Finding Clarity in Chaos
Finding Clarity in Chaos: Strategies for Maintaining Focus in a Hectic Work Environment 
Local Stories, Women in Business

By Lindsey Cook – Barley Snyder

My life was organized before I became an attorney. I breezed through high school with blocks of time set aside for each subject and a bell to signal transitions. College followed a similar structure, keeping up with regular assignments and preparing for term papers well in advance. In law school, my focus was singular—prepare for the final examination on a set date and time. Upon entering the legal practice—specifically the world of litigation—I found there was no organization, no tidiness. Deadlines materialize daily, and new demands pepper my email inbox constantly. I could be preparing for a trial in two weeks when I am scheduled for an emergency hearing the next day. Everything is important, deeply important. And everyone from the clients to the opposing attorneys to the judge require not only urgency but perfection. 

Amidst a barrage of deadlines, shifting priorities and the bar for accuracy at an all-time high, how does one maintain focus in order to tackle each task efficiently and effectively? Throughout my fast-paced legal career, I’ve honed several strategies that provide a beacon of focus and help me get the job done.

1. Schedule your day into halves. Each morning, I review my to-do list and assess what I can realistically get done that day and then I create a “must do” list and “nice to do” list.Next, I divide my day into a “fast” half and a “slow” half. During the “fast” half of my day, I complete many small tasks that do not take a substantial amount of time or focus.For the “slow” half of my day, I concentrate on one or two large projects. Why this works: This schedule helps me focus on the specific task or project at the designated time while minimizing distractions.

2. Prioritize without forgetting you’re human. It is common to prioritize tasks based on deadline; however, sometimes you need to complete less pressing items first in order to clear your mind and maximize productivity. For example, if you are trying to finish a task with a fast-approaching deadline but you are worrying about another task, this iscounterproductive. Instead, complete the task that is occupying your emotional capacity, so you can move on and truly focus on the next task at hand. Why this works: It a poor use of time to work on a task or project while distracted—sometimes simply rearrangingyour priority list can help eliminate distractions.  

3. Utilize the Pomodoro technique. I stumbled upon this time management method five years ago and I haven’t turned back. It is my go-to for maintaining deep focus when time is of the essence. The Pomodoro technique involves breaking your work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short five-minute breaks. Each interval is known as a “Pomodoro,” and after completing four Pomodoros, you take a longer break. This structured approach helps with managing time and enhances concentration by creating a sense of urgency during each focused interval. Why it works: The Pomodoro Technique is a simple yet powerful strategy that aligns perfectly with the need for focused bursts of attention in a profession where every minute counts.

4. Get comfortable managing expectations. As a people pleaser, I despise asking for an accommodation or pushing back on an unrealistic expectation; however, sometimes it is important to do so. Learning to manage expectations is not a sign of weakness but rather a respectable skill. It’s about setting boundaries, being realistic about your limitations, and communicating effectively with colleagues and clients. Embracing the art of managing expectations allows you to navigate the chaotic waters of a demanding profession with grace and integrity. Why it works: By being transparent about your timelines, you prevent burnout and ensure the quality of your work remains consistently high.

By segmenting my day into manageable halves, prioritizing tasks with both deadlines and emotional weight in mind, harnessing the power of the Pomodoro technique for intense bursts of concentration, and mastering the art of managing expectations, I’ve discovered a path to maintain composure and productivity in the face of overwhelming demands. In embracing these methods, I’ve not only preserved my sanity but also elevated the quality of my work, proving that amidst chaos, clarity is indeed attainable with the right tools and mindset. 

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