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    April 28th, 2008

    And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon,
    Little boy blue and the man in the moon,
    When you coming home, dad?
    I don’t know when…
    We’ll get together then,
    You know we’ll have a good time then…♫

    Writer and vocalist, Harry Chapin.

    Ah, Monday morning! A fresh start on the week. Good thing that you took that file home to work on over the weekend – just imagine how busy the schedule would have been like otherwise! Let’s see – have to prepare for that big discovery this week. But the phone starts to ring and your secretary brings in the mail and despite good intentions, you are soon lost in the activities of the day. By Tuesday evening, the discovery has been pushed to the back burner of your mind by other pressing demands. On Friday afternoon you remember that the discovery is set for Monday and you still hadn’t prepared your notes. Stuffing the file into your briefcase you have a pang of guilt recalling that you had promised to take your daughter skiing this weekend. Oh well, she will learn that business comes first…

    Despite the best security systems and locks on our office doors, time bandits sneak into our lives and steal away our most precious asset. These time bandits learn that certain of us are more vulnerable than others to this capital offense (truly capital, for it robs away our lives). Fortunately there are codes to live by that will stop this crime from occurring.

    • Get a head start by taking 10 minutes before you leave the office today and write out your “must do” objectives and priorities for tomorrow. This allows you to come in and hit your desk running with a clear understanding of your objectives for the day.
    • Handle a piece of paper once and only once. Having picked up a letter, memo or fax, dictate a reply, write instructions for filing or draft a response WITHOUT letting go and putting the paper back down on your desk. Or, stand at your desk until you have finished going thru your mail. The very act of standing forces you to make decisions and take action rather than procrastinating. Better yet, walk to the scanner and scan the letter so that you can file it into your electronic file and get it off your desk.
    • Avoid time-wasting activities, both for you and your secretary. Don’t dictate a letter if a telephone call will do. Use e-mail rather than faxes or letters. If you must write a letter, have standard letters prepared for common situations that take just a moment to be modified, rather than re-creating the wheel. Start a knowledge bank in SharePoint or other collaborative technology.
    • Stuart McLean of Morningside once interviewed John Goddard[1] who, at age 15, sat down and wrote out a list of the things that he wanted to do before he died. When he stopped there were 127 items on his list. In his mid-sixties, he had checked off 108 items, and was working on the remainder. Now, sit back and write out your life’s goals. Then imagine that you are looking back on your life and its important moments. How many of these moments were spent working late or on weekends? Consciously take time in your life to schedule in your important goals, and not just those of your clients. Don’t take work home – you are allowing work to take command of your entire life.

    • Take a moment during the day and sit down with your secretary and discuss the files in your practice. Try to remove or reduce any bottlenecks that may be slowing the flow. Listen to their suggestions to make things easier for all concerned.
    • Recall that activities can be divided into five categories (Bliss): Important and Urgent, Important but not Urgent, Urgent but not Important, Busy Work and Waste of Time. Important and Urgent matters get solved. Urgent but not Important activities clamour for attention, but don’t deserve the time they get. Busy Work and Waste of Time are just that – the sooner you forget these, the better. It is the Important but not Urgent activities that deserve attention, but usually get lost in the shuffle. Create a “to-do someday” list and review that list regularly. After all, on this list you will probably find such things as going on that trip to Europe with your spouse, or taking up fly-fishing or windsurfing or writing that book. This is the stuff that memories are made of…
    • Get an integrated practice management and legal accounting system for your desktop computer such as Amicus Attorney or Time Matters + PCLaw, LawStream, ProLaw and others, and start using them. These programs assist you in creating To-Do lists, creating lists of clients and telephone numbers (so you are looking in only one place for address information), in tracking calls and will create an electronic calendar and *so much more*.
    • When you do dictate a letter, file a pleading, delegate a task and automatically create a follow-up entry to check if a response has been produced. This keeps the simmer on and prevents matters from going cold. Moreover, you will develop a reputation in the office for being on top of things.
    • Delegate, delegate, delegate. Use the office staff to your best advantage. Refer out files that do not capture your full energy and enthusiasm. Have others do as much on a file as they legally and ethically can. Free up your time and energy for important tasks and files.
    • Someone once said that life was a series of interruptions interrupted by interruptions. Take time to concentrate. Block off times to work on matters, close your door, put your phone on “do not disturb” and put your shoulder to the wheel. When the allotted time is over, take your calls, and deal with matters knowing that you have used your time effectively.
    • Give yourself a reward for completing a task on your “to-do” list. Get up, take a short walk, grab a coffee, or even just give yourself a mental “way to go” prize. Recall that you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.
    • The most important time-saving tool is liberal use of the word “No”. If you refuse to allow others to take control of your time, you will have kept the time saved for your own use.

    Since we all do not know just how much time we have left, each of us can benefit from using our time to best advantage. Hopefully that includes those good times spent watching our little ones take their first bicycle ride or snowplow turn.

    [1] McLean, Stuart, The Morningside World of Stuart McLean, Penguin, 1990.

     (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)


    This entry was posted on Monday, April 28th, 2008 at 10:42 pm and is filed under Adding Value, Change Management, Issues facing Law Firms, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    3 Responses to “Time and Task Prioritization…”
    1. Jordan Furlong Says:

      Excellent post, Dave! Every lawyer should have a copy on their desk, and should double-underline the last entry. Saying “No” — to the right things — should be considered a survival skill for lawyers these days.

    2. Barb Cotton Says:

      Dave, I’ve got to say, you blog on topics that really resonate with me. Thank you.


    3. admin Says:


      ~Thank You!~

      My litmus test..if it doesn’t resonate with me, it probably doesn’t resonate with many others. But is *is* good to hear the more *positive* other side too!

      Any suggestions on how to do things better? Tips that you can pass along? We all can learn from each other!

      Cheers and thanks,


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