It’s Your Time. Own It.

Elizabeth Jolliffe

©2015. Published in Landslide, Vol. 7, No. 6, July/August 2015, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

Face it. You will never have enough time to do everything you need to do. Even if you use super time management tips and start to truly prioritize matters, minimize interruptions, delegate more, and/or stop procrastinating, you still will not accomplish everything there is to accomplish. Therefore, your attempts are doomed. But when you change your perspective from one of attempting to find more time in the day to owning the time you do have, you will feel like you have more control.

Ownership Empowers

Own (transitive verb): (a) to have or hold as property; (b) to have power or mastery over.1

An ownership perspective empowers you to control your time. As the owner of your time, you get to exercise dominion over it, possess it, and even give part of it away. You also have the right and responsibility to maintain it and protect it. If you don’t, it will fall apart, much like a neglected house or car. And as the owner of your time, like owning money, you get to decide how to spend it. See yourself as the owner of your time and you will find yourself more in control.

Owners Protect Their Property: Interruptions and Distractions

A 20-plus-year lawyer, Candace had become accustomed to being distracted by never-ending email, colleagues in her doorway, client phone calls, questions from her assistant, and even the siren call of her iPad. She found she was rarely able to concentrate on one project for even 15 uninterrupted minutes. She felt that these external forces, combined with her own inability to sustain a quiet focus, dictated what she did and when, in a very unproductive manner. As a result, she had trouble getting through her daily projects in a reasonable amount of time. And despite being at the office from dark to dark, she lost or wrote off a lot of time.

When Candace changed her perspective to owning her time, she decided she could protect it for 15 minutes at a stretch. She started small and gradually strengthened her concentration muscle as well as her confidence to protect her time for longer periods. She used her ownership authority to justify ignoring her email and phone calls for 15 minutes. It was only for 15 minutes, after all. And she had the confidence to tell her colleagues she could talk with them in 15 minutes, at 2:00 p.m., tomorrow, etc. After a while, she learned she could even say no. When Candace behaved as the owner of her time, she got more done to completion in one day, captured more of her billable time, and suffered no negative repercussions from clients or colleagues. She felt she had more control.

Real property owners protect their property with deeds and legal descriptions, fences, security, lights, and insurance. Inventors and their companies protect inventions with patents. Trademarks and copyrights protect other ownership rights. Similarly, you can protect your property—your time—by establishing boundaries and rules to minimize and eliminate disruptions.

Owners Hire Contractors: Delegation

A senior associate and the chair of a subpractice group, Leslie had more client projects and administrative tasks than hours in the day. Although encouraged by her practice leader to delegate work, Leslie believed delegating would take longer, require additional work on her part, cost more, and delay response times to clients. Thus, she rarely delegated work to junior associates and legal assistants. Yet by continuing to do work she could have delegated, she lost opportunities to take on more sophisticated, complex work that she wanted. She had tried delegating work before but had always given up after a few half-hearted attempts. It was too much bother.

Leslie agreed to set aside her perspective of “efficiency” and try looking at her to-do list through an ownership lens. By giving herself permission, she suddenly saw the path to the bigger-picture version of the lawyer she was trying to become. Unless she freed up time by delegating, she had no time to offer to her practice leader for the more interesting, higher-value work. If she did not change her habits, she would never get the work she wanted to develop. She also saw that if she did not delegate, she would miss an opportunity to start getting managerial experience. And finally, she would not be helping others develop, an activity she actually enjoyed when she was not consumed with client demands, production, billable hours, and deadlines, etc.

Like a homeowner who can paint but hires a painter because the owner wants to use his or her time for a higher-value purpose, Leslie began to delegate. She also built up her delegating muscle by creating a rule that she had to delegate one matter a day and report it to a supportive partner. She matured as a young leader, helped others develop, took on more sophisticated work, and started taking an ownership approach to other parts of her practice.

Delegation challenges are often sensitive and much more complex, dependent on available personnel and other support. For starters, however, put on your owner’s hat, figure out the best use and higher-value purpose of your time, and delegate the other work.

Owners Address Root Causes: Procrastination

Dave had a growing niche for which he was recognized and which he enjoyed. He also enjoyed a large network of contacts and saying yes when clients and potential clients came to him with other matters. The problem was he had been a functioning closet procrastinator since college, many years ago. As such, he continued to suffer from unhealthy amounts of self-inflicted stress and all-nighters. He also suffered when he occasionally lost business by procrastinating instead of doing. Dave wanted to change his ways but felt his procrastination behavior was too ingrained. He felt change was impossible.

When Dave set aside his “change is impossible” perspective, and tried out “owning” his behavior, he saw that he could no longer hide behind the excuses that he was fatally flawed or worked better under pressure. As the owner of his time, he had to identify the reasons for his procrastination and deal with them. Upon close inspection, he saw that he procrastinated on matters outside his wheelhouse, where he did not have as much comfort. He also procrastinated when he felt clients would be dissatisfied with their options or the outcome, or he thought the project would cost more than it was worth.

Creating Rules

After diagnosing the root causes of his procrastination, Dave created rules to protect his time, a.k.a. his “property,” from his tendencies. These were rules like not taking matters outside his niche until he wrote down three valid reasons to do so. An accountability system with a partner pushed him to completion in other scenarios. He also acted like a property owner and enlisted the services of others.

Regardless of whether it is a sparking socket, wet basement, strange sound in the steering column, or something else, owners investigate what holds them back from full use of their property. They diagnose the problem and deal with it. Identify why you procrastinate and deal with it. Act like an owner and create rules to control and protect your time.

Owner’s Supplement: Five Fast Tips

  1. When a chatty colleague enters your office, stand up and move toward the door so that he or she does not sit down and settle in.
  2. List the three most common types of matters about which you procrastinate and one way to deal with each.
  3. Have optional responses rehearsed and ready for putting off at least some people who interrupt your concentration with their own work or ask you to take on more work than you have time for.
  4. Prioritizing items on a to-do list includes assigning them an appropriate time slot on your schedule. Doing the most important thing first is not always the best use of your first available time.
  5. Delegate at least one task per day to develop your delegating muscle.

Realistically, you will never have enough time to do everything you want to do in your personal and professional life. But by changing your perspective from trying to find more time to owning the time you do have, you will feel more in control of your time. Own it.


1. Own, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/own (last visited Apr. 13, 2015).

Elizabeth Jolliffe

Elizabeth Jolliffe is a certified career management and business development coach for lawyers. She practiced for 19 years as a business litigator and partner at Clark Hill PLC in Detroit, Michigan.