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    April 4th, 2022

    Time...

    ♫ But there never seems to be enough time
    To do the things you want to do,
    once you find them… ♫

    — Music, Lyrics and recorded by Jim Croce.

    What is the one thing we all own in equal measure, every day? The answer is simply enough — Time. We all take our daily allotment and spend it on work, pleasure, things we have to do, things we want to do, things we wished we didn’t have to do, things that waste time, and more. How we use it can make us happy, it can make us sad, it can bring about positive change to the world, it can bring a smile to someone’s face, or sadness to another. Two things we can’t do with it is bank it or get more of it. Accordingly, let’s spend a little time to explore how to best manage our time.

    The first step is to write down your goals. These are not just work and career goals but life goals as well. You may want to make partner or launch your own firm. You may wish to do public advocacy work or learn to play a musical instrument or write a play. You may wish to ski more often, run a marathon, or travel. The point is that goals unset are goals unmet. What does success mean to you? Rank your life’s goals, research what has to be done to achieve them and then develop a plan that will take you to your life’s goals.

    Next, write out the tasks that will take you toward your life goals and those that others have set for you. Each task should take you closer to a goal.

    Remember that tasks should be S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Based.

    • Specific: Goals should be tightly focused and clear so you can foresee the steps that need to be taken for goal achievement.
    • Measurable: What gets measured gets done. Have milestones set that allow you to judge your progress toward goal achievement.
    • Attainable: Do you have what you need to achieve your goal? Or do you have to gain experience, education, skills, or credentials to do this? Perhaps you need to set sub-goals to take you toward your big goal.
    • Relevant: Do your tasks bring you closer to your life’s goals?
    • Time Based: Set a deadline for each task to hold yourself accountable.

    Now, sort out your tasks into four categories:

    • Important and urgent: +I+U
    • Important but not urgent: +I~U
    • Urgent but not important: +U~I
    • Not urgent and not important: ~U~I

    Sorting your tasks starts the process of prioritization:

    • +I+U: Do these tasks right away.
    • +I~U: These are your long-term goals. Set aside time for these in your day!
    • +U~I: Delegate these tasks if possible. If not, schedule them lower in priority.
    • ~U~I: Set these aside to do later, if ever (typically time wasters).

    Create a “To Do” list from your priorities and keep it on your desk. This allows you to keep your priorities in front of you at all times. Organize your desk and remove clutter — those are usually distractions.

    Develop good time management skills and habits. Good time management skills can be learned and nurtured over time and will only increase your value to your firm, to your family, and of course, to yourself. They will allow you to find time to do the things you enjoy.

    Set a time budget and allocate a set time to each task and then block off time in your daily calendar based on your tasks. Once a task time is up — evaluate what has to be done to complete the task, create a new To-Do, sort your To-Dos again, and start the next task.

    Cut out all time-wasting activities. Reward yourself for task accomplishment with a small break and reward. Reinforce how good time management works for you and clears your To-Do list as you work through your day.

    Remember that procrastination is the enemy of goal achievement. Procrastination can be a sign of a fear of success, a fear of failure, that you don’t deserve your life’s goal or find a task overwhelming. When the urge to procrastinate comes on, counter it by immediately working a bit on your goal and a task and experience the relief in having started. Break down a big task into smaller portions and conquer each in turn and watch your progress.

    Plan to deal with obstacles and interruptions. If someone walks into your office and looks to be staying, grab your coffee cup and head off to the coffee machine. They can talk while you get a coffee and — you got them out of your office!

    Resolve to stop multitasking. It may feel like you are accomplishing a lot, but that doesn’t stand up. According to bit.ly/bt0422pt-1:

    “Studies now show that multitasking can actually damage the brain. As the brain can primarily focus on one thing at a time, keeping track of multiple things at once or accepting multiple streams of information can lead to decreased productivity and distraction from the task at hand.”

    Consistently work on your Important but not Urgent: +I~U tasks. These are the ones that will change your life’s path as you desire it to be. Plan your tasks to gradually move yourself into the area(s) of practice in which you desire to be. Measure your progress to stay motivated!

    Set a daily billable time goal and track your progress to it throughout your day. You owe it to your family, your firm, and not the least of all, to yourself to grow into being a more effective and responsible lawyer each and every day. Hold yourself accountable for your progress and reward yourself for achieving your daily billable time goal.

    Track all your time — billable and non-billable. There are many reasons for doing this. By seeing where you are spending your time, you increase accountability to yourself and to others. Tracking all your time increases your focus on your +I+U tasks. It exposes your time wasters, time sinks, and traps. It prevents project creep, by keeping tasks within their allocated time budget. You enhance your personal bottom line, which in turn benefits yourself and your practice. Most importantly, it will gradually transform you into a better lawyer.

    Prevent leaks in your time boat. There are many possible ways to leak billable time. The first is the failure to accurately capture time. Up to 40% of your billable time can be lost if not recorded contemporaneously with task completion. A second is to write off billable time at the time of billing. A third is to reduce an invoice to receive payment. A final one is to write off an entire bill as uncollectible. Plug the leaks in your financial boat by using your time to achieve effective client objectives. Remember client satisfaction ulti-mately drives collections.

    Having an accurate billable and non-billable time record allows you to perform analytics on your time and finances. A “Key Statistics” report will show you the financial health of your practice at a glance with such indicators as: Effective Hourly Rate, Work In Progress, Billings, Billing Turnover, your Billing Realization, your Collection Realization Rate, and many more.

    Accurate time records will also allow you to forecast your future cash flows and track them against your cash flow needs, providing you with feedback on your financial health and providing you with needed information for cash flow management.

    Lastly, pass on your hard-earned knowledge. Teach younger lawyers your time management skills. Act as a time mentor and help grow the next generation of associates into lawyers and partners your firm will value.

    Good time management skills can help us all make the most of this most precious of resources, and thereby find the time to do the things we want to do, once we find them.

    (c) 2022 David J. Bilinsky

    (originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association’s BarTalk magazine: https://bit.ly/3qSFo04)

    This entry was posted on Monday, April 4th, 2022 at 8:00 am and is filed under Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Tips, 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.
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