How to deal with too much work

ADLS’ Newly Suited Committee runs a regular advice column for lawyers early in their careers who might need some information and guidance about professional and practical issues. This week, the Committee helps #notamillenialsnowflake with some tips on how not to get overwhelmed by your workload.

“Dear Newly Suited

I recognise that millennials have a reputation for being ‘entitled’, expecting ‘work-life balance’, and that we think that every opportunity we desire should simply fall in our laps, because we are ‘like, totally awesome’. I’ve heard the phrase ‘millenial snowflakes’ used to describe my generation’s supposed ‘delicateness’. While I think this is actually pretty funny, it isn’t me. Seriously.

I came out of law school and profs ready to prioritise my career. I got a job at a good firm. However, seven months in, I’m exhausted. The hours I put in each week are massive, and I feel like I can never say ‘no’ to work (if I care about my career and getting decent pay increases – which I do).

What can I do? It’s not just my social life that has suffered, it is also my health (mental and physical), sleep, and exercise. I think I’m going to have to re-think this lawyering business altogether – the expectations are just too much.

Please help.

#notamillenialsnowflake”

Dear #notamillenialsnowflake

We know what it is like to start out in your career and to feel the pressure to say ‘yes’ to every piece of work sent your way, including saying ‘yes’ to deadlines that (privately) you know will mean a midnight finish.

Sometimes that is unavoidable, e.g. for urgent client matters. Also, being a ‘yes’ person is likely to mean you build a good reputation, and are regularly offered great work opportunities.

However, feeling like you always need to say ‘yes’, and consistently working long hours, can be exhausting and stressful. It can also have a negative impact on the quality of your work. So, we have pulled together a list of our top tips to help with managing your workload. Before pulling the pin on the law gig, why don’t you try out some (or all) of these strategies and see if they help to get your health and enthusiasm for law back on track?

1. Communicate

When you are given work, make sure you understand the timeframe in which it needs to be completed. If you don’t ask, you may think the job is urgent and stay all night to get it done, when your supervisor doesn’t intend to review it until next week.

For some jobs, like research, it may be helpful to ask your supervisor how long he or she envisages you spending on the research, so that you understand what is expected. This will give you a point in time to touch base with him or her, and make sure you speak up early if you do not think you will reach an answer in the anticipated timeframe.

If you have been delegated work by other supervisors, consider whether you can still meet their deadlines. It may mean you have to re-order or prioritise your workload. If you think you have too much on to meet everyone’s needs, then check with your supervisors whether any of the deadlines are moveable. Explain that you have a number of things on the go, and seek guidance as to which you should prioritise. Your supervisors may need to decide between themselves what takes priority.

If prioritising cannot be achieved, you may need to put in the long hours that night. However, in our experience, early and realistic communication often means that internal and external timeframe expectations can be managed to ensure the work gets done to a high standard, without the need to work an 18-hour day.

2. Be organised

Make sure you have a system for knowing what you need to have done, for whom, and by when, and keep your calendar up-to-date. This can not only help you reduce stress levels, it can be a useful aid in working with your supervisors to prioritise tasks. Also, consider blocking-out time in your diary just to get on top of your workload.

3. Ask for help (or delegate)

Do you have a junior who can assist? Or a secretary? Or colleagues at the same level? Figure out whether anyone else has capacity to assist you (even people who are more experienced than you). Also, instead of reinventing the wheel, someone may have done the same or similar task before – utilise that.

However, be sure to touch base with your supervisor beforehand to check he or she is comfortable with you getting assistance – there may have been a reason you were chosen for the task, or your supervisor may prefer you to get help with another task on your to-do list instead.

4. Be realistic

Sometimes our jobs will require additional hours (including evenings and/ or weekends). Accept that (even consider embracing it) – some of the most exciting and interesting work arises from urgent instructions.

Explain the nature of the job to your (non-lawyer) family and friends. So, if you have to bail out of something at the last minute (or run late), the important people in your life will be prepared to be understanding.

5. Be firm

If you have been asked to do the undoable – say so. And say so at the first available opportunity, so that additional resources can be put towards the task. At the end of the day, the most important thing is delivering for the client. Do not put yourself in the position of letting down your supervisor or the client.

And lastly, remember you are newly suited. Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed. You are just learning to do many parts of legal work and, as you get experience, it will come more naturally and quickly to you. Stay the course and you will find the suit will start to fit more comfortably before you know it.

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