Time is the most precious resource any of us have. Yet, sometimes it seems to completely elude us leaving us wondering where the time went. When I started my family law practice at the beginning of this year it was easy to keep everything I wanted to do in my head. I scheduled specific times for client meetings, networking events, and continuing legal education courses, but everything else was more of a loose idea of when I wanted to do which task. You realize quickly that as an attorney time-management may be one of the most important skills you can possess. Sadly, my years of procrastination were apparently not solid training for the time-management badge. I knew I would need to figure out how to get better at time-management and I couldn’t procrastinate on this one.
I realized that time-management would require me to schedule out my time to be truly effective. But, how do you schedule your time? It took me several weeks of experimenting before I finally found something that works for me. I tried using my phone to schedule absolutely everything, which proved to make everything too crowded to see easily at one time. I tried a large desk calendar, but there wasn’t enough room to write in a full day’s schedule. I tried using the calendar in my law practice management software, but it was hard to access on my phone and too easy to forget about. Finally, I thought about all the things I liked and didn’t like about the methods that hadn’t been working and thought of what my ideal scheduling device would be.
I may just be getting old, but there is something about having a tangible object to use for scheduling. I drove to Wal-Mart to search for my ideal planner. I had a hard time parting with almost $20 for what looked to me like an ordinary notebook, but that ordinary sized notebook was exactly what I was looking for. It was a weekly calendar with each day broken down into 15-minute increments so that you could schedule something different in each 15-minute block if you wanted to. I currently block out sections in 30 minute to 2 hour blocks, but sometimes 15 minutes is the perfect break to give yourself to use for checking emails or just getting up and moving around for a bit. Firm appointments are still kept in my phone as well, but only because I don’t always keep my weekly planner with me. Something I’ve found helpful is using different color highlighters to block out things like consultations, hearings, or time to work on a specific project with an impending deadline. Using a pencil instead of a pen is something else I learned early on because a lawyer’s schedule changes constantly. The highlighter lets me know which blocks of time are permanent and which ones might be able to be erased and “penciled in” later. (Hmm, so that’s where that saying comes from.)
Keeping a planner isn’t just about the ability to physically manage your time; it’s also a great help in alleviating the stress of feeling like you have too much to do and too little time to do it in. Once you have your entire schedule on paper, it is much easier to see just how much free time you actually have. The stress of not having enough time is not only unhealthy, but it is unproductive. The week I didn’t use my planner I got almost nothing accomplished the first two days of the week until I wrote out all my tasks again. I found myself extremely stressed out that week because I felt like I had a million things to do and no time to do them all……as it turns out, there were more like 8 things I needed to do, some of which were made up by a few smaller tasks. After I had them all written into my calendar and saw all the blank space on the pages I felt a wave of relaxation. Ok, it was more than a wave, I fell asleep at 8pm and slept through the night. It was some of the best sleep I’d had all week. Who knew a slightly overpriced notebook could be so life changing. I hope to start posting in the mornings again soon; I guess I’ll have to schedule some time to blog in my weekly planner.