Managing your time is crucial to your success in the legal profession, no matter what role you play. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and overworked when you are juggling court appearances, client meetings and file work.
When we work at the edge of our time capacity, we are often under pressure to complete tasks or meet deadlines, which can lead to increased stress levels and a decreased ability to focus.
This can make us prone to making mistakes or being upset by even small diversions or change of instructions, which can further compound or overwhelm.
Proper time-management strategies can increase your productivity, reduce stress, increasing your threshold for left-of-field requests, and help you achieve your goals.
Here are some tips to help you manage your time more effectively.
Prioritise your tasks
To effectively manage your time, you need to prioritise your tasks. You could make a list of all your tasks that you need to complete and rank them in order of importance or urgency. You could use Eisenhower’s matrix to sort your tasks and help you determine the order in which you should complete them. If you are keen to use AI in your practice, ChatGPT has the ability to order your task list according to Eisenhower’s matrix.1 We urge you not to include client-identifying data in ChatGPT.
Use time-blocking techniques
Time blocking is a technique where you schedule a specific amount of time to complete a task. This technique helps you stay focused and prevents distractions from taking up your time. Use your calendar or time-tracking app to schedule your day in advance. Often, we underestimate the time it will take to complete a task, this technique requires you to be realistic in your expectations.
Pomodoro is a technique where you do your task in intervals of 25 minutes of time with a short break between each interval. This might work for transactional matters, but the 25-minute intervals may not be suitable when engaging on higher-level or deeper-thinking work tasks.
Distractions can take up a lot of your time and decrease your productivity. Turn off notifications on your phone and inbox (unless you are expecting urgent instructions on a matter) and close your social media apps.
If you work in an open-plan environment, you may need to communicate with your co-workers to reduce their interruptions to your work focus.
Taking breaks is important to prevent burnout and increase productivity. Take regular breaks throughout the day, such as a short walk or a quick stretch to recharge your batteries.
Learn to say no or not yet
It is tempting to take on every task and every client that comes your way. Junior practitioners may feel obliged to take all the work delegated to them. However, this can lead to overwork, stress and burnout.
While junior practitioners may not feel empowered to say no to work, they should learn how to say “not yet” to enable them to renegotiation times for commencement and completion of tasks.
An important skill in legal practice is learning to say no to tasks or clients that do not align with your goals or skill set, or that you do not have time for.
Use of technology
Use technology to your advantage – practice management, document management software and task management apps can all assist you in organising your workload and streamline your processes.
Delegating tasks to other members of staff can help you free up your time to focus on more important, or more urgent, tasks.
Time management is essential for the legal profession. By prioritising tasks, using time blocking techniques, minimising distractions, taking breaks, learning to say “no” or “not yet”, using technology, and delegating tasks, you can maximise your productivity and achieve your goals. Effective time management is more than just doing the work, it is about doing the right work at the right time.
If you feel like you are already on the edge of breaking point, making a list is still your first step, followed closely by the advice to learn to say no or not yet to any future tasks or clients. If your list is truly unmanageable, ask for help. Be proactive and seek assistance either from your supervisor or co-workers.
If you are a sole practitioner, perhaps it’s time to speak with a colleague and consider outsourcing or contracting in additional labour assistance. The QLS Locum Service connects sole to small practices seeking short or fixed-term assistance with experienced solicitors, and can be an invaluable asset for overflow work.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the demands of legal practice, speak to someone at LawCare about taking back control of your day. LawCare is your partner in health and wellbeing when you need a helping hand, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. QLS members can use this service to access confidential support to help navigate issues in both their personal and professional lives.
1 See the ChatGPT prompt example under “2. Task prioritization” at https://www.betterup.com/blog/chatgpt-prompts