Lawyer time management when you run your own law firm

Independent lawyers often start their own law practices in search of the elusive work-life balance. With a little planning, and a good dose of lawyer time management, you can achieve a sense of balance and have a personal life.

First, as we have discussed in previous blogs, you need to begin with a mindset shift. If you have recently left a larger law firm, part of that shift includes letting go of the traditional law firm model. You don’t need to structure your own firm around the almighty billable hour in order to find clients or earn a living.

When you begin with a growth mindset, you can problem-solve more effectively, and a key problem you need to solve as an independent lawyer is how to run your practice efficiently and profitably. Let’s take a look at how to do that:

More hours doesn’t mean more production

As you build your practice, consider how many hours you want to work (hint: it should be a lot less than 70 hours per week) and how you can best serve clients in the amount of time you allot.

Nobody gives out award badges for sitting in front of a computer for 12 hours per day. In fact, your productivity declines dramatically after 50 hours of work per week. A Stanford University study showed that:

“…employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.”

Think about how you feel at hour 50 or hour 70. Your clients deserve better than that exhausted and half-hearted effort – and so do you. Do everyone a favor and schedule your time in a way that maximizes efficiency and emphasizes quality work.

How to do more with less time

The key to effective time management is finding a system that works for you. Ideally, that system will not require weeks of planning or large sums of money. Some of the simplest time management techniques have proven most effective.

A few examples include:

1. Start with the most difficult task

Many business professionals refer to this approach as “eating the frog,” which originates from a Mark Twain quote:

“If you have to eat a frog, don’t look at it for too long.”

The task you dread the most? Do it first. When you tackle and complete a difficult task, your day tends to unfold more smoothly. It also helps you avoid procrastination and rumination – two habits that can easily unravel your attempts at managing time effectively.

Sure, checking email seems innocuous, but when you combine it with procrastination, it can quickly distract you from your most important work. Likewise, ruminating over the stress of a project doesn’t help you complete it. When you complete that ugly task, however, it relieves the stress and frees your brain to move on to other tasks.

2. Use your calendar, but don’t let it use you

If you tend to work best with visual cues, use your calendar to map out your day or week. Before you schedule your week, think about:

  • Pressing deadlines that need hands-on work time
  • Important meetings
  • Business planning, marketing or brainstorming that needs focused, uninterrupted time
  • Family events
  • Your physical health (time to sleep, eat well, exercise, visit the doctor…)
  • Your mental health (fun, travel, down time and whatever else that keeps you ticking)

Those last three items are where calendars often fail, because people often fail to prioritize them. If you plan to use a calendar for truly effective time management, block out time for both work AND for life. Then keep those appointments. As you review each day’s schedule, those personal blocks will serve as a visual cue for using your work time efficiently.

If you work well during the work blocks, that supports both your financial and mental freedom to enjoy the personal blocks.

3. Use technology, but don’t let it use you

Make use of tools that support efficiency, but know when to draw the line.

Your smartphone allows you to answer a client call and manage a crisis quickly, but it can also distract you from focused work time or restorative personal time. Set phone hours and stick to them. When communicated clearly, your clients will know when they can reach you and when they can’t.

Arrange a system for clients to reach you in true emergencies, if needed, but try to stick closely to your scheduled hours. Studies show your brain needs down time in order to innovate, create and focus, so think of those off hours as an investment in your business as much as an investment in your personal life.

Practice management software and customer relationship management software can help you automate so many processes. Just know when to walk away from the data, or the marketing, in order to allow for focused work time. If you feel the need to micromanage an automated process, then you’re really adding to your workload rather than easing it.

Set the stage for success

The right work environment can make all the difference in how well you use your time. If you currently work in coffee shops or a home office with a lot of distractions (hey, we all feel the call of cookies/coffee/chips from the kitchen), you might need to change your work space.

An executive suite or shared office space where you can focus on work, and draw a clear line between work and home, can help you develop a more efficient work structure. For many people, walking into a dedicated office space full of other professionals can help spark more focused work time.

To learn more about coworking for lawyers in Denver, contact us. We offer a variety of work space options at three central locations.  

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