Future trainee, Isobel Whitby, shares her tips to overcome procrastination and avoid the stress, anxiety and sometimes poor performance that stems from leaving things to the last minute.
Procrastination is a problem that plagues all of us, especially when so many of us are working remotely. We’ve all been there, when you have a university deadline looming and instead of settling down to do the work, you find yourself scrolling through social media and, before you know it, 20 minutes have disappeared.
Procrastination can take many forms; it isn’t limited to getting a cup of tea or going on your phone. Procrastination can be filling your day with low-priority tasks when there is something more urgent and demanding to do.
A career in law requires hard work and relentless focus; for example, being given a 100-page document to proofread ahead of a client meeting the next day. If we can learn to overcome the temptation to procrastinate now, we will only increase our chance of succeeding at work.
The most important thing to remember is that you are still procrastinating if you punish yourself endlessly after catching yourself wandering off track. A more effective approach is to adapt your working pattern to ensure you do not restrict yourself and hinder your performance.
Here are some tips that I’ve picked during my legal journey through university, the GDL and now on to the LPC:
- Just start(!) – It’s harder to start a task then to finish one.
- Create a schedule or to do list – this helps you to keep track of which tasks you have and haven't done. As a trainee, it will be essential to clearly organise your workload to prevent putting off challenging tasks or forgetting deadlines.
- Prioritise your work – ask yourself which tasks must be done today and which can, should or could be done another day. It is important to remain realistic about what you can achieve and not to overfill your day. Try to work back from your deadline (sometimes this is called planning right to left – because most of us read from left to right and therefore stretch out our timelines that way, rather than realising how close the point of completion might actually be).
- Recognise your optimum working hours – if you are most productive in the morning, make sure you get the harder or must-do tasks out of the way first.
- Allocate your workload into smaller chunks – this keeps your workload varied and adds an increased sense of progress. Don’t split your day into big chunks without regular breaks, instead work for shorter sessions to maximise your output. This is especially important when working from home because it helps you to stay focussed for longer.
- Get off your phone – this is usually the biggest distraction. Be disciplined and leave it in another room or download apps to lock your phone; my favourite apps are: Flora and Forest where you can grow a virtual garden during the time your phone is locked. Or, just switch it off.
- Get out of your pyjamas – it may sound unnecessary if you are working from home but getting changed tells yourself to respect the work you are about to do. You wouldn’t see a client in your pyjamas so don’t do their work in your pyjamas.
- Reward yourself – if you complete a big task, don’t immediately dive into the next one. Treat yourself to a quick break or snack to re-energise, refresh and re-focus.
Remember everyone is different, what’s important is finding one or two methods that work best and reliably for you. Worry less about other people’s working routine and have confidence in yourself.