Lawyer’s job is demanding. For many of us, a 12-hour working day is not out of the ordinary, and constant demands from clients and partners can have us working around the clock. However, while hard work is a badge of honor in the legal profession, it’s more important to work smart.
Most lawyers need to improve how they allot their time. In the recently released Legal Trends Report was analyzed the work habits of over 30,000 lawyers and found that they spend only 2.2 hours of their time on billable work—that’s a small 28% of a modest 8-hour workday, and even less if you’re working more.
In this field where every second counts, losing three quarters of your billable time every day can be a death sentence. To get back some of the wasted time and getting the most out of your day, we are offering you some well tested time management tips.
1. Know and use the basics of time management
The productivity is affected due to varying work habits, environments, preferences, and even personality, therefore, does not exist one size that fits-all approach to productivity. In the end, it comes down to find the right techniques and toolset that complement your personal approach to work.
First, make sure you have a basic understanding on the basics of time management. Start by taking notes of how you spend your days. In a document note all the time you use for a week or so, and notice any patterns you see. Use this as a benchmark to improve upon.
Then, get organized.
Make to-do lists and get your calendar in order. Are you a morning or night person? When is possible, schedule busy periods during the times of day when you have more energy. Block out interruptions for these periods, if possible.
In the end, familiarize yourself with strategies to guard against time thieves. Know how and when to say “no” to tasks that are not helping your career or your company. If procrastination is your issue, start combat it head-on by identifying roadblocks, breaking big tasks into manageable chunks, and letting go of perfectionism.
2. Use apps
Both big players, Android and Apple have about 2 million apps to offer at the moment each. Between those, there are hundreds of options that you can use to manage your time better and improve your practice. Some of the more obvious options include Fastcase (for faster legal research) or TrialPad (for paperless trial presentations), but it is worth going beyond apps designed specifically for lawyers.
For example, you might want a business card reader to effortlessly keep track of contacts, or a to-do list app to upgrade yourself from a pen-and-paper list (or a Word document).
3. Minimize the cost of task-switching
There is lots of literature about the dangers of multitasking, but when you are a busy lawyer with a lot of things to do, it might still seem necessary. To combat this, try to focus on one thing at a time while taking care to minimize the cost of task-switching.
Every time you switch tasks, it takes several minutes to shift your mind and re-focus. If you shift between tasks too often, task-switching can eat up as much as 40 percent of your productivity.
How can you minimize this cost? First of all, try focusing on one task for an extended period of time. Changing rapidly back and forth will cost you dearly, even if it’s only between two different tasks. Set a time frame to check your emails, return client calls, go through your invoices to see which ones need to be followed up on, and don’t go back and forth between these things.
If you cannot focus on just one thing at a time, try to group similar tasks together, as there will be a lower cost for switching between them. For instance, do not mix computer tasks with phone tasks.
4. Use a timer to save time
Timers are not just for tracking billable hours. They can also help save time on non-billable tasks. One of the most used methods is the Pomodoro which was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. This method forces you to focus on one task for a set period of time while taking frequent breaks to avoid mental fatigue.
Here’s how it works:
- Pick a task
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Focus on that task—and only that task—for the entire 25 minutes
- Take a five-minute break when the timer goes off
- Repeat as needed (take a longer break if you’re doing three to four cycles in a row)
The idea is that you will stay focused, but fresh enough that your productivity doesn’t decline as you work longer hours.
5. Respect the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule applies in many areas, but in work, it suggests that roughly 20 percent of your actions will be responsible for 80 percent of value created.
This certainly holds true for the legal profession—as mentioned above, the Legal Trends Report found that lawyers only spend 28 percent of an estimated eight-hour workday on billable work.
How does this apply to time management? Try to provide more attention to the time spent on billable work. When you set priorities to tasks, make in such way that you put first the billable work. When possible, delegate administrative tasks to staff.
For lawyers, time is most valuable resource. Can’t get it back once it is gone, and you can’t create more from thin air, so take the time to go beyond these tips and continually improve your time management skills. Your practice and your personal life will be much better for it in the long run.
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