What to do when you find yourself overwhelmed with work...

Updated: Apr 3


So today, I thought I would write a blog on my approach to managing workload and tackling overwhelm.

Over the years, I have found that having periods of overwhelm in respect of workload comes part and parcel of working within a profession. Feeling this way does not make you bad at your job or any less of a lawyer than your colleagues but rather demonstrates that you care. It is normal and to be expected.

Sometimes we can be ticking along quietly and other times we can be spending a number of days or weeks firefighting as a number of our cases become busier and all at the same time. Therefore the message I want to convey in this post is that if you are feeling like this at this present moment in time, you are unlikely to be alone and there are ways you can seek to tackle this head on.

With that said, here are some suggestions to face things head on with a view to getting yourself back on track:-

1. Brain Dump

Get everything in your mind out on paper. Take a page in your note book and set aside some time to dump everything that is presently on your mind onto paper. Once you have listed everything that’s on your mind, run through a mental note of each of your cases, consider their present position and whether there is anything off the top of your head that requires actioning.

2. Make a list

Once you have your thoughts out on paper take some time to sort them into categories. I usually find the best way to categorise items is by client but such approach can be applied to anything really for example; projects, types of tasks, area of life.

3. Prioritise

The ability to prioritise effectively comes with experience but I find the following categories help to focus the mind more efficiently:-

A. Tasks that will lead to be being negligent if I do not complete them in time.

B. Tasks which will leave my clients in a vulnerable position if not sorted out.

C. Tasks that are likely to become urgent in the next few weeks if not completed soon.

D. Tasks that can wait.

4. Seek Help

If you are still feeling overwhelmed after carrying out the first three steps, seek help from a more senior colleague. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts as it may be that they are in a position to clarify what you need to work on first and what can wait. They may also be able to provide you with some reassurance that things are not as overwhelming as they first seem. Additionally, sometimes just talking it out with a colleague can help regain clarity and to put things into perspective.

5. Take Action – One thing at a time

Once you have made your list and prioritised your tasks begin to take action. Start with the most important tasks first. Clear your desk of everything and seek to work on one file at a time. Take a minute to gather everything you will need to complete the task, Usually this is a case of getting the file out and making sure you have a notebook and pen close by to jot things down. Try to approach the task in a logical fashion. Clarify what steps the tasks requires you to do. Concentrate on the big tasks first. Once complete, providing there is nothing else require significantly urgent attention within the same day take the time to complete all of the smaller tasks associated with the same file.

6. Tidy up and put away before moving onto the next task

Prepare your file note and be sure that this includes a list of any further actions required so you can refer can to this the next time you look at the file (nb: see below for recording these actions so you don’t need to worry about when you next need to go back to the file) Print off everything that requires printing, sign off any letters and place them in the post, place printing into your filing systems for your assistant to file or alternatively if it will take you a couple of seconds to file the documentation yourself as the file is it front of you, do it.

Follow this by identify any further actions and set reminders in your diary. Once they are in your diary you no longer need to worry until your calendar notifies you that further action is needed. I like to colour code these items as follows:-

• Red – Hard deadlines such as court deadlines which cannot be missed.

• Orange – Deadlines I set for myself with a view to making life a little easier. For example if I will often set my own deadlines a few days or perhaps a week before the hard deadline to try and avoid last minute panics trying to get everything together in time.

• Green – Further to do tasks that do not require action right now but will need actioning in due course.

• Yellow – Follow up actions to remind me to check in with things I am waiting for. For example; to check whether tasks I have delegated have been followed up or whether I have received a documents/response to something I am waiting for.

• Blue – Meetings

Once you have complete this, put the file away so you can approach the next task in the same way.

7. Remember sometimes it is better to take a break

There sometimes comes a time when you know you are sitting at your desks going over and over the same things in your head without having the right mindset to gain clarify on anything. When you find yourself in this position you have two choices. You can either continue to sit and your desks in the hope that sooner or later you a miraculous eureka moment will arise or your can decide that a better approach would be to take a break away from the situation. In my own experience when this situation arising the best thing you can do is to get away from your desk and out of the office momentarily to occupy your mind on something else. This need not be a long break but just enough to take yourself and give your mind a break. For example; take a walk, read a chapter of a book or grab a coffee. Even a short break of 15 – 20 minutes can be enough to give your mind the space it needs to gain clarity and leave you feeling ready to start over.

So there you have it my top tips for tackling workload and overwhelm. As there is never one size that fits all and always room for improvement, please feel free to leave your comments on your approach to tackling overwhelm below.

The Juggling Lawyer

#professionaldevelopment #workloadmanagement #productivity #overwhelm


2018 The Juggling Lawyer

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