If you ask any Lawyer who works with billable hours, what is their main pleasure or pitfall, they would probably have only one answer - ‘time management’.
Your most valuable asset, as a lawyer, must be time. The owner, managing partner or senior attorney will agree with this. To be juggling casework with running business operations is almost impossible. The profession is overly demanding, there are never enough hours in the day to get the work done. No one near you at work dare mention a personal life – you probably don’t have one; there’s no time for one; if you do have one it could be a hot mess if you do not spend time with time management!
Say whatever you like, dress it up however you wish; but at the end of the day, time management is without doubt the most important skill for any lawyer to master and, of course, it’s also one of the most challenging. If you can become really proficient and skilful with time, not only will you be a better Lawyer, you’ll also be a stronger businessperson and be able to spend your life outside the firm in a fulfilling and self-enriching way.
Small business owners wear so many different hats they could have an identity crisis. For such people to find enough time to get everything done is a dream /nightmare and not a manageable possibility. However, there is a way.
Maybe force yourself out of your Psychologist’s stress session (you found time for that) and start developing a method to better manage your time by setting goals, planning activities, prioritizing and trusting others to complete tasks. This done well, will increase the amount of time you have during each day.
Some Lawyers will ‘ramble on’ about the necessity of time management while they sit back in their chairs and enjoy a cigarette or two…how long did that take? Some will write long speeches about the wonderful benefits of time management – but how long did that take them because they first had to write it and then they had to read it at the staff meeting.
Because for most lawyers a twelve-hour day is normal or less than normal, we shouldn’t think of working fast but rather of working smart! All Lawyers work long and hard – that’s a known fact, but do the long hours actually slows them down in the end because it tires them out. Working smarter is the clever option.
Start by watching yourself; by timing how long it takes you to do certain tasks; what is involved; why you approach them in a certain way; who benefits from this; is there a better way and a bigger benefit? Write it all down in a notebook.
Procrastination is something you must stop doing and stop others from doing, just with a simple no from you. If someone is pitching you an idea, and you know it’s not going to work. Then they’re stealing your time and wasting theirs. Say no and move on. If fact the best take-away here is to stop unnecessary interruptions in your office.
If you are facing a big new job that’s just arrived, be calm and cut it down into bite sized chunks, then delegate some of those chunks – the right jobs to the right people. Your tasks will be your own and in such instances it’s best to aim for ‘a job well done’ rather than go for ‘perfection’ which takes longer and isn’t necessary, in this instance.
Make daily lists for yourself so that when you get into the office, you have your list and you’re all set to begin. That’s a huge time saver! It is such good time management because otherwise you arrive in the morning and you think know exactly what must be done – but do you? You have to check on this and check on that and eventually, you’re not at all sure of where to begin, etc. Lots of time wasting there. When you finish your office-day try to write a list for tomorrow before you actually leave the building. It will be a huge help in the morning – not only because you have planned for everything you will do today, but also because it has a calming effect on you and makes you feel delighted that you took those extra few minutes to plan and set goals the night before.
The dangers of multitasking are obvious and yet relatively easy to avoid. Every time you switch tasks it can take up to ten minutes to put the other one properly in park and shift your focus back to the earlier task.
To combat this, you can try to minimise the cost by firstly focusing on one task for an extended period of time, i.e. stop going back and forth between tasks every ten minutes because it will be extremely time costly and little else. Then you can go back to the other task in park and finish that one – and because you left it in a good state it is possible you could finish early and have time left over!
If you’re good at planning your tasks, then plan for each day of the week and each week of the month. This alone will save you an immense amount of time; it will make you feel more composed and calmer when you’re working. With the extra time you’ve saved you can have meetings with the other employees about the progress from their tasks.
Communicate your plans and goals with your employees. You need them to understand what your goals are and how it will affect them. You could even receive some feedback from them that could be helpful in accomplishing your goals.
Whatever you’re working on, it requires your full attention. Maybe you’re researching and an email saying urgent arrives in your inbox. I suppose you stop and check it. Then your Secretary come through the door with a handful of paperwork you requested. After that someone phones the office to ask about a recent case the firm worked on. Your coffee went cold so you ask for another one but after it arrives a staff member wants permission from you to time off; then your coffee’s cold again.
We know its virtually impossible to completely eliminate distractions without some nasty side effects – especially people at the firm disliking you intensely and retaliating in a childish manner. That would take up even more of your time.
So, it’s better if you consider how to limit the amount of interruptions you receive as much as you can. When you invite a distraction into your office it could take many minutes to get back to where you were before you can smoothly continue.
We all have a rhythm in our daily lives and our minds seem to know what it is. Therefore, think if you’re a morning person or when you do your best work and plan the important, heavy tasks for when you’re at your best part of the day; and plan the lighter less important tasks for then you’re not operating at your finest.
It will work well and you’ll save so much more time. You’ll still lose some, but very little. You’ll quickly see that these tips have great use.
Time management never stands still. It’s something that needs constant improvement. If you’re always looking and learning now, this will be a great help for young Lawyers who ‘don’t know which way is up’ in the beginning. Plus, a good reminder for Lawyers who are well practised in the art but occasionally need that little reminder.
The effect of time management depends on how you go about it. Essentially you should set aside some of your saved time to draw and keep a personal log for one week at a time and assess your productivity. To better understand how you’re using your time and if it’s the most effective way to do it, always keep this log and refer to it as you approach new tasks.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the Lawyer’s day to day work, but you will serve your clients best if you take time management as far as it can go. Depending on what works best for you and your firm.
Finally, even when you’ve finally ‘got it right’ and you’re no longer wasting all that time, don’t stop tracking your time and noting where it’s being spent. Stay focused on your immediate task but keep making these notes – you’ll be able to identify some more tips, strengths, weaknesses, and how much time you actually spent working on each task - which is great for planning other tasks in the future!
Lastly – don’t ask us how much time was wasted writing this article because the time spent was an investment and will pay dividends over and over again in the future.