How to manage your time more effectively

  • December 17, 2009
  • Beverley Spencer

Want to manage your time better? Wish you could find more hours in the day? There are plenty of complicated time-management systems out there, with lengthy to-do lists dedicated to squeezing every ounce of productivity out of the day.

They’re fine, says Derek LaCroix, Q.C., director of the Lawyers’ Assistance Program of British Columbia — but they’re not enough. “I took a lot of time management courses, and I was good at them for about two weeks — then I stopped doing them,” says LaCroix. The programs weren’t addressing the root problem.

Good time management, he says, begins with aligning your work priorities according to your personal values. Simply put, you’re going to be more effective and efficient when doing things that you’ve identified as important to you. “After I started to work on myself, so that I was doing more of what I wanted, I wasn’t overwhelmed,” he says. “I started planning things and I was much more able to implement systems.”

Many time management techniques, says Lacroix, don’t take into account whether an individual is doing the right thing in the first place. Recording your time, hitting your billing targets and keeping a clean desk are all worthy objectives, but the best time management system in the world won’t help someone who is half-heartedly engaged in their work.

That said, here are five general time management tips that should help everyone.

  1. Divide your work into smaller parts that can be accomplished in shorter intervals — whittle down the workload.
  2. Develop timelines for bigger projects. Start at the very beginning of a file and think it through until the end, outlining all the steps, tasks to be accomplished, limitation periods, key dates, etc. Project management is a professional skill that lawyers can and must learn.
  3. Don’t keep deferring work till the evening or the weekend. Set aside scheduled time for family and community activities, so that you don’t have the option of simply putting it off until later.
  4. Record your time — not for billable-hours purposes, which most lawyers do already, but in the sense of listing your accomplishments. Feel good about just how much you’ve accomplished in day — an especially valuable habit in a legal culture that focuses on problems and mistakes.
  5. Take regular holidays — a minimum of two weeks a year, preferably a month. Most successful lawyers thrive because they’ve recognized there’s life outside the law office.