THE ONE THING I LEARN about myself when I grew my first law practice from a solo to a partnership and began hiring more and more staff: I value control over my time much more than I value money. As our firm expanded, and we got busier and busier, I no longer felt in control of how I spent my days, and it did not make me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to make money, too, and I think when we make more money in our businesses, it helps us create more freedom and opportunity in our lives. However, if making a lot of money means I have to come and go at the behest of someone else, well, to quote comedian Heather Land, “I ain’t doin’ it!”
Still, even when it’s just us, and we have no bosses, no partners, and no employees, we can quickly become slaves to our businesses, struggling to keep up with the demand of clients who want us to be accessible 24/7, particular in this day and age of ubiquitous technology.
Does this sound familiar? You wake up and before you even get out of bed, you pick up your phone and start scrolling through Facebook or e-mail messages. You see a message from a client, and your mind immediately starts racing, composing a response. Before you even go pee or brush your teeth, you’re already in “work” mode–and stressing out.
By the time you get to the office, or perhaps even on the drive there, you are “putting out fires” and blood pressure is starting to climb–not at all how you planned to start your day. In fact, you don’t get to that project you were planning to start on first thing in the morning until after lunch. Of course, you can’t work on it for very long, then, because your assistant set a new client consult for the middle of the afternoon. That made you late for the mediation you scheduled after that (because no one allowed for travel time in the schedule). But the time you get back, it will be after five, so you likely are going to need to be at the office until 8. There goes dinner with the family, and forget all about that bootcamp you signed up for…
1. Everything–and I mean everything (including travel and personal time)–goes on your calendar.
2. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done.
3. If it IS on the calendar, it absolutely gets done, and in the time allotted for it. If you run out of time to finish a project, you schedule the next available time block to finish it. If other demands arise–and they will–you try first to schedule them around your existing commitments. If they don’t fit in your calendar for the week, then you bump them to the next week, or the week after that.
4. Like items are grouped together to improve efficiency. This is time blocking. So, for instance, new client consults are schedule from 2 to 5 on Tuesday afternoons and 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays, Mondays are admin days, reserved for working ON your business and not IN your business. Mediations, case conferences, settlement conferences and hears are scheduled on Tuesday mornings or Thursday afternoons, and Wednesdays and Fridays are for substantive work for existing clients. You always set aside 15 minutes at 8:00 a.m. every morning, 1:00 p.m. every afternoon and 6:30 p.m. to check and respond to e-mails. (These are just examples. Your goals is to find a time blocking plan that works for you.)
5. As much (or greater) emphasis is set on your function as the CEO of your business as it is on working IN your business. You ALWAYS keep appointments with yourself as though they were as important as appointments with clients.
When you first start going it, time blocking may seem hard. You’ll be tempted to fudge here and there, to cancel appointments with yourself, to re-prioritize your plans when others ask (or demand) you do things when they want them done. Just remember, though, you have options. You do not owe anyone an explanation of why you are or are not available at a particular time. You know the needs and demands of your business better than anyone. We teach others how to treat us by creating and sticking to our boundaries. Rarely, are matters as urgent as others would have us believe. Most often, it is simply the goal of other people to persuade us that their priorities are more important than ours.
P.S. If you are struggling with time management and productivity in your practice and would like some help, reach out to me to schedule a conversation.