Time management is one of the most important skills for a lawyer to develop.
Too often, though, we tell ourselves that “time management” means the same thing as “work harder” or “getting more things done”.
Those are different concepts, and largely unrelated to time management as an isolated concept.
If you’re going to manage your time then you’ll need to appreciate AND ADOPT some truths about yourself and your surroundings.
Truth #1 – Saying No Lets You Say Yes
By a significant margin, the thing that lawyers do badly is saying no to things. In fact, we generally say yes to everything. Yes to the networking function, yes to the new work, yes to the client that we don’t like, yes to the weekend watching TV.
The starting point for anyone who is going to manage their time effectively is to start saying no.
This is terrifying at first because you will feel like you are missing out on opportunities as a result of your discipline, or that you’ll be perceived as a slacker if you start turning things down.
But once you get it, and once you start habitually saying no to the things that you should, it is a liberating process that will free you up to experience real productivity.
Truth #2 – You Can’t Do Everything and you Shouldn’t Try
Productivity and time management isn’t just about you. It’s about your clients, your family, your firm, and your colleagues.
Why, then, do so many people think that the entire fate of the universe rests upon them alone?
This is inherently connected with Truth #1 above, because by saying yes to everything you will inevitably become overwhelmed with work.
You will then start working longer and longer hours, and you will start to get stressed and feel like you have an insurmountable list of things to do.
Over time – this is personally destructive. You will burn out.
Instead, recognise that that you don’t have to do everything yourself, you can enlist help, and you can get your team working with you.
Truth #3 – Working to your Strengths is the Better Strategy
There are some things that I’m just not good at. By and large, I try to avoid getting into situations where I have to do those things.
Not because I’m worried about being embarrassed or stuffing up, but because doing those things is not the best use of my time.
If I am working on things that are naturally aligned with my strengths, then I will inevitably work better and faster. I will achieve more, and it will be of a higher quality.
Beyond that though, it will also be work that I will enjoy far more than the work which I struggle with.
Of course this involves an element of self-awareness – you need to be aware what your weak areas are, and stop deluding yourself if you think you don’t have any.
At this point someone always says “but Chris, I don’t get any choice about what I do – how can I choose to work to my strengths?”.
Well here’s one: change the way you work.
Have you had a discussion with someone else about it?
Have you actually sat down and considered what you might do?
Or are you just telling yourself it won’t work and you have no power…
I think we all know the answer to that one.
Truth #4 – Generous Productivity Works Wonders
In particular if you are a senior lawyer, then you really need to start thinking about the impact you can have on those around you.
Remember – it’s “time management” not “my personal solitary time management”.
I have coined the phrase generous productivity to combat the perception that productivity is a personal pursuit.
If you can spend 5 minutes helping a colleague, and that then allows them to get another 60 minutes work done faster and better – isn’t that a better investment of time then you focusing only on what you are doing while they flounder around being inefficient?
If someone is waiting for you to make a 30 second decision and you put them off for 6 hours while you worry about your own priorities, is that a good use of time overall?
Of course this doesn’t mean that you should be constantly interrupted, because that will obviously affect you.
But consider how you can adopt habits which get others up to their highest and best, rather than just yourself.
See How It Goes
These strategies might sound simple, but in practice they are rarely utilised by lawyers.
Most lawyers say yes to too many things.
Most lawyers think they can do it all.
Most lawyers don’t acknowledge their weaknesses.
And most lawyers focus on themselves above all else.
How about you be different?