Time management is a challenge for busy lawyers, paralegals and assistants. How can you, as the leader in an estate planning law practice, keep yourself and your team on track, on time and motivated when you feel like all you do is race to catch up?
Here are suggestions we’ve gathered from attorneys who seem to have their practices and their lives in order:
Schedule quiet time. Just like kindergartners have a structured nap time after lunch, many grownups perform better when they have a specific amount of time set aside when they are not answering emails, picking up the phone and constantly shifting gears. Some offices set aside 1 – 3 o’clock for uninterrupted concentrated work. They put the phone on night service, or if there is a live receptionist, messages are taken for a two hour period. This is a habit that takes a lot of effort, but the payback can be worthwhile.
Consider your success stories. Keep a notebook at your desk (yes, a notebook!) and write down every time you solve a problem for a client. It could be a big thing – like preventing her heirs from having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate tax – or a little thing, like getting a grumpy elderly cousin to finalize a will. Look at the lives you’ve impacted, and the good that you have done. Sometimes you need this kind of encouragement to keep you going when the hours are long and the problems are daunting.
Add some order to your tasks. If every day is different and you race from home to court to office to court to home… well, you get the idea. Some people do well with chaos, but most of us prefer some kind of order. Start the night before, by taking time to leave yourself an orderly desk and a list of tasks in whatever system works for you.
Tackle the quick stuff first – or last. You know how you work best. If your day is brighter with a few fast successful tasks, that’s the best way to start for you. If there are things you need to do that keep you up at night, get them out of the way as early as possible so you don’t spend the day dreading them. Pay attention to your most successful days. Chances are you have certain rhythms that work well.
Take a break. We have a colleague who sets a timer for 40 minute intervals and every 40 minutes he gets up, walks from one end of the office to another, then gets back to work. His back feels better and it helps him concentrate. You might prefer a walk around the block to clear your head.
Play music. Law offices have not yet gone to the same shared space and tables/benches that IT companies favor, but if a little Bach or Beatles in the background helps you concentrate – and it doesn’t bother people working around you – by all means enjoy.
You know better than anyone else what makes you more productive. If you don’t, then experiment to find out, and use this knowledge to make you a more productive and fulfilled attorney.