Five Time Management Tips for Lawyers
Time management is a coveted skill, albeit an elusive one. While some business owners tout magic hacks or solutions to master it, it is often just a sham. After all, you can sketch out an enviable master plan to achieve every goal and conquer every task on your plate, but all it takes is one surprise client visit, emergency, illness, or extra-long meeting to throw your entire plan out of whack. Cue the onset of the "what the hell" syndrome: the somewhat-well-intentioned resolve to simply pick up your time management plans “another day” and to continue to let your days be ruled by OPA (Other People's Agenda).
Unfortunately, it's true that you can never assert complete control over your schedule. However, there are small tweaks you can make on a micro-level to reclaim some of your valuable time. I have adopted some of these tips from other business owners and lawyers, learned some from my mentors, and mastered (read: tried, and constantly sought to improve and hone) others through trial-and-error. Regardless, these basic tools will help you prioritize what matters, distinguish the urgent from the essential, and hopefully, maximize time spent on what truly matters.
Tip #1: Batch your workload, and make each day of the week unique.
Batching your tasks and assigning "themes" to each day is a useful practice that involves consistently grouping certain categories of tasks and designating particular blocks of time to tackle them. For instance, you may consider instituting "Marketing Mondays," "Client Work Wednesdays," or "Financial Fridays."
No matter how you apportion your workload, this tactic can prove valuable for a variety of reasons. First, it will help you compartmentalize your workload, so that you do not find yourself distracted by your lingering marketing tasks on a day where you've resolved to draft a brief. Second, it takes wasteful administrative time out of your weeks; instead of dallying and trying to figure out what you are going to tackle on a given day, you will already know.
If you adopt this approach, keep your clients in the loop. That way, they will know not to disturb you on a day you are supposed to be focusing on a crucial part of your business. Alternatively, they will know when you are available to take their calls and meet with them.
Tip #2: Cluster your meetings and calls.
On a given week, we can waste a lot of time traveling from meeting to meeting. Try to cluster your meetings based on their location and time. For instance, if you have a hearing downtown, try to also hit any important tasks you need to accomplish in that same metropolitan area on the same day. Block off several hours on your calendar so nothing else can encroach upon that time.
Tip #3: Beware of“procrasticlearing.”
This is the desire to clear clutter, whether in your office space, home, schedule, email inbox, or mile-long list of outstanding administrative tasks. True, you need to check these items off your list at some point, but procrasticlearing stems not from a true desire for order and productivity, but rather, from a primal urge to avoid working on unpleasant tasks. For business owners, this is a dangerous way to pass time, and can leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled at the end of the day.
The first step toward shutting down your urge to procrasticlear is simple: Recognize it when it is happening. Do you have a motion due in three days, but you've spent your entire morning responding to emails? Fine. Acknowledge this, and move on. Next, devise a few simple house rules to help you prioritize your most important tasks when you are tempted to procrasticlear. For example, I know an attorney who saves all his emails and phone calls for the end of the day, reserving mornings for more substantive client work. Consider whether a hard rule, like "no phone calls until after 4 pm," will work for you. You can also opt to set your phone on "DND" mode, ask your assistant to screen your email inbox for you, or disconnect from WiFi when you are working on an important task.
Tip #4: Learn to distinguish what is urgent from what is essential.
In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author and entrepreneur Greg McKeown discusses the dangers of filling our lives and schedules with what he calls the non-essential, urging readers to radically embrace a lifestyle defined by the mantra "less, but better." Some people are natural essentialists, able to sniff out what is truly critical in their lives and businesses and to focus on those things; others struggle to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, McKeown explains, we can all adopt the way of the Essentialist, learning to focus on what truly matters through a process of careful discernment and disciplined execution.
One way to begin to walk the path of the Essentialist is to practice weeding out tasks that are urgent, but ultimately unimportant. Some examples may include trying to maintain inbox 0, responding to non-urgent calls, administrative work that can and should be outsourced, constantly checking your phone, and saying yes to every business lunch, meeting, or opportunity that happens to float your way. Once you have identified these non-essential items, write them down, then post them in a prominent place in your office so that you remember not to let them encroach upon your valuable time.
Tip #5: Keep both a digital calendar and a paper calendar.
Maintaining a digital calendar is essential to keeping your entire team in the loop about your engagements. Not to mention, it is easy to punch dates into your phone or other mobile device as soon as they arise. But despite the increasing obsolescence of paper products, keeping an old-fashioned paper planner is invaluable. Writing your tasks, meetings, and deadlines on a physical calendar can help you see, concretely, what your days and weeks look like. Not only is there something powerfully motivating about seeing your schedule sketched out, it can also make you less prone to overschedule or overfill your days. If it can't fit on the page, perhaps it can't (or shouldn't) fit in your schedule, either.
While these tips may not transform you into a time-management guru overnight, they can and will help you make small tweaks to maximize your time, energy, and productivity, setting you on a path toward building a thriving business, successful career, and fulfilling life.
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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
The 4 Hour Work Week, by Timothy Ferriss