Beat overload with our favourite time hacks

Next week sees the likely end of almost all Covid-related restrictions in the UK and similar loosening of regulations in many other countries. For many of us, this means more time in the office again and, potentially, a loss of some of the productivity gains that came with remote working. We’ve compiled our favourite tips to help legal freelancers make the most of their time, at home, at work and on the road.

#1 Be clear on your purpose

After the shocks, uncertainty and changes of the past two years, many of us are feeling the need to re-assess our values and purpose. Learn more from our recent interview with coach Carey Davis-Munro on how to identify what is important to you, so that you can be clear on your priorities and what to say “no” to.

 

#2 Defend time for your rocks

Popularised by Stephen Covey, the rocks concept is a way of organising your time to make sure that you focus enough on your priorities. Think of your to-do list as rocks (your main priorities), pebbles (day-to-day tasks) and sand (admin, questions from others, etc). If your week is a glass jar, you will fit much more in if you start with the rocks, then fill in the gaps with pebbles and sand. At the end of each week, look at your week ahead and book out time in advance to work on your rocks and pebbles – and then stick to the schedule! Protect this time and you’ll find your productivity increases.

 

#3 Activate “do not distract” mode

With email, Teams messages, Slack, WhatsApp, SMS and Calendar notifications on the go, you run a severe risk of losing your concentration even before you factor in spending more time in the office again with all the interruptions of the coffee run, impromptu meetings etc.  It can take around 23 minutes to get your full concentration back, so start to manage your distractions:

–             Organise calls and meetings for time in the office, quiet work for time at home

–             Let your client know when you need some uninterrupted time and switch off notifications (be sure to use your online status or out of office to let them know when you’ll be back online)

–             Limit social media and email to specific times of the day, rather than being “always on”.

“It can take around 23 minutes to get your concentration back, so start to manage your distractions.”

#4 Timebox tasks

Don’t give tasks more time than they deserve. Set limits up front and stick to them. For example, a post on LinkedIn could take you 10 minutes, or send you down a rabbit hole for 40 minutes! If you often get lost in tasks, use the alarm on your mobile and when it goes off, move on. If you find this works for you, check out the Pomodoro Method, which expands this principle to organise your whole working day.

 

#5 Invest in your connections

Whilst the more extrovert among us are enjoying the return to office life and the extra human interaction, for others rebuilding old connections and making new ones is an energy drain. If this is you, watch our interview with Guy Lubitsch, author of “Connect: resolve conflict, improve communication, strengthen relationships”, for advice on understanding different personality types and how to shortcut building rapport with those different to yourself. View time spent on making these connections, especially in a new engagement, as an investment rather than a distraction – they will pay dividends as work progresses.

 

#6 Run stand-ups, not meetings

Learn from agile project management and pinch this idea to speed up meetings and keep the focus on moving work along. If you’re working as part of a team, a daily catch up (ideally no more than 15 minutes) keeps morale up and work progressing. Each participant shares:

–             What they did yesterday

–             What they plan to do today

–             Anything that’s getting in the way or that they need help with.

Using these headings to structure a quick note to update your client at the end of each day (or adjusting for a weekly round-up) can also help you keep them in touch with your progress without lengthy calls or reports when you’re working on your own.

 

“Don’t give tasks more time than they deserve.”

#7 Purpose your commute

If more time in the office means extra commute time for you, find ways to make the time purposeful, so it becomes less stressful. For example, you might prefer a relaxing commute – so put the Kindle app on your phone and read, or tune in to your favourite music, podcast or meditation. If exercise is your thing, find ways to build fitness in – even standing on the train rather than sitting down can give your heart an extra workout. Or identify a work task that makes sense to do on the commute, keeping up with industry news or diary planning.

 

#8 Streamline your work set-up

Hybrid working is much less stressful if you are confident that you’re ready and able to work anywhere at any given time. Put some time into organising your work set-up so that your essentials are easily accessible:

–             Switch out your paper “to-do” list for a tool such as Microsoft Planner or Trello, so all your tasks are in one place online

–             Keep your mouse, headphones, laptop charger and phone charger neatly packed and in one place (try an electronics organiser like Grid-It)

–             Avoid paper as much as you possibly can

–             Carry only the essentials, travelling light is less physically tiring and better for your posture.

#9 Book in time for yourself

Getting back into old routines or adjusting to new hybrid work patterns will be tiring. Even if you thrive on change, this period of adjustment will require extra mental and (if you’re building a commute back in) physical energy. As well as leaving the house for work, there are extra opportunities to socialise and spend time with friends and family after nearly two years of restrictions. Protect your energy and build in time for rest and relaxation as well as enjoying this burst of activity.

 

#10 Get help if you need it

Spending so much more time at home over the past two years has given many of us extra time for childcare, pet care and chores in the house. As life gets busier again and clients expect more time in the office or face-to-face meetings, don’t try to keep doing everything yourself. Make sure everyone at home is pulling their weight – and invest in extra help if you need to.

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