By Vicki Voisin, ACP
Productivity…everyone wants to know how to get more done in less time. Getting more done in less time isn’t the answer, though, and neither is drinking copious amounts of caffeine. The answer is to take steps to be your most productive … to eliminate all those things that slow you down.
I have five easy ways you can make this happen:
1. Determine when you do your best work. When are your energy levels at their highest? Early in the morning? Later in the day? Everyone is different but it’s really easy to figure out when you do your best work. Once you know that, you should plan to do work that takes your highest energy levels during the time when you feel your most productive. Plan tasks that don’t take so much energy for the time when you’re slowing down.
Drafting briefs or preparing deposition summaries requires high energy so do them when you’re at your best. Returning telephone calls and answering email can be done when you’re energy is ebbing.
2. Stop the external interruptions. External interruptions are the outside forces that stop you from doing your work. These include people stopping by your office to chat or incoming telephone calls. Here are some ideas for reducing the external interruptions:
Have your calls held. Have your calls held while you’re doing your high priority work that takes total concentration. This works best if you have a good voice mail message that informs callers when they can expect to hear from you and, also, elicits enough information so that you can be prepared when you return the call.
Don’t be the Candy Magnet. If you keep candy on your desk, you’re inviting people to stop by any time, regardless of what you’re doing. If you have M&M’s, I’ll be the first one there!
Close your door. This sends an instant message that you don’t want to be disturbed.
Arrange your office. Arrange your office so that you’re not visible from the hallway…and make it so that it’s not so comfortable for chatting. Stack a few files on the guest chair…if they can’t sit down, they won’t stay long.
3. Stop the internal interruptions. Internal interruptions are caused by YOU! Are you interrupting yourself by going to email land, calling your best friend to get her potato salad recipe, or running for supplies? Do you spend too much time visiting other people’s offices? You can stop the internal interruptions…here’s how:
Don’t do email on demand. Don’t stop yourself to read every email when it comes in. Instead, schedule a time when you’ll check email and stick with it. First thing in the morning, at noon, and again about 4:00 pm should be adequate. You may have to shut your email program down entirely to avoid the temptation.
Plan your telephone time. Telephone time should also be scheduled. Plan to return calls just before lunch (people will be ready to leave and won’t talk long) or later in the afternoon. Prepare ahead for the calls so that you get right to the point and take care of the business. If you need a recipe, you should make that call on your own time.
Stock up on supplies. Keep your desk stocked with all the supplies you need so you don’t have to replenish them during the day. It’s easy to have legal pads, file folders, stationery, pens, staples, and other supplies on hand within easy reach.
4. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfectionism is a nasty time waster and will paralyze you… you may be reluctant to start because you desperately want to do a perfect job…or none at all. There is a time to be perfect (as in the finished product) but trying to prepare a perfect first draft is a waste of time.
When to get things right. The early stages of a project isn’t the time to worry about getting everything right. The editing, rewriting and double-checking of facts and citations can be done at the end of the project.
What project requires more effort? Some tasks deserve or require more perfectionism than others. For instance a brief must be clearly written and well-polished. Applying the same energy to a letter or a memo is probably not the best use of your efforts.
Good is good enough. While some degree of perfectionism is necessary to do a good job, there is a difference between perfectionism and excellence…this is recognizing when good is really good enough.
5. Stop procrastinating. Procrastination will also paralyze you. When you can’t get started on a project…whatever your reason…you’re not producing. Everyone procrastinates sometimes. The interesting thing about procrastinating is that only you know when you’re doing it. You get a cup of coffee, stop by a friend’s office to chat, check your e-mail, call your Mom, or even work really hard on a low priority project – all methods of procrastination. Here are a few tips for overcoming procrastination.
No time to finish the whole project? You may delay starting a project because you won’t have time to finish the whole thing at one time. This all-or-nothing thinking isn’t good because we rarely have large chunks of time to work on a project. The best way is to break the project down into smaller parts and work on just one part at a time.
Try starting anywhere. Sometimes you procrastinate because you can’t start at the beginning so you lose sight of the fact that starting anywhere is better than not starting at all. While it’s great to start at the beginning this isn’t the only logical way to work because most projects have many good places to start, and all of them are about as good as the other. Just take the first step: start anywhere.
Work no more than 15 minutes at a time. Working no more than 15 minutes at a time is a great anti-procrastination method. Set a timer and work full blast on a project for the next fifteen minutes. When the timer goes off you can choose to do something else for fifteen minutes or continuing working on your project. Most of the time you’ll have momentum going and just re-set the timer and keep on working. It’s easy to work for hours this way but it doesn’t feel that long because you always know that a break is just 15 minutes away.
Waiting for inspiration? Start even if you’re not in the mood. The inspiration to work on a project is not always with you but if you wait for inspiration, you’ll never start. It’s better to begin the work and see if the ideas start to flow.
Procrastinating won’t make it easier. Unpleasant tasks don’t get any easier if you put them off…in fact, they get worse. And the worry over not working on a project takes as much energy as just biting the bullet and getting started. Think about taking a swim in very cold water. Some people prefer to dive in quickly and get the shock over with. Others stretch out the agony by stepping in inch by shivering inch. It’s really easiest to plunge in and get the agony over with as soon as possible.
Your challenge: Think about how your actions are reducing your productivity. Once you’ve identified an issue, decide what steps you need to take to fix it. Then spend the next month practicing those steps. By this time next month, the steps will have become a habit and you’ll find yourself well on the way to boosting your productivity.
© 2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a bi-weekly ezine titled Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence. More information is available atwww.paralegalmentor.com