March 2013 | Young Lawyer Survival Guide
Time Management in a 24/7 World
I was recently asked to present at a top-ranked law school about how to be more efficient and avoid feeling overwhelmed. I was disappointed to learn that our nation’s top law students are coming into their advisors’ offices saying they don’t know how to keep up in school and don’t have time for everything that is required. As a result of my discussions with those students and my research in making that presentation, I decided it is never too redundant to address time management.
Time management isn’t simply about getting things done. It is about doing so in an effective way that reduces stress and results in your and others’ highest and best use. I divide time management into three categories: putting systems in place; managing projects; and time wasters.
Let’s start with putting systems in place to get things done efficiently. One of the issues I see in newer associates is that they are used to doing everything on their computer. Often, new attorneys rely on laptops for taking notes, working independently, and handling to-do lists and time. Suddenly, a new attorney is at someone else’s beck and call. Her time is not her own. And laptops are not welcome in informal meetings with senior associates and partners. Associates need to adopt systems to track assignments and information that is not on their laptop. I recommend moving to a mixed-method organizational system. That means dragging emails that become tasks into task folders or task lists, but also writing them down or typing them on a master to-do list. It also means organizing hand-written notes by either having document services or an assistant decipher them—not the most efficient use of time—or putting them in a binder or folder by either assignor, client or type of work. If an attorney wants to do this online, the application “One Note” is worth exploring. On the other hand, an easy way to manage notes in hard-copy is in either a Levenger Circa or Staples Arc system. These customizable systems allow a user to take copious notes in meeting after meeting and move them into the right tab without bothering to open or close a noisy, bulky binder. Still others have found success with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” method, which includes a to-do list organized by type of task. I use a mix of the two—I use the Circa notebooks with the first page being a to-do chart categorizing six kinds of tasks. Anything that is no longer a current project can either be shredded or filed for storage, depending on your and your clients’ needs.
Managing projects is another tricky area of time management. Of course, it is easy to say a to-do list will take care of everything, but in sophisticated matters, often many people are involved, each with different but overlapping timeframes. I have two suggestions here: first, get everyone together regularly. Whether you are the most senior or most junior on the matter, asking for a 10-minute huddle every other week does wonders to keep things moving along and to ensure communication is consistent. Second, break the project down into different steps by making a project plan. This can be done in a spreadsheet or table, but it is helpful to share with everyone the underlying goal of the matter (even if you think it is obvious) and outlining the various roles and responsibilities.
Finally, time wasters. Oh, where do I begin? Let me go play on Facebook for a while… No, seriously. Social media has become a huge procrastination tool and immense time waster. A recent study shows the average time individuals spend on Facebook is 55 minutes a day. Everyone loves keeping in touch, but using Facebook at your desk is a key indicator of procrastination, unless you are using it for strategic client development. Use it in a taxi or on the train, but stay away from it when you are working.
On another note, it is extremely important to develop relationships with your colleagues but do it at the right time. Take a lunch break, do a regular afternoon break, but try and schedule those so that you feel you have permission (both from yourself and your colleague) to decompress for a bit. If you allot a certain amount of time, even on your calendar, you are more likely to contain it as opposed to losing an hour in someone’s office in the middle of the day. You can time those breaks for when you are least productive. Schedule anything you want to accomplish into your calendar—even visits to the gym or breaks. You are more likely to hold yourself accountable and meet those goals if you have them on your calendar.
Jennifer Bluestein is the Director of Professional Development at Greenberg Traurig LLP. She can be reached at 312.364.1645.
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