Goals Managing Self Planning

Think again – Improved productivity starts here

Written by Allison Wolf

Originally posted April 2016 on SLAW.ca

Have you ever noticed how your thoughts can really trip you up?

There are all kinds of tricky thoughts that can get us into trouble. Here are five versions of one simple I’ll get around to it later thinking trap that has major implications for our productivity:

I need a dedicated block of time for this task.

There’s not enough time for it now.

I will find time for it when I am not so busy.

That’s too big a project to start right now, and it’s not due right away anyway.

I just don’t have the capacity to deal with that now.

Ultimately, the error here is in thinking that big projects need big chunks of time, period.

Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if all of a sudden a huge block of time with no clients and no deadlines opened up in your calendar suddenly. And we all know that rarely happens.

Here’s what it important to know. Big projects are best tackled, initially, with some small steps.

Here are two reasons why starting earlier and with just a little bit of time investment can make you more productive:

First, this approach will likely produce a better end product. Our brains need time to process information and cognate. When we begin work on a difficult project and then set it aside, our more powerful brain will continue to ponder it, silently, in the background.

Also, as our brain ponders in the background it is being exposed to a variety of other stimuli from our environment and this can help inspire new thoughts and promote creativity. The result is that when we return to the task after a break of some minutes, hours, or days, we are likely to return with fresh ideas and insights.

Second, the pace of legal practice is such that we are all likely to always be handling full plates of work. Leaving our big projects for the perfect moment is an exercise in futility and just means we will find ourselves in fire fighting mode – again – when the deadline approaches.

This productivity insight comes from Ron Friedman’s HBR Blog post 9 Productivity Tips from People Who Write About Productivity and tip number four from Adam Grant who says that leaving important tasks unfinished can make us far more productive. Grant is a Wharton professor, psychologist, and the author of Originals – How Non-conformists Move the World.

This strategy is about working in alignment with how our brains function. Waiting for the perfect moment to start is counterproductive. Allowing yourself to shift between big tasks helps you get more done, and in turn can produce better quality work.

I frequently employ this strategy with positive results. I always have a number of large projects sitting in my work cue. I now try and take an initial start on each of them well in advance of the deadline. What I find is that by getting started early, when it comes time for the big push I am already well on my way.

This month give Grant’s productivity strategy a try. Start big projects early with a few small steps. This will give your brain time to cognate in the background and can help to promote insight and creativity leading you to get more done and produce better quality work.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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