This post dovetails with our “Just Get Started” post and our “Manage Your Staffing” post from last week. 

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.

“Biglaw Basics”: Adding Value on Day One

What better place to start than at the beginning? As noted in our Welcome post, a new crop of junior associates is poised to descend on the Biglaw world.  I remember the excitement—and the uncertainty—of walking into the firm on my first day.  I’d actually done a good...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: The Staffing Meeting

So, it’s day one (or two or three, if your firm likes its new hires to get through the computer training before they’re staffed up), and the phone rings. (The Staffing Coordinator):  “Can you help so-and-so with such-and-such?...  Great.  Please reach out to them when...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

The Best Training You Will Ever Receive

The best training you will ever receive in a large law firm is the training you can give yourself by following this simple, three-step process.

Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: To Ask, or Not to Ask–That Is the Question

In Post 3 on staffing meetings, we alluded to the fact that there may be times when you shouldn’t ask questions (at least right away) of your senior associates.  This post is about when to ask questions, and—when you do—how to get the most out of the answers. To Ask,...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: Learning to Love Secondary Sources

In a number of posts, we’ve talked about the fact that first years tend to start at firms not really knowing much about their new jobs.  (We hope that, in the long term, the advice of our “Best Training” and other posts will help propel juniors up the learning...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: Taking Notes

I had an International Law professor in law school who forbade us to take notes in his class.  One reason was that he wasn’t covering anything that would actually be on the exam.  (Because international law is constantly changing and evolving, it was the professor’s...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: Reading In (Part 1)

Our most popular post to date has been on making the most of the critically important staffing meeting.  This week, let’s talk about what happens next:  reading in. Once you’ve been staffed on a matter, the next thing you have to do is get yourself up to speed (or...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: Reading In (Part 2)

In Part 1 from last week, we offered some general tips for reading in on new matters.  This week, let’s talk about tackling the long, complicated documents—such as draft or precedent transaction agreements (e.g., share purchase agreements, merger agreements, credit...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: Team Communication

Imagine you’re a senior associate running three deals on a breakneck timeline.  It’s one o’clock in the morning, you haven’t been home in 36 hours, and you’re on track to bill over 100 hours for the third week in a row.  You’re struggling through a complicated...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

“Biglaw Basics”: DMS Best Practices

Before I began working in Biglaw, I understood that clients hired Biglaw firms (and paid Biglaw rates) for complicated, high-risk matters in order to have access to the top-tier legal talent at those firms.  But after a few years of running deals, I came to understand...
Share Your Favorite "Biglaw Basics" Post With A First-Year!

Tell Us What You Want to Hear About!

Suggest a future post topic and “like” the suggestions of others.