Being back to the office, like from an extended work-from-home period, can be tough. Even those who kept a strict routine while working remotely might find it hard to get back to work in a traditional sense – you may have gotten out of bed, dressed and to your home office by 9, but you likely didn’t have to steam your suit, pack a lunch or compensate for a commute time. For those at firms that kept their offices open or partially open, a return to less-casual business can mean an unexpected adjustment period.
Staying focused and organized is important for most careers, but it is vital to lawyers. Missed deadlines and other administrative errors can be a symptom of distraction and disorganization. In fact, administrative errors are the number one reason for malpractice claims, and make up nearly a quarter of all claims that we see.
Tips For Staying Focused, On-Task and Organized
- Start your day before it begins – plan everything the night before.
Pick out your outfit, plan your lunch, pack your briefcase and prepare anything else that might cause you to stumble in your morning routine. Or, even better, plan your whole week on Sunday. This may sound like a silly step but starting the day without the last-minute mad dash through your closet or scrounging through your refrigerator will ensure you’re stepping out the door on time, unflustered and fully prepared.
- Curb your distractions to stay focused.
Are you a social media addict or news junkie? You’re not alone, and studies consistently show that those little mental breaks can actually be good for your overall work performance. Just make sure your distractions don’t hijack your whole day. Rather than fooling yourself thinking you’ll just hop on Facebook “for a minute,” commit to a structured break schedule. Something like 15 minutes every two hours will give you a short break in the morning and afternoon. One way to be sure you stick to that schedule is to turn off your notifications. Most phones have a “Do Not Disturb” mode, which lets you receive alerts for texts and calls from select people, while silencing alerts from apps. In the same vein, be sure you give yourself a lunch break. In addition to eating, take a lap around the building, or even just the conference room. The increased circulation and change of scenery will help curb burnout.
- Look for new ways to maximize your efficiency.
Another way to stay focused is to increase your efficiency. Learn to batch similar tasks (like pulling all files for a task at once, then filing the entire stack at once, rather than getting up to pull and re-file them individually), set up email filters to automate your inbox and use tools to streamline appointment scheduling. These tips and more, with instructions, are in a previous article, “Practical Tips to Improve Efficiency at Your Law Office.”
- Adopt a calendaring system, and actually use it.
We’ve previously detailed “Why an Effective Calendaring System Is Important,” but know that a calendaring system is more than a few notes on a desk blotter. Dates are only numbers in a grid if we don’t give them significance. You may know what the title “Smith filing” means today, but will you in a month? Or 90 days? You need to make it clear what you’re supposed to actually do on that date; add a description and even short notes. From our previous article: For example, … A Notice of Tort claim must be filed within one year of the accident, after which you must wait for a denial, but the claim is deemed denied 90 days after submission of the claim if no response is received. The lawsuit must then be filed within 180 days after a denial or the deemed denial date.
So in the calendar item for the example above, include other important dates, next steps or any other information that would be helpful to know when you receive this notification. Some practice management software services have built-in features that can help, but you’ll likely still need to add some of your own notes.
- Heed notifications.
You’ve put all this work into your calendaring system, now you need to actually let it help you. Your meticulous record-keeping and note-taking will be a fruitless endeavor if you don’t actually heed your system’s reminders. One way to avoid missing them is to set only one reminder per event. If you set multiple reminders for every event, you will inundate yourself with reminders you know you can dismiss without looking, and you might inadvertently desensitize yourself to all notifications – even the important ones. You also need to set a reminder at an appropriate time. If you need to be at the courthouse at 9 a.m., a reminder at 9 a.m. might not be much help.
- Set boundaries for yourself.
Lawyers are notorious workaholics. That dedication is what got you where you are, but don’t make your return to the office any harder by overextending yourself. Commit to getting to work on time, but also commit to leaving by a set time. It can be easy to get caught up in a task but staying too late can result in a hectic evening, especially if you have loved ones at home waiting on you. That hectic evening can result in a late night, followed by a disorganized morning that might start late, and that cycle can quickly become out of control. Because those first days or weeks back may be a little unpredictable, be honest with yourself on how long you can stay and be productive. If the office closes at 5, but you know you might need to stay late, try committing to not staying past 6 and be sure to stick to it.
Getting back into a regular routine can be tough, but preparation can ease the transition. Any steps you can take to stay better organized and focused will help protect you and your firm from costly errors. Sticking to a plan but building in some flexibility and safeguards will help reduce your risk.