Paralegals often juggle workloads and case assignments on a daily basis, adhering to competing priorities, attorney requests, handling the constant barrage of telephone calls, conflicting deadlines, and reacting to the inevitable emergency or crisis. A helpful solution is to prioritize and maximize your productivity by developing “best practices.” A best practice is a new technique in business and management to establish a process for an efficient and effective way to accomplish a task and help increase one’s productivity while reducing stress levels and enhancing work performance.
Daily “action plan” or “to-do” list. At the start of your workday, develop your plan to include tasks that must be done, tasks that you want to do, and create a buffer of reserve time for emergencies or crisis deadlines. Prior planning is the only way to tackle those urgent deadlines that always come up. Re-evaluate your priority list daily.
Delegate. Paralegals typically work in a team environment. When you are on overload, ask another paralegal who may have more time or flexibility to help with a task or project. For tasks that are clerical, legal secretaries can often perform entry-level projects, such as filing court papers, or bates labeling documents.
Calendar system. Routinely track important dates and deadlines utilizing your mailbox program. Microsoft Outlook and other software programs manage deadlines by utilizing reminders of deadlines, tasks and events. In addition, the e-mail program provides a tag system to help remind you what e-mails or tasks you need to complete and prioritize by various sorting capabilities.
Procrastination. All of us are guilty of this – temptation to work on the nonessential non-billable work first. We gravitate toward the administrative or easier tasks than focusing on the substantive billable work. If you let your day squander to completing non-essential tasks all day long, instead of tracking your billable casework, then you will never meet your goal hours each day.
Distractions. Drop in visitors, work friends, and surfing the web or computer games are likely to take you away from focusing on your workload. There are other work distractions too. Flip-flopping between responding to e-mails and telephone calls adds to a distraction, and not focusing on getting the tasks done. Set limits – allow certain times of the day for returning e-mails and telephone calls. Use your time wisely with unbroken concentration to complete your tasks and projects.
Communication. Communication is a key element to successful interaction with others and effective time management. If you do not understand a task, instead of wasting time pondering what to do – ask questions! Be clear and concise.
Adapt to your “peak time.” Each of us works differently – some people have energy flow in the early morning hours, while others have the power energy surge in the afternoon. Save clerical tasks for your slow energy periods. When you are at your best, work on projects that take concentration during uninterrupted time, such as writing, analyzing and digesting.
Limitations. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. Know your limits. Do not accept a project or task to accomplish that is not within your capabilities. Communicate and offer another option for getting the task done. In addition, there are times when people’s expectations are not realistic. Take a proactive approach and communicate what is truly realistic to complete the task.
As a veteran paralegal with many years of experience, the tips offered can help you create a “best practice” to help manage your time and workload productivity as a paralegal.
Laura A. Szychowski
Phillips Lytle LLP