Procrastination in the Time of COVID

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Do you find yourself avoiding work? Feeling anxious or stressed? Dreading what you might read in emails or hear in voicemails?

You are experiencing procrastination. And possibly depression. With the upheaval COVID has brought to our lives, getting up in the morning may feel challenging.

Understanding and addressing procrastination is difficult. One of the better explanations appeared in a post on The Productive Mindset:

  • Procrastination is not a time-management problem.
  • Procrastinators often have anxiety or doubts about their abilities, or about the perception others have of their abilities.
  • Many procrastinators would prefer others think they lack drive instead of providing the opportunity for others to question their capabilities.
  • Underlying fear of failure or fear of success is common among procrastinators.
  • Depression and procrastination go hand-in-hand.

Fear, Anxiety, and Doubt

While the original Mindset post is no longer available, Googling “the psychology and behaviors of procrastination” reinforces that fear, anxiety, and doubt are major players here. Factor in a major life change – like a pandemic – and the stress ratchets up threefold.

Does This Sound Like You?

  1. Do you put off taking care of important things to the point of jeopardizing relationships, career, finances, or health?
  2. Do you put off doing what you need to do until a crisis develops?
  3. Do you put off doing tasks unless you can do them perfectly or until you can find the perfect time to do them?
  4. Do you hesitate taking necessary action because you fear change?
  5. Do you think about things you’d like to do but rarely get around to doing them?
  6. Do you believe that projects or tasks will somehow take care of themselves?
  7. Do you overcommit yourself?
  8. Do you tend to do only what you want to do instead of what you should do?
  9. Do you tend to do only what you think you should do instead of what you want to do?

Adapted from It’s About Time, by Dr. Linda Sapadin with Jack Maguire [Procrastination Self Test.]

Ending the Paralysis and Self Sabotage

We all procrastinate occasionally. But if putting things off is affecting your practice, home life, health, or finances – don’t struggle alone. Oregon lawyers are encouraged to contact an Attorney Counselor at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) any time for help with this issue. The OAAP is free and confidential. They are an excellent resource if you are experiencing depression, which is often the real story behind procrastination.

You can read more about the paralysis of procrastination here.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Create Distraction Free Time

 

All or most of these activities come with the job of being a lawyer. But we also need time to think and get work done. If you’re looking for answers, consider the following strategies.

Six Steps to Becoming a More Productive Lawyer

Set aside specific time during the day to respond to communications. Don’t allow the rings, dings, and beeps of technology to constantly interrupt your concentration. Check emails, calls, and texts when you arrive and before the end of the day. If a lunch-time check is feasible (or necessary in your opinion), add it in.

On days when your schedule won’t allow for check-ins, set up appropriate auto-replies to manage client expectations. If you have staff, let them screen and manage incoming requests. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period, inform clients beforehand.

Identify your most productive time of day and use it to do legal work. Schedule meetings during “down” time and inform staff of your preference (and when they can break the rules).

Set boundaries for using the Internet if you find that you spend too much time browsing, shopping, or looking at social media. Consider deleting cookies, logins, and bookmarks for pages that eat away at productive time.

Once a quarter, block out one week with no meetings so you can catch up. Don’t wait. Choose for weeks now. Use the time to clean up your desk and workspace, go through your to do list, attend to filing, scanning, or closing files – whatever you’ve been putting off. If you’re caught up, enjoy the uninterrupted time.

Delegate or outsource as much as you can, when you can, so you can focus on the tasks that only you can do. Billable time is precious and should be maximized doing billable work.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

There’s free help for that.

If you, or someone you care about, is feeling overwhelmed by stress, contact the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).

OAAP attorney counselors can help you explore ways to reduce your stress, manage your time, and achieve a healthier work-life balance. If needed, they can also refer you  to other health professionals to make sure you get the help you need. All contact with the OAAP is confidential.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

 

Fresh Start for the New Year

The new year offers each of us the chance to make changes. Not by setting lofty goals, but by committing to small adjustments that can make a big difference in attitude, health, and resilience. Here are 7 micro goals that anyone can follow.

Micro Goal 1 – Cut Your Work Hours

Several years ago I reported on a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine that found people “who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day.  Those who work between 10 and 11 hours per day have a 45 percent higher risk.”

Your micro goal: Commit to a 9 hour (or less) work day. The occasional exception is fine, just don’t backslide.

Micro Goal 2 – Stand, Move, Stretch

Sitting in your chair for hours on end shouldn’t be the norm. Stand, move, stretch. Consider a treadmill or standing desk. Better yet, leave the office for a few minutes and walk around the block! Your joints and muscles will thank you.

Your micro goal: Move at least once an hour. Use a cheap timer, an app, recurring task reminders, or whatever it takes to remind yourself to get up. No one will care if you stretch during a deposition or walk to the back of the room during a CLE.

Micro Goal 3 – Just Say No

Find it hard to turn people away? You aren’t alone. I don’t really have a choice. I need the money. Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me. These are things we tell ourselves. Follow this advice to turn the tide.

Your micro goal: Say no at least once a month. As you gain confidence, don’t hesitate to say no whenever necessary.

Micro Goal 4 – Say Goodbye

Too much to do and not enough time? Cull the herd.

