For better or worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way in-house counsel work. While managing childcare, elder care, and self-care, lawyers have been forced to work from home while living through a global pandemic. These five tips can help you organize your time more efficiently:
1. Get in the right mindset.
You can sit at your desk for 12 hours and accomplish nothing if you’re in the wrong mindset. Figure out what your body needs in order to support your mind. For many in-house counsel, that means being physically active first thing in the morning. Tony West, the chief legal officer of Uber, starts every morning with a long run to clear his mind.
For in-house counsel like Alexis Alexander, general counsel of Liberis in London, physical activity is nonnegotiable – she always runs 50 minutes in the morning, and she won’t give it up for anything.
Other in-house counsel like to start their day with yoga or meditation, or making breakfast for their young children. Whatever it is that gets you in the right mind space will help you achieve your professional goals.
2. Evaluate your physical space.
With everyone working from home, suddenly home offices that were set up for the occasional work-from-home day are pulling full-time duty. Investing in a second (or third) monitor or an ergonomic chair can boost your productivity and increase your comfort level.
Consider checking with your office to see if you can bring home your office chair or extra monitor. Or if you’re looking for additional equipment, check with an office supply company. With many offices closed, supply companies are offloading inventory for significant discounts.
3. Figure out when you’re most productive.
Do you have a dedicated time for more complex tasks? Brandon Fitzgerald, associate general counsel and assistant secretary of the United Negro College Fund in Washington, DC, likes to start with an easy accomplishment before hitting his most challenging project.
Other in-house counsel like to get up and knock out difficult tasks before the morning emails start pouring in for the day. And others are night owls or weekend warriors, setting aside time when the rest of the world is quiet or running errands.
The idea is to find the time that works best for you. Some tasks can be done while multitasking, while others require intense concentration. If you match the task with the right time and environment, you will be more productive.
4. Take breaks.
The Pomodoro technique is a time management system created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, an Italian consultant. Named for an egg timer in the shape of a tomato, the technique calls for breaking up tasks into 25-minute windows, followed by a five-minute break. After several 25-minute working windows, take a longer break of 30 minutes to an hour to recharge. It allows you to break down large projects into manageable subtasks.
Shannon Klinger, the group general counsel of Novartis International AG, the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company, limits all but the most important meetings to 30 minutes. She also won’t schedule back-to-back meetings unless it is absolutely necessary.
5. Triage and delegate.
We can’t do it all. Being in-house counsel is about recognizing and evaluating risk. And that means knowing who should work on what and when. Some legal departments have a short call in the morning to talk about the department’s projects and how to work through them. Others have implemented software solutions that funnel the work to the appropriate level. Regardless of how the work is delegated, it should be done as a team, not an individual.
These tips are presented in the order that I find them most useful. If I don’t get my physical activity in first thing in the morning, it throws off the rest of the day. The key is to experiment and see what works for your schedule. That may mean checking email first and delegating tasks before lacing up your running shoes or hopping on your stationary bike. It’s a time to reevaluate your work processes if you haven’t done so already.