By Mark Hershman, Hershman Associates
Time is money. You may not be able to detail it on a year-end balance sheet or claim a whiled away afternoon as a legitimate loss, but the old adage is still true. For lawyers dependent on hourly billing, managing time is one of the most essential professional practices to be mastered.
It is also one of the most difficult to master. Seasonal fluctuations and unpredictable clients make it nearly impossible to set a rigid daily schedule and keep to it throughout the year. Chaos often reigns over best intentions. Some very specific techniques are the key. Those who practice techniques in the Professional Practice program report a substantial savings in time and increase in cash flow.
Blocking your time into like tasks is a proven tactic for increasing productivity. Not only does it increase efficiency because less time is spent “getting back into the project,” but it is likely to also reduce errors and duplication of efforts. Multi-tasking may be the current norm, but it also is a source of stress and is, usually, the least effective use of time. If you actually stop to analyze what is being accomplished well, you’ll agree that juggling several balls only means that one is likely to be dropped. Your full attention is what clients expect and deserve.
Like multi-tasking, falling slave to electronic devices is another common mistake that is easy to remedy. Continually being interrupted by emails and cell phones results in your attention being divided and a very reactionary use request tends to get more of your time. One person’s urgent request tends to get your immediate attention, whether it really is a true priority task or not. Immediate response is simply not always the best way to address an issue. This, of course, requires discipline, and for many, a major change in mindset. Many times, it is simply as easy as letting phone calls go to voice mail or shutting off the cell phone.
Scheduling everyday activities into a routine time slot is another effective technique for managing your time. For example, setting aside a 2 to 4 p.m. window for a client meeting gives a predictable and organized structure of your day. Similarly, answering phone calls and emails during a set time period and having a designated time when the door is shut and the staff considers this a “do not disturb” time for other important steps in the process.
Encouraging your team to respect and support this system is also key. Once they understand the motivation and benefits, they are likely to cooperate and even implement their own time-management tactics into their day. The result is an entire office that operates more efficiently as a team.
Understanding why and how to set priorities is also essential. This step, although it sounds simple to some, is actually one of the hardest for most attorneys. “Emergency” questions and the last-minute client always seem to push their way to the top of the Must-Do-Now list. This reactionary type of work system makes it nearly impossible to devote ongoing, quality time to long-term issues such as client development and staff management.
A diagnostic look at your working habits and challenges is the first stop in identifying roadblocks and potential for increased efficiency. Then, working with an experienced coach to enact a Professional Practice Solution is the next step. Studies show that those who have used this time-management program have reduced their work time by up to 10 percent and increased revenue by up to 30 percent. Imagine how that kind of result would affect you!