Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England
I wrote a blog on time recording, with some tips for junior staff in particular. Another related issue that I have only recently got on top of is time management.
It takes a long time to master these softer skills, and I am not perfect by any means, but I think I have learned some things that might help. Clearly, good time management should lead to better time recording but, in addition, it should lead to better organisation, less stress and a good work life balance.
Working part time does wonders for your time management. A solicitor once said to me 'if only we could work as productively every day as we do on our last day before a holiday'. That is how I feel every week before a non-working day, and even more so during the pandemic when I am working odd hours around the children - I know I have to clear my desk because I don’t know when I will return to it.
The problem is, of course, that you might not be around during working hours but most other people are, and the correspondence, phone messages and other demands will build up in your absence.
Apart from working part time, being a parent of young children in itself makes me work more effectively. On the days that my husband is working from home, if I leave at 5pm I can have dinner with them. If I leave at 5.15pm, it is too long for them to wait, and not enough time for baths and so on after. I know this from the moment I get to work in the morning, and work solidly in the knowledge of what time I intend to leave.
When I catch up on work at the weekend, I often do it very early in the morning, so that I can still have a whole day with the kids.
You might go home on time for another reason - my point is that having any reason to go home on time is motivating during the day. Don’t judge your co-workers for leaving on time if they have got their work done. They are doing it right.
I only wish I had been so productive before having children. Purely in the time I spent watching GMTV and choosing fashion accessories in the mornings I could have done another degree, or at least made my bed and done the washing up. In fact, I could have probably found a vaccine for a future pandemic in the cultures that would occasionally form under the dirty dishes.
It is all about living actively, not passively. As the great philosopher Yoda once said, 'Try not! Do [open up the file you have been dreading opening up and get on with the work] or do not, there is no try.' He was right.
Here are my tips for time management.
If you are often overwhelmed with where to start, have a list each day of what you need to do - really need to do - that day. I bet it will be smaller than you think.
Do these things as soon as you can stomach them.
Also have a general to do list for the day. Some things are hard, some things take a long time, but the only way to get through them is to make a start. Pick something, and do it. Then pick something else and do that. Often, the thing you think is hard is easy enough when you get your teeth into it. We spend far too much time doing nothing because we don’t know where to start.
Consider writing next to each task how long you think it will take.
If you have 203 things on your list that will each take 45 minutes, consider the possibility that you won’t get it all done today and readjust your expectations.
Unplug, as far as you are able.
Consider closing your inbox if you are concentrating on something, and make yourself unavailable for calls.
More importantly, really consider ditching the social media. You may only be on it for 10 seconds at a time, but those 10 seconds add up and are also generally distracting and tiring. That 10 seconds that you spend on Facebook noticing that some other mum has decided to carry on homeschooling because they all found it such a rewarding bonding experience will take up more 10 ten seconds of your day as you dwell on it. You are there to work, get sh*t done and go home to your family/dog/boxset. You are not there to make voodoo dolls of other mums, it is a waste of chargeable time.
I know you think you will miss something, but really you won’t, especially if you warn people that you won’t be checking it. There was a time when I would think in Facebook statuses, referring to myself in my own head in the third person, such was my regular use of the site. But I’ve now been off it for two years and I can confirm I am not friendless or out of touch. I am exactly the same as I was before. I am a complete person without Facebook. You can be too.
Eat properly, drink properly and have breaks.
You wouldn’t think you could run your car efficiently without fuel and breaks to prevent overheating.
Delegate, delegate, delegate.
In particular, consider your firm’s practice on taking calls from new clients. Do you need to take the calls? Something one legal network did well was to introduce 'customer consultants' who would take calls from new clients. We think we are the only people in the firm who can convert the calls into work, but guess what? It is not that hard with the right training. Customer consultants can spend time chatting, getting to the bottom of which department the client needs, giving out quotes for fixed fee services, and dealing with time wasters. That can save a lot of time for other members of staff.
The added bonus of avoiding calls from new clients is that you don’t waste your valuable time giving out free advice.
If you do have to take the calls from new clients, have the right words ready to get them off the phone as soon as possible. This has taken me a long time to get right, but I am now very good at saying 'I’m not able to advise you now but we offer a fixed fee consultation for new clients, if you would like to make an appointment'. You have to say it early, and firmly. Remember, these people wouldn’t phone their doctor, their dentist, or even their hairdresser and expect them to talk for twenty minutes for free and without an appointment. Value your advice and they will too.
Manage your diary.
My secretary never gives me any travel time. If somewhere is 'a five minute drive away' she never remembers it takes me ten minutes to walk to my car, or that I don’t know where I am going, or that I may struggle to park when I get there. Make sure you have the time you need.
If you need time after an appointment to write an attendance note, factor that time in. If you prefer lots of appointments on one day so that you can then have some quiet days to concentrate, do that. Stagger your appointments with new clients so that you can handle the increased caseload.
Whilst I am not a fan of presenteeism at all, do finish what you are doing before you go home. It is much easier than trying to get back into it in the morning.
Good time management is a skill that can only be learned over time, when you have the confidence and experience to not only manage the size of your caseload well, but of course to actually do the work with some speed and accuracy. Spend time developing this skill, which is at least as important as the legal skills we are required to hone - maybe more so.
*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article