Time Management For Lawyers

Presented to Washington Women Real Estate Lawyers, Nov 2003

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Practicing good time management skills will allow you to be more productive and reduce stress in your practice. Developing and maintaining good time management skills is a continual process. It will take on-going practice to change any bad habits you may have.

Evidence of enhanced time management skills will result in improvement to your bottom line. You will be able to bill more hours. If you capture just 30 minutes more a day at a billing rate of $200 an hour you will add approximately $24,000 to your revenue. Not a small number for a little more time.

You don't find time - you make time. That takes planning and being proactive.


The following steps are necessary in order to successfully achieve your time management goals:

  1. Do a self-assessment - what are your strengths and weaknesses in managing time?
  2. What will motivate you to implement new time management strategies?
  3. Come up with a time management plan designed to fit your style of operating.
  4. Model time management skills of others that you admire.
  5. Make your time management goals or structures clear, realistic and manageable with small steps to get you where you want to go.
  6. Give yourself time to practice the new behaviors.
  7. Don't let slip ups throw you off course - notice you've faltered and get back to your time management plan.
  8. Increase your level of self-confidence so you trust your judgment.
  9. Let go of perfectionism.

80/20 Rule

Good time management requires learning how the 80/20 rule impacts you. The 80/20 rule, or Pareto principal, states that the relationship between input and output is rarely, if ever, balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results. Learning how to recognize and then focusing on that 20 percent is the key to making the most effective use of your time.

21 Time Management Tips

  1. Take time to prepare and review your time management plan.

  2. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timely) goals. A goal could include tracking all your time, even non-billable time, for a week in order to learn how you spend the time in your day.

  3. Identify your priorities. Apply the 80/20 rule. Every time you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. Make sure you choose your actions. See Exhibit A.

  4. Learn to say no. See Exhibit A.

  5. Learn how to minimize interruptions. See Exhibit A on how to say no.

  6. Plan for the unexpected. Do not overbook yourself. Create space in your calendar for all the last minute matters that show up in your practice.

  7. Learn the skill of delegation - this includes training those you delegate to to meet your standards.

  8. Delegate.

  9. Take time to get organized. This includes cleaning the piles of paper from your office floor.

  10. Use 'To Do' Lists. 'To Do' lists are essential to an efficient use of your time and a way to reduce stress in your practice. 'To do' lists help in situations of overwhelm because they bring perspective and planning back to the situation and put you back in control. See Exhibit B.

  11. Create artificial deadlines to help move a task to action.

  12. Identify and eliminate tasks that will not benefit you.

  13. No matter how busy you are don't start the next matter until you have recorded your time. Record your time compulsively. Your time is a very valuable commodity - only give it away intentionally.

  14. Learn how long it really takes for you to do things.

  15. Schedule or block out time on your calendar for tasks.

  16. Defeat procrastination. See Exhibit C.

  17. Leverage some of your activities.

  18. Learn how to control meetings and telephone calls.

  19. Learn to control your paperwork.

  20. Learn to control your email & voice mail - come up with boundaries and rules regarding them.

  21. Set up structures to help you change your behaviors. See Exhibit D.

Exhibit A

Are you able to say no?

Your ability to say no is an important component of your time management skills. It determines how much of your time will be spent doing things you don't want or have the time to do.

How easily you say no is a matter of your personality rather than knowledge of time management skills. The ability to say no is not about being mean and aggressive. Instead, it is about being assertive. Learn assertiveness skills if necessary.

Reasons you need to learn to say no include:

Examples of Saying No

Say yes only if your goals will be met by doing the thing you just said yes to. Say no as early as possible.

Complete the following exercise to help you notice when you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. Design your practice in such a way that you always know the consequences of a yes or no answer.

Examples of saying yes and no include:

Saying Yes --- Saying No

By saying YES to:I am saying NO to:

1. ______________________________


2. ______________________________ ______________________________

3. ______________________________ ______________________________

4. ______________________________ ______________________________


By saying NO to:

I am saying YES to:

1. ______________________________


2. ______________________________ ______________________________

3. ______________________________ ______________________________

4. ______________________________ ______________________________


Exhibit B
Completion List

Matter to complete By when Done
1. Handwriting By 9:05 am daily


Exhibit C

"Procrastination is the thief of time." Edward Young

If procrastination is a problem for you, it is necessary that you learn tools to handle your procrastination. Procrastination occurs when you are faced with too many decisions and are unable to complete matters of importance. "Procrastination is putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today". Knowing the reasons you are putting off doing something can have the effect of resolving the matter or changing your behavior so you complete the outstanding matter.

