Your success as a lawyer depends on how productively you use your time. If you find yourself agonizing over small, yet time-consuming tasks on a daily or weekly basis, here are some new approaches - just be prepared to think outside the box.
Productivity at the office means more than just an efficient client relationship. It also means more free time at home, being with loved ones. Often, the most productive periods for lawyers are weekday nights and weekends, where they are away from the office. Take your weeknights and weekends back with a few of my productivity tips for lawyers.
1) Do the worst thing first
This was probably not how you wanted this article to start, but finishing that daunting task first thing in the morning will make the rest of your day that much better. Mark Twain said, “if you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful." If your “frog” is starting a legal draft, get to it. Stop procrastinating. Your afternoons will thank you.
2) Look for inefficient routines (even if it’s owned by another person)
Sometimes the best way to smooth your processes is by streamlining someone else’s. Finding what work you can do better is the easy part. It’s finding inefficiencies in others’ work, from assistants to colleagues, that can change the way a practice performs.
First, ask the question: what tasks do you find yourself delegating to people which takes them too long to complete? Maybe those small, time-consuming tasks don’t have to be delegated to another person at all. Look for technology or automation that can take care of the little things. For instance, if you need to “pull up a file” for a client, but that forces you to reach out to an assistant, start thinking about processes to eliminate this step. Why can’t you recall that file quickly on your own? If a case specifically requires your attention, any step that removes you from that work is inefficient.
3) Set blocks of time for uninterrupted work
Much of our productivity problems as lawyers are caused by answering calls from solicitors or clients. If you can block off professional, work-only time, you’re more likely to recover some personal time. Start by letting some of your colleagues and clients know by email that you’re unavailable, and loop in your assistant by instructing him or her to keep that time open. You can even set your email to deliver automatic responses, as if you were out of office. By dedicating this time for work, you can focus on clients more sincerely, and they will thank you for it.
Here’s another tip for uninterrupted work: log out of social media. It sounds obvious, but how often do you find yourself clicking on LinkedIn or Facebook to kill time between tasks? Nothing professionally productive comes from social media, unless you plan on utilizing it for building your network or seeking client opportunities. And if that’s the case, schedule specific time to be on these sites in order to get the most out of them.
4) Utilize tools and technology
Many software applications today are designed specifically to enhance your productivity. From financial planners to voice controlled calendars, finding programs to assist you won’t take long. It’s finding the right one to mesh with your firm that might be difficult.
Toggl is a Google Chrome extension, available to download for free, that makes keeping track of your time spent on individual tasks easy. Moreover, you can then create neat, legible charts showing how your time is spent every day, week, and month. That analysis can further aid your goal in trimming unnecessary work or identifying where a tool or extra hand could help you.
Most documents sent from your office maintain the same style, voice and structure—or at least they should. Which of these do you find yourself recreating tediously? Document management software can help you organize these frequently-used documents online. Take Google Docs, for example; this cloud-based tool is like Microsoft Word, but exists entirely online. As a result, you gain the benefit of allowing almost anyone to have access to a core set of documents from any location. This can help you gain the consistency you’re looking for.
You can also make sending bulk emails easier through Microsoft Word’s Mail Merge to quickly manage hundred of contacts while also sounding personal. Try to avoid human error whenever possible.
6) Use technology for tedious tasks, and people for personal touch.
A lot of what I advocate for lawyers involves incorporating new technology for their practice. However, a human secretary, rather than a phone tree, can be more efficient in some cases. Unlike a voice recording directing callers to your personal line, a live secretary can use practical discretion to screen calls. Moreover, the secretary can deflect people from ever calling you during your key working hours, making the process of blocking off time easier every day.
7) Don’t let short-term costs get in the way of long-term productivity - and profits.
This last tip is the biggest hurdle many lawyers face when planning to expand their firm. Not everyone has the foresight needed to make investments in practice management software or support personnel. Those that do reap the benefits in the long run. Nothing great in this world comes for free, so don’t expect a program that makes your life easier to just fall in your lap.
Every practice is different, so try out some (or all) of these tips and see what helps you manage your time most productively. A few core takeaways: seek out and invest in practice management software, sort your priorities and attack the tough stuff first, and help those around you to be more efficient by sharing what you’ve learned.
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