I realized early in my career that having a routine each morning made me more productive during the day. It became so important to me that I began arriving at work early just so that I could be alone to prepare for my day. On days when I was unable to follow my normal routine for whatever reason, I didn’t feel as prepared, organized, or productive.
You can find hundreds of articles, books, and blog posts that claim you can be productive and effective by doing a variety of things to start your day. From what successful people do in the first 10 minutes of their day or the first hour of their day to how to navigate the first few hours of your day. Many of them are worth reading but as with most things in life, you need to tailor your morning to your personality, job, and office. For me, my morning ritual keeps me sane and calm the rest of the day even when things seem to fall apart.
- Coffee time - For many years, I started my day the same way as my attorney. Coffee was our office religion, and the entire office knew not to speak to either one of us until we’d had our first cup (not really, but you get the point). This simple coffee routine allowed me to prepare for the day before being phone calls, emails, deadlines, and emergencies started rolling in.
- Check emails – Most people say that you shouldn’t check email until later in the morning so you don’t become bogged down responding to them. Here’s the thing - I find that clearing my emails helps to prioritize my day. The key for me is to only to respond to urgent emails. All other emails go on my to-do list.
- Call or email people I need to talk to that day – If I need to talk to a client, court clerk, expert witness, or any other person, I email them or leave them a message. This way I’m able to get myself on their to-do list when they arrive at the office. I add them to my follow-up list so I remember to call again in the afternoon if I don’t hear back from them.
- Prioritize my day – Having a to-do list helps me prioritize my day so that I focus on what’s most important. It also helps me plan my day so that when I’m interrupted or a crisis happens, I can quickly get back on task. I can also adjust my schedule throughout the day as necessary. Without my to-do list, it takes me longer to get back on track when I’m interrupted.
- Organize my desk – After reviewing and prioritizing my to-do list, I note the files or documents I’ll need that day, grab them, and stack them in the order of my to-do list. This reduces the amount of time I spend during the day “fetching” things I need. When no one’s in the office, retrieving a file takes a couple of minutes but during the day I could be stopped several times on the way to the file room and back. If the file is in another person’s office, that simple task could take 30 minutes if they want to chat or discuss a case.
- Review court docket and court filings – This is one of those tasks that may be specific to the area of law but it’s essential for me each morning. Almost all bankruptcy districts require electronic filing. Each night, we receive an email summary of every document filed in every one of or cases from the previous day. By reviewing this summary first thing every morning, I can quickly determine if we have to deal with an emergency, deadline, or other issue and prioritize those tasks so that something minor doesn’t become an emergency later in the day.
There’s no right or wrong way to start your day — there’s only “your” way. You need to decide what routine works best for you and then stick to it. Routines help maintain order and structure so that you are more efficient and productive. They also reduce the level of stress you experience because you know exactly what you need to do next. You’re not constantly wondering, “Did I forget something?” The key is to develop a routine that works best for you.
What are the essential parts of your morning ritual as a paralegal?
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).