Lawyers and Time Limits: On Time Management

Time management is an incredibly important skill in any environment, be it work, an internship, school, or even managing leisure time and hobbies. There are hundreds of theories and techniques out there in the world concerning the best ways to manage your time. There is the Pareto Analysis (wherein 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of your outcomes, so you must select tasks accordingly), the Pomodoro Technique (wherein you set a timer to do a certain specific task at hand and then take 3-5 minute break once the timer goes off), the Time Blocking Method (wherein you map out your day in blocks of time), and so many others. 

I think that a person’s mental state plays a crucial role in how they manage their time. Personally, I have always found that my time management skills vary greatly depending on how overwhelmed with tasks I am and how burned out I feel. Whenever I am feeling particularly stressed out, I have two modes: working very intensely trying to finish everything all at once or being so overwhelmed that I lose the motivation to work at a reasonable pace. As it stands, when I am not stressed and I feel perfectly fine, I usually have the attention span to work in a very focused manner for 45 minute bursts at a time, with 5 to 10 minute intervals of a break to regain focus again. Given this pattern, I feel that the Pomodoro Technique, wherein you work in spurts of focusing on one task with breaks every 25 minutes or so, may be the best strategy to adopt.

My tasks at ILP Abogados, the corporate law firm where I am currently interning, vary greatly in their range. Examples of recent tasks have included: watching interviews with managing partners at Venture Capital firms and taking notes on their predictions for the future of the industry, reading through the UNCITRAL arbitration rules (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) and explaining the role of arbitrators in order to illuminate a clause in a contract my coworkers was working on, reading through contracts of the acquisitions of new companies, and analyzing pitch decks from certain startups and creating summary charts. With such a diversity of tasks coming from a wide range of sources (such as my supervisor and other coworkers), it is difficult to organize and prioritize everything as efficiently as possible. 

When it comes to organizing the order of these tasks and prioritizing things, I have to arrange my time based on the intensity of the task, its deadline, and the person whom the task is for. As for the intensity of the task, if it is a longer endeavor, I try to spread out the task in bursts of work over a longer period of time so as not to burn myself out too much and to give myself more variety to maintain my interest in the work. I find that switching between tasks, contrary to popular belief, serves to enhance my focus on the work in the aggregate, rather than distracting me. As for deadlines, I prioritize tasks which have deadlines that are more pertinent over more long-term projects, though in this internship, deadlines have tended to be more abstract and on a “when it gets completed” basis. However, there have been some tasks which are more time-sensitive, namely the contract clarifications and pitch decks. Finally, when considering the person for whom I have to complete this task, I prioritize the tasks set by my supervisor and then the other lawyers in the firm. 

For me, setting boundaries and advocating for myself has been a large part of my personal growth when it comes to time management skills development. It is very important for me to manage my mental health and avoid burning out. This means that realizing that being a workaholic is not always a virtue, which is a difficult thing for me to admit. In order to set those boundaries, I have held firm to the hours of my work. Essentially, I aim to be very productive during my work hours of 9 to 6 and get all of the tasks done in an appropriate time frame. However, I do not reply to any emails that arrive in my inbox outside of my work hours or on weekends, and I do not complete any tasks that fall outside of my hours either. I find that the stress of always being “on” is difficult to manage in the long-term, and setting these firm limits, especially in an internship, is paramount. This way, I can focus completely at work, and then take my break to the fullest without distractions outside of work hours and enjoy the beautiful scenery around Spain.