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Back in grade school, my father and I constantly battled about how I did things around the house. No, he wasn’t urging me to work harder to obtain perfection. Instead, he wanted me to stop obsessively doing things over and over, seeking to remove a single flaw when I had already produced two or three or more efforts that were more than good enough. He would patiently try to explain that success in life didn’t come from total perfection—it came instead from raising your work to an acceptable level of quality and then doing as much at that level as you possibly could.
As you might guess, I was hard to convince then, and still am. Deep in the heart of almost every lawyer, or future lawyer, lives a serious case of perfectionism. My father’s theory isn’t necessarily right for producing legal work, where even a small mistake can sometimes mean devastating losses for the client and a malpractice action for the lawyer. But when managing your practice, there are lots of less-than-perfect things you can do. My goal with this column is to give you quick tips to ease your practice management tasks along, so you have more time to devote to legal tasks that must be perfect—in short, simple steps that are good enough. Let’s get started with tips on prioritizing daily to-dos.
Make two lists. Many lawyers struggle every day to keep on track. Constant interruptions make it hard to keep focused on, much less complete, the most important tasks you face each day. And when things go on like this for days or weeks, it can feel like every file or stack of paper on your desk is on fire. Here’s what you do.
Let the high-priority list guide the work you must tackle each day, but keep the second list handy so that you can add less-pressing tasks to it as they come up. This way you can stay focused on what’s most critical now without distraction, because you won’t have to worry about what you may be forgetting: It’s all on one of the lists.
This system doesn’t require learning new technology, and costs no more than the price of a legal pad and a few minutes of your time, yet it can serve as a rope across a raging river you’re trying to cross—something to grab onto and reorient yourself as the steady flow of work threatens to pull you under. And that’s good enough.
Laura A. Calloway is Director of the Alabama State Bar’s Practice Management Assistance Program.