Time management for lawyers is one of the most difficult tasks in a busy law practice. Many attorneys are reluctant to consider developing a time management plan, as if it is somehow beneath them. However, having an efficient law practice and a good work/life balance doesn't happen by accident. Smart attorneys implement some kind of time management program into their law practices so they can be better at their jobs while also spending more time doing what they enjoy.
Lawyers first venturing into time management often dive into complicated systems with too many rules. This is the quickest way for a time management program to fail. If the program is too hard to start, the attorney will quickly go back to his or her old bad habits.
The good news is that time management does not have to be hard. In fact, by implementing three simple procedures into a law practice, an attorney can increase productivity while improving career satisfaction at the same time.
The three essential tips for effective lawyer time management are:
- Eat the frog.
Mark Twain famously said that "if you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful." Twain also said, "If you have to eat a frog, don't look at it for too long."
In the book "Eat That Frog," Brian Tracy used Twain's words as inspiration for the main point of his book. Tracy says that you should take the worst, most unpleasant, ugliest task you have to do that you don't want to do, and do it first. Stop procrastinating, and just do the one thing you are dreading the most. Once it is out of the way, a burden is lifted from your shoulders and you can move more rapidly through the rest of the day's tasks. When the unpleasant task is no longer looming overhead, everything else suddenly becomes much easier.
- Avoid the phone.
Those familiar with my tongue-in-cheek article on "Why Your Lawyer Won't Return Your Phone Calls" may question my motivations with this recommendation. However, nothing breaks a lawyer's concentration on a case more than to repeatedly break away from it to discuss other cases with clients.
Ask any lawyer when he or she is most productive, and the almost unanimous response will be they get the most done when working at night or on the weekend. What makes the difference? The lack of interruptions, which come primarily from a constantly ringing phone.
Lawyers need to have blocks of uninterrupted time to be their most productive and work at their best. Schedule certain hours of the day for returning phone calls, certain times for appointments, and devote the rest of the time to work. While there are certain calls that have to be taken when they come in, the majority of phone calls are matters that could be handled by a secretary or that could just as easily be handled during scheduled telephone hours during a less productive time of the day.
- Make a prioritized to-do list at the end of each day.
Making a list of everything that has to be done is easy, but taking the time to figure out what should be done first takes a little more time. While lawyers are reluctant to waste time figuring out how to spend their time, taking fifteen minutes at the end of the day to prioritize what order the next day's work should be done in can be a huge time-saver.
Don't make the mistake of selecting the day's priorities in the morning, or you will never eat the frog. Decide the day before what should be done first thing in the morning, so that the risk of pushing the worst task to the bottom of the list is eliminated. Ask yourself, "If I only get one thing completed on my to-do list tomorrow, what do I want it to be?"
Try these three basic principles of time management, and your productivity will improve dramatically.
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