1.Lists, Lists, Lists
Lists are not for everyone, but for some they can be a lifesaver. I have a main list of my open files and the next steps to take on them. Then on Monday morning of each week, I set my weekly "To-Do" list, divided into four parts:
1) My legal work (priority files, next steps)
2) My business work (marketing, admin, blog writing)
3) My volunteer work (meetings, next events to organize) and
4) Personal List (birthday presents to buy, class trip forms to return, house maintenance, etc.).
Under each list, the most important task goes first. Prioritize those tasks. Emergencies come up that might take you away from your list, but once they are dealt with you have your list of tasks (in order of priority) to ground you. If an item does not get done that week, I add it to the list the following week. If a task is not on the list, I forget about it, and it doesn’t get done. So, for me, my lists are all important.
2.Find Your Most Productive Time and Respect It
I belong to a business book club for women entrepreneurs. One of the first books we read was The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey. The main takeaway for me was to find the time of day that I was most productive and to block off that time for work only. For me, I am most productive between 7am-11am and then again between 1pm-3pm. I block that time off for the work that requires my strict attention and my deep-thinking skills. The rest of the time I schedule my phone calls, meetings, answer emails, take a break, exercise, eat, do routine tasks, admin, etc. Everyone has different times for their peak productivity – when is that for you?
3.Give up Perfectionism
This is a hard one for me. I desire perfection. However, perfection is a myth that cannot be achieved in law and this quest for perfection hurts my productivity. I end up spending a lot longer on a factum or pleading or legal opinion than I need to, leaving less time for other important tasks on my list, and I cannot bill for that extra time spent. As Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live said: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” It helps when I set a deadline or time limit for my work.
4. Say “No” When You Need To
I wrote a blog post on my personal website called “Building a Legal Practice: Say “Yes” Until it is Time to Say “No”” I’ve learned that it is important to say “yes” to new opportunities to build your brand, bring in clients, increase business, but you must be careful of burnout. Be selective of the files you take on, the volunteer opportunities, the speaking engagements, etc. Is the opportunity one that you are excited about? One that brings in some money? Or, one that will help build your personal brand? Assess the opportunity before you say “yes” and add another thing to your to-do list.
5.Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Are you doing admin tasks that are taking you away from your legal practice? Is there a part of your client in-take process that can be automated? Are there routine steps that a junior lawyer or law clerk can do to free up your time? I understand why lawyers feel like they must do everything (they are ultimately responsible for their law practice), but you are the billing lawyer. You are making the money. You should not spend the majority of your time doing non-billable work. Have your assistant answer the phones or outsource this to a call service, automate your intake process or automate your social media posts, consider outsourcing any overflow legal work to freelance lawyers…there are so many ways to free up your time so you can focus on the work that you really want to do!
What are your productivity hacks?