Three steps to a productive start to 2020

Eloise Skinner, solicitor and author of the Junior Lawyers' Handbook, shares tips to start your year off productively.

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Step 1. Reorganise your working space

Start with the things you can see. Before you get going on any substantive work, tackle your working environment. Clear out your folders; file any spare papers; figure out places for things to go (and actually put them back there after you use them). If this seems like a massive task, don't be daunted – split it up into manageable sessions, and do a section a day. 

Looking for organisation skills that last into the next decade? Your best bet is to set up systems for yourself: work out how you operate most effectively, and tailor your working day around that.

If you know you like to mark-up documents by hand, do you have a system for filing and scanning them in? If you receive regular hard-copy publications, do you file materials in a way that makes sense to you? Once you establish your systems, set yourself a challenge to stick to them to at least 60 days (that's the approximate time it takes to build a sustainable habit).

Step 2. Reorganise your email inbox

Once you're done with the physical clean-up, it's time for the electronic version. As with the first step, the best bet is to try out various systems and methods for around two months, to see if they suit you. After that, if there are things that aren't working well, you can change your inbox habits.  In the end, the trick is not the organisational system itself, but how well it actually delivers results for you. 

As a junior lawyer, you're in a great position to start trying out different methods. Popular strategies to consider:

Inbox zero: this system advocates for removing all emails from your inbox as soon as they come in (!). When you get a new email, you decide immediately: file for later, take action, or delete.  It's a tough policy to stick to, but you could always try setting a zero-inbox target for the end of the day, or for the end of the week, to take the pressure off a little.

Read & review: in this system, you read and review every email that comes in, but leave the relevant ones in your inbox for future reference. The key with this technique is to be able to use your 'search' function really well – so that you can pick out relevant emails later and return to them. (Not necessarily the best choice for those who are easily overwhelmed by chaos – the idea of having hundreds of emails in your inbox is certainly not for everyone...)

Flagging / categorisation: again, this is for those who can handle a lot of emails in their inbox.  But with this strategy, there's some form of order: using the flagging function, you can identify the most important emails to action in the future. And with categorisation, you can colour code your emails in order of priority or urgency.

Play around with a few of these tools – you'll never know what works best unless you give it a go first.

Step 3. Set up some mentoring meetings

Building your network is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a junior lawyer. Often these early professional relationships will last long into your legal career. Time to look through your contacts and see if there's anyone you should be catching up with. 

Perhaps you already have a mentoring relationship in place: if so, reach out to set up an early 2020 meeting.

Or, perhaps you're looking for a mentor. Make a list of people that inspire you, who are working in your area of practice, or doing something relevant to your interests. Next, figure out what you want from a mentoring relationship: guidance on a particular part of your career, or development of a particular skill? Pick out from your list a few people who might be willing to meet with you for a quick coffee. 

Take the time to craft a carefully written email and get in touch. It could be as simple as asking for a five-minute chat to discuss something of interest, or to ask a particular question that you've been considering. Remember that mentoring relationships are built and developed over time – drop your immediate expectations, and approach mentoring with curiosity and openness.

Whether you're building up a first-time mentoring relationship, or developing an existing one, an important (and often overlooked) aspect is for you - the mentee - to add value. It might feel like the mentoring relationship is all about your personal development, but it's likely to be much more rewarding for you both if you can give something back. 

In the most obvious sense, this might be about showing your mentor that you implemented agreed objectives and worked on the goals you set for yourself. But it could also be things like keeping your mentor updated with industry news or sending them resources that they might find interesting. Expressing gratitude for their time, wisdom and guidance is also a good strategy – that way, both of you end up feeling like you've had a productive start to the new year!


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society

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