Having four kids and being an attorney presents a whole host of challenges. One of them is the constant sense that there just isn’t enough time in a day, a week, a month, a lifetime to do everything that needs to be done. The list of things to be done gets longer and longer, by the minute, but the days stay the exact same length. Other times, whole days can go by in a blur, and when I turn around to figure out what I did with all that time, I find that it’s still too little and I’m incredibly exhausted.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this. But where is our time going? Where is our energy going? In her book Overwhelmed, Brigid Schule describes the feeling that a day’s worth of time turns into confetti, shredded into small pieces, scattering all around us, resulting in a mess. Motherhood and the law practice have most definitely made me feel exactly that way about my productivity. However, I’ve taken steps to counter all of that. Here is what has helped me bring a little order to my disorderly life:
Turn of all notifications.
Everything demands your attention, all the time. Online social platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), email (Outlook, Gmail), text messages and phone calls – everyone wants a piece of you. Shut. Them. Out. Turn off every notification, including silent ones that would interfere with your focus. Give yourself periods of time every day during which you put up a universal “Do Not Disturb” sign. Even doing this only once a day for 90 minutes creates a pocket of incredible efficiency.
Identify the time-sucking activities and group them.
Returning one call, then switching to email, then writing a letter, then doing some research, then going back to phone calls creates unnecessary inefficiencies. Each day, I group the following activities into slots: 1) Billable time; 2) administrative tasks; 3) phone calls; 4) emails; 5) online networking; and 6) blog writing. It is shocking how much this has helped me feel less overwhelmed and has increased my ability to focus on each category at a time.
Write down tasks in real time and then move on.
While I may fight the urge to think about emails while I’m billing and about childcare tasks while I am on a client call, the reality is that I can’t actually stop it. My solution is old school. I have a notebook with a running list of things that pop into my head. When something comes up, such as, “Schedule pediatrician appointment,” I write it down and get back to what I am doing. This way, when it is time to turn to “Admin” tasks, I have a list of things that need to be handled. I don’t run the risk of “losing” the task, I can stop thinking about it because it’s memorialized, and I can turn to it when it is the right time.
When this list of tasks gets long, I jump on Rocket Matter and attribute the case-related ones to various matters. I am then left with my myriad of personal tasks (the mental load tasks) that stay on my handwritten list until I either assign them or strike them out.
Use a personal assistant for personal tasks.
It sounds nuts, I know. People look at me funny when I talk about this. However, it works. My Zirtual personal assistant handles personal as well as professional matters. If I need a birthday party booked or a pediatrician’s appointment scheduled or after-school activities researched, she does this. When it’s time to get to “Admin” tasks, I sift through her emails, approve, disapprove, or ask questions, and then move on. The trick is to really let go once you hand the task to someone else. Let them do their job so you can go back to yours.
Learn to say “Not now.”
Let’s say you are in the middle of brief-writing or legal research and a call comes in. Don’t take it! Have your receptionist take a message and return the call during “Phone Calls.” Allowing other people to intrude on your time whenever they want to is exhausting and inefficient. It is a disservice to yourself, to your sanity, and to the clients whose work gets interrupted. The same is true about emails. When an email comes in (which you should not know about if your notifications are off), you don’t have to answer it immediately. Rather, mark it and get back to it during “Emails.” Very few people need you to respond to everything immediately. Most things can wait…so let them.
Give yourself time to play.
This is by far the hardest. And television is the worst enemy of real play. It is so easy—so, so easy—to just turn on a show and watch it for the hours after the kids go to sleep and before you pass out. But don’t. If you have available time, do something else. I’ve picked up all sorts of activities. It was hard at first; my brain yearned for that easy stimulation. But it’s like working out: I feel so much better if I do it the right away. I’ve started crocheting, learning Portuguese, learning to play the guitar (I suck), and reading books. Non-legal books! If you can give yourself 30 minutes of play time a day, you will create a space with no interruptions. This too can really make you feel less exhausted and save even more of your time from the “shredder.”
Lawyers lives are incredibly busy. Lawyer moms lives even more so. We don’t only manage our workloads, cases, and businesses. We also manage our families, which are genuinely like enterprises of their own. Between childcare scheduling, activities coordination, homework, meals, downtime, uptime, illnesses, drop off and pick up, our days get crushed, and we get crushed with them. The mental load of handling all of these moving parts is huge. One way to decrease it, without actually reducing what has to be done, is to protect your time, and by doing so your energy and your sanity.
Maria-Vittoria “Giugi” Carminati
Carminati is a trial attorney and litigator, women’s advocate, and founder of Carminati Law PLLC, a distributed law firm. Her practice consists of commercial and business litigation, family law, and mediation. She is licensed in NY, TX, DC and CO. Carminati speaks and writes about gender bias, micro-aggressions and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Her firm leverages technology to maximize productivity and decrease costs while delivering high-quality legal counseling and representation.