General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter

Effective Time Management

By Phil J. Shuey

Efficiency is doing tasks correctly; effectiveness is doing the correct tasks. Both are essential for proper time management.

  • At the beginning of each workday, create a To Do list. Regardless of the pressures of the morning, allocate 15 to 30 minutes to determine what needs to be accomplished that day (get to the office early if necessary). Remember to look ahead-at the end of each day, think about the tasks for the following day; do the same each week and each month. This will avoid most "surprises."
  • Remember, there is always more work to be done than time to accomplish it. After you've established the To Do list, flag the tasks as Vital, Urgent, Time-Sensitive, of Limited Importance, and None of the Above. Vital tasks do not necessarily have to be done that day but must be accomplished prior to the deadline. Urgent matters require prompt attention but may not be important.
  • Be realistic in assessing the time required for any task. Priorities are meaningless if the time allocated is unrealistic. Above all, set reasonable expectations. Establish deadlines for each task, and calendar them. Include regular daily activities in the To Do list. Leave time for unexpected matters.
  • The office is a team. Plan your day with your secretary, paralegal, and anyone else involved in the tasks. Delegate effectively; don't let ego retain tasks that could be done by someone else. Assign tasks to the best level for their accomplishment-work everyone (including yourself) at their highest and best level.
  • People have "peak" times of the day when they function at their best. Use your peak time for the most challenging or important tasks. Make assignments to staff that parallel their peak effectiveness times, if possible.
  • Try to deal effectively with interruptions such as telephone calls, drop-in clients, or socializing in the office. Create regular blocks of time during which you will not be interrupted for any reason other than a bona fide emergency.
  • Whenever possible, complete a task/project in one session. If the task is too large for the time available, break the project into smaller distinct tasks and establish a plan for each. Above all, get started! Even the most irritating and daunting task will appear more manageable once it's begun.
  • Reward yourself with a break, a coffee, or a stroll around the office after a difficult, unpleasant, or important task has been accomplished.

Effective time management can seem easy, linear, and perhaps even boring, but the recaptured time will result in both greater profitability and enhanced quality of life.

Phil Shuey is an attorney and president and CEO of Shuey Robinson, Englewood, Colorado.



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