Time management is a crucial part of every lawyers’ work day. But what if the usual time management apps don’t work? Or the productivity tips you’re trying out aren't doing anything for you? There might be deeper issues regarding time management that you’re not fully aware of. Our latest blog post talks about time management and the underlying skills you need to improve to take back control of your time.
There is no shortage of advice on how we can manage our time better. A simple Google search on " time management tips" gives 2,890,000,000 results! But with all this advice, hacks, and time-saving tactics, shouldn't we all be masters of time management? Apparently not since 41% of people say they lack the time to do what they want.
With all this information available to us on how to save time, why are we still lacking it? There must be deeper issues at play that an external tool like a time management app can’t help us with. We need to delve deeper and investigate the internal skills that lay the foundation for time management to understand and truly improve on how we manage our time.
According to a recent study, there are three underlying skills that separate time management success from failure; awareness, arrangement, and adaptation. Let’s take a look at these skills below, explore how they relate to time management and how you as a lawyer can hone these skills - and take back control of your time.
Skills to improve time management
Awareness relates to whether you think realistically about your time. Do you often find that you're putting things off? You might want to improve your awareness skills since this is closely linked to how you manage and deal with procrastination. So what are some practical ways you can improve your awareness skills?
Estimate the time you spend on a task
You’re probably already tracking your time at work - so the next step is to improve your estimates so you can plan your work more effectively. Before you start work, estimate how much time you think you’ll spend on a task or matter. You can use similar work you’ve done in the past to get a benchmark. Once you've completed the work review how long it actually took. Is there a lot of difference between your estimate and the actual time? This process will help you to be more realistic about your time and planning your work.
It's important to be realistic about your time. If you're not, it's easy to get into the habit of working into the late hours of the night (or all weekend) to meet a deadline, leaving you feeling overextended and exhausted.
Eat a frog to beat procrastination
Mark Twain is often incorrectly credited with the saying "Eat a live frog the first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."
No matter who said it, this quote makes an important point about how we can fall into the trap of procrastination. It also tells us how we can avoid it - by doing the most unpleasant, demanding, and dreadful task first in the morning.
It's often the most unpleasant task - such as delivering bad news to a demanding client or writing a complex letter of advice - that we tend to procrastinate on. By taking on your most challenging task first thing in the morning, you will make sure you don’t put it off and let it drag on for another day (or week!). Once you’ve done your most difficult task, the rest of your work that day will feel much easier to complete by comparison.
Arrangement relates to how you organise your goals and plan your day in a way to make use of as much time as possible. So what are some practical tools you can use to make sure you use your time efficiently and tick off items on your to do list?
Have you ever heard of the Eisenhower Matrix? This is a great tool to help you with time management and prioritisation.
Next time you have different tasks that you need to complete and you're unsure of which one to tackle first, divide them into one of the following categories.
- Work that is urgent and important
- Work that is urgent but not important
- Work that is not urgent but important
- Work that is not urgent and not important
Urgent and important work might include filing submissions with the court or meeting a client deadline. These are tasks that you need to get done as soon as possible.
Important but not urgent includes tasks that have to do with business development, staff training, and process improvements. You should schedule this work to ensure it doesn’t get lost among other more urgent tasks.
You can also use the matrix to identify low-value activities you spend time on such as looking through social media or idle web surfing. These are activities that don't bring value to your work, they are neither important nor urgent.
There is great value in dividing your tasks in this way - as it gives you the opportunity to plan your day and arrange your time to focus on the most important and urgent activities.
Schedule protected time
Make sure to protect your time by blocking out time in your calendar to work on urgent and important tasks. There are many benefits to blocking out time in your calendar to work on specific tasks. It can help you to avoid multitasking, think realistically about your schedule, and follow through on your goals. Another great benefit is that it will be a constant reminder to you - and others - what priorities and commitments you have for the day ahead.
Start your week with a plan of attack. You probably know at the beginning of the week what tasks you need to have completed by Friday. So why not take the time to schedule these tasks now? Take a look at your calendar and begin scheduling blocks of time when you want to work on these tasks.
Aim to be as realistic as possible with your time so you don't overcommit. Often if we have too much on our plate, we start feeling overwhelmed and it gets even harder to get things done. If you often take on more than what is reasonable you could try to budget more time for each task than what you estimate you actually need to finish it.
By the end of the day take a look at the next day's schedule, are your priorities still the same? Does your schedule look realistic? If not, make adjustments accordingly, so you are ready to get started again first thing in the morning.
Adaptation refers to how well you adapt to interruptions and how you adjust to changing priorities. Do you find it challenging to get back to a task after you’ve been interrupted? Use the following tools to improve your adaptation skills.
Use short bursts of effort
Do you find it difficult to get started on a task? Or hard to schedule in a big block of time to work on a task? The Pomodoro method could be what you need to kickstart your work and avoid procrastination.
The Pomodoro method is easy and effective to implement. Simply choose the task you need to work on and set a timer for 25 minutes. When the alarm goes off you have to take a 5-minute break. Repeat this process until you've finished the task.
This technique is also useful to avoid multitasking since you are only supposed to focus on one single task for 25 minutes. The 5-minute break will also fight off fatigue - helping you maintain energy for the entire day. The Pomodoro method is a great tool to help you beat procrastination. If you know that you will only work on a task for a short period of time it'll feel much easier to start it.
Seek to reduce interruptions
Nothing breaks your concentration, steals time, and limits your productivity like interruptions. Unfortunately, you can never get rid of interruptions completely but you can find ways to manage them better.
1. Restrict phone calls
We're used to answering the phone whenever it rings. But phone calls are a big source of distractions. Instead of always picking up the phone, schedule time in your calendar to return missed phone calls or make phone appointments.
Of course, there are some phone calls you have to respond to straight away, but the majority of phone calls can wait until your scheduled telephone hours.
2. Keep an interruption log
It can be difficult to keep track of all the interruptions you have to manage every day. Keeping an interruption log for 2-3 days is an excellent tool to help you identify and understand where the interruptions are coming from, so you can manage them better in future.
There are certain things you can take note of in your interruption log such as:
- Time of day;
- When did this interruption occur?
- What time of day did it occur?
- How long did it last?
- Was it an emergency, or was it an unnecessary interruption?
Can you see a pattern? Maybe you notice that at 3 pm every day you lose focus and start to check your Instagram feed? This can be a sign that your body needs a break. Or maybe your clients tend to call you around lunchtime? If that's the case, make sure to schedule more demanding work where you need to focus at another time of day.
In a profession where every minute counts, good time management is essential for productivity. And with these tips and a little introspective analysis on your own habits, you can be well on your way of taking back control of your own time.
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