Time Management is Critical for Legal Career Success
In the legal field, time management is a disciplined approach to planning and executing what you need to accomplish. As a lawyer, time management is not doing as much as possible as quickly as possible. Instead, legal time management is doing things right and doing the right things. Your time management process needs to include organizational skills, technology that keeps you on track, and planning tools to help prioritize and make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. Below are some easy to implement techniques to help manage your time more effectively and efficiently:
- Dealing with the Massive Volume of Paper. You need to develop a system to deal with each piece of paper that comes into your office. Otherwise your desk will be piled high with papers and you’ll waste time looking for things you need. Your process should include reviewing each document that comes into your office and determining what action you need to take with it, if any. If you can take care of the item quickly, get it done even if it is not a high priority. If you can’t do it immediately, delegate it or defer it, whichever is appropriate. If you defer doing it, decide where to file or put the document until you’re ready to work on it. Clean off your desk each day to keep yourself organized and focused on your paper handling system.
- Juggling the Influx of e-Mails and Phone Calls. Set aside times during the day to respond and initiate e-mails and phone calls. If you initiate or respond to e-mails and phone calls as they come in or when you feel like it, most of your day will be reactive and unstructured. Group your telephone calls into high and low priority calls and schedule your high priority calls twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. Make low priority calls during your low energy periods or when you have a few minutes before a meeting or lunch. Try to make unpleasant calls first thing in the morning – otherwise, you will delay making them and you will be distracted from what you should be focused on doing. Have a process to deal with e-mails such as delete junk mails first; second, review and deal with e-mails that take less than 30 seconds; third, forward e-mails to someone who can handle them for you; and fourth, defer dealing with e-mails that require thought and analysis until you have time to address them. Finally, instead of keeping your e-mails in your inbox, use folders to organize them by client, topic, or projects.
- Managing a Growing Project List. Develop a master list that captures all of your professional and personal projects. Your project list should include actions required to complete each project and all project deadlines. Keep your list where you can access and change it easily, such as in the “task” feature of Microsoft Outlook or in a word document. Each week reprioritize your projects, update your project list, and make a weekly and daily to do list to ensure that your projects are completed timely.
- Creating an Action Plan that Works. Planning when and how you work on projects is part of effective legal time management. If you need to draft a document or work on a complex matter, plan to work on it during your “prime time.” This is the time of day when you are most productive, focused, and able to concentrate for long periods of time. Being aware of your prime time enables you to plan your days and weeks to ensure you work efficiently and effectively. Also, set aside solitary periods of time when you can work on projects uninterrupted. This will help you complete projects in a timely manner.