This week in Things I Wish I Knew… Joleena Louis advises solo attorneys on how to maintain your practice’s productivity when all you want to do is feel the sand between your toes.
Back in another time, maybe even another life, I was an associate at a boutique law farm. As an associate, there was nothing worse than being stuck in the office on a beautiful summer day.
I guess the sentiment is true for any employee. There is nothing worse than feeling you are working hard and making sacrifices for someone else to have a 2 hour lunch or sneak out of the office early on a Friday to enjoy their summer home, their family, or even just to enjoy the weather.
Of course, as an employee, you don’t have nearly the same risk as the business owner, which gives them their flexibility, but it’s still hard to mitigate resentment..
Now that I am my own boss, I truly have skin in the game – and a lot of it.
The Side-Effect of Self-Employment
The problem with self-employment, particularly for attorneys, is the lack of structure enabled by new and inexpensive technology. Literally, I can do work from anywhere with access to a robust Internet connection or even a mobile hotspot. For example, I recently did research while sitting in Madison Square Park. (As it turns out, I had to re-research the case.)
I have discovered that the freedom of self-employment can have a nasty side-effect: a lack of productivity. Just because I do not have to be in the office on a beautiful day does not mean that I am going to get the same amount of uninterrupted work done during the same time period.
For me, it is exactly the opposite. I find that when I sit at my office desk, I am psychologically committing to work, as opposed to committing to watching passersby with a side salad of work.
Now, I always experience a nagging feeling when the sun hits my glass desk at just the right angle… It makes me want to leave the doldrums of sedentariness and enjoy the weather. So, I’ve started to employ these four strategies to ensure that I am productive, even when I don’t want to be:
4 Strategies to Ensure Productivity
1. Use the Summer as a Ramp-up Time For Fall
I am using the summer shoulder season as a way to prepare for the inevitable craziness of the Fall. I am implementing new billing practices, working on marketing campaigns and new social media strategies that will be rolled out during the Fall and Winter.
2. Don’t Eat Lunch At Your Desk
I love being in the sun, and even with an office window, it’s not the same as being outside. So I will either eat lunch outside or take a 15 minute walk during lunch.
I always feel refreshed after and I can usually get focused again once I’m back at my desk. It not’s necessarily about lunch, or even about outside, for me, it’s more about zoning my day into “work” periods and “break” periods that effectively make me more productive and my work product more cogent.
3. Schedule Events to Look Forward To
Part of the reason why I chose solo practice was to claim a work/life balance I felt I was lacking as a firm employee. For me, there is no reason to be successful unless I can enjoy the fruits of my success. With this in mind, I try to create events – things to look forward to – so that I know my hard work is paying off.
These “events” do not need to be large scale vacations, in fact, this strategy works better if they are little things to look forward to. For example, if I know I’m going to the beach on Saturday, I can focus on work and not worry about missing out on Summer fun.
4. Hold Yourself Accountable
The most important way to stay productive for me is to be accountable. I am a planner. As such, for me, it’s about making lists. I list out the three most important things I must complete for the day and as long as I complete them I can do whatever I want for the rest of the day.
My tip for list making: don’t make a list with 30 things on it and then accomplish the 10 simplest tasks. For many of us, the action of crossing an item off our master list is satisfying. Just make sure you are not avoiding the big ticket items to satisfy the need of feeling a pen slide across a piece of paper.
A while ago, a wise colleague of mine suggested that attorneys should just take the entire month of August off because nothing gets done anyway. I am not in that thought camp. I do believe we chose solo practice so that we can enjoy the things that matter most to us on our own schedules. Just make sure you schedule time to get work done!
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Joleena Louis is a matrimonial and family law attorney at Joleena Louis Law, a ﬁrm she founded after leaving a boutique matrimonial ﬁrm in Brooklyn. Joleena is a client in Law Firm Suites’ start-up program in Downtown, New York. Her weekly blog series Things I Wish I Knew… explores her thought process and experiences in her transition from small law ﬁrm employee to successful solo practice entrepreneur.