Confessions of a General Counsel:  Let Go of ‘Busy’ and Embrace ‘Focused’

Maybe things are different at your law school, but I doubt it — law students everywhere seem to love talking about how busy they are, how they have so much to do and how late they stayed up last night.  

Consider this. From now through the end of your career, the workload will continue to increase, the projects will become more complicated, and your decisions will impact more and more people. If you convey a sense of panic or an inability to prioritize, your advancement will be blocked. Here are five ways to let go of 'busy' and embrace 'focused'. 

1. Do not brag about how busy you are.

Ask yourself instead why anyone should give you brownie points for not being able to juggle life’s necessities, like sleep (sleep deprivation is not a good habit), relationships (you will work with your classmates for decades to come), family (law school is three years, your family is forever), yourself (the minutes in our lives are finite, work is infinite). Clients, and supervisors, want attorneys who convey calmness, confidence and competence. 

2. Track value.

Prioritize the most important work. Break those projects into small chunks and schedule time in your calendar to complete those tasks. Don’t let your calendar turn into a log where you keep track of your endless classes and meetings. Use your calendar as a tool to help you commit the time you need to focus on the projects that are most important.

3. Create an “Ignore” list.

Determine what work is not important enough to capture any minutes of your life. This is your “Ignore” list. Do not do this work. You will feel liberated. I took three bar exams: Massachusetts, New York and California. For each exam, I decided that I would not spend one minute learning anything new about the rule of perpetuities. I ignored it in the study guides, I tuned out my friends when they struggled to make sense of it, and I decided that I would write whatever key words came to mind if it showed up on an actual exam. I used all of that liberated time to focus on material that would be easier for me to learn and that would appear more often on the test. I also used it to watch Little House on the Prairie re-runs — very relaxing. I passed all three exams and if I ever need to know anything about the rule of perpetuities, I’ll hire a good lawyer.

4. Build skills to successfully manage your workload.

Experiment with the processes that will work for you. It is okay to ask your friends and professors for suggestions about how they prioritize. I use Evernote, Google calendar, and Levenger notebooks to stay organized.

5. Invest in yourself.

High-value work includes things that you do for yourself. Calendar these events and do not move them for work. Examples include walks, gym-time, family dinners, date nights, the Sunday crossword puzzle. Find some time to turn off your cell phones, emails and social media sites each day. Watch Little House on the Prairie and relax.

Don’t be busy; be focused. Let me know how it goes!

How do you get focused?  Let me know in the comments below.  


Delida Costin is the former general counsel of Pandora Media and  She is also a proud alumna of Boston University School of Law. She frequently speaks about leadership, legal practice and diversity.  

Learn more about Delida on her website:

Follow her on Twitter:


Julie Cummings

I loved reading this, especially about not bragging about how busy you are (that just annoys everyone). And I also liked the whole concept of creating an “Ignore List.” That one hit home when you said, “I passed all three exams and if I ever need to know anything about the rule of perpetuities, I’ll hire a good lawyer.” Now that’s backing up your advice—funny too! I get focused when I step away from a problem and get outside doing something without any music, news, or other audio. Preferred favorites are running (where I get too tired to do anything but breathe) and swimming (where I can’t hear anything anyway). And in case I sounded cliche, I’m not tired from running because I’m fast, or run long distances, but just because I run, and that makes me breathe hard.


Love this!  One skill I use to manage my workload is that I start each new task as soon as possible.  I may create just the barest skeleton of what has to get done, or a file folder on my desktop into which I can dump cases.  Starting when the challenge is fresh in my mind really helps.  Then, I can use the chunks of time that I have to attack each part of the task ahead.  No blank paper/blank mind to stumble over! I am now on the lookout for things I can put on my “ignore list.”  That is an idea I can get behind!

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe