Can you run a successful estate planning law firm without time management? See if this sounds familiar: associates in the doorway with “just a quick question,” emails pinging on your desk top, chirps announcing texts and the receptionist calling to see if you want to speak with Mrs. Connors for the third time today. If this is your life at work, maybe it’s time to take control of your time.
Time management is the single biggest organizing principle of all. It requires creating new habits, training people around you and giving yourself permission to stop and think instead of reacting to what’s happening around you.
First, consider your internal clocks. Are you a morning person, a night owl or an afternoon energy machine? Working against your own daily rhythms requires more energy. Fresher in the morning? Then don’t take calls until noon, when you’ve gotten a big chunk of intense work under your belt. If you get a second wind around 3:00 PM, respect that and schedule certain tasks for this high concentration time.
Start building fences around your time. Yes, there will be interruptions and some of them will require your attention, but –get this—not all of them require an immediate response.
Take the associates, paralegals or admins who pop up in your doorway throughout the day. Set a time when you will be free to review their questions, and stick to it. You may need to set a daily meeting. They need to learn to hold their questions, do other work, or find another attorney at the firm who can answer their questions. There will be exceptions when you need to address a matter immediately, but those are not everyday occurrences. If they are, more training may be warranted.
Emails. Imagine if every time you opened an email, you were instead opening an old-fashioned paper envelope, reading the letter, and responding to it immediately. You’d spend your days on correspondence. Build a fence around your email. Check it every hour, every two hours, twice a day: whatever works best for you, but check your email when it suits your workflow. Same for texts.
Find and use a system that works for you. We do know attorneys who still rely on a paper daybook. It works for them, even if it drives their assistants crazy. If your court calendar doesn’t work well with your appointment scheduler, then assign your office manager the task of identifying options. Scheduling blocks of time for work, meetings and court appointments is too important to be treated like an afterthought.
Because they bill by time, lawyers are or should be extremely aware of how they use time. But if your senior position at the firm means that you don’t pay attention to your own billable hours, there’s no way to know if you are a profit center or a loss leader. No, it’s not flattering but lost time equals lost profits. You need to know.