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Effective Time Managament at Work

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Most major law schools have policies that limit the amount of hours students can work at outside employment, especially first-year students, who are sometimes prohibited from working. The policies are in writing, sometimes in great detail, and they generally state the same thing: We want our students dedicated to their legal studies, and for this reason, we do not allow these students to work more than X (usually 20) hours per week.

The real world has no such policy. You'd be lucky to have a 20-hour work week. This is magnified greatly in the legal profession, where 60-hour work weeks are not uncommon, where billable hours sometimes provide the only way for you to earn your keep, where holidays are merely workdays with less traffic.


Working long hours can prove to be a daunting task, especially for newly hired attorneys. The bottom line is that you simply must adapt your lifestyle to working longer hours if you're going to thrive in the legal world.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you have to slave away for decades of your life with no time for friends or family. It does mean, however, that you may need to plan your time more efficiently in order to get the most from it.

Let's look at some time-management tips for attorneys who work in larger firms or corporations.

If you join a firm as a new associate, you will be expected to work long hours. Many contend that this is the only way to succeed. In order to make partner, you will need to show your seniors and supervisors that you not only have the skills and ambition to flourish as an attorney but also that you're willing to put in those long hours.

Unless you're working in the mailroom, there are no time clocks at law firms. When five o'clock rolls around and you're in the middle of writing a brief or researching some case law, you will be expected to finish your work. That means canceling your six o'clock dinner date, alerting your child's daycare center, and/or having to miss the latest episode of Survivor (unless you remembered to set your VCR).

This is a part of legal firm life that you must accept. You must have a plan to contend with the inherent stress; otherwise, it will affect you greatly. Here are some suggestions for battling this stress.

Plan for a 10-hour day.
When you wake up in the morning, don't fool yourself into thinking that you'll only be there eight hours. Be realistic. If you plan for eight hours and you start working past five o'clock, you'll invariably begin to feel the stress. Your personal issues and concerns about your evening plans will dominate your thoughts, and this is not good for your concentration. Instead,. go to work knowing you'll be there until seven. That way, if you get off at six, you'll feel like you're escaping an hour early. This is preferable to planning to leave at five o'clock and then realizing you're leaving an hour late.

Get your answers ASAP.
When you need to consult with fellow attorneys, try to do so early in the day or when they don't look so busy. Remember to respect the fact that they are probably just as busy as you, if not more. If you have a question and no one is available to answer it, your time will be wasted if you wait by someone's office until that person can assist you. It's unproductive and frustrating. Instead, be a polite pest. Emphasize how important it is that he/she address your question so that you can return to your work. You're paid to produce, not wait around for answers. So if you get your answer early, you can resume working and theoretically leave on time.

Make your breaks count.
If you need a break, take one. Don't bring your papers with you when you go out for a walk. Clear your head, and your work won't be as daunting when you have to return to it. Of course, taking breaks too frequently will kill your productivity and will probably get you fired. Instead, make the quality of your breaks count, not the quantity.

Delegate.
Most younger associates do not have a staff to which they can delegate work. However, this doesn't mean that you can't ask for help. Depending on your particular job, your superiors might actually respect the fact that you've asked for help. Time management is part of your job. If you're going to miss a deadline, they need to know immediately. They do not want you to miss a deadline - ever. Correspondingly, asking for help five hours before that deadline is infinitely better than 5 minutes before.

These are just a few tips to help you cope in a legal job. Some of these may not be applicable to your particular job. For example, if you work at a firm where delegation is frowned upon, you are expected to do your own work. However, most employers aren't that stringent.

So take a deep breath occasionally and realize the end of the day is only as far away as you want it to be. You've entered a well-respected, high-paying profession with room for advancement, provided you work hard and pay your dues. That corner office awaits you as long as you continue to strive for it and manage your time expeditiously.


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