LAWYERS, DEADLINES AND PROCRASTINATION: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT? (“A DEADLINE… THAT IS ALL”)

Many of the cases that appear on this blog, particularly those dealing with sanctions and service, arise because things are left to the very last minute. We have looked before at lawyers and procrastination.  I thought that perhaps this is a good time to seek ideas from the legal Twitterati.   They aren’t always as helpful as you would like… More importantly, however, procrastination can be both a cause and a sign of stress.  Having a method (or a range of methods) of dealing with the issue is most probably central to a successful practice in an any area of the law.

 

USEFUL LINKS: DEALING WITH PROCRASTINATION

LITIGATION SPECIFIC

Some of the above are general.

IT CAN AFFECT YOUR HEALTH

PRACTICAL ADVICE

Gibson & Perkins Attorneys offer regular malpractice avoidance tips. In “Managing your Fish Files” they recommend a regular swapping of fish files to ensure that problems are shared and dealt with.

HUMOUR: TO SURVIVE WE HAVE TO LAUGH

AND NOW OUR FRIENDS FROM TWITTER…

I am good at this. Just grimace and force yourself to open the file for a few minutes and make a short list of what needs doing. Then maybe pick off a couple of small nice jobs from the list and then you are away! Also pomodoro app for 20 mins to see how much you can clear!

ently that small jobs which take 2-5 minutes to do should be done straight away. There’s no point adding them to the list. For my law students I wrote this:

If you’re in a solicitor’s firm and you’re senior, I’d suggest you get to know the skills & abilities of your staff & delegate. The important thing about delegation is it requires planning. You need to give people enough time, you need to give the right job to the right person.

For productivity, I’d suggest not keeping your email open all day. Choose two periods a day when you check it. No more. Keep it open all day and it saps your time. I heard an analogy about it… let me see if I can find it…

OK. I can’t find it online. But I think the analogy is like using a washing machine. You don’t wash one sock at a time in a washing machine. You wash a load in one go. If you deliberately limit your email time, you write concise responses and don’t waste time.

Dividing big tasks into chunks and putting each chunk on your To Do list can help. Then you can deal with easy or quick tasks when you have time/inclination/confidence to do them. As you see the list get crossed off, you might feel better about the other elements.

Are you doing this post to get out of doing that probate advice?

No point in probate advice at the moment. My entire caseload is lodged at the Registry. Seemingly forever.

I’ll try and get back to you tomorrow.

A deadline dear. That is all.

3. Those who are anxious the whole time about the tasks put off but generally put them off (or go slow) until the 11th hour anyway! (Me)

I combine them both: I worry about stuff so much that I can’t do anything about it at the time and then have to rush to get it done at the last possible minute.

Get on with it! It can feel inwardly embarrassing to complete something in 30 mins that you’ve put off for 2 weeks or more. At the same time, sleeping on a task can make it seem much clearer the next day, but don’t put it off too long!

We try and follow the Mark Twain phrase “if your job is to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning and if your job is to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first”. Pearl of wisdom from

Ok bearing in mind this is something I feel strongly about .. divide your week into planned and reactive ( or bug) time. We used Mon am and Fri Pm as bug. If you plan all your week you have no time to react in. We had 30% bug when I retired. It worked

If your bug time isn’t needed pull forward planned work .. ( court appearance notwithstanding) so you move bug time thro the week like one of those games I had as a kid with 11 tiles and 12 spaces so you move the tiles to create a pattern 🙂

Without being boring run a case like a project, use a Gannt Chart,shared online calendar so all tasks on time in / on budget. After all the lay Client often doesn’t have the ability to read docs etc last minute and absorb them the way their instructed team can and so often do

Spend less time on Twitter.

Delegate it to a minion 👍

I’ll put off reading it for a bit – I have pencils to sharpen 🙂

I’d recommend a kanban board vs a Gantt chart. We find lawyers (and clients) far more comfortable with that kind of a visual for managing matters

(Link here)

Baby steps, I genuinely know lawyers who don’t know what either is. I tend to try and use the budget and either the Gannt chart or similar to show time scale within phase etc. Am experimenting with a few options at the moment . But agree visual is essential.

Oh I know. We don’t even call it kanban with our clients. We call it a matter management board. Once they see it, though, and “get it” they get excited. The visual presentation makes sense to them.

Pomodoro method is brilliant!

