When’s the last time you heard yourself say that you’re overloaded, crazed, or running around like a chicken without a head trying to get everything done? If you’re like many attorneys, you’ve probably declared something similar very recently. Twenty-four hours per day just doesn’t feel like enough. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
- I am overwhelmed with tasks and responsibilities.
- There just isn’t enough time in the day for me to get it all done.
- I have no control over my time.
- If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.
- Others are so demanding – I am expected to be all things to all people.
- If I say no, others will think I’m lazy and won’t respect me.
- I have to multitask or nothing will ever get done.
We’ve all heard the old adage “time equals money.” Nowhere is that more true than in the practice of law, in which many attorneys bill by the hour and pressure to be time efficient can be intense. While poorly managing your time can impact the bottom line, the stress resulting from being overwhelmed and overloaded can also be hazardous to your physical and emotional health and cause harm to your clients and reputation.
Here are 6 proven tips to help you take control of your schedule. Even implementing one of them is sure to have a positive impact.
Be Priority-Focused. Don’t just work on client matters, work on what matters. We often attend to tasks that seem urgent even if they aren’t critical and neglect important issues simply because they haven’t risen to the level of an emergency. Just because the phone rings, the email pings, or someone stops by for a visit doesn’t mean that’s what should get your attention. Identify what really matters and get busy.
Do the Worst First. Admit it. You do the easy, pleasant tasks first and let the big hairy beasts hang over your head all day, creating dread and worry. Do yourself a favor and get your least appealing work done earlier in the day. Eliminating the stress early on will make the rest of your day seem like a cakewalk.
Implement a Daily “Productivity Hour.” Regularly set aside time when you are unavailable to others. Sound like heresy? Imagine how much work you will get done when you have one uninterrupted hour each day to focus on critical issues without being distracted. Educate those around you to respect your time and help them get on board by letting them know when you will be available again.
Take control of technology so it doesn’t control you. Increase your efficiency by minimizing the distraction of telephones, email, and other technology designed to make your life “easier.” Something as simple as turning off email signals, cleaning out your inbox once a week, or checking your email at predetermined intervals can make a huge difference. Don’t feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings; you can call back later. Instead of playing phone tag, use email to arrange telephone appointments for a certain time and then set an agenda to move the call to its conclusion. Technology is here to help you, not control you.
Delegate When Appropriate. If you fall into the “if I want something done right, I have to do it myself” trap, you are wasting your time and energy and your clients’ money. Always ask yourself what the best use of your time is, and include delegating as part of your plan. Select the right person for the job and provide all the information needed to perform the task properly. Then, monitor progress, offer suggestions, and solicit feedback from your delegate to make things go even more smoothly next time. Invest in your long-term success by accepting the short-term cost of the time and energy needed to train someone.
Have a To-Do List System, Not Just a To-Do List. Do you write your to-do list on the backs of envelopes, sticky notes, or whatever else is lying around? Create efficiencies and reduce stress by having one ongoing list. Update your list at the end of the day instead of the beginning; your list will be more accurate and, with all your bases covered, you’ll have a more relaxing evening.
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