June 27, 2018

Work Smarter, Not Harder…So Simple, Right?

By Nikki G. Maples, Law Office of Nikki G. Maples, and member of the Austin Bar’s Health & Wellness Committee.

Focus, efficiency, and organization are three key components to better productivity. Most lawyers are familiar with committing long hours to trial preparation or reviewing document production. Many lawyers also equate more hours to more money, but working harder doesn’t necessarily equate to good work product.  Consider these questions:

  1. Am I working at my full potential?
  2. Am I fully engaged in the immediate project?
  3. Am I physically, emotionally and mentally balanced?

When considering these questions, we have to look at the facts:


Am I working at my full potential? Consider the events and moments leading up to your work on a specific project. Is there an upcoming deadline that is creating pressure or stress? Are there other case matters that are going unattended, resulting in unanswered emails and phone calls that need to be returned? Are you avoiding an unpleasant case task or avoiding an unpleasant interaction with another lawyer? Ultimately, these stressors begin to build and cause unnecessary distraction. Then, when the time comes to address these stressors, the situation usually requires much more work and energy as a result of the avoidance. So, time and energy is being expended on avoidance, which is causing stress and anxiety. Then, time and energy is being spent on catching up or rushing through a project. In the end, both scenarios have exerted wasted energy and the work product does not reflect that of a lawyer working at their full potential. So, let’s be smarter with time and task management. What are the facts? Start identifying the issues that cause you to avoid certain case tasks – what is it about that specific task that disinterests you? Get to the root of that issue and conquer it. When faced with a similar task in the future, you should be able to quickly identify your annoyance with the task and simply acknowledge it, shelve it, and move forward with completion of the task. The same exercise can be performed for most stressors in our workday – emails stacked up and calls that need to be returned, identify what is causing your resistance to answering the emails. Clarity of the facts should provide the focus necessary to work at your full potential. If your days are constantly disheveled, then your work will reflect the same.


How am I spending my time at the office?  So much time is wasted when we are not fully engaged in a project. Distractions can suck minutes and hours from our day, causing us to stop and start projects multiple times throughout the day. We have all had those days where the phone calls are non-stop, someone in the office is having a birthday, maybe you have been subjected to a group text that won’t stop pinging your phone, or suddenly you remember that you need to talk to a coworker about a case issue, which leads to discussions about weekend activities. How can we manage the distractions and interruptions? Some distractions can be managed with assertiveness – calls should be held, directed to support staff, or directed to voicemail while you are working on a specific project. However, this measure requires balance. Calls can’t be held or directed away forever. Therefore, a system should be put in place, such as a designated time for returning calls or responding to emails. As an example, try setting aside the first hour of your workday every day to return calls and answer emails. Then, check calls and emails immediately following the lunch break before diving into the next project. The cell phone, well, this is easy, folks – put it on silent. When a task is completed, it’s a push of a button to turn your phone back to vibrate or ring mode. The result of distractions is wasted minutes and hours at the office, which only snowballs into a fit of fury when tasks begin to fall behind. So, be smart about your hours at the office. Be efficient, be assertive and be diligent in minimizing your distractions. Don’t fall victim to grinding out late hours or rush your work product because you managed your distractions poorly. We’re lawyers, we have a specialized skill set, and we are capable of efficiency.


Am I physically and mentally balanced?  To be organized, we have to balance more than just our lives and work priorities, we must balance our health as well. What are the facts here? How is your physical health? Are you exercising? What are your dietary habits? Have you been sick lately? Do you feel fatigued or unmotivated? How is your mood from day to day? Do you feel irritable or sad? If our physical health and mental health are imbalanced then our professional composure will surely be imbalanced and unorganized. If we are mindful, proactive and responsible for our physical and mental health, then there is a better chance that our overall health is balanced and organized.

The questions posed above are not foreign to any of us.  It is probably fair to say that we all know how to take care of ourselves physically, but physical health is only one piece to a bigger puzzle. Understanding how to balance physical health with mental health is the intersection where success is discovered on a personal level and a professional level. If we want to work smarter and not harder, we should treat the method for doing so much like we treat case preparation – what are the facts? What are the good facts about our physical and mental health and what are the less favorable facts? Working at a smarter level begins long before we ever arrive at the office. Consider the facts of your life, explore ways to balance the favorable and less favorable aspects of your life, and be mindful with focus, efficiency, and organization.

See…simple, right?