We live in a busy world and juggle more things day-to-day than we ever have before, particularly when it comes to work. In fact, 83 per cent of in-house counsel identify workload and time pressure as the most significant challenges they face in their work life (ACLA/CLANZ In-house Counsel, 2012).
'Do more with less' appears to be the mantra of the day for in-house counsel, as businesses expand the responsibilities of in-house teams while reducing budgets. Maintaining or even increasing productivity under these circumstances, while also having a healthy life away from work, can therefore be a pipe dream for many.
Increasing productivity is easier said than done. Being productive doesn’t simply mean working faster or longer, it’s about prioritising and utilising your time in the most efficient way.
Here are five tips to help in-house lawyers be more productive at work:
1. Work smarter, not harder
There’s a common perception that if you work harder or faster, you’ll be more productive, but this isn’t always the case. A recent study by Stanford University showed that employees working longer hours can actually backfire on employers, as anything above a certain number of hours doesn’t actually increase employees’ output. Instead, additional hours become pointless, and are likely to only result in employee burnout (Pancavel, 2014). While multitasking is sometimes unavoidable, endeavour to focus solely on the task at hand. Avoid inefficient multitasking by putting any documents that you’re not currently working on to the side and close any unnecessary windows on your desktop.
2. Set boundaries and streamline
Try to work in uninterrupted 20-30 minute intervals without checking emails or going online during this time. Stopping every time an email hits your inbox interrupts your workflow and sets an unrealistic expectation for your clients and colleagues that you’ll always be available to respond immediately. Furthermore, try not to prioritise your work based on how well you know a director or a colleague, or on which party is the most demanding.
3. Maximise energy, not just your time
We regularly hear elite athletes say that rest and recovery are as crucial to their performance as training is. This applies to all of us, not just to professional athletes. Taking regular quick breaks throughout your working day and making an effort to get sufficient rest outside of work are critical to your productivity and overall performance. You’ll be able to concentrate for longer periods of time, make better judgement calls and have more patience to deal with any potential crises.
4. Be realistic
Despite being one of the most important things to retain, reality is often the first concept to be sacrificed. You can’t do it all, so prioritise what’s most important and the most time critical. Then do yourself a favour by setting realistic expectations for the various directors, departments and colleagues you work with and report to.
5. Take a moment to step back and reassess
When we’re busy (which is almost always), it’s easier to continue doing things the way you’ve always done them, even when current systems and approaches might not be the most productive. It’s crucial to take time to step back and reassess. Could this be done differently? Was that deliverable necessary? Where could we have been more efficient? Taking the time to ask these questions, will ultimately save time, improve results and increase productivity in the future.
Anthony Wright is the managing principal at lexvoco