In today’s fast-moving legal world, paralegals need to maximize their productivity like never before.
Technology is speeding up the legal industry, and many legal professionals feel they can barely keep pace. Fortunately, there are various tools and technologies paralegals can use to be their most productive selves.
And even better news — many of these productivity hacks will feel less like “hard work” and more like buying peace of mind.
The following are 7 productivity tips for paralegals who want to get more done in less time, while also maximizing mental health.
#1: Make a task list
It might seem cliché, but it works. Creating a daily list of tasks, more commonly known as a to-do list, is one of the most basic and effective methods of increasing productivity.
Keeping a written list of tasks gives you a guide for your day, even amid competing demands from attorneys and your workload.
You can use a digital tool for this, but there’s an extra advantage when you use a pen. Writing tasks down on paper makes it easier to remember, both because you can reference the list and because the act of writing activates certain neurons in your brain and improves your memory.
One worthwhile strategy may be to create this list at the end of the day, so you can hit the ground running the next morning.
Alternatively, you can block out 20 minutes at the beginning of every day for planning and prioritization.
#2: Establish an email handling system
The daily onslaught of emails coming at legal professionals can be overwhelming. If you want to maintain productivity, you should come up with a system for handling emails so they are not an endless distraction.
One effective strategy can be to block time for emails.
Dedicating time periods of up to 30-35 minutes for email can allow you to be more focused for the remainder of your day. Actually add that activity as an appointment on your calendar, and then keep your inbox closed when it’s not email time.
You may also want to avoid emails first thing in the morning, instead giving yourself time to get settled and plan your day. Starting the day with email can easily distract you from your real priorities as you try to handle “just one quick thing” after another.
#3: Work on your tech proficiency
With all the legal software and tech tools becoming commonplace at law firms, it would serve any paralegal well to increase their tech proficiency.
In fact, if you can become your firm’s resident tech expert, your productivity and value to the firm can skyrocket. Plus, you’ll be a key player that the team can’t afford to lose.
When looking at the tech tools to master, document management and word processing are critical areas for paralegals, whether that is in Word, Google Drive, or Dropbox.
Legal research platforms, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw, should be another area of focus.
Do not neglect all the emerging areas of legal tech, such as software dedicated to billing, eDiscovery, and e-filing. Look for newsletters and blogs (like this one) that regularly cover emerging technologies and subscribe to publications you find most insightful.
#4: Maintain good relationships with court and service staff
One productivity tip for paralegals that may not be immediately intuitive is to maintain good rapport with court staff. When you need something filed immediately or need to understand filing requirements, these relationships can streamline the filing process.
Friction with court professionals is a huge waste of time. Not only can you avoid missed filings by keeping relationships cordial, you can also avoid all the extra work and stress resulting from these mistakes.
This rapport should also extend to service staff at the offices of opposing counsel.
While your attorney may be locked in a confrontational position with the attorney on the other side, a paralegal can afford to be less combative and remain on friendly terms with their staff.
Those paralegals and receptionists are likely facing similar demands as you are, so establish positive working relationships with them in an effort to smooth out your workflow.
#5: Find the right productivity system
You can also move beyond the simplicity of to-do lists and implement a more sophisticated productivity system.
While a to-do list is itself a very straightforward productivity system, other solutions are more involved. These include popular techniques like the 5-step Getting Things Done workflow, the Pomodoro technique using short time sprints, and the Kanban system using workflow boards with categories.
The important thing is to select the right productivity system for you and implement it for a substantial trial period of at least 30 days.
Give yourself enough time to learn the system, and then once you’re no longer thinking about how to do it, give it more time to produce results. Then, if it doesn’t work out, try something else that appeals to you. You can also use the pieces of the overall system that you found helpful while dropping other parts that don’t add anything.
Remember that productivity systems work best when you’re consistent. Think of it like building a new habit.
#6: Take breaks effectively
Another simple productivity tip is for paralegals to master the art of taking effective breaks from work.
Short breaks can leave you rejuvenated and energized, both due to the mental break and the opportunity to stretch your muscles and get your blood flowing.
In addition, there is a powerful mindfulness aspect to taking breaks. Work breaks act as an effective form of self-care, where you provide yourself with space to separate from a busy and scattered mind.
To take more effective breaks, start by making sure that you’re actually — you guessed it — taking breaks. If you’re not in the habit yet, add breaks to your schedule so that you get a reminder and that time is marked as unavailable.
When break time comes around, stop working and walk away from your desk. Leave your phone behind. If you’re in an office space where people are likely to ask you work questions as soon as they see you’re “not busy,” consider taking a walk or sitting in your car where you won’t be bothered.
This is a great time to listen to music or a podcast you enjoy, get a little exercise, call your mom to catch up, or try a guided meditation. The point is that you should take the time for yourself, not just for your job.
#7: Maintain productivity when working remotely
Legal professionals should know how to maintain their productivity even when working remotely.
The COVID pandemic has only increased the rate of adoption of remote workplaces. Even if you are working in a hybrid office, with remote and in-office workers, or you are doing remote work on a temporary basis, you should master productivity in this setting.
Some keys here are creating a dedicated office space, keeping a consistent work schedule, and using video calls effectively.
A dedicated work space will keep you in a work mindset and minimize distractions.
A consistent schedule will enable you to maintain a work-life balance while also appearing professional.
And make sure you have the right technology, lighting, and other factors to make the most of those meetings on Zoom or other remote platforms.
As we can see, increasing your productivity as a paralegal does not have to simply mean working harder. More important is finding the right tools and strategies to make your workdays count.