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January 29, 2017 Practice Points

Practice Hacks—Capturing Time

By Edd Peyton

For all of us, 'extra' time is a scarcity. On a daily basis we juggle billable hours, family time, volunteering, networking, and leisure—all of which can be instantly compromised by random unexpected requests. In this environment, it's essential to use time judiciously.  

Are you making the most of your time? We may think we are, but many of us fritter away more minutes than we realize on non-productive activities. We all need an occasional break from the grind, but it behooves most of us to take a closer look at our time and how we manage it. I've done the math, and I've vastly improved my productivity at work. Here's how I did it.

Know Thyself
Awareness of your weak spots is the first step to correcting them. For one week, track every moment of the workday, whether billable or non-billable. Actually, logging each activity and the time you spend performing it can be eye-opening. Include work that you actually bill, then include telephone conversations, office hallway chats, restroom breaks, lunches, coffee runs, and commute time. If you spend your evening on a work-related activity like a networking event, log that time, too. At the end of the week, your productivity patterns will have emerged, and you will be able to identify areas where you're losing valuable time.

Work Smart
When you're working at your desk, it's easy to get lost in to-do lists and lose an afternoon before you realize it. It's also hard to resist the temptation to move quickly from one legal task to another without attending to administrative details like billing. A visible reminder on your desk can solve both of these problems: an old-fashioned stopwatch or, for the more tech-minded among us, a smartphone's stopwatch app. Place your stopwatch on top of or next to a daily calendar, and start it with each new task. When you finish, stop the clock and immediately jot the elapsed time on your calendar. Just like that, you've eliminated those head-scratching moments at billing time. And when the work isn't billable, there's a visible reminder to move things along.

Technology Is Your Friend
Fortunately for us, there is a wealth of great productivity technology on the market. I still use the paper calendar as a backup, but I primarily rely on the electronic calendar and stopwatch embedded in Aderant Total Office (ATO) case management software. ATO software starts a stopwatch whenever I open a client's file and allows me to enter my time into a billing system as I work. I can track hours billed across weeks, across months, or by file, and most importantly, I can tell at a glance whether I've captured my time on a given client. If I'm away from my computer, I track time manually, dictate an email with the details, and record them later.

There are a number of tools designed to work across platforms that we should be using. For example, Outlook's contacts database is accessible from any device: smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. You can sort your database into customizable categories and add notes, which makes searching for a contact painless. Apps like CamCard can scan and sort business card data directly into Outlook; I use this on the fly immediately after an encounter, while it's fresh in my mind. Similarly, the CamScanner app makes copies in PDF format; it's much easier to snap a quick photo with your phone than track down a free copier at the courthouse.

In summary, to improve your productivity, document your daily activities to determine where you are least productive. Capture time immediately and minimize non-productive activities during the work day. And employ apps to automate time-consuming tasks by performing non-taxing and non-billable activities at off peak hours.

Edd Peyton is special counsel at Lewis Thomason in Memphis, Tennessee.

Copyright © 2017, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).