Q: I’m an attorney who is having a difficult time keeping up with client demands. Having this much business is a good thing. Yet, I am spending too much time at the office and this is negatively affecting my personal life. I also seem to be getting less efficient in processing the work my clients bring to me. What can I do to improve my situation?
A: We live in a busy, complex and exciting world: where almost no one has enough time to act on personal choices. In today’s 24/7 economy, we frequently feel rushed and impatient and can become easily distracted and forgetful from environmentally induced attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.). Dr. Edward M. Hallowell was the first to name adult attention deficit disorder or adult A.D.D. back in 1995 and now he is taking on the rest of modern life in his new book, "CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone A.D.D." (Ballantine Books, 2006).
Technology and activity overload tend to be the consequences of living where everybody is trying to do more in less time. Yet, we must be able to maintain our focus and restore our energy as we bend, stretch and bounce around at work and in our personal life. We know that if we don't prioritize our life activities, we’ll find ourselves spread so thin that we won't have time for those people and things that are important to us.
From what you have said, I can envision piles of papers stacked high on your desk and you hustling about trying to find where that client file is. For many professionals, these events are a daily occurrence. But they don't have to be. Experts say the act of getting organized is easy to put off because of seemingly more important tasks that require immediate attention.
In the April 21, 2006 issue of the Michigan Lawyers Weekly, Alita Marlowe, of Marlowe & Associates business and efficiency consultants in Southfield, MI, tells us the most common reason executives put off getting organized is it wasn't taught in school. "Procrastination and clutter is actually delayed decision making," she maintained. "Time management skills are also usually underdeveloped." Marlowe adds the biggest mistake professionals make is putting blame on a single person in the firm for the disorganization that "actually is the result of a faulty or nonexistent organizational system."
Marlowe recommended the first change that should be made is reducing distractions. "Each interruption costs 20 minutes of refocusing time plus the time of the original distraction." To drive home the point of just how costly inefficiency can be, Marlowe gave the example of a professional who bills $220 an hour. According to her calculations, if that person encounters six distractions per day at 30 minutes per distraction, there is $660 of lost productivity in one day, $3,300 in one week and $13,200 of lost productivity in one month. "Poor time management and disorganization costs at least $13,000 per month and causes lots of stress," she contended.
Stress, if allowed to build up over time, can lead to burnout in a work environment that doesn’t engage and energize you. Burnout is a familiar term these days: it's the physical or emotional exhaustion that results from long-term stress or frustration. Chronic fatigue is a major symptom of burnout: one feels physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Behaviorally, the burnout worker becomes cynical, indifferent and increasingly ineffective in the job.
According to Herbert J. Freudenberger, the New York psychologist who coined the term in 1972, burnout describes a specific condition. It is an emotional state characterized by an overwhelming and enduring feeling of exhaustion or aggravation. Burnout is a condition that develops gradually as the person's creativity and effectiveness erode into fatigue, skepticism and an inability to function productively. And when you are suffering from burnout, this can become contagious by having a profound affect on your coworkers and clients.
The bottom line is: Get some professional help to organize your workplace and reduce the hours spent there by becoming more productive. Use that reclaimed time to energize your personal life and create the work/life balance that allows a sense of well being to emerge.