Procrastivity, or How I Learned to Manage My Time In Spite of Myself

I am dictating this post. I’m doing this not because I don’t like to type, but because it’s so much faster to dictate. Surprisingly, it is also much more accurate than when I type. And so, dictation has become one of the methods I use to overcome my own procrastination.

I find that client production is sometimes the last thing that I get done. That’s probably because there are so many distractions that keep me from it. Things like (literally) paying the bills, marketing my services to find the next client, pro bono work, answering the phone, weeding through my email, and everything else it takes to run a law firm on a day-to-day basis. I’m not complaining, mind you. it’s just that it gets very easy to put off till tomorrow production that should be done today.

I am by nature a procrastinator. I get distracted by shiny objects. I find myself looking for other things to do, rather than tackling the big project that’s right in front of me. I know I’m not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, as much as 20% of the US population are chronic procrastinators. And 100% of everybody procrastinates some of the time.

As lawyers, however, we have a duty to be timely. Procrastination is the enemy. Procrastination leads to trust accounting errors. Procrastination leads to late filing and missed statutes of limitations. Procrastination means late nights and sloppy work if you are trying to finish before a deadline. Procrastination is bad lawyering.

So like everyone else I know, I’ve had to learn a few tricks in order to fulfill my duty. These are some other things that I have learned that help me stay on track despite myself.

1. The aforementioned dictation. Using dictation/transcription software has made document production much faster. I have had to learn to speak in a stilted way so that the software understands me. This is a small price to pay for getting my documents out in a timely manner. Once you learn to use dictation software effectively, you will never go back to typing.

2. Online to do lists. Yes I said lists, plural. I actually keep about five separate to do lists. These include client production, firm marketing, firm management, delegated tasks, and personal matters. By separating my to do list into categories, I can more effectively manage my time spent on each category. Using online software such as allows me to manage not only my time, but the time of my assistant and my of counsel.  Moreover, our to do lists are shared among the team and allow us to assign projects to one another. Thus, my assistant Wendy is able to tell me what needs to get done after phone call with client, or my of counsel can tell me when her work is done and ready for my review. Best of all, my to do lists sync between my computer, my phone and my iPad, so I have my to do lists wherever I go.

3. Working my calendar. I find that I work most effectively when my day is planned out, but not over-planned. I have tried and failed to keep a calendar reflecting all of the tasks that need to get done during the day. What tends to happen is that I don’t get everything done as planned, and then I start packing the rest of my week with all of the incompleted tasks. As I put off the tasks that need to be done, I start to worry to the point that nothing gets done. Instead, I find that it is better for my calendar to reflect just the client appointments that I have for the day and anything that needs to be docketed. Then I work my to do lists and allow some flexibility for things that come up during the day.

4. Limiting distractions. The biggest distractions for me are projects outside of client production. It’s not just Facebook, it’s figuring out how to market on Facebook. It’s the time that I give to nonprofits. The emergency presented by a friend or family member. The interesting article online just begging to be read right now. By limiting how much of my day I give to these outside projects, I free up time to work on client production. While I find it difficult to do this, I sleep better at night when I do.

5. Forms. I don’t just mean any forms. I mean the ones you create for yourself. My assistant has done an amazing job of turning documents that I use over and over again into forms that require very little tweaking for me to use them. Things like articles of organization or bylaws that have a lot of boilerplate in them and only need a little customization to suit the client are ripe for turning into forms. Learn how to use some of the automation features of Microsoft Office and create your own custom library of forms.

6. Nutrition and exercise. This one surprised me. I started seeing a nutritionist and a personal trainer just over a month ago, and I have newfound focus, stamina and productivity. The biggest change was eliminating processed foods from my diet. Now I eat a diet comprised primarily of whole foods. I eat seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. In addition, I eat five servings of lean protein, and I limit my refined carbohydrates. I do 30 to 45 minutes of cardio or weight training most days. If you had told me that how I take care of myself would make a difference in my procrastination, I would’ve laughed at you. But the hour I spend every day taking care of myself has translated into several hours a day of productivity.

7. Procrastination. I’m learning to cut myself some slack in this department. Being anxious and feeling guilty over work that isn’t getting done is actually counterproductive to ultimately getting the work done. New studies suggest that self forgiveness is more important to success than self esteem. What this means to procrastinator is that it’s okay to procrastinate once in a while. The trick is not letting that become a habit, but when you do procrastinate forgive yourself for deviating from the path. Additionally, procrastinating until the deadline is right in front of you may lead to increased focus on the task at hand and more creative problem-solving, according to Psychology Today. In short, it might actually be a little healthy to allow yourself some procrastination.

So fess up. If you’re a procrastinator, own it. Embrace it. Now get to work.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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7 comments on “Procrastivity, or How I Learned to Manage My Time In Spite of Myself

  • Suzanne,
    Really enjoyed your article. I think the hardest part is admitting that one has a problem with time management. Your admission opened the door for me to also admit that yes, I have the same problem. Thanks for providing some good practical ideas to make life as a solo a little easier:-)

    • Ain’t it the truth, sister! Time management as a solo is particularly difficult because there are so many things pulling at us. When I was at Big Law, all I really had to worry about was client production. Marketing and managing my practice were secondary at best.

  • thanks for the tips . I am a PhD student and planning to go solo next year. I have the same problem with my calendar. I will try to use my to do list more effectively .

    • Get into the habit of sitting down every morning and planning what you are going to do each day. Don’t over-think it, just pick a couple of things to get done and plan out your day. Then, don’t panic when a client phone call derails some of your plans. But if you don’t have a road map for your day, you will wander aimlessly through it and never get anything done.

  • Suzanne, I’m a professor and fellow procrastinator! Your list is very helpful. What dictation software do you use and does it make “bold” and numbered lists too? That would be great for me so I don’t have to go back and copyedit. Thanks!

    • I use Dragon Dictate on a MacBook Air. It will do just about anything you teach it to do. I have not gotten that complicated with the commands, but my understanding is that you can use Dragon DIctate’s commands to access most of MS Word’s functionality.

  • Great post!
    I use Dragon for dictation (and probably should use it more). For anyone who tried dictation products a few years ago and found them lacking (they were), they have improved tremendously. Worth trying again if you had that experience.

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