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Natalie R. Kelly is the Director of the Law Practice Management Program at the State Bar of Georgia. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite your best efforts, your life is busier than ever. You are working longer hours and doing more scrambling. To find a better balance, use these five tips to tame your schedule and to-do lists.
1) Track your time. Learning where and how time is spent will help you understand what needs to change in your current time-management techniques. This is just like tracking where you are spending to gain control of your finances. Track the time you expend both at work and at home, and then take steps toward a more balanced schedule.
2) Get a time plan. Working from your current calendaring system, make sure you know which appointments require special attention. Mark down those times as being unavailable so you can focus on them exclusively. Recent time management studies suggest we are much better uni-taskers than multitaskers. Do one thing at a time by placing major projects and personal task items directly on your calendar and allocating enough time in your schedule to accomplish them. In a recent seminar on time management, the presenters suggested categorizing your to-dos based on how long it will take you to complete them. After that you should fill in your calendar and do the items in blocks where you know you will have time to complete them.
3) Tech it up. Use automated timers, note-taking programs or apps, and electronic-reminder systems to help manage your time. There are also many free voice-assistant services available for today’s smart phone and tablet devices. Try out the native products like Siri on the iOS or Jeannie on the Android OS. Apps like Vlingo (free, Android) and Dragon Dictation (free, iPhone and iPad) can also extend this functionality to help you save time. You can dictate quick text messages, tweets, and emails faster than you can type them on the small keyboards and input areas of most mobile devices. Use reminder services like Remember the Milk (www.rememberthemilk.com) and FollowUpThen (www.followupthen.com) to help you keep an eye on things, too. Look up productivity apps in the Great Apps directory at www.greatapps.com to find more tools for your mobile devices. For Mac and PC-based systems, learn to use practice management and document management software to help keep organized and in control of information.
4) Hone your habits. Fine tune personal and work habits to save time. Routines have been a part of our lives since infancy, and now is no time to stray. Pay attention to your daily habits. Put items you need every day in the same place. Limit the number of places you store items so you find them fast. Learn which environments make you most productive. Once you get your body and mind on track with what really works for you, you can be more productive and focus on getting more done.
5) Block out your day for everyday tasks. Everyone has a calendar, but everyone doesn’t make the calendar work for them. Everyone has email, but not everyone uses it effectively. You can set up specific time slots to deal with and delegate both calendar entries and email so you are in more control of your time. Begin by setting up times to check voicemail and email. Turn off the notifications that interrupt you as you work, and then focus on only checking email and voicemail at your set times. There will be interruptions, but they can be managed by either addressing them immediately, if they require little to no time to complete or by delegating them to be handled at later times or by someone else. Keep things in motion by either dealing with them or moving them to times you will deal with them. Make it a goal to have all of your time blocked out each day going forward.
Time management is a fluid process, and as you learn to better control your time, you gain more balance. You may waver or fall back on less productive habits but return to these tips to get back on track. You can keep balance if you keep moving.