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Whether you’re a brand-new associate or a senior partner, everybody gets 168 hours in their week. So how is it that some attorneys are wildly productive and efficient while others struggle to get a handle on their workload?
Productivity all comes down to efficiency, the ratio of work performed compared to the effort expended on it. The most efficient lawyers know how to manage their time and energy to extract the greatest value from them. Whether you’re searching for a job or polishing a brief, try these productivity tips to get more done with less headache.
Productivity Tips for Lawyers
Work backwards, suggests Daniel Gold, a Kansas City, Kansas, lawyer-turned-productivity consultant at DEG Consulting. If you’re seeking a new job, for example, give yourself a defined task and a concrete deadline, such as applying for three positions by the end of the week.
Then, slot blocks of time into your schedule for the tasks you must complete to reach that goal. You might set aside an hour on Monday to tweak your resume and request recommendations for your LinkedIn profile. Carve out a window of time on Wednesday to research the employers you’ve targeted and to craft personalized cover letters. On Friday morning, edit and refine your documents and hit “send.”
Apps are your friend. Toggl is ideal for people who bill by the hour (know any of those?). Its one-click time-tracking feature can help you stay on top of your workload in two ways: First, you can consolidate all your clients and time “sheets” in a single place. And second, you can use Toggl to track the time you spend each day on everything from social media to practice-group meetings. Seeing where you’re wasting time is the first step to using it more productively.
Empty your in-box. “If you leave everything in your in-box, it means you have unfinished items that clutter your brain every time you see them,” Gold says. “If you have 200 emails, you’re constantly scanning them and thinking whether you’ve made decisions on them.”
Take your in-box down to zero with four options for each email: Do it. Delete it. Defer it. Delegate it.
If responding to an email takes less than two minutes, do it, Gold said, paraphrasing advice from productivity guru David Allen of “Getting Things Done” fame. Then delete or archive the email.
If you need more time to respond, study or research, schedule time for that. Gold likes Todoist, which transforms emails into tasks. Add the email to a Todoist.com list, click on it later and the email appears so you can easily respond. “It turns your emails into action items,” he says.
When you receive emails about assignments that someone else should take on, delegate the work to members of your legal team or support staff. Gold uses Todoist.com to track what he’s assigned to make sure it doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Finally, be ruthless about deleting any emails you don’t need or care about.
“When you have an empty in-box, there’s a sigh of relief, a moment when you feel this weight has been lifted off your shoulders,” Gold says. “The burden is no longer there.” While it’s “not humanly possible” to maintain a perpetually empty in-box, he says, the practice of clearing it out regularly ensures that you’ll stay on top of correspondence and critical tasks.
Schedule a “happy hour” every Friday afternoon. This one doesn’t involve drinks, though. Set aside time each Friday to review the work you accomplished during the week and to look ahead at what’s on your calendar for the upcoming week. Are there tasks you didn’t finish that you’ll need to wrap up by next Friday? Block out times to complete them.
Familiarize yourself with next week’s deadlines, appointments and deliverables. A short period of preparation enables you to hit the ground running while your colleagues are still out on their coffee runs. “You’re setting yourself for success starting on Monday morning,” Gold says.
Ready to add “advance your career” to your to-do list? For more information about opportunities in the legal field, contact Special Counsel today.