If you take just a bit of time to manage your time, you can squeeze a lot more work out of a day. This takes some thinking, adjusting, and perhaps acquiring the necessary discipline to do this regularly and incorporate these steps into your routine. The benefits include happier clients, the ability to do more work with the resulting financial reward, and more free time to do your favourite activities.
There are various means you can use to manage and prioritize your time, alone or in combination:
- Fully utilizing your calendar
- Blocking time for distracting activities (emails)
- Utilizing your existing time management software, e.g. Outlook
- Specific time management training
One of the most simple, useful, and oft-overlooked ways of managing time is to get in the habit of blocking time on your calendar to work on matters that need attending. Start or end your day with a brief organization session where you block out what you need to do and when. Every time you get a “to do” from a meeting or call, put it in your calendar. This works for paper and electronic calendars.
Emails and phone calls can become distractions that detract from your ability to get the most out of your day. They are often best managed by having blocks of time reserved to keep them from ruining your productivity. Your email can have an automated response to manage expectations, for example, setting up an autoresponder to explain that you only check your emails X times a day. The trick, of course, is to use much less time to complete each task by being uninterrupted and more organized. None of us can get much done if we are constantly being pulled in various directions simultaneously throughout the day.
Other calendar, legal, and email systems have time management functionality. Effectiveness grows with getting the most out of your software, including accounting software and Outlook; something which often involves training and the formation of habits. We hear from lawyers who find they use only a fraction of the software power they pay for. Investing time and money into learning more about the software you already own should increase productivity and maximise the value gained from this software. If you do that, more of your time becomes billable and you do not feel as much pressure to reduce fees because you are now working more effectively, which benefits the clients.
You probably already own very good time management software if you have Outlook, which integrates calendar, email, and task setting, along with scheduling functions. It isn’t particularly hard to learn. When you have a task that you know must be performed by a certain time you can enter it by using the task function with a set date to start working on it. If you have an email that needs a response, you can simply flag it on the newer versions of Outlook and it will automatically create a task.
A good investment can be time management training. You pay a fee and spend a day or two getting trained, which you can quickly recover if you adopt the teachings. At NSBS, several of us have taken a great 1-day program on using Outlook from Priority Management, featured at the Solo/Small Firm Conference in 2020. If you know of other good programs, let us know.
Templates are another wonderful way to gain time. Again, learning how to maximise their impact involves training you, your staﬀ, or both. Microsoft Word is in common use, for which some techniques allow you to use your intake document to complete forms that you develop. Other available software will do the same, typically by type of law (e.g. corporate, property, wills, estates…).
Tech solutions for time management are common CLE topics, so look for sessions or
talk to your friends in other ﬁrms to get recommendations.
Resources: Time/Priority Management
Law Society of Ontario, “Time Management”, (September 2014). lso.ca.
CLIA’s “Safe and Effective Practice” from 2010 remains a wonderful resource for lawyers and has a substantial section on time management which is still a great read and very useful. It is not currently available in print or online. Many lawyers who were in practice at that time have a copy so your firm might have it; if not simply borrow it via our library.
Ellen Freedman and Claire Barnes, “Capturing More Time (And Billing it Too!)” (April 2009). L’Association Du Barreau Canadien. cba.org.
Sean Dillman, “Microsoft Word for Lawyers (Step-by-Step Walkthrough)” (13 June 2022). Online: YouTube.
Sean Dillman, “Microsoft Word for Legal Assistants (Step-by-Step Walkthrough)” (13 June 2022). Online: YouTube.
There are many similar options: search “word lawyers” and you will see various videos that walk you through ways you can use this ubiquitous program to produce efficiencies.
Teresa Matich, “Top 13 Microsoft Word Tips for Lawyers” (May 2023). CLIO. clio.com