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Getting things done: how to manage your to-do list

As lawyers, clients trust us to get things done. But do we always know how to get things done ourselves? In the age of overloaded inboxes, messy desks, and fleeting deadlines, it is difficult to balance all the responsibilities that we owe to our clients, our families, and ourselves.

In comes the dreaded "to do list." Many variations on theme, both old-fashioned and electronic, involve some sort of list that is sorted either by date or a level of priority for what needs to get done. Overdue items may be in red, and something due next month is probably not even visible.

In his best-selling book "Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity," author David Allen suggests that in addition to the due date and level of priority, two other extremely helpful characteristics of each task are the time needed to complete it and its context. This comes down to not only WHEN something must be done, but also WHERE it could be done. Face it, one cannot write an appellate brief while sitting in traffic, but that may be a good place to return some voicemails. While waiting in court is probably not the best time to make phone calls, reading through that deposition transcript might just be the perfect task.

Contexts could be as simple or as complex as one wishes to make them. I use home, office, car, hotspot, email, and "anywhere" as my contexts. Numerous high-tech tools, most of them free, exist to help manage a to-do list David Allen style, which include context as one of the factors to consider when deciding what task to undertake. Some of these apps even analyze how much time you're willing to devote to a block of work, and then come up with a recommendation on what task or tasks would be best to tackle given the interplay between the time available, the current context, the priorities and the due dates of your tasks. Mobile apps designed for this purpose can even sense the context automatically by using your phone's GPS and motion sensors. To find these tools, search for "GTD" or "getting things done" in your app store. My favorite is toodledo.com.

My task list, including all tasks on client files, has 382 items on it, some with due dates three years in the future. But how else would I remember to renew my driver's license? The context for that task is "hotspot" -- hopefully we still have these in 2017.

Tip courtesy of Dmitry Lev, Esq. of The Lev Law Firm, Law Offices of D. Lev PC in Watertown.

Published March 4, 2014

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