Legal culture is fixated on productivity to the exclusion of more important considerations. While certainly it’s better to be productive than unproductive, productivity is only third most important when it comes to getting things done. Efficiency ranks second and effectiveness matters most of all.
A Healthy Approach to Productivity Focuses on Good Habits
Productivity is the measure of output over time; month, week, day, billable hour (caveat: I have a JD not an MBA). We’re more productive when we accomplish more in an hour today than we did yesterday.
Working harder is not the answer, especially for a profession already suffering from sky-high rates of burnout, stress, substance abuse and work-life imbalance. We suffer when we push ourselves beyond our boundaries. The quality of our work suffers too.
The healthy approach to productivity focuses on cultivating good habits. We need to minimize the distractions and time-wasting activities that occupy too much of our working hours. Fostering wellness also boosts productivity (your brain needs sleep!).
Efficiency: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Efficiency is the measure of input versus output. We’re more efficient when it takes us less effort and time and fewer resources to complete a task now compared to before.
Document templates are one of the top ways to increase efficiency in legal work. Delegating appropriately to support staff and vendors is another.
Automating routine tasks also creates efficiency gains. Many legal technology companies are vying to provide you with law practice management, time and billing, eDiscovery and document management software. You can start automating today in more modest fashion by customizing notifications from email, phone, Slack/Teams and social media. Use rules and folders to auto-manage your inbox.
Being more efficient typically leads to being more productive since completing a task efficiently frees up time for other work. It also frees up time for other good things like family dinners, movies and daily walks around the neighborhood.
Effective Lawyers Do What Needs to Be Done Productively and Efficiently
Productivity and efficiency are means to an end, not ends in themselves. It’s entirely possible to have a super productive and amazingly efficient day yet accomplish nothing worthwhile.
Our goal as lawyers and legal professionals is to provide high-quality client service. Effectiveness isn’t just how much gets done or even how well it gets done. Most important is what gets done. Knowing what needs to be done is based on knowledge, skill and experience. In other words, on exactly the reasons our clients hire us.
A practical pointer is to set aside 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to review your calendar and task list for the week. Make a quick list of the top three priorities for the next business day. Writing them down, as opposed to a mental list, will help you clear your mind and emotionally clock off for the evening or weekend.
Think twice before you start attacking your to-do list. It’s better to accomplish one really important item than to knock out 20 that could wait or be delegated. Prioritize critical tasks and the tasks that only you can accomplish. Productivity tips are great and efficiency is my watchword, but effectiveness must come first.