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The newly independent attorney: Staying productive when working from home

New technology continuously changes the way in which we live our lives. And, of course, that includes the way we work. Telecommuting, virtual law practices, and similar arrangements are certainly among some of the biggest of those changes. Indeed, some studies suggest that as many as 20-30 million people work from home at least one day a week. From my own experience and from discussions with my colleagues, I believe it is indisputable that lawyers are not immune to this trend. In fact, this trend will likely only continue to grow in the legal industry. After all, studies have demonstrated that offering part-time home-based work saves employers approximately $10,000 per year per employee. Additionally, as reported by Global Workplace Analytics, many studies have demonstrated that employees who work from home are more productive than office-based employees due to factors such as “fewer interruptions, more effective time management, feelings of empowerment, flexible hours, longer hours.” That certainly has been my experience.

My home has acted as my primary workplace ever since I’ve founded my own practice. Personally, I’ve found the experience to be extremely rewarding and beneficial to my overall productivity. Nonetheless, there was an initial learning curve. Like any significant change in your lifestyle or work habits, working from home can take a little getting use to. Here are a few of the things that helped me make working from home so beneficial to my practice:

1. Get a good start to your day.

It’s important for me to start things off as I would if I were still going into an office every day. This includes getting up early and starting the day with a shower and quick breakfast before moving on to work. By taking care of those basic needs first, I’m free to focus my attention on my work once I do get started. Otherwise it would be to easy to continuously distract myself as I transitioned back and forth between those activities and the work I need to get done.

2. Continue to dress for work.

Even if only for psychological reasons I find it to be important to dress appropriately for my work day. It places me in the mindset that I am a professional and I’m ready to work. I accept that this isn’t necessarily an issue for everyone who works from home, but it couldn’t hurt to experiment with your wardrobe to see how it can affect your productivity.

3. Establish a routine.

One of the greatest benefits of working from home is the flexibility it affords you. You’re able to prioritize all of the competing demands in your life and work by focusing on them in an order that makes sense for you. Nonetheless, although it is important to be flexible, it’s also important to create a basic routine. My basic routine includes organizing when, and limiting the times in which, I perform certain activities including reading and responding to emails, engaging in social media, performing client specific work, taking breaks, and so forth.

4. Take breaks as necessary.

It’s extremely important for capturing your best work to recognize when you need to take breaks. For example, for as long as I’ve worked as a professional I’ve been aware of the fact that I tend to get sluggish and less productive for about a half an hour a day at some point normally between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Whatever the cause of this mid-afternoon crash, it becomes increasingly hard to perform analytical work during that period and it becomes increasingly likely that I’ll overlook mistakes. When I worked from an office I’d occasionally be afraid to leave the office because I was overly worried about face time. Now that I work from home, when I reach that point I allow myself to take a short break to wake myself up. I’ll go outside for a walk to get some air or even switch gears and perform work that requires less concentration (like doing the laundry). The truth is that I’m more productive than ever as a result.

5. Establish boundaries.

The biggest problem with working from home is that friends and colleagues may have the perception that you aren’t actually working all day, or, similarly, that because your schedule is flexible it’s OK to distract you with other things. As a result, it becomes exceptionally important to set boundaries in which you make it clear to your friends and families that you are busy, you are working, and that during work hours you shouldn’t be distracted unless it is important.

6. Track your time.

I increasingly find myself performing more and more legal work on a flat fee basis since starting my own firm. I don’t miss the billable hour in the slightest. Nonetheless, I’ve found it to be important to continue to keep detailed records of the time I spend working on individual projects. I’ve discovered many benefits to this practice, but one of the most relevant here is that it allows me to evaluate my productivity throughout the day. By keeping track of what work I’ve accomplished throughout the day, I keep myself accountable for the way I spend my time.

7. Make sure you have the tools you need to work.

When I worked for other attorneys’ law firms, I never really had to worry about whether or not I was well stocked on office supplies. Now that I work from home I’ve discovered the importance of making sure that I’m well stocked on print cartridges, printer paper, pens, note pads, and similar tools. It can be extremely disruptive to your work day to discover in the middle of a project that you are missing some of the tools you need to complete that project. The best way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to always have a backup on hand. For example, I had to learn the hard way that I should always have a spare print cartridge on hand. After wasting part of my day running to an office supply store, I’ve learned to make a habit of ordering a new backup immediately after installing the last one.

Do you work from home? If so, we’d love to hear about the issues you’ve faced and the ways in which you’ve confronted those issues. Leave us a comment!


One Comment

  1. Larry D. Austin says:

    I am a sole practitioner living on a farm and raising sheep in Tennessee. After almost 44 years of practice I am closing my office in a small nearby town this month to work entirely from the farm. It is possible only because of high speed internet, fancy cell phones, and e-filing in courts. Most of my clients are 75 miles away from me in Memphis. When I moved to the farm 4 years ago many people thought I was retiring. I have to keep reminding them that I am working harder than ever—law and sheep.

    I agree with you on the virtues of flexibility in working at home. Though it may seem unprofessional to some, the sounds of sheep, roosters, ducks, and dogs in the background of telephone calls seem to put my callers more at ease.