Thanks to technology, we all have the opportunity to work from home or from anywhere that we can access the internet. There’s certainly a lot of freedom in choosing to operate a virtual law firm. Often, working from home is glorified as a great way to spend more time with family. The ability to have a flexible work schedule is certainly appealing. Yet, many lawyers find that the freedom they have within the structure of their virtual law firm can create a huge problem. They just aren’t as productive as they know they should or could be. As a result, they run face first into a wall of deadlines and experience more stress than they thought they would.
Operating a virtual law firm isn’t for everyone. Some people find that they don’t like the reality of spending the majority of their time alone. Others think that they aren’t cut out to run a virtual law firm because they can’t determine why they feel like they’re always behind. If you see yourself in either of those statements, the suggestions in this post may help you feel less isolated and become more productive.
Dealing with Isolation as a Virtual Lawyer
Working from home is an attractive option for many. Yet, it can breed isolation. This is especially true for those who are extroverted. Sure, you have technically have the freedom to go where you want, when you want. If your friends and colleagues work in a more traditional environment, they most likely can’t do that. Isolation often breeds depression. It can also lead to burnout because you realize that there’s actually no one for you to talk to a lot of the time. It can negatively impact your productivity.
The good news is that you can eliminate isolation. It takes planning. It isn’t difficult to do with the exception of ensuring that you follow through with your own plans. Here are some suggestions:
- Get out of the house. You don’t have to work from home all of the time. Yes, there are issues regarding sensitive data and client confidentiality. You certainly don’t want to work on client matters from a location that doesn’t have secure wi-fi and where others could see what you’re working on. However, you could get out of the house every Monday morning and work from the library or a coffee shop with wi-fi and create your weekly schedule, work on your marketing plan, double check your billing, and handle other administrative tasks.
- Schedule time to volunteer on a regular basis. If working on the administrative tasks for your virtual law firm from a location outside of your home makes you nervous, don’t do it. Instead, schedule time to volunteer on a regular basis. This could be every week or every two weeks. You can choose organizations that you support. If you’re not sure where to start, talk with local food banks, Junior Achievement, Big Brothers / Big Sisters, local soup kitchens, literacy or tutoring programs offered by the local library, and local schools. You can also directly contact United Way and ask where you can find a list of volunteer opportunities.
- Attend local state bar functions. This is a great opportunity for you to socialize and to network.
- Limit your work hours. Working from home doesn’t mean that you have to work as much as humanly possible. Set hours and stick to them. At the end of the work day, stop. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. Go to a yoga class. Play a video game. Do something for you. You are not a drone. You are a human.
You can adopt all of those ideas or just the ones you like. You can also toss out all of those ideas and do something that really speaks to you and makes you feel good.
Making Your Virtual Law Office More Productive
I’ve worked from home for right around five and a half years. I’m not a lawyer, but I do know from personal experience and from working with virtual lawyers that we all start working from home with grand intentions and then life happens. We start each week anew and…life happens again. We start off working from home being ever so glad that we can set our own hours and wear what we want. It’s true. We can do that. Yet, that freedom of setting our own hours can actually rob us of our productivity. We get caught in the “I’ll do it later” trap. Before we know it, there’s a deadline staring us in the face. We work as fast as possible to meet the deadline. And we hope we don’t mess anything up. The frantic pace of embracing that freedom while painting ourselves into a corner can really mess everything up.
It gets absolutely overwhelming. The feeling of overwhelm could lead to procrastination. The cycle continues. After some time doing this, many people decide that a virtual law office (or any other type of work from home profession) just isn’t for them; that working from home and being productive is impossible. The good news is that it is possible and the solutions to getting your virtual law office back on track and productive are easier than you think.
- Set up your ideal schedule, keeping your clients in mind. We all have a certain time of the day where we are more focused and ready to work. For some people, that’s early in the mornings. For others, it’s working in the evening or at night. Create your schedule to coincide with the time when you’re most naturally focused and productive. However, it’s important to keep your clients in mind, too. They will still expect updates during a timeframe they find reasonable.
- Spend 15 minutes a day to create your daily action plan. Taking 15 minutes each day before you start work to plan your day can help you remain in control. That’s just 1% of your day to help you control the other 99%. Start by reviewing all of your deadlines. Then, allocate your time as appropriate. You could also spend a few minutes at the end of your day to plan the next day.
- Ditch the distractions. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your cell phone, and your email will all be there later. Disable your email notifications. Put your cell phone on vibrate or silent (airplane mode works wonders) and place it out of sight. Stay off of social media when you’re working. Studies show that most people spend more than one-fourth of their day on their email. That’s a lot of time. Choose two or three times per day that you will check your email and respond as necessary.
- Get dressed. Science shows that getting dressed directly impacts our productivity. So, ditch the pajamas and put on some real clothes.
- Embrace legal tech. There’s a legal tech solution for just about everything related to virtual law firms. One example is to use chatbots to answer general questions through online chat with prospective clients and to take information for basic document preparation.
Try, Try Again
Sometimes, it takes trying and refining different strategies to make working from home more productive. Your virtual law firm is just that: yours.
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