Working Overtime: Is it the best use of your time?

Vicki Voisin, ACP

Are you always the last one to leave the office at night? If you are, you may need to re-think how you spend your normal working hours. Are you using your time wisely or are you wasting time needlessly because you think you can finish it later?

There will always be occasions when we will have to work overtime.Deadlines, rush jobs, special projects, and trials are a fact of life and often require professionals to work beyond 5:00 p.m. These special circumstances are not a problem. They happen, they pass and life returns to normal.

When these ‘special circumstances’ become habitual, when you’re working overtime whether it’s needed or not, when your whole life revolves around being at the office or texting on your BlackBerry, you may need to take a leap off the merry-go-round and reclaim your life.

Is your ego tied to working overtime? Sometimes we feel better about ourselves if we’re giving 150% to the team, whether anyone else notices or not. Please give this some thought. Working long hours can lead to increased stress and burnout. This habit may also send you on a guilt trip because of conflicts with family time. Weekends and evenings happen for a reason. Use them to restore your spirit and your energy.

Working overtime may foster procrastination. You may find that you’re not productive during regular working hours because you have the option of finishing the work later. Your inclination to put off your work because the whole day and then the evening stretch before you will only lead to procrastination.

You may make more errors. You simply can’t be your best 24/7. If you’re consistently working overtime, the quality of your work may suffer. What’s more, if you are working late on your own time, you may feel you’re being taken advantage of and, therefore, justified in turning in a second rate performance.

Working overtime may lead to increased interruptions. You’ll always find something to do to fill the time you have, whether it’s putting your nose to the grindstone and churning out the work or drifting around the office to chat about Virginia Tech’s loss to Boise State. When your work day has no definitive end time, you may also be more apt to tolerate unnecessary telephone calls and e-mail or interruptions by your co-workers. These all waste your time and keep you from getting your work done.

Other people’s procrastination may rule your overtime. Some people simply cannot do their work unless they are up against a deadline. If your supervising attorney has this tendency, you’re going to find yourself in Overtime Land all too often. If at all possible, do what you can to head off the crisis by completing some parts of the project ahead of time. You usually know what the procedure will require. Also, if you don’t tolerate constantly being asked to work overtime, you may find that the last minute behavior changes.

Your challenge: There are two things you should consider:

First, you’ll always fill the time you have…so you’ll probably get the same amount of work done whether you’re working eight hours or twelve.

Second, you’ve heard that no one has ever had “I wish I’d spent more time at the office!” engraved on their tombstone.

Life is simply too short to spend it all at work. If you have no ‘quitting time’ your day will stretch on and on. You need a deadline. Make 5:00 p.m. your new deadline and stick to it.

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©2010 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 weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com.