8 to-do list tips for busy WFH legal professionals 

Eat the frog, break up tasks, and make tomorrow's list today to start the year off with a to-do list well under control.

Working from home sounded pretty great at first, but you’re probably finding that it’s now even more difficult to stay focused, stay organized, and complete tasks that are on your list.  

Whether your firm is gearing up to head back to the office or you’re home for the long-haul, managing your to-do list is the first step toward meeting larger goals in the coming year. Follow these tips to help you refocus, prioritize, and start knocking items off your to-do list.  

#1: Pick the right tool for the job 

Which to-do list format will make you feel just a little bit better about how critical a part of your life it is? Does that app with the encouraging sound effects help? Or is there nothing like striking through a printed checkbox to give you a sense of accomplishment? Acknowledge which kind of checklist will aid and not hinder your work and allow yourself to enjoy it.   

#2: Eat the frog and move on 

As the saying goes “eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” This quote has been repeatedly misattributed to Mark Twain, including in Brian Tracy’s famous book on stopping procrastination, Eat That Frog!  

No matter who said it, the sentiment holds true: procrastination stifles your productivity. So don’t let that awful, difficult task that you’re dreading hang over your head all day. Move it to the top of the list and get it done. Once it’s done, you’ll feel a great weight lifted from your shoulders and you’ll have a much easier time getting on with the remaining tasks of the day. 

#3: Split your project up into manageable tasks 

Projects are large to-dos that will take weeks or months to accomplish. In contrast, tasks are small steps that can be completed in one hour or less (or at most, in one day). Knowing the difference and making the distinction between your own projects and tasks is significant. 

If you try to approach your project like a task, you will most likely become quickly overwhelmed. Morale and your ability to focus may drop. Marvin’s “How to break down a large task into small tasks” gets into the nitty gritty of how to break up your project into smaller tasks or steps. This way, you’ll have tangible, satisfying accomplishments toward completing your overall project. 

#4: Your to-do list needs a makeover 

You’re great at adding tasks to our to-do lists, but what you add offers no guidance on when and where you’re going to do these tasks. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests that in order to be effective, to-do lists require if-then planning 

For instance, if it’s 9 a.m. on Monday, I will check in with my supervising attorney. A to-do list with if-then items helps your brain determine when and where activity is needed and then take action to get it done. 

#5: Align your schedule with your body’s clock 

You may be fighting yourself trying to do things that would be better done at other times. Our body has a specific clock, or circadian rhythm, which regulates our overall metabolism throughout the day, such as the release of different hormones. 

This means we’re naturally set up to perform different tasks better depending on the time of day. We concentrate better in the morning. Fatigue boosts creativity, so save those brainstorming tasks for later in the day. Sleepiness peaks around 2 p.m., so that’s a great time to take a nap! 

#6: Sync up your to-do list with your calendar 

You’ve got your to-do list prioritized and have included if-then planning. Now put it into a calendar, so you can really start to plan things out: what’s due tomorrow, or next week? It’s not on your to-do list today but put it on Wednesday’s to-do list. This will help reinforce the if-then planning because it will all be written out in one place, and you’ll know exactly when and where you need to take action. 

Ready to move beyond just pen and paper? Get some software help with apps like EvernoteFocus Booster, and Marvin, which can all help you keep track of your tasks and your time, with features like timers and alerts. This also works great for all the non-work tasks that are in your face now that you’re working from home. Let’s organize those too, shall we? 

#7: Set a technology blackout 

It’s hard enough preventing yourself from being distracted by ringing phones, incoming emails, or other alerts in an office setting. But now you’re working from home, and the amount of distractions seems to have doubled. Your productivity may be cut in half by constantly answering phones, emails, and texts. If you don’t take control, you’ll never get that to-do list done. 

When you are about to work on a task that requires your concentration, start by turning off your ringer, and email and text alerts. If using a company-wide email or chat app, mark yourself as busy. You can designate on your to-do list and calendar specific blocks of time throughout the day to check messages and return phone calls. But not right now. 

#8: Make tomorrow’s to-do list today 

Legal professionals hate wasting time, and nothing feels like more of a waste of time than figuring out what to do first thing in the morning. But prioritizing tomorrow’s list at the end of each day will be a huge time-saver in the long run. You’ll be less tempted to postpone the worst task. You’ll start work and already know what’s expected of you: eat the frog and move on. 

Start the year with a determination to meet your larger goals by first managing and owning your daily to-do list, and enjoy the productivity and stress relief that comes with a to-do list that is well under control.  

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