There just aren’t enough hours in the day, are there?
No matter how much work you get done, no matter how many billable hours you put in, there is always more to do as a lawyer. Despite your best efforts, your workload can pile up in front of you, increasing your stress level and decreasing your time with friends and family.
Although you may have developed some efficiency strategies in law school, the importance of effective time management is magnified tenfold when you have a law practice. Practical time management solutions often mark the difference between incredibly successful practices and absolute burnout on the job.
Utilizing effective time management strategies isn’t just about finding more time for your personal life. Being more time-efficient over the course of your day means that you will have more time to put in billable hours. This could add up to thousands of extra dollars over the course of a year.
Adopting new time management strategies shouldn’t mean that you will need to disrupt your practice’s already existing systems. You’re only making a few, simple changes that will allow you, and maybe even the entire office, to find more time in the day to get things done.
Utilize a Project Management System
The key to time management is planning. You need to be able to efficiently plan things out, so you don’t waste time on unnecessary tasks or spend too much time working on a project that doesn’t merit it. You need to be able to see your entire workload spread out in front of you, and there is no better method than adopting a project management system for your practice.
One of the most basic, but effective, project management systems is a simple to-do list. To-do lists are a lawyer’s best friend. I’m not just talking about a daily to-do list either. You should have one for your immediate day, the upcoming week, month, and possibly even year. That said, juggling four separate to-do lists can be confusing, especially if you need to pull others into projects.
Setting up a full service, online project management system, such as TeamWork or Asana, will allow you to create projects and tasks where you can store relevant information, clarify due dates, and assign these projects to others in your law office. You can also break larger projects down into subtasks, allowing you to see the full scope of a transaction or case. There are a ton of great project management systems out there with a variety of features, so you might want to do some research to determine which would be best suited for your practice.
Create a Time Buffer
Let’s imagine that you are running a little behind in getting things accomplished. “No problem,” you think, “I’ll just pack all of that work into my day tomorrow.” That might work in theory, but there only needs to be one unexpected emergency for your entire day to be thrown into disarray, which can snowball into your entire week.
Instead of overstuffing your workday with tasks, create a built-in time buffer for all of your matters. If you need to have a contract finished for a client by Friday, make its due date Wednesday or Thursday. If you don’t get the task finished “on time”, you will still have extra time built-in when you can finish the task without additional stress.
Have you ever gotten into the “zone”? It’s a wonderful state where the work just seems to flow out of you with little effort, but maximum concentration. There is only one problem: one distraction can break your workflow completely. When you then return to your work, you might discover that you can no longer find the same efficient workflow that you had before. A distraction doesn’t have to be a big thing either. It could be a single vibration of your phone, a ding from your email, or someone knocking on your door to say hi.
Minimizing distractions will allow you become more efficient and get far more done in a shorter period of time than you otherwise would. Although many people pride themselves on their multitasking abilities, splitting your focus can be a huge roadblock to the type of effortless workflow that allows you to get everything done in record time. So, if you need to get some work done, shut down your email, put your phone into sleep mode, hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door, pick a single project, and get ready to enter the “zone”.
No one is indispensable, not even you! Although there will certainly be tasks in your law practice that only you can do, there are many more that can be assigned to others. Trying to accomplish everything by yourself is a surefire recipe for stress and inefficiency. Delegating non-priority tasks to others will allow you to focus your own efforts on the only two high-value activities in your practice: doing the high-level legal work and marketing your legal services.
Just Say “No”
Saying “no” can be difficult for many people. We all want to help out and do what we can for others, but sometimes saying “no” is the only way to free ourselves from unnecessary stress.
Part of the problem with saying “no” is that it can feel rude. It’s an abrupt word! But saying “no” doesn’t mean you have to be rude, you just need to phrase it in a more positive light. For example, instead of rejecting a request outright, you could suggest a time when you might be more available. You could recommend someone else who could do the task equally well. Or you could simply say that you just don’t have the time right now, but thank you for asking.
Saying “no” to yourself is important as well. “How about just one more game of Solitaire and then back to work?” “No!”
By following these time management tips, you can increase your practice’s financial success by focusing on the projects and tasks that really matter. As a veteran attorney myself, I know how a huge caseload and multiple projects can stress you out, leading to a loss of efficiency and focus. My coaching strategies can get lawyers “unstuck” and help them get laser-focused on their work. Contact me today, or follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more information about how I can help give your practice an edge and turn it into the business you really want.