Own the Clock

  • June 27, 2014
  • Frank Sanitate

I have been teaching time mastery seminars for lawyers for three decades, but over the past year, I decided to have lawyers teach me. I asked them to write their top time management tip, something they have learned to do in the past that has helped them better manage their time. I collected about 300 responses from lawyers in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Here is a summary of their ideas.

  1. Plan and prioritize your time

    By far, the largest number of responses I got, 30 per cent, was to plan and prioritize your time. Many of these were expressed as making a daily to-do list. Tied in with this was the idea of doing the important things on your list first. This is a simple concept, but often we forget to do it. The reason is simple: we already know our priorities and we want to jump in and get started. The value of the list is not so much in deciding what’s important, but it is a way of clearing your head.

  2. Control your time by controlling interruptions

    The next-largest number of responses, 15 per cent, was the flip side of the first entry. Once you plan your time, make sure you follow your plan by controlling what happens to your time. Many of the suggestions came down to blocking off time when you just aren’t available for walk-ins, phone or e-mail interruptions. Concentrate on one task; do not multitask. Let your clients know when you’re available and unavailable, and limit time given to interrupters.

  3. Be the master, not the slave of e-mail

    From my perspective, the addictive behavior of constantly checking e-mails and instant messages is the most serious and growing time management problem for lawyers in the 21st century. You don’t have to read an e-mail or text immediately just because it happens to come in. Turn off that pop-up window for incoming e-mail, and be ruthless about handling email at one time, daily.

  4. Do long-term planning and prioritizing

    One participant summarized it pretty well: “Have a work-inprogress list of current and upcoming work. I update it regularly so I am aware of what work I have to do and can allocate time and prioritize matters.” Think ahead: plan work and prioritize in your mind. Put it in writing (not in your head), and follow through.

  5. Use a calendar or diary

    Some respondents noted the value of Outlook or other electronic calendaring because you can use alarms for upcoming appointments with deadlines. Put your critical work on your calendar, regardless of whether it’s an external deadline or self-imposed.

  6. Delegate and keep good communications

    Perhaps as you grow and your practice grows, you find out you can’t do it all. Hire someone else and let him do it: delegate easier tasks to those lower on the totem pole. Forward routine phone communications to support staff. Set a one-week reminder for large pieces of work, and keep the file related to that work on your desk.

  7. Don’t procrastinate

    Easier said than done. Why do we procrastinate? Fear is behind a lot of the unpleasant tasks we put off: fear of confronting someone, of making the wrong decision, of moving forward in an area I’m not familiar with, and so on. Start your day by tackling that one unpleasant task you’d really like to avoid, and check it off your list.

  8. Manage paper and your workspace

    Leverage technology: move to a paperless (scanned) recordkeeping system. Stop working weekly to tidy the office and make a fresh list of priorities for the coming week. Instead of using multiple pads, use a single notebook.

  9. Create attitudes to help you enjoy your work

    We “think our lives.” The resolution to many issues lies not in taking action, but in reevaluating the story we are making up about the issue. Some things come up that are beyond your control. Don't sweat the small things. Keep moving forward.

  10. Take care of the quality of your life

    Last but not least is the idea that your work time is part of the bigger picture of your life-time. Recognize the value of work/life balance and reduce the hours you spend at work, and exercise for these 30 minutes each day. Put aside time for your family: always have breakfast and dinner with your kids.

Frank Sanitate helps lawyers to achieve these goals through his Time Mastery for Lawyers workshops presented live, globally, through Frank Sanitate Associates, and by telephone seminars through qualitytimepros.com.

This article appeared in the December 2010 issue of the CBA's National Magazine.