  • Review your current client list for matters you regret taking.  If feasible, say goodbye to those clients.
  • Farm out work or delegate to others in your firm. If you’re a solo/small firm practitioner, reach out to colleagues for referrals to a contract lawyer who can get you over the hump.

Your micro goal: Apply your newfound client/case criteria to future matters and screen out cases that aren’t a good match for you.

Micro Goal 5 – Protect your Priorities

What do you want to get done? What are your priorities? When is the last time you even thought about what you wanted?

It’s easy to get pushed around by interruptions: phone calls, texts, emails, pop-in clients, or colleagues.

Your micro goal: Block out time on your calendar for work you want to get done. Treat this time as if it were a client appointment. (No interruptions allowed.) Stay off the Internet unless the task at hand involves being on the Internet. Give the matter your undivided attention.

Micro Goal 6 – Put Your Calendar First

If your calendar contains your personal and business commitments, including time blocks to get work done, let it determine the scheduling for all new promises.

Your micro goal: Check your calendar before promising completion of a time-related task. If there is no “deadline” per se, determine when you can reasonably fit the new project into your schedule. Add it to your calendar and back it up with a task reminder. You gain nothing by promising a quick turnaround if you can’t keep your word.

Micro Goal 7 – Triage When You Know You Can’t Meet a Deadline

If you’re in a pickle – a deadline is approaching and you know you can’t meet it  – the best approach is to face it head on. I know this can be hard. We assume clients or other lawyers will yell at us. The truth is, people are more understanding than we give them credit for. Everyone has been there. They get it.

Your micro goal: Renegotiate deadlines you can’t meet.

You can start over. You can make changes. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2020

 

Automate Something – Anything!

Automation is the answer to improving workflows and productivity. If a given action requires entries in multiple systems – say opening a new client file – automate it. Tired of performing the same redundant task? Automate it. Want to save time? Automate! To learn how, read the story of Joe Lawyer.

Virtually anything can be automated – document production, emails, marketing, or client management. Avoid overwhelming yourself or staff by starting small. Pick one area of office operations. Diagnose what works and what doesn’t. Get staff input. Identify any steps you may be performing out of habit that no longer serve a purpose and eliminate them. That alone will improve efficiency! Now that you’ve whittled it down to the essentials consider how technology can help. Do some research, starting with a better understanding of what your existing software can do. Check out Joe’s story for ideas, then visit the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. You can also call your friendly practice management advisor for suggestions.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2019.

You Can Take a Vacation

Build time off into your work schedule now to take a vacation – no excuses!  It takes some effort and organization, but your body and mind will thank you.  Three-day weekends – like Memorial Day – aren’t enough. We all need true recuperative time away from the office. This is my annual nudge to encourage you to take time from for yourself.

Budget now to go on vacation later.

“If I’m not at the office, I can’t bill.  If I can’t bill, I won’t get paid.” True enough, but there is a solution: budget for your vacation.

First, calculate your vacation expenses. Next, quantify the lost revenue you need to replace during your time out of the office. Now that you know how much you need, begin setting aside funds every week to meet your financial goal. If necessary, find little ways to cut back that can really add up: like bringing your lunch to work, deferring your daily Starbucks fix, using public transportation, or telecommuting.

Saving weekly will keep you on track and help manage expectations. If you’re just getting started, then your plans this year may be more modest. Next year, you can begin saving for your summer vacation in January.

Clients are important enough to schedule.  So is your vacation.

Work will never go away, but I guarantee that if you look ahead in your calendar you will find a block of time with no commitments. Even if you haven’t made plans yet, block the time out now before your calendar fills up. If you have a habit of backsliding, enlist your family as enforcers. If you need an extra incentive, consider non-refundable travel reservations.

Preparation is key!

If you’re a member of a firm, going on vacation is a matter of meeting with other lawyers who will be covering cases during your absence.

If you are a sole practitioner, use the buddy system.  Find a colleague who is experienced in your practice area and willing to cover for you.

This arrangement is usually reciprocal and is helpful if you have an unexpected absence from the office due to injury or a medical condition.

Vacation Checklist:

  • Notify clients, opposing counsel, judges, or other appropriate parties that you will be out of the office;
  • Prep your files.  They should be well-organized and current, with status memos so your buddy can easily step in if needed;
  • Create a “Countdown Schedule.”  Identify what needs to be done when and whether certain tasks can wait until your return;
  • Allow for wind down.  As your vacation approaches, leave time in your schedule to finish up last minute work.  Reduce or refer out new matters;
  • Train staff.  Do they have a clear understanding of office procedures?  How will they screen client calls during your absence?  Give them parameters for contacting you or your buddy in the event of an emergency.
  • Resist constantly checking voice mail, e-mail, or text messages.  Technology is a God-send, but part of rejuvenation is taking a break from our instant Internet society. Checking in is okay, but stick to a schedule to avoid obsessing over what is going on back at the office.  Remember – you have an emergency plan in place.  If something happens, staff or your buddy will get a hold of you.
  • Avoid post-vacation overload.  Just as you blocked out dates to go on vacation, allow yourself time to get back up-to-speed.  Otherwise, you’re right back where you started.

All Rights Reserved 2019 – Beverly Michaelis