Getting Things Done: Is it Right for the Young Lawyer?

Vol. 16 No. 9

By

Greg Walklin is assistant attorney general with the Nebraska Attorney General's Office in Lincoln, NE. He may be reached at gwalklin@gmail.com.

How to be productive—it is one of the challenges young lawyers face. It's not found in any law school curriculum, but it can be just as important as legal knowledge. Young associates are often faced with a bevy of tasks and no clear way to manage them.

One method has become increasingly popular: The Get Things Done (GTD) system, created by David Allen and published in his 2002 book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, has become especially popular with individuals who work independently—especially attorneys.

GTD focuses on five steps of task management:

            1. Brainstorming. The first step is collecting the ideas of all of the things you want to do or have to do at any given time, no matter whether they should be done sooner or later. These need to be focused tasks that can be completed in a definite period of time. For example, "write first set of interrogatories in the Allen case," not "do discovery."

            2. Organizing. Put these tasks into manageable categories. These can be projects you are working on (particular cases), or can be assigned to particular days (Things to do Monday), or by deadlines. Many individuals prefer to include contexts for their tasks, such as "Office," "Court," "Home," "Law Library," etc., so when they are in a given location, they know what projects they need to complete in that location.

            3. Processing. The general rule of thumb for the GTD approach is the so-called "two-minute rule." If the task takes less than two minutes, just do it now. Some attorneys prefer to modify this rule to the lowestincrement of their billable hour. Others stretch it to five or six minutes. However you define it, the key is: if you can do it quickly, and think of it now, just get it done.

            4. Reviewing.This is another key step that is easily missed. The GTD approach calls for frequent review of all your tasks, both for importance—ensuring the most important tasks are prioritized—and for organization. If particular categories or contexts are not helping you accomplish tasks, those categories should be excised or replaced. You should review weekly.

            5. Doing.After all this talk of organizing and processing tasks, one might think actually doing things gets lost in the shuffle. This is a valid concern with the system, one that many people (including myself) share. But once you get accustomed to following the steps, the system melts away, and you can focus on actually accomplishing your tasks.

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