By Marcia Pennington Shannon
July/August's Managing column kicked off a three-part series on time management with a discussion of self-management-focusing on increasing your efficiency by planning your days and weeks, instead of practicing the "time management by crisis" technique.
Having incorporated some of the self-management suggestions into your daily routine, it's now time to take a look at your organization and systems management. This is the second building block in taking control of your time.
Organization and systems management is about bringing order to the way you use your office and the way you go about handling the multitude of papers, e-mails and phone calls you receive each day. Having systems in place will allow you to use your energy and creativity where they count—in your work product—not in trying to find lost papers or reconstruct billable time you didn't write down.
What kind of systems are key? The following sections provide tips for keeping your desk clear, maintaining project files, capturing billable time, efficiently using the phone and conquering e-mail. Getting control over any of these areas will increase your productivity.
But first, to help you identify specific areas in need of further action, take a couple of minutes to complete the Organization and Systems Self-Assessment below. Then we'll look at suggestions for creating an action plan that incorporates the new strategies you need.
|Organization and Systems Self-Assessment|
|1. My office is well organized.|
|2. My desk has a clear workspace for the project I'm currently working on.|
|3. I do not waste time looking for things in my office.|
|4. I have an effective filing system.|
|5. I have a good system for keeping track of billable time.|
|6. I have an efficient system for dealing with e-mails.|
|7. I employ timesaving strategies when making and receiving phone calls.|
In completing the self-assessment, did you conclude that any of the first four factors present an issue for you? Then consider incorporating the following steps in your action plan.
Once you've brought some order to your workspace, think about an effective system in which you can capture your billable time. Studies show that lawyers who don't complete their timesheets on a daily basis fail to account for as much as 20 to 25 percent of their billable time. It's very difficult to re-create time after just a few hours pass, let alone a few days. So record your time as activities occur.
There are some excellent software packages that let you track your billable time easily. It's worth finding one and learning how to use it. Many individuals, though, find that recording their time on paper and then passing it on to their assistants to input works well for them, too. If you choose to use such a method, be sure to design a timekeeping form that works for you. For example, the form might have room for several current projects and include the client's name, the matter number, a brief description of work done, a start time and end time, and the time billed for each project.
Almost everyone agrees that e-mail is a blessing and a curse. But there are steps you can take to make e-mail a tool that truly works for you.
Although the telephone can save time and make our work more efficient, it can also be a terrible time-waster if used ineffectively. Consider employing some of these steps to make your phone a tool for productivity.
To really put you at the top of your game, in the next issue we'll focus on people management—the last building block in this three-part series on efficient time management. While it's said that we all have the same 24 hours each day, how we use our time makes the difference between running from one crisis to another and creating more satisfying work and personal lives.