day.
  • Order each day’s list by priority of task or the order in which you need to get things done.
  • Keep the list somewhere you can access and edit it easily.
    • I keep my list in a draft email in my inbox. Keeping an electronic file allows me to shift things around as I draft it or as my priorities change.
    • Sometimes I also put each day’s tasks on a post-it note on my desk. I can reference it easily, and as I complete tasks, bask in the minor joy of physically crossing items off my list. I also jot down my time next to each task so I can track my billable hours more easily.

That’s all there is to it! On Monday morning, just take a look at your list and get to work.

Feeling a little lost? Here’s a sample list for a few days, following the above guidelines:

Monday

  • Smith v. Doe
    • Team meeting to discuss privilege review (9am-10am)
    • Review two document review batches (2 hrs.)
  • Jones v. Lee
    • Draft update letter to client and send to partner for review (2 hrs.)
  • Green v. Red
    • Client memo: research issues X and Y (3 hrs.)

Tuesday

  • Smith v. Doe
    • Review two document batches (2 hrs.)
  • Jones v. Lee
    • Finalize client letter and send (1 hr.)
  • Green v. Red
    • Client memo: Draft memo (5 hrs.)

Wednesday

  • Green v. Red
    • Client memo: Review and finalize memo and send to partner (1 hr.)
  • Smith v. Doe
    • Review two document batches (2 hrs.)
  • Attend litigation department training (2 hrs.)

Tomorrow: check back here for tips about how to follow through on your list and adjust to new demands as they arise.  Because life as a junior lawyer is nothing if not unpredictable.

Pic Credit: Glenn Carstens Peters (via Unsplash)