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Maintaining Your Sanity While Working From Home

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Maintaining Your Sanity While Working From Home

Last week, the world as we know it was turned upside down. Schools closed, businesses, including many law firms, were required to temporarily shut down, and the vast majority of federal and state court proceedings were canceled until further notice. In New York, “shelter in place” has become the new reality as we practice mandated social distancing for the good of the community.

These events are unprecedented. As a result most law firms - and lawyers - were unprepared for the sudden shift from business as usual while practicing law in an office to working remotely from home. In last week’s column I offered advice to assist firms in setting up their employees for remote work, and in today’s I’m going to share tips to help legal professionals work from home effectively while maintaining their sanity.

I’ve worked from home for more than a decade now, and for the last 7 years have worked remotely full-time for a California technology company, AppFolio. AppFolio is the parent company of MyCase, which provides cloud-based law practice management software for law firms, and I’m the Legal Technology Evangelist for MyCase. This means that the team I work with is based in California, and as a result, I’ve become very accustomed to working from home using the technology tools mentioned in last week’s article to communicate and collaborate with my team and ensure that I’m able to get my job done.

Here are some of my top tips for working efficiently and effectively from home. First off, stick to your normal routine. Get ready for work each day just as you would if you were going into the office. Follow your regular workday grooming routine, whatever that might be. Don’t avoid your typical weekday grooming habits, since doing so will make it all the more difficult for you to transition into “work mode” while working from home. Along those same lines, change out of your pajamas and get dressed. Don’t put on sweatpants or leggings. Instead choose a “casual Friday” outfit that is comfortable, but nevertheless feels somewhat professional. I know these might seem like a minor steps, but trust me, they make all the difference in your mood and help to put you into a work mindset.

Another important step is to choose one or two areas in your home from which you’ll work. Personally, I prefer to work in the kitchen at the island until my kids wake up. Once they’re awake, I shift to a more secluded room where it’s quiet and I have privacy. Every once in a while I’ll work from one of the couches in the family room or living room in the late afternoon just for a change of pace.

Next, make sure to establish clear-cut guidelines with your family from the start. Your kids are home, too, and for them, it may feel like a never-ending vacation. They’ll understandably want to spend time with you. Make sure to let them know when it’s acceptable to interrupt you - and when it’s not. Typically, if I would prefer not to be interrupted, I’ll close the door. But if it’s extremely important that no one interrupt me, I’ll go out of my way to let them know the timeframe during which I’ll be incommunicado. Sometimes I’ll even lock the door.

Also make sure to schedule time for breaks every hour or so. Get up, walk around, grab the mail, take a few stretches, grab a snack, or do some deep breathing. Anything you do for a brief change of pace can make all the difference to your productivity and sanity.

Finally, make sure you have communications tools available that make it easy to connect with your colleagues and friends. Chat tools like Slack, video conferencing tools like Zoom, and online portals and other messaging tools built into law practice management software can make all the difference when you’re working from home. Not only will they help you collaborate and communicate more quickly and efficiently with work colleagues, they’ll also help to make you feel more connected and less isolated.

I know it’s a tough transition, and maintaining your productivity and sanity while working from home isn’t always easy. But trust me - you can do it. I’ve been working from home for more than a decade and I promise you’ll find a routine that works for you. You may encounter a few bumps along the road, but I’m confident you’ll find your groove sooner rather than later!

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.