9 Simple Habits to Jumpstart Your Paralegal Productivity

Productivity means different things to different people. For some, it means working your way through your to-do list, accomplishing every task before day’s end. For others, it means staying busy all day, always keeping those feet moving or fingers typing. Yet for others, it can mean being productive at work in order to free up time for pleasurable activities, such as getting to the gym or spending more time with family at the end of each day.

Regardless of your definition of productivity and what it looks like to you, all paralegals and legal assistants can benefit from the same productivity tips that others rely on to get more done, stay more relaxed, and find more balance. We offer you nine of those tips below.

Tip 1: Wake up earlier

Wake up earlier—you’ll find this productivity tip in almost every bit of advice you come across. However, you have to be intentional about how you’ll spend this extra 30 minutes each morning. It’s easy to get up earlier and still be rushing out the door when it’s time to go. Think through how you’ll use this extra time and plan ahead the night before to make sure this is 30 minutes well spent.

Tip 2: Create daily to-do lists

Think about the things you do (or want to do) on a daily basis and write them down. This is the start of your daily checklist. This checklist will keep you sane and on task during the day, especially as lawyers are spinning you in a million directions to get tasks accomplished. Experts say to-do lists definitely make us more productive, even if we don’t complete everything on the list. (Hint: To be even more productive, create this list at the end of the day before you leave the office so you can hit the ground running in the morning.)

Tip 3: Avoid your email—at first

It’s so easy to get to your desk and check email first thing, but for a paralegal, that can be a bad way to start a productive say. Instead, stay away from email for the first hour when you get to the office. It’s a hectic, crazy mess once you get there, and you need to plan your day and tackle your hard tasks (see the next tip). Email can be a huge distraction and time waster, so postpone it until after your day is off to a productive start.

Tip 4: Do first things first

To be a productive paralegal, tackle your number one priority at the start of your workday. For many of us, that high priority item is usually something we have been putting off because it is a daunting task or an unpleasant one. Yet getting it out of the way at the start of the day frees you up to be more productive as you’re better able to focus on the rest of the items on your to-do list.

Tip 5: Follow the 5-minute rule

Speaking of daunting tasks, try following the 5-minute rule, meaning stick with it for 5 minutes. If you can commit those 5 minutes to actually getting the project started—without any interruptions—you’re more likely to see the project through right then and there.

Tip 6: Capture good ideas

Is your brain constantly churning? You’ll get great ideas all day long but won’t have time to act on them, so write them down because you might not remember them later. We include this tip as a productivity helper because it might be that one of your good ideas is going to lead to more productivity later!

Tip 7: Know your energy patterns

Some people work better in the morning, some mid-day, some afternoon. Determine the time of day when you have the most energy, and schedule your challenging projects accordingly. Then schedule meetings or save less intense work for those times when your energy is lower or your brain power isn’t as strong as it could be. Everyone has a down-time. There’s nothing wrong with that. But being more productive means knowing when that down-time is and working around it.

Tip 8: Take breaks

Like waking up earlier, taking breaks is a productivity tip you’ll find recommended consistently across the board. And research helps to explain why: In one study, the highest-performing 10% of workers tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Your body and your brain need to get up and stretch, to get a little distance between you and your desk and get your blood flowing again. Plan short breaks into your day and you’ll be more productive at the end of it.

Tip 9: Take care of yourself

If you’re not taking care of yourself when away from work, you won’t be a productive version of yourself when you’re at work. Take sleep, for example: If you don’t get enough of it, you’re sluggish and slow at work. A Harvard study concludes sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion per year in lost productivity. In addition to getting enough sleep, you must eat well (including during the workday) and exercise to keep your energy level up. Beyond that, you also need to simply do what recharges your batteries and makes you happy, whether that’s reading books or spending time with friends, or whatever. Taking care of you makes you able to take care of work.

Finally, stay focused. According to, 89% of employees admit to wasting time at work. Even a busy paralegal juggling multiple tasks all day long can inadvertently waste time by checking texts on a cell phone or getting interrupted by a co-worker. Train yourself to make work about work, make these nine tips a habit, and be the productive paralegal who can walk out the door at the end of the day knowing all the important tasks are done and your evening is yours to spend however you’d like.