Focus On

From ‘To do’ to ‘All done’ | C. J. Shaw

Thursday, July 16, 2020 @ 3:11 PM | By C. J. Shaw

C. J. Shaw %>
C. J. Shaw
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”                                   
President John F. Kennedy

The precepts for completing all projects with efficient competence include those inspiring words from President Kennedy’s “moon shot” speech, and an intriguing bit of philosophy from Aristotle’s Ethics. The precepts are not presented in a hierarchical order except precept No. 1. Some are clustered. Ideally, none are preachy.

1. Foremost — undertake all projects with self-confidence and determination to complete them on time (and within budget). Early recognition of a familiar aspect of a new project reinforces self-confidence and determination. It’s a springboard to achieve high performance.

2. “Knowledge worker” is a term attributed to Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005), management consultant, educator and author. A knowledge worker makes practical use of an advanced education to earn a living. We have many knowledge workers, includes lawyers.

3. Standard of care is not perfection. When practising law, i.e. problem-solving not creating utopias, perfection is seldom if ever requested, expected or rewarded. Are there criteria or rubrics for detecting perfection? There are none. Perfection is impressional or subjective. 

4. Self-improvement: Contrast perfection — a troublous ideal — with the reality and purposefulness of improving one’s professionalism and skill set, i.e. ethical, technical, practical and intellectual abilities and one’s well-being. Frankly, there are no grounds for a case against self-improvement.

5. The best work style fits the type described as “organized, sequential, planned and detail oriented.” Yes, be approachable and personable. And avoid puffing up of self-importance.

6. Be pragmatic and deal with a situation by applying practical considerations before theory.

7. Commence a project by scrutinizing the instructions to ensure the project is doable as planned and the stipulated (or anticipated) time frame is realistic.

8. Take an early opportunity to ask sensible and thoughtful questions about the project, especially concerning any deliverables (things or services) required from others.

9. Completing a project includes “operating work, that is, the work of managing what is already in existence and known, building it, exploiting its potential, taking care of its problems” (Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, 1974, 524).

10. Pace yourself because “[w]orking requires latitude to change speed, rhythm, and attention span fairly often. It requires fairly frequent changes in operating routines as well” (Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, 1974, 184).

11. Maintain an overall “to do list.” Update it daily (before arriving at work). Go off script for intervening new work or to assist a colleague — enjoy helping others. And be sure the other person feels much better overall because of having been in contact with you.

12. Three things to be sure to do: a) interim reporting; b) interim reporting; and c) interim reporting. Keep the client informed (intermittently). Resist an inclination not to do so. If expressly told (instructed) not to do it, then relent.

13. Perform well under pressure. Pressure is usually preventable. Motto: An early start is a job already half-done.

14. Anticipate next steps. Be proactive, not merely reactive, to avoid the potential for panic. Actually, don’t ever resort to panic.

15. Be a problem solver, not a problem maker. Be alert to the potential for unintended consequences. Be a confident and good decision maker.

16. Intellectually demanding work attracts you. Identifying an interestingly new or unusual requirement of a project encourages curiosity, a strong desire to know or learn something. 

17. Aim to please to avoid disappointing others (and oneself). Get the job done so others get their money’s worth from you.

18. Assign or delegate work for efficiency (and to prevent backlog). Do it to enlist required expertise. It can provide experiential learning opportunities to colleagues. Never ask someone else to do something you haven’t done — or wouldn’t do —  yourself (subject to competency). A piece of legal work is never too small (or too big) for one’s full attention and total respect.

19. Group activity involving team work collaboration, and seeking consensus suits you. Recall the maxim “many hands make light work.” Projects get completed more easily and are fun when people work together. Have a positive attitude and be respectful when receiving directions or input from others — clients, colleagues, the courts.

20. About having made a mistake: recognize it, acknowledge it, rectify it yourself where permissible and possible (don’t impose it on innocents), learn from it, and get over it. At a minimum correcting a mistake is annoying, distracting and time-consuming. Yes, one can “learn something the hard way” by making a serious mistake.

21. About not making a mistake: be mindful of the possibility that any person can make a mistake. Check your work often. If unsure on a substantive topic (after doing one’s diligence), ask an expert (a colleague). And be courteous and thoughtful by preparing your questions in advance.

22. Have positive interactions with clients, colleagues, the courts and other stakeholders, including individuals populating offices of public and private service providers.

23. Be empathetic. Relate when someone else is suffering (or when someone else is happy). It can have a positive effect when encountering an allegedly difficult person.

24. Be motivated by enthusiasm, pride in work, productivity, scholarship and a strong commitment to continuing professional development (CPD), including self-study (reading). Be active with professional associations for CPD and for gemütlichkelt (socializing).

25. Aristotle’s metaphorical circle: well-executed work is located at the centre of a circle (Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Book Two). This guidance applies to work style or skill set. Imagine a circle with a horizontal line drawn across its diameter (radii). The right half of the circle’s perimeter represents maximum excess of a human quality, e.g. pedantic. The left half is maximum deficiency of the same human quality, e.g. negligent. Look along the radii toward the circle’s centre for an admirable human quality (Aristotelian mean), e.g. careful.

26. Enhanced literacy: Have and use a good dictionary (preferably a proud and venerable Oxford). Develop and maintain a strong working knowledge of writing and editing manuals, e.g. Strunk & White, The Elements of Style, Fourth Ed. (2000) and New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide, 2nd Ed. (2014).

27. Leave the office when the day’s work is done to the fullest extent practicable. Diarize all files with bring forward dates and return them to a storage cabinet (out of sight, out of mind to get rest and relax). Have a clean desk at the end of each day to be ready for the next work day.

C. J. Shaw is a Calgary lawyer and legal educator. He is a member of the Canadian Bar Association — Alberta Branch, Legislation and Law Reform committee.

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