June 27, 2016 Practice Points

5 Steps to Getting Control of Your Work Day

By Angela G. Strickland

"Out of clutter, find simplicity."
―Albert Einstein

For lawyers, time can be both your enemy and your friend. There are only so many hours in the workday and there never seems to be enough time to accomplish every item on your checklist. Though this may be a sign of a very busy practice, it could also be the result of poor time management. Don't feel bad. Learning to structure your work day is a skill that takes time to develop. However, gaining control over your time can be the ticket to greater productivity, increased satisfaction, and decreased stress. Start your journey now by using the tips below:

1. Learn to Delegate
Delegation of appropriate tasks not only frees up your time, but also ensures that the right person is doing the right level of legal work. In fact, delegation is an effective means of controlling costs. Having a junior attorney or paralegal perform work suited to their skillset decreases client costs, positively impacts profitability, and helps train and empower your colleagues.

2. Make Your Calendar Work for You
To enhance your daily productivity, consider blocking off time in your calendar just for you. This will help you plan your workday while leaving room in your schedule for surprises. Let's face it: Sometimes you just need an uninterrupted hour to finish a project. Blocking off that hour, rather than scrambling to find 15 minutes here or there, will decrease your stress and increase your efficiency during the day.

3. Break Your Smartphone and Email Habits
Staying connected is a double-edged sword. Many people report feeling more secure in their work life knowing what is "coming in" at all times. On the other hand, checking email constantly during your every waking hour, and sometimes when you roll over at night, is a bad habit that does not contribute to productivity. Break these habits. Instead of reading each mail as it comes in during the workday, consider giving yourself a scheduled break. For example, you may want to work for 35 minutes and take an email break for 5–7 minutes. During the night, pick a time to stop reading work emails. Reading emails in the middle of the night is likely to cause anxiety rather than bring peace of mind. Wait until you are fully awake, so that you can purposefully prioritize the information and delegate tasks appropriately.

4. Do Your Least Favorite Tasks First
It goes without saying that not all of your work is fun, interesting, or exciting. We all have projects that we wish to avoid and which invite our worst procrastination habits. It is important to make these projects our top priority. First, set a deadline to be done with the project. Be sure to include time to proofread. All projects need proofreading, regardless of their interest factor. Second, devote a meaningful amount of time in your calendar each day to the completion of the task. Small amounts of time with the project may be more palatable and productive, than marathon periods. Third, draft a plan outlining the steps you need to complete the project. Seeing the steps on paper may make the job less daunting. Finally, follow through with the project and your plan until the project is complete. Having a plan is more than half of the battle and will set you on the path to moving that dud project off your desk sooner, rather than later.

5. Set Reasonable Goals
Attaining a set goal is an immediate way to feel satisfaction and accomplishment in your work life. Many of us, however, set work-related goals that are too ambitious to accomplish within a reasonable amount of time. It is important to learn to set reasonable daily and weekly goals. For example, setting a goal to research and write a summary judgment motion on Tuesday and Wednesday is not a reasonable goal. Instead, set aside a few hours to research a specific topic on Tuesday and another block of time to devote to writing the fact section of the brief. Reaching each of these little goals will organize your time and help you feel more satisfaction toward accomplishing your goal.

In the quest for better time management, one size does not fit all. The key, however, is to develop your time management skills sooner, rather than later. If you do, you will certainly feel more accomplished and satisfied with your day.

Angela G. Strickland is with Bowman and Brooke LLP in Columbia, South Carolina.

Copyright © 2016, 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).