When it comes to time management, lawyers have got one of the toughest jobs to balance. Many attorneys put off time management as something that’s beneath them or they view “time management” as another “planning how to plan” fad. While it’s true that the number of books and materials on this subject has increased astronomically over the years, not paying attention to how you spend your time won’t make your time problems magically disappear. A good work/life balance doesn’t happen from reading a book or listening to a course. No, time management skills come from practice and this practice is different for everyone. The best attorneys have some kind of time management programs that fit around their schedule and their personality types. By prioritizing and doing the most important things to you, you get to be more happy, make more money and live a more successful life.
Sounds easy? It’s not.
If you don’t get the basics of time management at the beginning of your career when you’re still learning the ropes then you certainly won’t find the time to do it later when you’re swamped with clients, contracts and phone calls.
If you’re working in the law sector and want to get the reins on that mythical animal called free time, it’s best to apply simple, time tested principles that work. Too many people make the mistake by getting themselves into complicated time management systems that have rules upon rules on how to prioritize, what to write down and so on. From experience, we know that the most complex system is also the first to fail. What works is taking it slowly and integrating it day by day, until it becomes part of your work – no longer something that you think about doing, but something that you just do.
There are 3 simple principles that when implemented in your daily activities, will increase your productivity without taking away from the satisfaction of your job. If you do them right, they will increase your satisfaction by having more free time.
For lawyers and law workers, the 3 most essential principles of time management are:
1. Do the worst thing first
It was Mark Twain who said “if you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful.”
Of course what he was saying was that if you start off your day with an unpleasant task, the rest of your day will only be brighter. We’ve all got that dreaded or difficult thing that we post-pone doing. A difficult client, a long contract or maybe a case with no positive outcome in sight. Usually, we reserve the least attractive things for the least productive parts of the day. However, there is a better way to deal with it.
Famous time-management writer Brian Tracy writes in “Eat That Frog” that the sooner you take that unpleasant, nagging or difficult thing and do it first thing in the morning, the more productive you will get from there on out.
Consider this the one weird trick that your brain plays on you and how you can counter it back. Postponing rarely leads to a desired outcome and by the time you get to the end of the list, you have already squandered all your energy and motivation on other tasks.
So don’t procrastinate and don’t delay something that can be done today, right now. Do the thing that you dread most. Once you’re done with that, a great burden will be lifted from your shoulders and your productivity will only increase. Of course the ideal setting is to set up your life to minimize “dreadful” tasks, but until you get there, hold on to this principle and apply it every single day.
2. Quarantine your phone
Some of you might question this recommendation, given that this is a profession that centers around communication and handling other people. However, the phone is a constant attention and emotional drain. Nothing breaks a lawyer’s concentration more than getting constantly interrupted by phone calls.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a lawyer’s peak efficiency is at night or working in the weekend. This shouldn’t be surprising as these are times when people are less likely to interrupt and be interrupted by others, especially by phone call.
Set up a time block in the day when you will work without any interruptions. Set a schedule for when you will return calls, make appointments and when you will handle work. While certain calls have top priority especially if it’s regarding work, you will find that the majority of the calls could have been handled just as well by a secretary or during your set telephone hours. You can schedule this to a less productive time of the day.
3. Get a to-do list at the end of each day and week
Take 15 minutes at the end of the day to make a list of the things you have to for tomorrow and prioritize it. While lawyers generally scoff at spending their time on figuring out how to spend their time, this simple exercise will save you many headaches. Writing lists is easy but putting a priority mark on each item requires some thought. Do this to identify what your “frog” is for tomorrow.
If there would be only one thing that you could complete tomorrow, what would that be?
Making the same list for the next week has the benefit of seeing where your time is spent and, if taken on a grander scale, where your career is heading.
The principle of effective time management
Someone might say that “time management doesn’t work” or that it’s “ineffective”. The goal with time management and the aforementioned principles is not to get you to “get busy” but to recognize what is important for you and your career. To-do lists by themselves aren’t magical. If you write one, this doesn’t mean that you’ll do everything on the list, let alone half of it. Look at it more as an exercise in self-knowing. By identifying what is important and what is done, you’ll be able to get your time under control and live a more successful life.
Try these simple principles of time management and see how they affect your life. We bet that you’ll see some pleasant improvements in just a week of doing it. Just remember – there’s no shortcuts or tricks to becoming more productive. It’s a slow, arduous process of getting better and better each day (even if the days seem to be getting worse). As the old saying goes, patience is bitter but its fruit are sweet.