by Anne Chambers, LCSW
Lack of communication and lack of diligence are the top two ethical
complaints clients make about attorneys overall, not only in Missouri but in
general. In 2012, these two categories areas alone accounted for 50% of total
complaints resulting in OCDC investigations.
Procrastination is a common challenge that can raise the risk of
complaints about communication and diligence. If procrastination is a concern,
any gains in minimizing that that tendency can be helpful to avoid problems and
protect your bottom line. In extreme situations, procrastination has even
sometimes led to disbarment. Procrastination can generate practical challenges,
stress, financial loss and sometimes even ethical dilemmas.
For some people, procrastination appears to act like a personal trait,
bound to negative emotions. Styles of
procrastinators that have been identified include the rebel, the worrier, the
over doer, the perfectionist, the dreamer and most recently, the cyber slacker. The perfectionist is one of the most common. Some factors that play into procrastination
include time management concerns, disorganization, dilatory strategies,
boredom, professional stress and burnout, substance abuse and attention deficit
Here are some interventions that are helpful in overcoming
Divide big projects into baby steps or chunks. Set your timer for 15
minutes or 30 minutes and work on the task. When your timer goes off, decide
whether or not to reset it for another 15 or 30 minute time block. Most tasks seem more manageable when broken
down this way. Once folks get started
they often find their groove and keep going.
We generally put off tasks that are less interesting to us. To balance out that tendency, layer your
workday by doing a task you like less for a while, then a task you love. Repeat
this throughout the day. It’s called
building a work sandwich. This way,
looking forward to the tasks you enjoy the most can lead you to address the
ones you find less interesting.
Jump or dive in somewhere. Just do what you can.
Many strategies to overcome procrastination revolve around motivating
yourself. Picture an incentive and
dangle it in your mind’s eye. Picture
your success with the project done on time and all of the benefits. Imagine
yourself literally doing the task, and then get started. You can also envision the sheer opposite
situation in which you finish the task late or not at all. Then picture
yourself experiencing the fallout.
Another strategy to motivate yourself is to identify your most dreaded
task or meeting. Focus on a task you do
your most to avoid or something in which you don’t perform well. Next calculate
your financial reward for a job well done, and then picture yourself doing something
really meaningful and worthwhile to you with those earnings. If skill deficits
play into your unease about the task, plan to become more proficient and
confident at that task in the next few months by doing some professional
reading or attending an in-service on that topic. If all else fails, consider if that task is
something best delegated or referred elsewhere.
Some anti-procrastination strategies revolve around working against
your mood. Mandatory procrastination is one such method. Instead of procrastinating for unspecified
periods of time that seem to grow and grow, do it on purpose. Lay out your
material, set your timer for a short, weird interval like 4 or 7 minutes,
literally do nothing for those minutes, then get started. Another strategy along those lines is to plan
a nightmare day. List those tasks you
have been avoiding and to them on that day.
This strategy is good for folks who like a challenge and a
deadline. If you perform best under
pressure, this is one to try.
Attorneys are increasingly using technology to keep in
touch with clients, search legal databases and submit electronic filings.
Technology use among attorneys will continue to increase due to its cost
effectiveness, productivity benefits and ease of client access. This rise in technology use is accompanied by
the risk of information overload and procrastination through cyber slacking.
This is the newest form of procrastination.
Here are some suggestions on ways to keep your work
focused on customer service and minimize electronic overload during your
workday. When seeing clients, log off
your computer, do not disturb your phone, silence your cell phone and reduce
any other distractions. Check your
e-mail at set times, not constantly. If
you want to cyber slack, plan it as part of your reward.
When you work hard, play hard too.
Instead of sacrificing vacations, take them. It may seem paradoxical, but in the long run,
using your free time does help increase productivity and reduce
If a personal concern is intruding, help is available by contacting the
Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 for free,
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Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102