No Thanks

Ask any lawyer “How are you doing?” and invariably the response includes a comment to the effect of “I’m too busy.”

Being overly busy seems to be a kind of occupational hazard for lawyers. Many of us possess a “can do” kind of attitude that leads us to agree to take on tasks whenever we’re asked to do so. While this makes lawyers desirable as volunteers for many non-profit organizations, it also results in many lawyers feeling overburdened and sometimes, overwhelmed by all that they need to accomplish.

One obvious solution to this problem is to develop and implement a rigorous personal time management program. Many excellent resources are available on this subject but time is a finite resource and even the most careful management of it cannot ultimately create more.

An underused but effective technique to manage an overlong To Do list is one that my pre-teen has completely mastered – just say “No” (or better yet, “No, thank-you.”) While not all requests can be met with a negative response, it is nonetheless an option to consider the next time someone asks you to review a document, sit on a committee or attend another function.

Take a moment to peruse your To Do list and consider: which items could you eliminate by simply saying “no thanks?” Take another moment and think about the matters in which you may have been procrastinating a little, or the “dog files” in your office that you’re hesitant even to open.

What if you had the foresight (or fortitude) to say “no thanks” to those clients when they first sought to retain you? Would you now have more time available to devote to more profitable and satisfying tasks?

A related time management technique is to develop and maintain a “Don’t Do” list. This is a list of items that you want to prevent yourself from doing (i.e. things you know you should say “no” to). Standard Don’t Do list items include tasks you have delegated or should be delegating, tasks that distract from your priorities and other tasks that are either not productive or don’t fit your skill set or expertise.

You should also consider adding a few loss prevention tips to your Don’t Do list. For example:

  • Don’t act for relatives.
  • Don’t take on clients who have already changed lawyers several times.
  • Don’t go into business with your clients.

Being overly busy isn’t a necessary part of being a lawyer. It is the result of choices you make in the course of each and every day. While you may not be able to see the results immediately, applying these strategies will help you to find your way through the busyness to a place where you have more control over your schedule and your obligations.

Based on an article of the same title originally published by Canadian Lawyers Insurance Association in Loss Prevention Bulletin Issue No. 39, Winter 2007.

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