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Being too busy to manage the work that comes your way is not a badge of honour. In many cases, it is a silent cry for help with time management.
What happens most of the time when potential new work comes your way? Do you have a way of working out if you can take it on or if it is best that you politely refer the work elsewhere? Or do you go straight for the “No, I’m too busy” response without considering it?
What happens when you have too much existing work to do at the same time? Do you look at how urgent one task is over the other and focus on completing the most urgent tasks first? Do you only focus on working on the matters that have a meeting in your calendar or a due date which is soon? When do you work on the matters that don’t have an upcoming meeting or due date?
How do you manage special projects for business or personal development? Do you wait until once a year when it becomes a requirement that you have completed some business or professional development by a certain date? When do you work on these projects if they are always the lowest priority?
How well do you manage your time?
New Work Should be Identified, Sorted and Managed
Saying to anyone who sends new work your way that you’re too busy is not helpful.
Having new work come your way is a predictable event. Sometimes lots of work will come all at once and sometimes it will come at a slower pace. The point is, we know that work will come your way.
You should set up a system to manage new work. That is, set up a set process for managing new work. It needs to be a system that will identify the work, sort it and manage it appropriately.
Think about the steps. Someone will probably email or call you, or you may receive work from someone within your practice. Then the work will either be added to your workload, referred to someone else or politely refused. How do you normally manage those steps? What is the cost of your time to go through those steps? Does the system leave the person who contacted you feeling positive about the way you managed the situation, or do they get frustrated?
You don’t necessarily need to automate or delegate the work within the entire system, although automating or delegating at least some parts of it will significantly free up your time. Do you have a few favourite emails or information that you like to send out? Use what you already have and include it in your system so it can be used without manual input from you. Remember, how you manage new work that comes your way should reflect your reputation and that of your practice.
Existing Work Should be Scheduled So You Have Enough Time to Do It and Enough Time to Deal With Unexpected Tasks
Not knowing what you will work on each day is a fast way to waste a heap of time, and not even know where it all goes. Spending an hour each morning to work out what you need to get done that day is not much better. Assuming you work five days per week, that’s at least five hours per week that you could easily spend on doing something more productive.
You need to have a system in place to manage existing work that allocates you enough time to do it. It needs to be a system that you’ll commit to using each day; otherwise, it becomes a burden. You could use software on your computer, apps on your phone or tablet or the trusty pen and paper diary. Whatever you choose to use, it is most important that your system has ONE calendar and ONE task list. Why? There is only one of you and as much as we all might try; you can’t do multiple things at once.
You don’t need to schedule every minute of every day. Please don’t. To work the most productively, you need to create a routine that allows you to work to your natural rhythm, but that is also flexible enough to deal with group activities and unexpected tasks. If you’re a morning person, try starting your day with the most in-depth tasks so you can do the gentler tasks when you’re not quite in the zone. If you’re an afternoon person, switch it around. Whatever you do, make sure you take regular breaks.
Your calendar might have only a few entries each day, and that’s a good thing. Think about creating a an appointment in your calendar for matters that you need to work on in-depth or as a priority that day, any meetings, a block of time to work through a list of matters that you should work on to get ahead and a block of time for working on tasks that you can sacrifice from your day without any guilt in favour of unexpected tasks.
Try grouping similar tasks together in blocks, so you minimise the amount of time you need to switch between tasks. You’ll waste more time and brainpower by doing too many different types of tasks in a day.
Organise yourself, so you have everything that you need ready to go for when you need to sit down for the task. That might mean spending a small block of time each day to check emails and flag them for next time you are working on that matter or making sure the files you need are where you expect to find them.
Now you can trust that you have scheduled everything you need to do into your calendar. All you need to do is work on what your calendar has scheduled for the day. You’ll feel great knowing that you won’t be wasting time looking for things when you should be working productively.
Business and Professional Development Should be Prioritised and Scheduled
If you don’t prioritise your business and professional development, you will either never do it or only get around to the bare minimum if there is some requirement linked to a due date.
Prioritising your business and professional development is one of the best investments you can make in yourself as a legal professional. Apply what you learn to make lasting improvements to the quality of your work and with experience, you’ll learn to do work more efficiently.
But no one is going to motivate you to prioritise business and professional development. You are responsible for your self-improvement. If you always put it aside as your lowest priority, you may as well be running on a spinning wheel. By purposefully scheduling business and professional development into your calendar, you’ll take control and be able to achieve your goals.
How to Change Your Time Management – Start Now
How you currently manage your time will depend on how you learned that skill from someone else. You might be part of a team that might not have fantastic workflow systems, or you may be responsible for too much work at the moment. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’ve thought about how you need to work on your time management skills and you’re willing to do something to improve. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have read this far.
The best way to successfully implement your new time management system is to commit to using it consistently.
Great time management is a learned skill, and no one has ever mastered a new skill without practice. What you need to do is practice using your new time management system and refine it if you have any issues. Nothing is ever perfect the first time, and that’s okay. Give yourself more time where you need it and get ahead on other tasks if you find yourself with some spare time during the day.
Make sure you set up your whatever it is that will start you on your next task. It might be setting up notifications on your computer software and syncing them with the apps on your phone. It might be as simple as leaving your paper diary open to the right page on your desk just within sight, so you check it consistently.
Every time you receive a notification, move on to your next task. If you haven’t finished, come back to it in any spare or sacrificial time later in the day or wait until you have some more time allocated for that task. You cannot steal time from the next task in your calendar. Without an end time looming, you don’t have the incentive to work as efficiently as you can. You’ll soon be efficient enough with your work to get it done in the time you allocate.
When you’ve completed your task within the allocated time, have a break! Do something that you enjoy. Walk outside. Get a tea or coffee. Read a chapter. Celebrate your little win! You deserve it!
Before you finish work for the day, take a look at your calendar for tomorrow and make sure you organise everything, so it is ready to go when you need it. You’ll start to feel more confident about tackling each day of work.
If you’d like to improve the way that you work, check out our articles – How to Turn Your Existing Precedent into a Quality Automated Document, Producing Quality Documents at an Affordable Price is Possible and Who Do You Need on Your Team to Create a Legal Solution?
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