This week we are taking a break from legal issues to discuss a topic of vital importance for busy professionals: Time Management for People Who Don’t Have Time for Time Management …
If you are like me, you have often thought that you would finally get ahead if you only had 27 hours in a day. If you are like me, there are days that you look up and it’s 4:45 p.m. and you wonder where the day has gone. And, if you are like me, you may have fifteen things on your to do list for any given day but you only seem to get around to two of them.
In this short article, I will share with you some of the practices that I have learned over the years to help stay organized and get more things done. You will be able to find any one of these tips in probably a dozen other time management articles. These are simply the things that I use on a day to day basis to help me stay (somewhat) ahead of the game.
The foundation of any time management system, in my opinion, is prior planning. Absent an intentional effort to sit and plan ahead, you will simply spend your day reacting to other people’s agenda.
One of the things that I have found helpful is to block out two consecutive hours per week where I do nothing but look at my calendar and projects and plan ahead. In doing this, I prevent being overscheduled by my staff. I also get to set my agenda and don’t spend my days reacting to other peoples’ agenda. Most importantly, I have found that this two hours of intentional work can result in five or six hours of extra productivity in every week.
I try to set apart 1 ½ to 2 days per week that I block off to do nothing but what I call “law work.” By this, I mean focusing on my cases and doing work that lawyers do.
For instance, during this blocked off time, I will get ready for depositions. I will review and analyze records. I review and analyze discovery. I will draft client reports and letters.
The key, I have found, is to do only the work that is in front of me. For instance if I need to send an e-mail or make a phone call based upon something that is in front of me, I don’t do either one of those. Instead, I simply make a note on a legal pad that I need to do one of those two things and then I keep working on what is in front of me.
Lastly, when I am doing this, I close my office door, put my phone on do not disturb, and I turn off my e-mail. You will be amazed at the things you can get done during this time.
Let me start this section by saying that I think that e-mail is probably one of the biggest time sucks for lawyers. While it may give us temporary satisfaction to clear out our In Box, I have rarely felt like I have done substantive legal work after spending an hour and a half answering e-mails.
I will be honest with you, I struggle with e-mails daily. When I am at my best in taming the e-mail beast, I check my e-mail just twice a day. And then I do it for thirty minutes at a time. I literally set the timer on my phone and will work on my e-mail for thirty minutes twice a day.
Another habit that I strive to implement is “OHIO” – – Only Handle It Once. I tell myself that if I am going to open and read an e-mail, I need to act on it. Reply to it, forward it, delete it, or set it ahead to work on at a later date. In other words, I won’t spend thirty minutes looking at thirty e-mails and still have thirty e-mails in my In Box when I am done.
One other thing about e-mail. Twice a year, I try to take off at least seven consecutive work days. During that time, I turn off the e-mail notification on my phone and I do not take my computer. And guess what? Nothing bad happens. Everything is fine. Things get handled. Try it. You will be amazed.
Communication: Phone Calls
Again, just like I deal with e-mails, I try to set aside at least one time period a day where I do nothing but make and return phone calls. I keep a small spiral notebook on my desk with calls that I need to make or messages that I have left for people.
Not only does this prevent clutter on my desk (and keep all of the information in one place), I can also take the notebook with me and make calls when I am out of the office. You will be amazed at what you can get done if your flight is delayed an hour and you have in your briefcase a small notebook that has all the phone calls you need to make or return.
The last area that I divide my time into is marketing. While marketing is going to look different for each attorney, the key is to be intentional about planning your marketing efforts.
If you don’t plan to market, it’s simply not going to happen. One of the things that I do is try to schedule at least two breakfasts or lunches each week with clients or referral sources. I figure I am going to have to eat breakfast and lunch every day anyway – – why not spend the time developing relationships.
Also, at least fifteen minutes every day, I do something that is related to marketing. If I see an article that I think a client would like, I forward it on to them. If I see that a lawyer I know has had a courtroom success, I will forward on a note of congratulations. If it has been a while since I have spoken with a client, I will pick up the phone and simply say hello.
And while fifteen minutes a day may not seem like much, done every day, you will be amazed at the return on your investment of time.
At the end of the day, I have found that time management comes down to investing time in pre-planning and being intentional about my work. The things I plan and put on the calendar are the things that get done. Remember, if you don’t set your schedule, there are probably 478 other people who will gladly impose their schedule on you.
Here’s to looking up at 4:30 p.m. and being amazed at how much you’ve gotten done today.