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According to merit?: One thing at a time

Every Issue

Cite as: December 2009 83(12) LIJ, p.78

Our lives would be easier if we stopped multi-tasking and started concentrating on individual tasks.

Multi-tasking can take its toll. In this fast-paced world it seems normal to check your emails while talking on the phone, to look for messages while talking to someone or to listen to phone messages while typing a memo.

However, every time we check emails on laptops in bedrooms or do work on Blackberries while eating, we further blur the line between work and having a life.

Work has infiltrated our lives so much that we don’t even realise the impact.

However, after years of multi-tasking, you realise you need to take a holiday from it.

I am not talking about a holiday where you stop checking emails and phone messages for a set time (although we could all do with that).

I am talking about after your holiday. When you go to work, try to slow down and do one thing at a time.

Multi-tasking can cause physical symptoms such as dizziness and memory loss, as well as having an effect on your psychological wellbeing.

So give up multi-tasking.

By focusing on the person you are talking to or the task at hand, by only doing one thing at a time, you improve the quality of relationships at home and work, as well as the quality of the work done.

It seems Australians are now doing more work than others in the developed world but being busy does not necessarily mean being effective or productive.1

There are options to help you make the most of your work day.

Telecommuting is not just an add-on to working in the traditional way at the office. Employees can telecommute instead of being at the office.

Fixed fee billing ties in with this – if firms move toward fixed fee rather than hourly rates there may be even more scope for employees to work by telecommuting.2

As this is my last column, I want to leave some other parting thoughts on part-time work and work/life balance.

If you visit the doctor, or someone in the medical profession, you sometimes get the answer “No, [she or he] is only here on a Tuesday or a Wednesday”, or whatever the day may be.

No one thinks less of them because of this.

However, in law there is a serious issue with the perception of part-time. Available part-time jobs are limited as are job websites advertising job-share or part-time positions.

While the perception of part-time is poor in some quarters and the opportunities are few, there is a demand for quality and valued part-time work. As retention rates in the profession plummet, this in part can be explained by people not being able to continue in their chosen profession and balance family or other commitments.

The law is not one of the caring professions and it needs to change.

Many practitioners have responsibilities for the caring of children, and many more will have responsibilities for elderly parents as the population ages.

The legal profession will need to accommodate carers.

In addition, the profession itself is ageing and older employees or partners will probably want to work part-time as they semi-retire.

Depression in the profession is an ongoing issue – with the A-type personalities that law attracts and the competition, hours and high standards – but getting flexibility and work/life balance right may be a way to reduce the depression epidemic.

And the profession needs to allow people to have a life. It is not really about the balance. It is about how work can fit in with life – “if it can’t fit, I want to quit”.

As the holiday season approaches, people think about how their work fits in with their life.

It is timely for employers and workplaces to look at ways to make work fit better in their employees’ and partners’ lives if they want to retain them and keep them happy and productive in the long term.


SIMONE JACOBSON is a barrister and committee member and former convenor of the WBA.

1. David Wilson, “Are you effective or just busy?”, The Age, 16 September 2009. See, accessed 21 October 2009.

2. See Jacobson, S, “Time to say goodbye to billable units,” July 2008 LIJ, p89 and “Work away from work”, April 2007 LIJ, p92.


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