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BY: JAMIE COLLINS

Do you have a reservation made for “Crazy Paralegal – Party of One?”  Do you ever find yourself completely overwhelmed by the daunting multitude of tasks you need to accomplish within a short span of time?  Ever find yourself wondering how in the world it is even possible to get it all done? 

Welcome to paralegal world.  I currently find myself on the verge of three first choice jury trials in the same month and in all honesty, I find myself wondering the same thing.  Next time you find yourself sinking into the dark abyss of stress, use these tips to help navigate your way back to the light.

Buckle down.  Step one is to fully commit yourself to the project.  This may take a matter of minutes, hours or even days.  If it is a highly complicated project, it may even take you a few weeks.  The key is to commit fully and unconditionally to the project.  Think of it as a marriage ceremony uniting person to project, for better or worse, minus the cake and flowers.  You must take full ownership in order to begin your reign as the ultimate taskmaster.

Perform an analytical assessment.  For repetitive projects, this will be easy.  For less familiar projects, you may need to put your analytical skills to good use.  Determine what needs to be done, the order in which it should be completed, the best way to accomplish each aspect or component, and which staff members or vendors, if any, you will utilize to complete the project from start to finish.  Create a list, chart table or outline to track your progress.  Don’t lose sight of your destination, but put it on the back burner of your mind for now.  Once your analysis is complete and you have developed a clear and focused strategy, it’s time to move on. 

Turn off the negative voices in your head.  Each of us has a little voice, which perpetuates either positive or negative feedback from within.  You may find yourself working on a particular project and typing at your desk — when all of a sudden, the little voice creeps in stating “I can’t possibly get this done,” “This is not even possible,” “I can’t do this,” “I really need to work on x.”  Silence all negative feedback.  Stifle it.  It serves no purpose and has no place in your endeavors.  Negative thoughts will only serve as rough terrain in your climb to progress.  When you feel this voice creep into your head, replace it with affirmative phrases such as: “I can get this done” or “I will get this done.”  You may literally need to say one of these catch phrases to yourself three to five times in a row before the negative thoughts will dissipate.  Just try it!  It really does work.   

Be diligent and industrious.  Keep in mind that a billion small tasks or a complicated project will not be accomplished any more quickly than time will realistically allow.  If you think too much about the big picture, it can make you feel overwhelmed, so focus only on one particular task at a time.  If you are working on a thirty-step project, focus on step one, then step two.  While seemingly logical, this is precisely when you need to refer back to the tip above.  You cannot get to where you are going if you do not stay on course.  As author Robert Frost so eloquently stated: “The best way out is always through.”  Knock down tasks one by one and you will make it to the end goal. 

If you are truly embarking on an utterly impossible project, then you will accomplish all that is humanly possible within the time allotted.  You are a paralegal – not a miracle worker, although the terms are often interchangeable.  Anyone who has followed a high caliber paralegal around for a day would quickly come to this realization.  Strive valiantly to do your absolute best in spite of any pre-conceived notions regarding the project. Paralegals do not surrender; they go down in a blaze of glory. 

If someone offers you help, take it.  One of the biggest mistakes is to turn away help.  I get it.  You are so overwhelmed and think it would take longer to explain a task than to “just” do it yourself.  However, when you have entered the paralegal pressure cooker, this is not true!  If there is a task you could delegate with 5 minutes of instruction that would save you 30 minutes of real time, it is a worthwhile trade off.  Be sure to realistically assess what you can delegate and delegate it!  When a kind co-worker approaches you — do not coil like a cobra ready to strike upon approach. Find something to give this kind-hearted, generous Good Samaritan…unless you find overwhelming pressure and self-condemnation refreshing.  If you do this, you will feel some relief.  A little help and support goes a long way.

When in need of encouragement – look to the past.  If it is possible, you will get it done.  You always have.  Think back to a time when you felt equally as crazy, overloaded and overwhelmed and realize that you fully executed on that task, just as you will this one.  Revisiting your past accomplishments will help to instill personal confidence.  If this is the first placard to be hung on your paralegal wall of fame: remain focused.  You can do it!   Think of it as your first real opportunity to seize greatness. 

Step away from the desk.  I repeat: Step away from the desk.  Take a brief respite.  Go to the restroom, grab a drink, grab a snack, chat briefly with a co-worker or catch some fresh air.  You will return with more clarity and focus and will be a more productive paralegal because of it.  Conducting a typing/sorting/reading marathon at your desk is no different than attempting to take a 10-15 hour road trip without pulling over to take a bathroom break.  Take a brief recess from the madness!  I promise you — that pile of work will still be there when you return. You can count on it. 

In the event some catastrophic event should befall you during your mental respite — rest assured your attorneys will gladly provide you with a bedside laptop and a lovely array of banker’s boxes to keep you occupied. 

Do not do a “roll out” and come to work.  I know –  you’re tired and getting “ready” for work will take a toll on you.  It’s so much easier to go from your bed to your car with minimal effort.  Too bad!  Put at least a half-hearted effort into the looks department.  The only thing worse than having a bad day is looking a “hot mess” while doing it.  It will only help solidify your title as the queen or king of darkness and secure your reign as the omnipotent ruler of the damned.  If you look good — at least you’ll have one thing going for you.  If the dark clouds should happen to part, you’ll be ready to enter the land of flowing fields, butterflies and happiness.  Okay, in reality, you may be ready to hit the Mexican cantina down the road for a margarita after work, but either way you will look moderately appealing.  Not a bad thing.  Who knows, you may even get a compliment to lift your spirits.  No roll outs.  We’re all watching you…

Acknowledge that today may suck and rise to the occasion.  Granted, this may not sound too pleasant, but it is a reality.  You must acknowledge that today may suck.  Not every day is going to be a holiday and not every meal is going to be a picnic.  There are always going to be bad days and bad projects.  It’s a part of life.  All you can do in this situation is cling strongly to your sense of self and general happiness and remember – today may suck, but you can overcome it.  You will.  You simply need to accept your perilous circumstances at face value and continue to move toward the goal.  Think positive.  It is merely a challenge; and one you will overcome.

When a great level of stress exists, an opportunity for greatness also exists.  Will you allow this one stressful event to steer you off course or will you put your fortitude to the test?  It’s your choice.  The land of stress is a true breeding ground for failure or greatness.  The paralegal that works valiantly under pressure and makes it to the end goal with grace and confidence will emerge as a true gladiator (perhaps a crazy one, but a gladiator nevertheless).  Attorneys do take notice of the savvy paralegals around them who consistently adhere to the gold standard.  They take mental notes.  They know exactly who they would prefer to accompany them into battle.  Will you make that list?  When a great level of stress exists, an opportunity for greatness also exists. View stressful events as opportunities.  Mentally prepare yourself.  Be a gladiator!

 If all else fails, make that reservation for “Crazy Paralegal – Party of Two” and I’ll join you! 

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to follow Jamie’s litigation column – KNOW Business – featured in KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals and watch for her future guest blogs on The Estrin Report.  You can find Jamie on LinkedIn or send your comments to her directly at: jamietheparalegal@yahoo.com.  Need a mentor?  E-mail away! 

(This article was reprinted with permission from The Estrin Report: www.estrinlegaled.typepad.com and published in KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals).