- If you ask a lawyer what one of their biggest issues is, you’ll find that time management is top of the list. The place to start improving your time management skills is in law school. Review these five tips to get started.
If you ask a lawyer what one of their biggest issues is, you’ll find that time management is top of the list, especially when maximizing billable client time.
The place to start improving your time management skills is in law school. Review these five tips to get started.
I love schedules and lists. I’m not a slave to them, and you needn’t be either, but to make the best use of your time, you’ll want to become good friends with them. There are three parts to this:
This takes a few forms, depending on the area you’re focused on. I start with a yearly plan with overall goals and strategies. Individual courses and you’re involved with client work will impact this in different ways. But you can still start with a yearly plan and some overarching goals. I then review this quarterly—not in-depth, but briefly —to see where my progress is, what I may need to revise and rework, and what I may have forgotten that needs some focus.
Next, I do a monthly plan. This is new to me this year, and it’s a simple handwritten list that covers the major projects I’m working on and the milestones I want to hit that month for each of them. Some of it is based on my goals and strategies, and some are based on the things that have come up throughout the year. Again, I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time doing this, but I’ve found that it’s saved me a lot of time because I’m more on top of what needs to be handled each month (so I’m not left scrambling at any point) and can plan my time better—more on that in a moment.
I then use this to inform my weekly plan. I keep a written agenda (I’m not a technophobe, but I relish crossing things off here—feel free to use whatever works best for you!). Each week, I look through my monthly plan (on Fridays, typically) and jot down any tasks that will advance progress on my projects for the upcoming week. I then review the daily tasks for the following day at the end of the workday and then at the beginning to refresh my memory. That helps me to decide how I’m going to focus my day. Priorities fall early in the day, with more long-term projects happening in the afternoon.
As part of this process, I focus on deadlines and scheduling. We all face two types of deadlines—short-term and long-term. Long-term projects can be tough because we need to focus on them and make incremental advances in progress, but often, we find ourselves pushing them off because of more immediate concerns. To address that, I break those projects into smaller tasks and assign individual deadlines to them—I may jot it down as a task each day for a week and know that one day, I’ll spend 20 minutes on it, while another, I’ll get an hour done. The key is scheduling it well in advance so it’s part of my regular projects and not a last-minute effort that causes me stress and pressure.
Short-term deadlines are the most pressing. And that’s where your prioritization of projects comes in handy. When you develop your weekly and daily schedules, you can easily see, based on what your priorities and deadlines are, what can be pushed back, what can be rescheduled, and what needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. Having that overview schedule monthly and weekly helps minimize surprises and decrease stress (something I think we all could use!).
Whatever means you’re using to keep track of your schedule, I recommend leaning on technology to help keep you on track. I’ve been over and double-scheduled a LOT recently because I’m keeping too many calendars. While it’s often not entirely seamless, it is possible to sync calendars across Outlook, Google, and, it turns out, your Amazon Alexa device (I presume that’s true for other home devices and calendars as well). It took a bit of time investment for me, and it will take a new process to ensure that I’m copying everything into my Google calendar. Still, it’s been working quite well—my items are now on my mobile device, phone, desktop, and Amazon devices. And, when I remember, also written in my agenda. It’s not good time management for me to constantly be checking various calendars, needing to reschedule appointments that I’ve double booked, etc. (plus, it makes me look unprofessional), so this is a fantastic solution. I can see my calendar for the day when I check in with my Echo Show and any time I’m making an appointment on the go with my mobile device.
This may seem a strange suggestion for law school students because it’s difficult to delegate anything now. But not impossible—while I’m not suggesting you delegate your law school work by any means, other things may have to fall by the wayside. I’m learning this the hard way as I get started with marathon training, continue my full-time job, transition to the executive director, run my household, and attempt to kick off a side photography business. How is it possible to manage?
When considering your overall schedule and workload, it’s important to think about the entire universe of things you’re responsible for—not just your law school course load. Are you also cleaning your home? Buying food? Caring for children or pets? Working?
This is where drawing up a list and prioritizing can be key—what are the things that are must-dos, and what are the things that you must do? You may find that you can outsource some things—for example, can you order your groceries online and pick them up instead of shopping in person? You may eat the same thing a lot, but if it saves you an hour or two a week, that’s valuable. Can you hire someone to help clean your home or walk your pets? Can you sit down with family members and discuss how the division of labor can help to support you, your goals, and your schedule while you invest the time in law school?
I’m guilty of believing that everything has to be done by me and done right now. But when I dig deep and ask myself whether that’s true, I find that I can do more delegating and should do more.
It can be challenging in the current environment to work without distraction. Depending on where you live/work/study, it’s often hard to do that without being interrupted. But taking steps to minimize the impact of those interruptions can make you more productive and efficient (which will result in you having more time at the end of the day to use for other things). Things such as:
You can promise yourself a reward if you need to for buckling down and getting through the time you need to dedicate to various tasks—if you’re addicted to social media, for example. A bit of a procrastinator, maybe you allow yourself 15 minutes to surf the web guilt-free after you do your hour of work. Or maybe you buy yourself that coffee you’ve been craving after finishing that paper.
It’s also important not to multitask (and again, I’m guilty of this). Many studies say we’re less effective and efficient when we multitask (yes, even women, though I know we do tend to be better at it). So, we need to stop pretending that we can do more than one thing at a time. We can’t listen to a lecture, answer emails, watch tv while taking notes, or listen to music while writing a paper. We’re most effective when we concentrate fully on the task at hand. If you are still not sold, at least give it a try on your next project—dedicate yourself fully and see what happens.
This can sound like I’m encouraging you to burn out, but I promise I’m not. I don’t mean the downtime that you have with family and friends. I’m talking about the moments here and there that are being wasted that you can put together to good use.
For example, waiting in line for coffee, sitting in a doctor’s office or any waiting room, waiting for a train or bus, that’s typically the un-leveraged time. Generally, we’re on our phones, but most likely, we’re not doing anything productive. We can make better use of those few moments.
Use them to answer emails that don’t require lengthy responses, to check in with your social networks that you’re building for professional purposes, to edit the article, blog post, or paper that you recently wrote, to review some of the plans and schedules that you have coming up, etc.
Yes, I realize that I just finished telling you NOT to multitask, and this is exactly that, but this is an exception—these tasks wouldn’t require as much of your full attention, so make use of this time for those types of things.
This can be a tough one. I’m a people pleaser, so I like to be able to help out when people ask me for something. But to maximize my time and be as valuable as possible to the people I’m working with and for, I need to say no to the things that don’t fit in well with my goals and strategies.
That’s part of the reason we develop yearly plans – so that we know what those goals and strategies are and that the decision to say no is clear. We can be kind and polite, but if you don’t have the bandwidth for something, don’t agree and try to fit it in. You’ll develop resentment toward that person and not give your best to the project anyway. You are better served by saying no and allowing them to find someone with the time and passion.
What are some of your tried and true time management methods? It’s a tough set of skills to develop, but maximizing your value and happiness and leveraging your time effectively for (your eventual) clients is worthwhile.