That is very true, also cut it up into little pieces so that it goes down a bit easier, if I may stretch a metaphor a bit further.

Always been a problem for me; but when I’m really blocked, it’s normally my subconscious telling me I’ve missed something. Henri Poincaré, the mathematician, reckoned the best way to solve a problem was to think on it, do something else, & inspiration would strike eventually.

Value “mulling time”. Now I do have a deadline!

Tasks: do when your energy levels are high. Projects: break into tasks & schedule/delegate. Emails: JFDI. Remember more efficient to do now than postpone til later.

Block out a meeting with yourself in the calendar. Do something to start off the project that is simple and manageable. Make yourself accountable to a colleague, manager or just anyone you trust to nag you to get it d

Allocate times for projects,set times to view emails. Create a task for a response when email comes in, log it allocate to team if needed, set the time it may need to take and come back when your mind can deal. Great way to deal with inbox as well. Mine currently at zero.

Great, thanks, I can read this instead of cracking on with cross ex prep..

Hmmm… I think sometimes we can be a bit pejorative about procrastination. I find it useful – I will often read a bunch of authorities or a set of papers and then go off and clean my bathroom or something. I like to think of it as processing time…

List. Delegate. Prioritise. Get on with it.

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow

Leave your mobile in a place that you can’t access it/leave it with your partner for a day. If your expecting something urgent/important then give them a land/email

Is it ok to put “delegate” at the top of the list and pop off for a cup of tea?

Take yourself to a different space in the office or house. Take the phone off the hook. Put the file(s) in front of you that you need to do on a completely clear desk. Stop when you’re finished, then wonder why it took far less time than you thought it should have done.

The other serious thing I should say is that sometimes not getting on with stuff is a symptom of my depression. I remember staring at a bundle of docs in a whistleblowing case for hours on end every day for about 8 weeks. I emailed two documents to the Tribunal at 11.20pm on  deadline day. They were crap. An Employment Judge took one look and sent me a template he/ she gives to unrepresented litigants. Later, as I emerged from the wave of depression, I realised I didn’t have the email where my client had made the one disclosure I knew was protected!

It’s a self help book, but I loved Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Well worth a read. And case analysis, so you have a plan right from the beginning of every case.

🧮: Commit – Start small by breaking down the tasks 🤹🏽‍♂️: Surroundings – Avoid distractions of people and settings ⏳: Be realistic – changing habits takes time and effort 🗣: Self talk – instead of “I can’t…” -> “I will” Trust the process 👊🏽

Break it into chunks and reward yourself after each chunk. You can tolerate nearly almost anything for just 15 minutes. Often its the getting started that is the hardest part and after 15 minutes you may be happy to carry on.

Break task into manageable pieces. I set aside 1 hour (or 2 or whatever) per day to work on it & tell myself that when I reach that hour, I can quit for the day. I often end up working longer, b/c once I get past initial hurdle, it’s usually not as bad as I’d expected.

Another thing that works for me is starting with an “easy” part, like the standard of review, and working my way slowly toward the more difficult parts.

GUIDANCE FROM THE COALFACE

In 2014 I held a seminar on avoiding procedural problems. The participants in that programme came up with a number of practical steps.

THE LIST: THE COMBINED EFFORT OF ALL THE TEAMS

1. If you are stuck ask for help. Get a second opinion.

2. The firm should carry out regular file reviews.

3. Delegate the work if necessary (but don’t “dump” it on junior colleagues”).

4. If you are avoiding a file, make an appointment with yourself specifically to do that task.

5. Segment the work into pieces.

6. Have an office “swop-shop” where files can be exchanged if necessary.

7. Ensure that there is an open culture in the office where problem files can be discussed.

8. Make an appointment with the client (it was felt that this could encourage action and also give rise to encouragement and inspiration).

9. Go to counsel [I should explain that a number of my colleagues were also taking part, I accept their vested interest].

10. Deal with matters when you are at your best.

11. Ensure that everyone has a manageable case load.

OTHER ESSENTIAL CHECKLISTS

.  Also take a look at The Daily Record: tips for lawyers  to avoid procrastination.

1. Recognising you have a problem is a major part of the battle.

2. “Fashion a starting point”. Start on a simple administrative task on the file and work from there.

3. Create a sense of urgency – or delegate the file.

4. Break the work down into segments.

5. Reward yourself when the work is done.