March 25, 2020 Practice Points

How to Quell the Overwhelm: Using Organization and Self-Care to Manage Stress

It is worth the investment to find out what strategies meet your unique needs for your health and well-being, as well as your career advancement.

By Nisha Verma

I can now admit that when I walked into my first job at a large, Chicago law firm as a first-generation lawyer (and first-generation American), I was in many ways unequipped for the world of high-stakes, client-services work. Nothing in law school prepared me to juggle the competing demands from the many “masters” that dictate law firm life. Since that first day 10 years ago, these demands have grown and evolved, particularly as I became a working mother and transitioned to interfacing directly with my firm’s clients for the majority of my working time. Over time, I have come to recognize the importance of prioritizing organization and self-care to prevent feeling overwhelmed and burnt out and to maximize productivity. The following are some “life hacks” that I picked up along the way.

  • Be the “Master” of Your Own (Work) Universe: The most instrumental organizational tool I use is a chart that sets out all of the litigation matters I am working on in one page, which provides me a handy “snapshot” of everything I am responsible for and reflects key information, such as internal and external deadlines and pending projects on the case. I have made it a habit to update the chart every few days, which provides a springboard for how I plan my day, week, and month. For me, it serves as the perfect guide to constructing my daily “to do” lists, prioritizing projects, and delegating to other associates. While one might expect that seeing their entire work “universe” in one place would cause stress, it has the opposite effect, helping me feel in control of my workload.
  • Find Ways to Minimize Distractions: We have learned from multiple studies—and the best productivity experts—that constant interruptions can have a severely negative effect on productivity. No matter how great of a multitasker you believe yourself to be, it is nevertheless difficult to refocus attention on a task after being interrupted, even if the interruption was short. Of course, interruptions come with the territory at law firms, given our service-oriented function. However, you can increase productivity by reducing those interruptions that you can control—that is, by not interrupting yourself. For me, this means keeping my smartphone further than an arm’s reach away, staying logged out of social media at work (and making sure passwords are “forgotten”), and setting a timer to check email only at set intervals when I am engaged in an involved project, such as writing a brief or article.
  • Schedule Time for Self-Care: While some still believe that taking time out for self-care can never be synonymous with profitability, many attorneys are finding that self-care is integral to providing excellent client service and key to increasing their own productivity and output. Using a personal example, I have found that on days when I step away for a short lunchtime yoga class, I actually bill more hours than on other days, due to my increased focus in the afternoons following the class. Similarly, I have found that setting aside a couple of nights per week to read fiction improves my concentration—and therefore the quality of my work product—the following day. 

You may find that all of the ideas above work for you or that none of them do. However, the takeaway is that it is worth the investment to find out which organizational tools and self-care strategies meet your unique needs—for the sake of both your health and well-being, as well as your career advancement.

Nisha Verma is an attorney in Dorsey & Whitney LLP’s Labor & Employment group in Costa Mesa, California.  


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