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What is the secret to having it all? You can’t—at least not all at once. You can, however, come close if you set clear priorities and make calculated decisions about how you spend your time—especially your nonbillable hours. Here are steps for putting a personal plan in place to reach your top goals.
PLAN YOUR NON BILLABLE TIME AROUND YOUR PRIORITIES. Decide how much time you are going to devote to each priority per week and how each hour will be spent. Don’t get distracted. When asked to spend nonbillable time on something that’s not on your priority list, say no firmly and graciously. Remember that saying yes to something not on your priority list is the same as saying no to the things that are on your priority list. For some, framing the question that way makes it easier to say no. I turned down two invitations last year to speak at CLE programs on deposition skills and expert witness skills. Why would I do such a thing? Educating other lawyers on areas of law outside my niche area is not high enough on my priority list to warrant the time commitment. Instead, I gave five seminars to longterm care operators and caregivers. Why? Because it met several of my top priorities: targeted marketing, becoming the best long-term care attorney in the country, and public service.
GET CREATIVE: CHOOSE ACTIVITIES THAT MEET MULTIPLE PRIORITIES. If you keep your mind open and are creative in how your time is spent, the possibilities are endless. For example, when I was asked to be a deacon at my church last year I declined, even though the time commitment was a little less than one hour per week. I said no because it only met one of my priorities. Instead, I started a children’s choir at the church for kindergarten through fifth graders, which has allowed me to focus on four of my priorities: church, family, public service and marketing. How did starting a children’s choir fit into my goal of marketing? The choir’s public service project is to sing at nursing homes. Now that’s a win-win.
MAKE IT COUNT: DO LESS AND DO THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT IN A BIG WAY . It’s my philosophy that if a nonbillable activity is worth participating in, it’s worth taking a leadership role in. It is better to be on the board of one organization than to be a member of five, and it requires about the same amount of time. Also, if you are going to take time to send client gifts, you should listen and give in a meaningful way. As just one example, last year one client told me that his favorite band was Pearl Jam. For Christmas, I sent him a Pearl Jam T-shirt.
REWARD YOURSELF. This is a marathon, not a sprint—2,000 billable hours per year with one vacation plus 400 hours per year of nonbillable work equals burnout. Put your personal time on your calendar as an out-of-the-office appointment, whether it’s lunch with your children or two hours in the middle of the day at a spa. An incredible secretary triages for you and will e-mail and call you if necessary. Your clients and colleagues never have to know that you are indulging. Busy and important attorneys are out of the office at appointments all the time.
How you spend your nonbillable time determines the quality and success of your practice. How you spend your personal time determines the quality of your life. So have a plan, work your plan and enjoy it.
Christy Tosh Crider is a shareholder in the Nashville office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. She concentrates her practice in civil litigation, especially long-term healthcare cases.