Do you ever feel like you don’t have control over your day? Instead, the days and weeks take on a life of their own and just happen? How many times have you looked up at the clock and were shocked to find your seemingly “productive” day was over and you didn’t get to everything on your list?
Well, you’re not alone. We talk regularly with frustrated attorneys who are at their wits end about the lack of control over their days. The good news is you can create your ideal work week and have it unfold the way you want vs. letting the week take control of you. Here are several time management tips to help you plan and guard one of your most precious assets.
- Do a time audit/log. For two weeks, analyze every minute of your day. Jot down EVERYTHING (checking email, reading the news, checking social media, “quick” questions, interruptions, meetings, calls, number of distracting notifications, getting work done, etc.). Look for patterns and time suck activities. Make a list of the common occurrences or areas that are notorious for hijacking your time and attention. Are there opportunities to “chunk” activities together to be more efficient?
- Identify your energy levels during the day. Give some thought to the times of the day that you typically feel the most energetic and cognitive ability is at its highest. The Harvard Business Review has a great article on The Ideal Work Schedule, as Determined by the Circadian Rhythms that describes the impact of energy levels and planning your schedule around them. If you’re a morning person, you may choose to do your more taxing activities in the morning when you have the energy and focus necessary to complete them.
- Draft your ideal week. If you could paint a picture of your “ideal” week, what would it look like? Anything is possible. For example, some firms close on Fridays, some never schedule consultations on Mondays, while some prefer to return client calls in the afternoon. Play with what works best for you. Create color-coded time-blocks for different types of activities throughout the week. This can include “prep” time (completing work, checking email, team meetings, etc.), “prime” time (meeting with clients and community outreach efforts) and “R&R” time (recharge your batteries).
- Schedule time for common distractions or tasks. Remember your time audit log results? Email, notifications, client calls and quick questions are common culprits that can disrupt our “flow” and chip away at our productivity. Instead of allowing those activities to happen on other people’s terms, look at your calendar and block the time of day that works best for you.
- Set expectations on response times with clients and team Members. A critical component to making these time-blocks work, is to let everyone know when they can expect to hear back from you or how return calls will work. If your response time will be limited, you might also add an autoresponder to your email that explains how and when you will respond to email and phone calls. If their matter is urgent, provide details on how to reach out to your capable team. These can be great delegation and training opportunities!
- Schedule ample time for projects. It’s common to underestimate how much time certain tasks or projects will take. If you’re unsure how long a project will take, budget in 20% more time to your initial estimate to give yourself some buffer time.
- Pick 2 or 3 activities to accomplish each day. Since we typically cannot knock off everything on our list, it’s best to keep your list simple and manageable. If your project is large, you may feel frustrated when you’re unable to finish everything in the time allotted. Instead, break down the deliverables as much as possible with their own respective deadlines so you can make measurable progress toward it.
- Turn off notifications. Use an alarm or some sort of external alert that tells you the block of time is up, but keep all other distractions like your email, instant messenger, and phone off. If you’re worried about missing important texts or calls, direct friends and loved ones to call the office if something is urgent and is interruption worthy.
- Stay committed to your time-blocks. Most “quick” questions can wait until their designated meeting times. The key is to stay committed to those scheduled meetings. Every time you deviate and allow interruptions to happen outside of your time-blocks, you are setting the expectation that your blocked time isn’t valuable or important. It’s more of a suggestion than a system. Unhappy with your lost time? Curb the urge to say yes to those interruptions and instead ask if it can wait until your 3pm meeting.
- Find an accountability partner. Building in a daily or weekly reporting system about the status of certain goals with someone you’re accountable to can be a great motivator in sticking with your commitments. This can be a person on your team, a friend, family member or fellow professional.
By applying these tips and creating new habits, you can gain more control and know in advance how your days will play out on your terms not others’. Which tips are you most inspired to implement first?
Practice Building Coach
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128