You Do Have Time!
One of the most popular “excuses” we hear at the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program is “I don’t have time.” Yes, I understand that lawyers are busy, but it seems like this phrase has become an excuse for many things. “I don’t have time to take care of my mental health. I don’t have time to talk to a therapist. I don’t have time to exercise. I don’t have time to get a physical. I don’t have time to send my mom a birthday card.” The truth is, every person has the same amount of time; it’s the way you use it that makes the difference. Consider some of these tips on how to better manage your time.
Audit your time
In a quest to get more sleep and focus more on her health and well-being, my wife Gretchen, also an attorney, recently conducted a time audit that she compared against the schedule she thought she was following. She tracked every minute of every day of what she did for one week. This wasn’t a rounding up exercise, such as “from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., I read the paper.” This exercise focused on what she did every minute. At 8 a.m., she walked out to get the paper. At 8:01, she noticed that some of her flowers were starting to wilt, so she removed the faded flowers from the plants. From 8:08 to 8:15, she realized she needed to water her plants, so she went inside and filled her watering can, went back outside and watered the plants, and put the watering can away. At 8:17, she picked up the paper and walked inside. When she was opening the paper, her computer dinged notifying her of an email. She opened up her laptop and started answering email messages. By now, it was 8:35, and she hadn’t even read the first page of the newspaper. She was already behind schedule.
This exercise taught her many lessons, one being that she is easily distracted. Her goal was to read the paper from 8 to 8:30, but she spent all of that time and then some on other tasks. It also made her realize how much time she was wasting. Until she wrote down all of her digressions, she never knew how much time she was wasting. She recommends writing down what you think your schedule is, and then going back and looking at it after you record your minute-by-minute time audit. You’ll realize how many interruptions you had in your schedule.
Early to bed and early to rise
We all know that getting enough sleep is important for our health. What would happen if you woke up an hour or two earlier every day? Plenty of positive things! There is something motivating about waking up while everyone else is still asleep. This is your time to focus on yourself. You can start your day with exercise, meditation, reading the paper, finishing that brief you put off, etc.
If you have children, waking up before them can be very helpful for your day. It is difficult to meditate, read, exercise, work, or pretty much do anything else when your two-year-old needs your attention. Take this time for you!
When you wake up early, you are more productive throughout the day, which means you should be able to fall asleep faster and easier at night.
A 2019 study from Clio determined that the average lawyer worked just 2.5 hours of billable work each day in 2018. If you work an eight-hour day, that means you are only using 31% of your day to bill clients. An easy way to increase this number is to delegate. There is a good reason you have support staff and paralegals. Delegate less profitable work to paralegals and non-billable tasks to other staff members whenever you can. Before you start a task, ask yourself if this is something a paralegal or administrative assistant can do. The time you spend making copies and updating client files can add up to a significant amount of time—time you could use for billable hours.
Organize your day
How much time do you spend in the mornings trying to figure out what to wear, making lunches, or getting children ready for school? Try to accomplish these tasks the night before. Maybe your children are old enough to do some of these things themselves. Hold them accountable!
During that extra hour or two you have in the mornings (when you start waking up earlier), figure out how you will spend your time during the day. Review your work calendar, your family calendar, and determine the best way to organize your day.
It is easy for all of us to lose track of time and get distracted during the day. It’s tough to focus on a task when you have notifications chiming, people stopping by your office, children calling you asking you where the cereal is, phones ringing and myriad text messages. Instead of answering each email, text or phone call as it happens, set aside time for each. When you are working on a client case, close your email, and put your phone on silent mode. This will help you focus more on the task at hand.
What will you do with your extra time?
Tracking your time has many benefits. If you are honest with how you are spending your time, you might find that you actually do have time. You could enjoy a round of golf, focus on your mental health, take your significant other out on a date, visit your mom, bill more hours, or just sit down and watch your favorite television program. You deserve it!
If you find yourself stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, seek help. The Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program helps lawyers, judges and law students manage life's stresses. OLAP has saved lives, careers, marriages and families. All inquiries are confidential. (800) 348-4343 / ohiolap.org