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Manage your practice by managing your time

December marks a particularly stressful time of year. You may be anxious to tackle your professional to-do list before making plans with family, finishing up last-minute holiday shopping and ringing in the New Year. In order to get everything accomplished this month, you'll need to be effective in managing your time. Here are six helpful time management tips:

1. Ascribe to a method of time management. Try out proven methods and get insight from other attorneys. Then, customize your own approach; there is no "one size fits all" solution, but there are many effective techniques out there to adopt. The following are popular time management methods for attorneys:

  • Pomodoro Technique: named after the "pomodoro" ("tomato" in Italian) kitchen timer, this technique breaks down work into 25-minute time intervals.
  • KanBan: a visual productivity system that originates from Toyota's "just-in-time" production system. An app called Trello can be used to implement this system.
  • Get Things Done (GTD): a system of prioritization to organize tasks, founded by management consultant David Allen.
  • Total Workday Control: a system of productivity using Microsoft Outlook.
  • 18 Minutes: as a result of his Harvard Business Review article, columnist Peter Bregman developed this process for prioritizing your day in just 18 minutes.

2. Begin and end your day with a task list. Rather than check e-mail as your first order of business, review your task list and schedule. Determine which tasks you will complete that day and when you will complete them. Next, prioritize those tasks. Conclude your day by reviewing your task list, crossing off those tasks that you completed and noting those tasks that must be carried over to the next day. Bonus tip: Make sure that your list includes tasks that can be accomplished in one day. That way, even if you don't get to everything on your list, you will feel some sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. This will help keep you motivated.

3. Map out your time. Use your calendar not only to schedule meetings and such, but also to block out time to complete tasks. This visual exercise should help you maintain focus and keep you on schedule.

4. Minimize distractions. While technology has the potential to increase productivity, it can also cause interruptions if not managed properly. Place your phone on "do not disturb" or tell your assistant to hold all calls for a certain period of time. Turn off e-mail and social media notifications (and if you are truly an addict, there are tools available to prevent you from visiting certain websites, like Facebook, for a certain period of time). If you are a Mac user, you can set your iPhone, iPad and Mac (OS X 10.9 Mavericks) to "do not disturb" mode to halt notifications during certain periods of the day. Once you have minimized these distractions, then allocate specific time for checking e-mails and social media, and taking and returning phone calls.

5. Locate your power hour and maximize it. When do you work best? Is it immediately upon arriving at work in the morning? Or, is it later in the evening? Whenever it is, find it and use it. Plan your schedule around your power hour. If it is early in the morning, use that time for completing tasks that require significant focus.

6. Give yourself a break. During the workday, get out of your chair, stretch, take a walk outside, or chat with colleagues. Studies demonstrate that even a 30-second microbreak can boost productivity by 59 percent. Try doing something non-work related on your commute to and from work. Enjoy that time to yourself.

Start by employing one or two of the aforementioned techniques this month. You will be surprised by how one simple change can help increase your productivity.

Tip courtesy of Heidi Alexander, Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Published December 19, 2013

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To learn more about the Law Practice Management Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members, contact LPM Section Chair Cynthia E. MacCausland or Vice Chair Damian J. Turco.
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