By Lisa Caplan

I have learned many things from working with attorneys, but one common message I hear is that when they procrastinate it leads to anxiety, which then leads to more procrastinating, and the cycle continues. This is definitely not unique to lawyers. It’s easy to get caught up in this pattern, so here are some tips on how to get off the procrastination merry-go-round.

It makes sense that procrastination increases anxiety. We typically procrastinate on tasks that we are unsure of, because we don’t know how or where to begin. When we feel uncertain we can become nervous, anxious and overwhelmed. Most people don’t like uncertainty, but lawyers, especially those with type A personalities, have even less tolerance for uncertainty.

Tips to handle procrastination:

  1. When thinking about how to get started, take a slow deep breath in through your nose as if you are filling yourself up from your feet to your head; hold for a few seconds, then exhale through your nose even slower than you inhaled. Repeat a couple times. Breathing helps you to decompress and allows you to take a step back and navigate the project at hand.
  2. Break things into manageable small pieces. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do first?” and initially focus on that. Then, later on, handle the next piece the same way.
  3. Find a filing system for home and work that works for you. We often get overwhelmed by all the information, tasks, school notices, work deadlines, etc. Not everything has to be accomplished that day. You just need a way to remind yourself to take care of tasks at the right time. A technique that might be helpful comes from a book called Getting Things Done. This is how it works – get 31 cardboard folders, (I like to use legal size envelopes so nothing can fall out) label them 1st, 2nd, 3rd, one for each day of the month. Then, when something comes in that you need to add to your to do list, file it in the correct day’s folder, based on the day you need to think about it. Reuse the folders the next month. Everyone is different, so adapt this tip to what works best for you.
  4. Improve your decision making skills. If you are trying to resolve a problem, look at it in detail and maybe even write it down. List options of how to deal with it, listing the pros and cons of each option. After carrying it out, think about the outcome to determine how you might improve your process and move forward the next time. By going through this process, you can become more efficient in improving your decision making skills.
  5. Increase independence in accomplishing goals. Sometimes we can be very independent in one area of our life, but rely on other people to help accomplish goals in other areas, because we don’t always trust ourselves in making the right decision. To help you feel more confident, think about all the things you have accomplished, set small realistic goals, and find a mentor or role model. Becoming more confident and independent can help you avoid procrastinating.
  6. When you notice yourself beginning to procrastinate, (and you know when that is happening) ground yourself. Pick up an object and using all your senses, describe the object in as much detail as you can. For example, what does it feel like, what is the temperature, does it make any noise, does it have a smell, etc. Feedback from my clients is that they love this activity because all their attention is on the object, and that is very calming. This is a mindfulness activity that helps you to step back and ground yourself. It gives you a break and clarity to then decide how to move forward.
  7. Set realistic goals. I have been working with lawyers long enough to know that they can be very all or nothing. “I have to work out for an hour and a half or I don’t go.” “I have to complete the entire project or I won’t start it.” This kind of thinking can lead to accomplishing a lot of nothing, and cause a lot of anxiety. Think balance and moderation, and break down projects and life changes, like exercise or eating healthy, into manageable pieces. It can be helpful to have a master list of what you need to do, and another list where you put 3 things to accomplish that day. You may have 150 things to do, but you will accomplish more if you break it down and not try to do too much.
  8. Call your Maryland Lawyer Assistance Program. Everyone is different. Come talk with us to help get to the bottom of your procrastinating and help you move forward in a healthy way.

For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors throughout Maryland. Jim Quinn, Lawyer Assistance Director, (443) 703-3041,; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Associate Director of the Lawyer Assistance Program, (443) 703-3042, 24/7 Toll Free 1(888) 388-5459.


Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma.