Unfortunately, far too many lawyers find themselves working 12-hour days, spending little time with loved ones and having less of an impact than they'd expected. For some, the problem could be ineffective time management.
As Law Technology Today points out:
"Better allotting their time is an area where many lawyers can improve. The recently released Legal Trends Report analyzed work habits of over 40,000 lawyers and found that they spend only 2.2 hours of their time on billable work—that's a paltry 28 percent of a modest eight-hour workday, and even less if you're working more. In a field where every second counts, losing three quarters of your billable time every day can be a death sentence."
It's about working smarter, not harder
That last metric is the important one, and it begs several important questions. For example, if most lawyers are spending less than 30% of their time on billable work, what are they doing the rest of the time? Are they using best practice time management strategies? Are there some tasks they could delegate? Finally, are there effective time management tools they can use to become more productive—to work smarter, not harder in other words?
The basics of effective time management
More effectively managing your time isn't a one-off task. It's multiple, smart strategies which, in their totality, reduce wasted time and maximise performance. Although law firms differ in terms of their size, principal areas of practice and client base, several time management strategies are more effective for the lion's share of them than others, including the following 3:
1. Align time management strategies with the way you work
Effective time management isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. Every lawyer has a different way of working, so it's important that the strategies you employ match your individual work style.
The first step to getting to where you want to go is to know where you are. That means taking careful stock of your daily work habits. What are the principal things you do and how much time do you devote to each of them?
After you've created this "time audit," decide how important each of these tasks is. Which work is critical to the success of your firm, and which is less important. Then, see if there are any tasks you can delegate to others, and which requests you can reasonably say "no" to. Finally, organise this refined list of more important tasks into thoughtful "to do" lists (it's a good idea, by the way, to complete the hardest tasks first—procrastination is the enemy of productivity).
2. Get focused
Most lawyers are "multitaskers." They like the freewheeling style of having lots on their plates and rapidly switching from one task to another. Unfortunately, that approach has a downside—every time you switch tasks, it takes you some amount of time (this will differ from one lawyer to another) to "ramp up." You need to familiarise yourself in other words with the particulars of that task—and that wastes time.
To better utilise the limited time you have, try to focus on each task for longer periods of time. That reduces so-called "task-switching" and, in the long run, makes better use of your time. Spoiler alert: this will require some real discipline and dedication, but staying focused on one job at a time can be a time management game changer.
3. Spend more time on more consequential work
If you do your "time audit" thoughtfully, you'll find that a relatively small amount of the work you do produces a relatively large amount of the value you create. This concept has been memorialised as the so-called "80/20 rule"—what it means is that, in general, about 20% of the work you do leads to about 80% of the value you deliver.
For most lawyers, that comes close to the amount of time they spend on billable vs. non-billable work. What this means from a time management perspective is that you need to find ways to increase the time you spend on that billable work, and ways to reduce the time you spend on less consequential tasks. This could include effective delegation strategies, the use of time management apps, or integrating law practice technology.
Working to create effective time management strategies can, at first blush, seem counterproductive—in other words, you might initially see this as just one more task you need to complete. It's best to think of working on time management as an investment rather than a simple expenditure of time—every hour you spend on time management in other words can save you many more hours spent on unimportant or inconsequential task.
To learn more about the way Law Master can help you more effectively manage you time through our accurate time recording features (as well as bring ups and outlook integration), contact us today.