This is part one of a three-part series on practice management.
On a daily basis, attorneys are battling to manage competing priorities. Faced with overwhelmingly long to-do lists at both work and home, they often find themselves feeling like they cannot possibly do it all. This three-part series offers practical and useful time management tips that aim to help these attorneys realize they “can do it all” and do it well.
Get organized. The most productive people are, without a doubt, the most organized. So, the first step is to get organized. Nowadays, almost every attorney has some form of PDA (or daily planner, for those who are reluctant, even now, to embrace the digital age). Decide which works best for you, and use it. As soon as you become aware of a deadline or a meeting, put it in your calendar. If that event requires advance preparation, calendar that as well. In fact, set multiple calendar reminders—one for the date of the event, one for the date on which you’ll need to begin preparing for the event and one to remind you that you’ll need to start clearing time in your schedule to do so. This may seem excessive, but it works. You will allow yourself sufficient time to get done what needs to get done in a timely fashion and you will avoid (to the extent possible) feeling rushed at the eleventh hour.
Prioritize. You look at your to-do list, and it’s long—very long. You feel overwhelmed. You know you can’t possibly manage to do everything on that list today, tomorrow or even this week. So what do you do? Jump in head first and hope that you can accomplish as many things as possible as quickly as possible before the day ends without dropping any balls or making any mistakes? No. You prioritize. Take a step back. Look at your list. There must be at least one thing that does not need to be done today. Move it to your to-do list for a later date. Don’t stop there. Keep going until what is left on your list are only the things that absolutely must get done today. Now you can tackle the items on your much more manageable (and shorter) to-do list with the confidence that you will get them done and get them done well.
Delegate. You’ve heard the old adage, “If you want it done right, do it yourself”? Perhaps you are even someone who lives by those words. If you are, it is time to make a change. Decide what you must do yourself and what can be done by someone else. For those items that fall into the latter category, delegate. This can be hard for those who are accustomed to (or simply more comfortable) doing everything themselves. But delegating is an essential tool in the time management toolkit. It allows you the luxury of being able to focus your time on the tasks that require your unique attention and skill, while allowing the rest of your tasks to be handled by someone else. You may firmly believe that you could do it better yourself, but sometimes, depending on the task, doing it better is not the ultimate goal. Sometimes merely getting it done and crossed off the list is how you should define success.