Stress Management for Busy Lawyers: Six Strategies to Avoid Procrastination

Sarah Mills | May 10, 2021

Procrastination. Everyone does it, and when you are an attorney who is stressed and overwhelmed, it can be an easy trap to fall into. Getting stuck in a procrastination loop doesn’t feel good, and the more you do it, the more stressed out you are - the cortisol tap is turned on, and until you can take control of your time, it won’t turn off. How can you stop?

In her CLE program, Stress Management for Attorneys: Ethical Traps for the UnwaryFrancine Tone discusses six small steps you can take to pare down your to-list, prioritize your time, and most importantly, stop feeling the constant stress that comes with procrastination. Check them out below:

  1. Shrink Your To-Do List. If your to-do list is unmanageable, of course you want to avoid it! Try this exercise to shrink your to-do list: Make a graph with 4 quadrants: Urgent/Not Urgent and Important/Not Important. Use this categorization system to chart your to-do list and make a decision for each item: do it now, schedule it for a specific time, delegate it to someone else - or eliminate the task entirely.
  2. Eat the Frog. Do the hardest or least interesting task first thing in the morning, when you are most rested and alert. Getting the “frog” out of the way will help make the rest of your day feel more productive and less stressful. 
  3. Move One Hand. If there’s an assignment that is stressful just to think about, do one *small* task towards completing it. For example, open your case file and read the last entry. Chances are, once you are looking at it, you will feel less intimidated. This is similar to #4:
  4. Make it Bite Size. Break your project into manageable tasks and work on them individually. Turn each smaller task into a line item on your to-do list and check them off one by one. 
  5. Chunk Your Time. Chunking similar tasks together will help you become more efficient and less scattered.  For example: Don’t schedule phone calls all day - dedicate a few hours a day towards all your calls. 
  6. Disconnect. Turn off your phone, turn off your notifications, log out, use screen locks, delete your apps - whatever you need to do to make distractions slightly harder to access.

You may not manage to do all of these every day, but working them into your routine slowly over time will create long lasting changes. And remember: while procrastination can be a harmful habit, it’s also a coping mechanism - and the last year has been incredibly hard. Give yourself a break, try to do something that makes you feel good, and then cross one thing off your list. 

Related Content:

  1. The Impaired Lawyer and COVID-19: Strategies for Encouraging Attorneys to Seek Help and Responding Appropriately If They Don’t
  2. Overcoming the Impact of Chronic Stress: How to Successfully Maintain Your and Your Legal Practice
  3. Developing Resilience and Achieving Well-Being in Times of Challenge and Chaos

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About the Author

Written by Sarah Mills

Sarah graduated from Simon's Rock College in 2005 with a BA in Linguistics, then worked in events production for several years before obtaining a JD from New York Law School in 2012. Before joining Lawline, they worked in litigation management. They love working as a program attorney as it combines their legal knowledge and production background. They have two kids, two cats, and they love public transit and rainy days.

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