Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Art of Busyness...4 Top Tips on how to look busy at work.

Whether you want your bosses to think that you're as busy as a beaver or if you just want secure some valuable chill out time, these tips should help you create an illusion of busyness in any office environment....

1. Location, Location, Location

Just to be clear, this first point is more of a defensive counter-measure as opposed to an active busyness tactic.

The location of your desk determines how much effort you will actually need to put into looking busy. Medieval King's would build their castles on hills as the naturally elevated land would allow the easiest defence. You must do the same with your desk. Always look for the high-ground.
The natural desk features you want to look out for are as follows:

- Hidden screens. Only you should be able to see your screens- this speaks for itself. Your boss might not appreciate funny cat compilation videos as much as you do.

- Secluded location. You do not want to be next to a walkway, a kitchen, a printer or any other area which experiences high footfall. A separate point, but if you get stuck next to a printer not only will you have to endure annoying noise and regular incursions of your territorial waters by nosey colleagues, you will also become the de-facto maintenance help desk for the printer itself. God forbid you become known as the chap who "is good with technology".

- Easy escape and entry points. You want to be able to come and go without your bosses noticing. Being late is a non-issue if you can covertly make it to your desk by via a neighbouring emergency stairwell. Ideally combine this with a tactical knowledge of the building's back channels, this will allow you to easily escape on a Friday evening without running the risk of bumping into your superiors in the lobby.

Sadly this important tactic is likely to be completely out of your control, unless your office is embracing a culture of "hot-desking". In any event, always be prepared to move to a better desk if the opportunity presents itself. Keep personal belongings and clutter to a minimum. Depending the desk competition from your colleagues it may be an idea to keep a "bug out bag" to hand so you can evacuate your old desk and colonise a new one as efficiently as possible.

2. Have a good poker face

Never say you are not busy. The ears of all partners/bosses within a 50 metre radius will prick up- like a pack of Arctic Wolves hearing a distant cry of distress from beached seal pup. You won't be able to escape.

Always be as vague as possible when asked what you're working on. You never know whether you're going to be lumbered with a total "hospital pass" of a job or, conversely, given a really fun job. Being vague with your busyness levels gives you time to carry out some basic reconnaissance in order to decipher the true intentions of your boss. If you realise the job will be fun, accept it. If you realise it's going to destroy your soul/kill your evening or weekend, then amp up your busyness façade and the job should filter down to the next sucker who wasn't as well prepared as you.

Lastly, a good poker face is crucial when it comes to handling time scales and deadlines. The following approach will allow you to i) look super efficient and/or ii) bag some invaluable chill time.

If you're asked to give a projected time scale on when you can deliver something:

  1. Calculate the average required time for completion of the given task ("Genuine Time Estimate")
  2. Taking into consideration: i) the importance of task, ii) how busy you are, iii) how productive you are feeling and iv) how much you can realistically exaggerate, add 50-200% additional time to the Genuine Time Estimate ("Inflated Time Estimate").
  3. Report and commit to the Inflated Time Estimate with your superiors, clients etc.
  4. Under optimal conditions you will complete the task near to the Genuine Time Estimate. You can then chose between: i) looking super productive by beating your time estimate or ii) using your time surplus to sit back, chill, browse tinder, go to the gym or just frankly space out. I'd recommend a combination of both. 

3. Always be armed with a pen and paper.

Appearance matters. Carrying a pen and paper will give the impression that you're off to do something of at least mild importance...when actually you could be nipping out to the gym or off to meet a mate at Starbucks. You can stash your pen and paper on your way in and out of the building if necessary. If you've opted for a "sawn off" style a5 size notebook then you should be able to comfortably holster this in your jacket.

If you're serious about deception, invest in your equipment. In the vacuum like environment of the office, small subtleties can make a big difference. A leather bound notepad (and I'm thinking something along the lines of Tom Riddle's diary from the Harry Potter movies) will yield better results than an discount value, ring bound, 60gsm notepad.

4. Walk really really fast.

Simple but effective. Best combined with tip 3 above.

Be it to the printer (which, as we've already established, shouldn't be next to your desk) or to meetings (real or fake), your walking speed should be f*cking quick.

Unless you're creating air turbulence around you, you ain't going fast enough. Unsecured paper on nearby surfaces should be blown into the air as you pass.

Don't literally run, you don't want any beef with the overzealous health & safety brigade- one foot must be in connection with the ground at all times.

Your supersonic walking speed will add to the illusion of your busyness and will also decrease the likelihood of you being stopped by one of your bosses mid walk. You'll be power walking off over the horizon before their brain's language centre has had time to formulate words. Plus if you're walking at the correct speed, they aren't going to want to collide with you.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Top 5 things to know before becoming a City Lawyer.

1. You will constantly be at someone's beck and call. 

Be it one of your (many) bosses or a client, you're going to be someone else's paper bitch. Your free time is expendable. Got a date this evening? Think again. Off on a city break this weekend? Not any more!

