There are only 24 hours in a day. Time is a finite resource. While it’s possible to squeeze out a few more hours of work, we need to trade that time in for something else.
Managing time, therefore, is all about decisions. And these decisions say a lot about who we are and what we value most.
So the question is:
How do you choose to spend time in your personal and professional life?
I meet many lawyers who feel like they don’t have much choice over how they spend their time. Feeling (or thinking) that way is a trap.
It’s a trap because you’ve effectively made a decision to assign that responsibility to someone or something else. The key is to avoid being reactive or in “catch-up” mode.
My 6-step process helps busy lawyers stay proactive in their lives. So, why not give it a try?
Step One: Define Your Goal
The starting point is to develop clarity on the broad outcome that you want to achieve. Defining your goal will give you focus and purpose. This purpose will generate the energy you need to be productive. It’s much easier to work backwards from something when we know what that something is.
For example, this process has helped a professor stop trading in her personal time for work emergencies (Client 1). It’s also helped a senior partner overcome his obsession with social media (Client 2).
Step Two: Strategize How To Meet Your Goal
Once you define your goal, think about the best ways of getting there. Write these down. Mapping these out into mini-steps will give you a better idea of how you’re going to accomplish your goal. It will also give you the content to populate your calendar.
Step Three: Allocate Your Time
Now that you have some concrete steps you want to take, diarize them. Here are 4 tricks to scheduling:
a. At the beginning of each month, set time aside for the things that you know you need to do. This should include professional and personal matters.
b. At the beginning of each week, add your defined activities (from step 2) as well as non-work related activities to your schedule by blocking out time to complete them. Non-work related activities could include time for family, physical activity, personal reflection, socializing and running errands. Client 2 decided that scheduling in time daily to review and respond to social media was going to help limit how much time he was devoting to it.
c. Add 2-3 blocks of time in your weekly calendar for work emergencies or last minute items. This is exactly what Client 1 started to do. This technique, no matter who you are, will give you the freedom to maintain your personal life. If you don’t use this “get out of jail free card,” then use the time to do something spontaneous!
d. Each day, I want you to list what needs to be done with timelines. Arrange the most important work first (if you can). That way, any less important work can get bumped to the next day.
Step Four: Track Your Time
If you’re a practicing lawyer, then you’re probably already tracking your time. I want you to track your non-billable and personal life as well for 2-3 weeks. This will allow you to see where you can create efficiencies. There are lots of apps that allow you to track your time in a fun way!
Step Five: Assess What’s Gone On
Set some time aside and assess what’s happened after you’ve tracked your time for 2-3 weeks. Look to see if that time period reflects your goal, strategies and priorities. As long as you can see that you were able to accomplish the things that were important to you over the 2-3 weeks, then you are in the right zone.
If you missed certain things or felt overextended, then you need to investigate whether you’ve:
a. Allocated enough time for tasks.
b. Scheduled more than is humanly possible to accomplish in one day.
c. Wasted time doing unimportant things.
d. Scheduled enough rest and recharge time.
Make adjustments going forward. And, be patient with yourself. It takes time to set up a system that will work for you – keep reassessing along the way and tweaking as you go along.
Step Six: Automate Your Time By Setting Up Habits
After you’ve gone through this process once, you’ll want to continue setting up good habits that will maximize your time. The more predictability you can introduce to your schedule, the more you’ll be able to recognize and deal with a real emergency.
Some habits to consider:
a. Creating interim deadlines for projects, ensuring extra time to edit and finalize a project.
b. Creating a list of all your files and reviewing them on a regular basis to stay on top of your work.
c. Saying “no” when you’re at capacity and recognizing when you need assistance.
d. Setting time to reflect on your work and life, or just being bored.
e. Investing in your career development.
While you’ll continue to be busy with work and life, I’m sure that this process will give you the discipline to accomplish the things that matter most to you in 24 hours!
Lawyer Coach Paulette helps the 21st Century Lawyer navigate their own career path, on their own terms.
This article was originally published on AWAL.