Make Friends with Fear to Increase Your Productivity

Many lawyers' worst nightmare is to make a mistake. They live with the daily stress of perfectionism. This spoils their productivity.

What happens to lawyers who are perfectionists?

They procrastinate.

They avoid.

They become frozen or paralyzed for fear of making a mistake.

Their procrastination stops productivity.

Many times procrastination is based on fear.

Perfectionists have a fear of failure, a fear of not reaching their goals.

Their personal value and self-worth are on the line based on whether or not they make a mistake.

The definition for the word “ATELOPHOBIA” is the fear of imperfection.

Without realizing it, many lawyers suffer from atelophobia. They experience negative feelings, thoughts, and beliefs associated with their inability to be perfect.

Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College, says more than that; it (atelophobia) is a genuine irrational fear of making any mistake.


Phil had stacks of files all over his office. When he arrived at his office each morning, he didn’t know where to begin. So, he said, “The easiest thing to do when I arrived at my office was to check my email. I became so distracted and spent too much time on the computer. Of course, I checked out my social media, and I felt guilty. My litigation practice was in shambles.”

Phil’s problem was that he was behind on all of his work. He regularly missed deadlines. His paralegal had no specific direction, so she helped other lawyers even though Phil needed her more.

Phil’s caseload was critical, and he was so overwhelmed that he didn’t know where to turn when he contacted me.


Here are some steps I used while working with Phil. My objective was to help free himself from procrastination, fear, and perfectionism.

Step 1:

I had him schedule 40 to 60 minutes to address the shortcomings in his practice. I was on Zoom as he talked through his caseload, using just the initials of his clients to protect confidentiality.

Step 2

One by one, Phil began to identify whether he was procrastinating or had fear or anxiety about the possibility or fear of making a mistake.

Step 3

He made a list of these cases in order of priority.

Step 4

While we were together, he scheduled specific times in his calendar (as if he had an appointment with a client) to work on each individual matter on his desk, based on priority.

Step 5

With the cases that he was unfamiliar with the law or precedent, he scheduled the research. After doing the research, he swallowed his pride and asked colleagues who might have more experience in this area of law.

Step 6

After working on the case, he updated his case management software, and Phil listed the next steps, assigned paralegals or associates to complete specific tasks associated with the matter.

Step 7

Phil learned to always have a specific time in his schedule to either work or review his caseload to make sure that he had taken these matters as far as they could go for now.

Step 8

Instead of beating himself up, Phil learned to congratulate himself for each step of progress, no matter how small. This kept him motivated.

Step 9

Phil realized that no man is an island.

Phil’s coach, his partners at his firm, his associates, secretary, and paralegal were his support team to help him to win. No longer did Phil think he had to do everything alone.

Step 10

Phil said, “I know it is corny, but I learned to feel the fear and do the work despite my fear or my perfectionism. And, it feels AWESOME!

Phil was no longer overwhelmed. His stress level gradually diminished, and he made more money while enjoying his law practice.

Phil was more productive and enthusiastic about his practice than he could ever remember, even after practicing law for the past seventeen years.


Fear is a natural feeling built into our bodies for survival. Remember that fear is a feeling.

But like Phil, you have a choice whether you will feed the fear.

You have a choice whether to allow perfectionism to control your law practice.

You will get stronger as you gradually put yourself in situations you would typically avoid because you are afraid things won’t work out perfectly.

You will gain more strength each day and continue to be a better and more organized lawyer.



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