If you spent the last hour texting friends and checking Facebook when you should have been finishing that trial brief, you’re not necessarily lazy – or a lousy lawyer.
You simply let your reptile brain take over.
Procrastination is a uniquely human trait that causes all sorts of complications in our lives. For lawyers, it can be especially problematic. It leads to missed deadlines, frustrated clients and malpractice claims.
And although sometimes procrastination is just goofing off, other times it’s a warning sign of overwork and stress.
“Work-related anxiety is a vestigial response,” according to this article in Quartz at Work. “That feeling of panic or agitation when you’re stressed is part of the physical ‘fight or flight’ response humans evolved to respond to threats.”
Have you been procrastinating about getting your law office organized? If so, you may be increasing your malpractice risk. Here are some help hints from Marie Kondo.
In the law office, the “threat” might be anxiety over an upcoming court hearing, a difficult client, or an unpleasant phone call.
“Humans are remarkably creative when it comes to finding ways to avoid that bad feeling,” says the director of the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida in the Quartz piece. “Be it procrastination (‘I’ll do it tomorrow’), diversion (‘I’ll just check Twitter first’), or self-sabotage (‘You know what? It’s a dumb idea anyway.’) This last one is particularly popular among analytical or cerebral types.”
One Small Step to a Bar Complaint
A little bit of procrastination is no big deal. A little more, and you might find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle: the stress of a pending deadline triggers the avoidance behavior, which delays the inevitable and increases the pressure, causing even more stress.
But avoiding procrastination is not just a good idea for your mental health. It’s an ethical responsibility.
“A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client,” says Rule 1.3 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Comment  to that Rule says: “Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination. A client’s interests often can be adversely affected by the passage of time or the change of conditions; in extreme instances, as when a lawyer overlooks a statute of limitations, the client’s legal position may be destroyed. Even when the client’s interests are not affected in substance, however, unreasonable delay can cause a client needless anxiety and undermine confidence in the lawyer’s trustworthiness.”
11 Tips for Dealing With Procrastination
Here are some strategies for dealing with procrastination, courtesy of Psychology Today and Dr Elizabeth Lombardo:
1. Focus on the why, not the what. Look past the logistics of the task and focus on the benefits of completing it.
2. Get out your calendar. Block out time for the task and stick to the schedule.
3. Get real. Setting unrealistic goals will only add to your frustration.
4. Stop catastrophizing. “In reality, challenges, boredom, and hard work will not kill you — or even make you sick,” writes Dr. Lombardo. “So keep things in perspective: ‘Sure, this is not my favorite task, but I can get through it.’”
5. Stop making excuses. Don’t wait until you’re in the mood, or until x happens before you start. Get going now.
6. Chunk it. Break the job up into manageable pieces.
7. Get an accountability partner. This can be a boss, co-worker, friend or professional coach. It doesn’t even have to be a person. It can be a promise you made to your client to have the work done by a certain date.
8. Optimize your environment. Close your internet browser and mute your phone when you’re trying to focus.
9. Treat yourself. Give yourself a reward – but only after you’ve finished the job.
10. Forgive yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you catch yourself playing online solitaire. Exit the game and get back to work.
11. Stop being a perfectionist. An all-or-nothing mentality can prevent anything from getting done.
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