Stuck With a Backlog? Dig Yourself Out With These Simple Strategies!

It doesn’t take much to create a backlog when you’re running a business. A paralegal with the flu, an associate on a well-deserved vacation, and even a sudden surge of consultation requests can turn a caseload from manageable to rebellious. Senior partners and clients want answers, not hurried promises and apologies. But what can you do when everything is coming at you at once?

At this point, you need to be proactive instead of reactive. While the tips below may look like more work to add to the pile, they can actually help you dig your way out, catch up, and tame your schedule faster. 

1. Identify Priorities

Start by identifying priorities. While it may seem like everything is demanding immediate attention, you need to determine which tasks are mission critical and focus on them first.

Get started by checking your calendar for upcoming as well as missed commitments. If you flag your emails in order of priority, review them quickly for the most urgent tasks. Next, go through your practice management system for any outstanding or upcoming action items. Once you’ve got a list, check with your assistant to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

2. Start Trimming

Print out the list and mark all the things you can reschedule or delegate. What you’ll be left with is a list of obligations that you need to get started on ASAP. 

Now group those tasks into categories like the following:

  • Calls to make or return
  • Emails to send or respond to
  • Documents to draft

Note how long it should take to complete each task. For bigger projects, rank them by priority or complexity: those that are especially complicated should be allotted more time and/or an earlier head start.

3. Create a Daily Task List

You can reduce a lot of stress and anxiety by creating a list that tells you what you need to do and when. Before your day begins, add tasks from the priorities list you created earlier. Select the one project or action item that’s been causing the most stress and put it at the top of that day’s to-do list. The relief you’ll feel once it’s complete can energize you for the rest of the day.

4. Strike a Balance

Don’t be too ambitious and overschedule yourself, but don’t go too easy on yourself either. You’re doing damage control in a lot of cases. On the positive side, you’ll feel a lot better as you watch the task list dwindle down. Even if you don’t manage to get everything done, you’ve captured everything on paper, so you now have a sense of direction.

Strike a balance with your triage — don’t overschedule your day, but don’t be too easy on yourself, either. This is triage. Besides, you are going to feel a lot better when you realize how much you can do in a few focused hours. (Wise people will tell you that you’re lucky to get three things done, at most, each day.) Even if you don’t follow the list completely, having it there will ease your mind.

5. Delegate Whenever Possible

A surprising number of lawyers find it difficult to delegate. Sometimes it just seems easier to do everything yourself and reduce the risk of having to redo something important. You can start by delegating less complicated tasks, like returning phone calls or organizing client files, and gradually increasing the responsibility as you become more confident in your team’s strengths. You’ll be surprised—and relieved—by how much time this frees up for you.

The steps in this guide can not only help you get through caseload emergencies; they can also set the stage for smoother practice operations moving forward. Once you’re back on track, you can use these strategies to keep your energies focused where they’re needed most and take the firm to the next level.

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