Productivity Pro Tips

What does productivity mean to you? Hours billed? Work out the door? Number of matters resolved?  Is it enough that we’re meeting our deadlines, even if they’re taking a toll?

One major benefit to being productive is that productivity increases energy and lowers stress. To get there, though, we need to understand what that means.

The dictionary defines productivity in two ways:

  1. The quality, state or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance or bring forth goods and services

  2. The effectiveness of effort

By virtue of the first definition, every lawyer is productive.

But the question that we really want to answer is this one: Is our effort effective?

To get to the answer to that question, we need to understand that productivity:

  • is about energy, not time

  • is about doing what matters most, not moving through a “to do” list

  • is influenced by our mood, mindset and motivation

Productivity is about energy, not time.

It’s quite possible that the billable hour has made us less, not more productive. If productivity is the effectiveness of our effort, and it’s taking all day to write a motion that could be done in an hour or two, because we’re taking calls and answering email while we’re writing our motion, then our effort is not effective. We’re dividing our attention and draining ourselves of much needed resources that sustain mental clarity and alertness throughout the day. Instead, we end up fuzzy and fatigued—and a work product that may not be quite right. And when energy is low, productivity follows suit. (Not to mention that when energy is low and the workload is high, stress often ensues.)

So how do we harness our energy?

  • Do important work when you’re at your best. Some of us are alert and energized early in the morning, some of us kick into high gear late in the day. A few lucky ones have even energy throughout the day. If you have an important document to draft or meeting to set up, do that when you’re at your best.

  • Distractions drain us. Eliminate distractions for the time that you’re doing important work. (Even the “busiest” attorney can take half an hour to focus on a matter without interruption.) When you’re on a client call, avoid reading email popping up on your monitor at the same time. Better yet, take the call standing or pacing. Movement improves focus, and focus conserves energy. If you’re writing a brief or drafting a contract, grab a conference room where you can work uninterrupted for a set length of time.

  • Do one thing at a time. This gives you the opportunity to get “into the zone”—a state of flow, in which you’re fully immersed in your task and have a feeling of energized focus. The task will get done faster, with higher quality, less errors and you’ll feel alert rather than fatigued when it’s done.

What has to happen today?

We all have endless “to do” lists and they’re not going anywhere, but to be productive, ask yourself, “what has to happen today?” What is the one thing that will make this a productive day if it is completed, or progress is made?

To answer these questions, focus on what matters most. What is driving your practice forward? What can you attend to that will make your practice look like the kind of practice that you want to have?

“But my inbox is full!” Rather than respond to email throughout the day (and to save your sanity), calendar time for addressing email, especially routine email. Schedule these for your lower-energy time of day. Of course, if an email involves a substantive matter, apply the same principles you would to any important matter—allot focused time to address the issue without interruption or distraction.

How do we know what’s “important?” It all has to get done! David Allen calls this the four Ds—do, defer, delegate, delete. Do those things that move your, or your organization’s purpose forward, first. That is what matters most. Learn to delegate. There are some tasks better handled by others, even if initially, you need to take the time to train them.

What does mood have to do with it?

You’ve identified what matters most and it’s the perfect time of day to address the task at hand, but something’s stopping you. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re just not in the mood. You push it to another date or time on your calendar, and open your inbox.

Wait! Take a moment. What is it about that task that must get done, yet you’re avoiding? Maybe it’s a particularly thorny issue, or a matter for a difficult client, or opposing counsel has been inflexible, or any one of a million other possibilities. It’s critical to take a moment to identify our feelings about a matter because lawyers, though trained to think analytically, still have human brains that are tied to emotion.

Feelings and thoughts drive behavior. Our feelings about a matter influence our mindset which in turn influences our productivity. And we know that our productivity is highest in a state of flow—when our brains are relaxed and in a more positive frame of mind. To be productive—effective effort—we need to shift into the right mood and mindset. Finding a benefit to addressing the matter will get the job done more quickly and well.

The research on productivity could fill a vault, but these fundamentals will get you well on your way to a more productive practice.

Feel free to comment or reach out with questions. For additional support, download the (free) Mission Accomplished Productivity Primer in the Resources section of this website.