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Productivity for Lawyers

…weekly planning…daily planning…project management…setting priorities…delegation…time management skills…improving work habits….

You have to get your billable hours for the month in today, you're president of your civic club and they're holding on line two with an emergency, your best client has been waiting to see you for twenty minutes and you're due home now for your daughter's birthday party. Sound familiar? Welcome to overload; too much, all of the time. So what do you do when you have a lot of things going on in your life and they are all important?

The answer is:

  1. Don't take on any task that is not consistent with your values and your life plan.
  2. Be as productive as you possibly can.

Your values and life plan are part of the life balance issue, but productivity can be improved dramatically.

Here are a few simple rules:

  • Don't over-commit. Just say “No” and don't be flattered into a commitment you don't have time for.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver. Give yourself a reserve of time. If you can prepare the contract by Thursday noon, tell your client you'll have it done by Friday afternoon. Deliver it on Thursday and you'll be a hero.
  • Use a gatekeeper. Train your secretary in how to protect you from unwanted interruptions.
  • Set up telephone free time. Nothing breaks concentration like having a client call about a matter unrelated to what you are working on. Mark off on your daily schedule the times when you accept phone calls and when you don't. If you need to, give your gatekeeper a list of special clients to put through. Educate your clients as to when you usually accept or return calls; they will usually call during those hours.
  • Learn to handle your email efficiently. You can save up to an hour a day by having your secretary check your email, get rid of the junk and reply to routine correspondence. Use your junk mail filters. Know how to use folders to organize your email. Get help learning this if you need to – it's worth it.
  • Nix the net. If your Internet connection is always on and the computer dings whenever you have email, turn the instant notification off, it's too easy to stop what you are doing to read your email.
  • Schedule your time. Make appointments with yourself to work on particular important matters and honor those appointments. You don't always have to decide what to do next; it's on the calendar.
  • Give yourself sacred time to plan, every day. No interruptions, twenty to thirty minutes to review your progress, prioritize work and set your schedule.
  • Shut the door. Nothing stops unnecessary conversations like a closed door. Educate your partners as to your work habits. They won't be offended if they understand when you need to be left alone.
  • Delegate. If you think you don't have time to train someone, think again. You simply can't do it all.
  • Lastly, just for emphasis: Don't over commit! Have the wisdom to understand that you can't be everywhere and do everything. Just say “No.” Do a better job on fewer commitments and enjoy what you are doing more.

Consider productivity to be your continuing personal challenge. Make it a game. Try to keep raising the bar. Make it fun.

Coaching for can help. It doesn't really matter how much time you spend at the office, what matters is what you accomplish and how much money you make. The coaching model is especially effective in helping attorneys become more productive. The first step is a discussion of the typical workday and particular problem areas. Next the client and coach brainstorm to determine what specific actions will be most effective in improving productivity. Accountability to the coach then helps the client turn these actions into daily work habits resulting in more work being done in a shorter time with less effort. The bottom line: more billable work performed and more time for your personal life. What's that worth to you?


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