How To Juggle Multiple Work Assignments At Once

How To Juggle Multiple Work Assignments At OnceThis week we welcome back guest writer Marissa Geannette to discuss managing multiple work assignments as a lawyer.

As a law student, you already know what it’s like to have more than one thing due at once. Having competing obligations and multiple assignments due at once is nothing new to you.

When you begin working, especially at a law firm, you’ll likely find that you have even more things to juggle. Sooner rather than later, you’re bound to receive multiple assignments, from multiple lawyers, all due at the same time. So, what’s a new lawyer to do?

First of all, let’s put something to bed once and for all– multitasking doesn’t work. Our minds can’t do two things at once, so when we try to do that, we end up costing ourselves more time in the end.

That’s why none of these tips are about how to multitask. Instead, we talk about other strategies you can implement to juggle multiple work assignments without driving yourself crazy.

1. Share Your Status With Your Supervisors To Manage Expectations

Lots of new lawyers are intimidated by their supervisors. While, for the most part, this isn’t warranted, it’s natural to feel this way. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, and you want to show them that you are an outstanding lawyer!

This sometimes leads to junior lawyers keeping things to themselves, even when they are overwhelmed with work. When they get a new assignment, instead of telling the senior lawyer how much they already have on their plate, they accept the new assignment and leave without saying a word about what else they have going on.

When you are busy, the worst thing you can do is pretend you have time to take on more work when you really don’t. Why is that so bad? Because it usually leads to poor or late work product – both of which senior lawyers will be unhappy about.

Instead, what you should do is tell the lawyer giving you the assignment what else you are working on. While they will expect you to put in long hours, most will understand that you are human and there’s only so much you can get done.

If you have too much on your plate, they would much rather know that ahead of time and assign the task to someone else. It’s all about managing expectations so you don’t put yourself or your team in a tough spot.

2. Practice Resetting Between Tasks

Are you used to jumping from one task to another? Constantly flitting between things is actually detrimental to your productivity. One tactic that works much better is stopping and taking a break before you start something new. It doesn’t have to be a long pause, but you need some buffer time between one thing and the next.

What does this look like in practice? Let’s say you are drafting an offering document. Decide to work on that for two hours and, when that time is up, put the document down and take a pause before you move on to your next task. Walk around the office, grab a snack from your kitchen, take a few deep breaths, or do some stretches at your desk. Whatever works for you!

Why is this important? Because the pause will help you reset your mind before you move on to the next thing. You might feel like you are wasting time by taking a minute (or ten) between tasks, but you really aren’t. In fact, you’re doing just the opposite – you’re setting yourself up to be more productive when you get going again.

3. Block Out Your Calendar

Feeling overwhelmed with all of the assignments you are juggling at once? Do you have something (or many things) that all require a lot of time? Use your calendar to your advantage. Instead of letting your calendar fill up solely with other people’s demands, fill it up with your own.

Block out your calendar by making appointments with yourself. Nobody needs to know what your appointment is for. And no matter what it is for, others are less likely to bother you when they see you are busy. This is an easy way to give yourself dedicated time to work on one thing at a time.

(Hint: this also works when you have personal things that you absolutely must attend to during the day and never seem to be able to find the time to do. Block out your calendar for an hour and get done what you need to do!)

4. Arrive Early Or Stay Late

Even if you implement the tactic above and block out time on your calendar, it can be difficult to carve out enough quiet time during business hours to do everything you want to do. Many assignments require undistracted, focused time. You might find that you simply can’t get that type of work done during the day because you have too many meetings, calls, and other urgent things that pop up.

Instead of trying to fit deep work in between all of your other obligations, plan to stay late or come in early to get it done. You don’t want to get caught without enough time to finish something, especially when you’re new at this and not really sure how long an assignment will take.

When you have multiple assignments at once, it’s always best to allocate too much time to something, finish it early, and move on to the next than get caught without enough time to finish it all.

Skip Multitasking In Favor Of These Strategies

Hopefully, you’ve accepted that multitasking doesn’t work. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to increase your productivity and get done everything you need to do. When in doubt, take a breath, reset, and move on to conquer the next task. You got this!


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About Marissa Geannette

Marissa graduated from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2009 where she was a member of the Law Review. She began her career in the corporate department of White & Case LLP in NYC and spent 8 years as an associate there. Marissa is passionate about educating law students and recent law grads about Biglaw and career paths one can take after law school (both traditional and non-traditional). She wrote her book, “Behind the Biglaw Curtain” to help demystify Biglaw for those beginning their careers. Whether it’s in Biglaw or not, she believes that there is a satisfying career out there for everyone (even if it’s not the traditional one you thought you were “supposed” to have).

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