Looking back, when I was a junior, I had pretty terrible time-management skills. I’d try to do the right things to manage my time effectively, but I’d always find myself leaving the office much later than expected or having to come in every weekend, even when I wasn’t that busy. It seemed like I was never able to find the free time I felt like I should have or the maintain the balance I needed.
One of the main reasons, I discovered, was that I was trying too hard to create the ideal work environment/opportunity for the items on my to-do list.
Like most Biglaw types, I’ve got a touch (or more than a touch) of OCD. When I was practicing, that meant that I was always trying to engineer the perfect setting or opportunity to tackle a particular task (and by that I mean that I wouldn’t start a task if I didn’t think I’d have time to finish it before my next meeting, or I wouldn’t make a start on something new and tricky at the end of the day when I was tired, etc.). Sometimes those sorts of decisions are helpful, and even necessary. But in the ordinary course of a frenetic Biglaw day, if you’re always trying to make sure the stars are aligned perfectly before you do something, you’ll be constantly squandering opportunities to make progress and get balls rolling in the little interstitial bits of your day.
I had this friend and colleague in London who could turn around work (of the highest quality) on timelines that seemed nearly impossible. I started watching the way she worked, trying to learn how she did it. And I discovered that, among other things, she was always taking advantage even the smallest bits of free time and never deferring decisions or drafting choices until later.
There’ll never a perfect time to do something. You’ll rarely have a nice, discrete couple of hours to focus, uninterrupted, on a task. You’ll never be as well rested or as clear-eyed as you’d like. It doesn’t matter.
For example, I remember being on a call with her to walk through a mark-up. I can’t recall whether it was with an internal working group, our client, or the other side. But what I do remember is that, as we went through the document to discuss issues and talk through proposed changes, she was drafting or redrafting language to reflect our positions in the master document in real time. She wasn’t waiting until the peace and quiet of the end of the day to go back and process the document in one fell swoop. She was going ahead and knocking out little chunks of it in the moment. I’m sure some of what she was typing was rough, first-cut-type language. But, whereas I would have been starting to process that doc from scratch at 10:00 p.m. later that night, she had a nearly complete rough draft by the end of the call.
It’s just a small example, and probably not the best one. But it’s emblematic of an approach—of a mindset—that can be incredibly helpful for people like me who have a tendency to want to put things off for later or to wait for until the “perfect” moment to begin a task.
There’ll never a perfect time to do something. You’ll rarely have a nice, discrete couple of hours to focus, uninterrupted, on a task. You’ll never be as well rested or as clear-eyed as you’d like. It doesn’t matter. If you have a moment to get a ball rolling, crack on. Even if it’s just 10 minutes before you have a join a call (and you’d otherwise just kill it on email, IG, etc.). Whenever you can, choose to do something NOW, not later. That goes for everything from starting a new task to simply making a decision on a specific bit of drafting when reviewing a document (as we talked about in our “Creating Mark-ups” post). That mindset will do wonders for helping you manage your workload.