To determine why you are putting off doing something - work through this three-part exercise. Answer these questions:

What is the real reason behind your procrastination?
What is stopping you?

Reasons For Procrastinating:

Consider whether any of these reasons are the reasons you procrastinate. Tick all that apply and think about their impact on you:

____ You are trying to do too much.

____ You don't know what to do or how. This usually means you need to do some research or clarify the task.

____ You underestimated the difficulty of the task.

____ You underestimated the time it takes to complete the task.

____ Your standards are too high. Perfectionism is holding you back.

____ You are not convinced of the benefits of doing the task.

____ You are not really committed to the matter.

____ You choose to do other things. You are saying "yes" to other things.

____ You have some belief that is getting in the way. I.e. "I can't do this."

____ You are afraid you will fail. Raise your consciousness about your fears.

See the next section on how to overcome your fears.

Notice Underlying Fear

Tick-off any of the following that might apply to stop you from starting or completing a matter. You are afraid because you might:

____ Make a mistake

____ Lose respect

____ Be rejected

____ Be embarrassed

____ Make a bad decision

____ Need to change the way you comfortably do things

____ Not know enough

____ Look desperate

____ Not be able to find out what you need to know

____ Miss something important

____ Not be able to do this matter

____ Lose control.

All people experience fear - some more than others. It is important to appreciate that fearful thinking makes you feel worse than you would feel if you actually did the action you are putting off.

You have choices when fear is present. One choice is to simply go through the fear and do what you want or need to do in order to accomplish the matter. And, of course, the other choice is continue to let the fear stop you.

Defeating Procrastination

Once you have thought about what causes you to procrastinate then consider these structures for defeating or managing procrastination. The following ideas may help you take action on what you have been procrastinating:

___ Use a 'to do' list.

___ Break the objective down into small steps.

___ Do the background research. Find out what you need to know.

___ Maybe you don't want to do this thing at all. Remove it from your 'to do list'.

___ Set deadlines that you share with someone and ask them to hold you accountable.

___ Delegate the matter to someone else.

___ Hire someone to handle the matter.

___ Choose the first easy step you can take and get started. Action leads to further action.

___ Do the hard thing first.

___ Notice the critical self-talk. How much energy is being wasted?

___ If one way is not working, do something else. Compare what works in handling others matters.

___ Periodically fire clients.

___ Say "no" to something else. E.g. Interruptions or work you don't like.

___ Do the thing you want to do first.

___ Do the thing you least want to do first.

___ Schedule or block out time in your calendar.

___ Take a deep breath and start.

___ Be realistic. (Don't let perfectionism get in your way.)

___ Will doing this support your goals?

___ Take a break.

Write down what you notice about the reasons you procrastinate. Come up with your plan to defeat procrastination.

Exhibit D
Structures to Help you Change Your Time Management Behaviors

It is important to have structures in place to help you change your behaviors. Consider using the following to help you meet your time management goals. Check-off all those you are willing to use to meet your goals:

____ Visualize your results (Really imagine what it will look like when you have control of your time.)

____ Believe in yourself (Trust that you have the skills and knowledge to accomplish what you set out to accomplish.)

____ Notice your limiting beliefs. e.g. "It is not appropriate to say no to clients or senior partners."

____ Use affirmations (Affirmations are statements of belief that what you want to happen is already true. For example: "I am efficient and get what needs to be done done.")

____ Check in with your core values (Notice whether you are in alignment with your values in the actions you are taking.)

____ Work with a buddy (Work with a co-worker or friend to create accountability and motivation in reaching your time management goals.)

____ Work with a professional like a coach (Use the professional's expertise to help you see what might be holding you back.)

____ Maintain discipline (Just do it!)

____ Give yourself rewards for your successes.

Bibliography, Resources and Suggested Readings

Covey, Stephen R., First Things First, Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Elwork, Amiram. Stress Management for Lawyers: How to Increase Personal & Professional Satisfaction in the Law, The Vorkell Group, 1997.

Forster, Mark, Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play, The Guernsey Press Co. Ltd., 2000.

Lively, Lynn. The Procrastinator's Guide To Success, McGraw-Hill, 1999.

Morgenstern, Julie. Time Management from the Inside Out: The foolproof System for Taking Control of your Schedule - and Your Life, Henry Holt, 2000.

Sanitate, Frank. Don't Go to Work Unless It's Fun! State-of-the-Heart Time Management, Santa Barbara Press, 1994.

Smith, Hyrum. The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace. Warner Books, Inc., 1994.

Leonard, Irene. Create the Practice You Want: Law Practice Development Workbook. Coaching For Change, 2001.