There will be times when you watch your evenings and weekends slowly slip through your fingertips over the course of a week. Other times they will be blasted into oblivion by a one line email. To add salt to your wounds, often your sacrifice will be for no real reason and/or not appreciated.

Long hours are expected by default, you'll need a good excuse to leave anywhere near your contractual finish time. 

Rest assured you'll be informed that you must work late and cancel plans in a very subtle and polite way. A common conversation at 7pm on a Friday evening can be along the lines of:
You: "...okay thanks, so does this need to be done urgently?"
Boss: "No, no don't worry its not urgent. 9am Monday will be fine. Have a great weekend!"
Law firms are notorious for "unpredictable working hours" but this is isn't strictly accurate. You can predict that you'll be working 9am-8pm on a daily basis...but you can't always predict when your client is going to obliterate your weekend plans on a whim. 

2. Everything is urgent. All of the time.

Computers, the Internet, word processing and (f**king) blackberries have produced a situation where lawyers are under an expectation to deliver almost immediate responses to the most complex of issues.

It's a perpetual and vicious cycle.

You need to deliver fast in order to keep your clients happy (and make your firm money) but the more you give, the more they expect next time. Clients are rapid response junkies and lawyers are on call, standing by ready to administer their next fix.

As a result, law firms are constantly on DEFCON 1 - for those of you unfamiliar with US military defence jargon- a maximum state of readiness, nuclear war imminent.

Logically, if everything is urgent, then nothing is. However the harsh truth is that if the client isn't harassing you for a response, the client partner (aka. your boss) almost certainly will be.

In addition to false urgency, technology has also increased the volume of work required. Contracts that would have traditionally been 20 pages are now 200 pages. Negotiations involve draft, after draft, after draft, often involving an over-zealous lawyer copy and pasting long and pointless generic terms that they don't fully understand. It's really too easy to hit "control C, control V".

3. You're not going to be rich. 

Don't be stupid, everyone knows lawyers are rich, right? Well... technically yes, on paper and compared to the national average salary, lawyers are well paid. A city trainee solicitor starts on a salary of £36-40k per year and jumps to £60-70k once they are fully qualified (which takes 2 years).

These sound like good figures, but bear in mind the following:

- You are going to work 40-70% more than your contracted hours and, aside from social exclusion amongst your non-lawyer friends, you do not get overtime. Not one penny. You might get a free pizza and a taxi ride home after a 14 hour day if you're lucky.

- If you calculate your hourly rate you'll be pretty disappointed! If money is your goal then other jobs can pay just as well or better, particularly if you're willing to work as hard as you will be in a law firm. You may very well enjoy them more too.

-Two things will erode your income in particular: 
  • London existing expenses. In other words, rent and travel (you cannot buy a house- at least not with your own money). Admittedly this is the case for everyone in London- about £1200 is going to disapparate from your account balance every month. 
  • Reckless and frivolous spending habits. In order to compensate for the emotional and spiritual injuries you will sustain during your working hours, you are likely to develop a wasteful/expensive lifestyle as a form of escape or release. This can come in the form of alcohol, expensive vacations, shopping sprees, more alcohol, recreational drugs and just general nonchalance vis-à-vis money. 

4. Your health is likely to suffer. 

Lots of sitting, screen starring, not much time for exercise, irregular (and unhealthy) eating and alcohol, lots of it. Welcome to the good life...

Most of your time will be spent at your desk, proverbially "plugged in" to the matrix. You are a stationary worker bee.

Working late means takeaways, if you work for a more "caring" firm someone is actually employed to specifically to take care of your late night food orders. Seriously.

It's not that you can't hit the gym at all, but you will need to make a real effort to escape for an hour. A good technique is to sneak out early in the day when you have greater control over the remainder of your day. If you miss that valuable window of opportunity it's difficult to find another.

Lastly, lawyers drink. As previously mentioned this is often to forget, or at least temporarily numb, their worries and stresses. It all seems like a great idea at the time... all until the next morning when the emails are flowing in, the hangover can't be tamed and you're forced to lie down/take refuge in the nearest disabled bathroom.

5. Be prepared to execute orders. 

You will be told specifically what to do, most of the time. There's little room for independent thought until you reach the upper echelons of your firm.

You're a weapon, not a solider, ready to be picked up and fired down the range. A resource waiting to be exploited.

A lawyers 2 year training contract can be a very frustrating time, particularly if your supervisor doesn't really care about your development.

During a time when you are meant to be learning the ropes, you can easily become lumbered with soul destroying admin work. Your supervisor must balance your development vs business needs but this is tough for firms to achieve. Not everyone makes a great teacher but the senior lawyers must supervise a junior as part of their own development. The result is another vicious cycle... junior lawyers take sh*t for years and then don't feel bad about dishing it out when the boot is on the other foot.

Its common to hear the phrase:

"Think yourself lucky...when I was a trainee I had to [INSERT demeaning task]"

You have to be mentally tough to endure these orders and there will be times where you'll want to scream, cry or just walk out the door and join the rebellion. The key is to always think of yourself and keep your best interests in mind- your superiors sure as hell won't.