It is safe to assume that every attorney, no matter the size of the firm, aspires to become more efficient. Efficiency – broadly defined as the time it takes to complete a given task – can mean the difference between a troubled firm with a harried owner and a prospering one led by an attorney who can spend most of his or her time practicing law.
It’s important to remember that efficiency is not innate. It’s learned. As is the case with anything learned, improvement is possible. Here are six tips – ranging from simple to strategic – attorneys can try to boost their efficiency.
- Track all your time, not just billable hours: No attorney would say that he or she enjoys tracking billable time, but most would agree that it’s a necessary evil. To understand where you are squandering valuable hours (if not days), try tracking how you spend all your time, even if you only do it for a week. It is a simple exercise that will show you exactly where you are wasting time.
- Each day, prioritize: Once the phone starts ringing and your inbox starts percolating, it’s not hard to lose sight of what you set out to accomplish that day. Try this: As soon as you sit down at your desk, take a few minutes to jot down your top priorities. It will help you subconsciously keep these tasks front and center.
- Upgrade to the experts: Clients come to you because you understand the law and they don’t. How much time in a day or week do you spend on things you don’t really understand – and don’t care to? Marketing is the lifeblood of your firm, but many attorneys have little enthusiasm for it. Consider hiring outside help. It can be daunting to sign up for auxiliary services, but think of the precious hours you stand to regain.
- Compare notes: If you have a trusted colleague, it can be enlightening to compare your days. (This is especially helpful if you have tracked all your time for a given week as recommended above). There are portions of the workday that can feel like sunk costs. However, you might only see them that way because you don’t see an alternative. Gaining a sense of how someone in a similar position allocates their time can be very eye-opening.
- Smooth out twisted paths: Paying clients do not just walk in the door. It takes time and effort to get people to hire you. There is no shortcut here, but there are ways to trim the time and energy you spend on new business development and other multi-step processes. Whether it’s hiring an answering service or turning your digital marketing over to an expert, you can still reap rewards without expending your personal capital.
- Experiment with monotasking: Multitasking has become the norm, not the exception. However, some successful businesspeople insist they accomplish more by focusing on one task at a time. Different styles work for different people, but since we all just accept multitasking as the status quo, it might help to try something new. If it means getting more done in less time, it’s certainly worth a shot.
Though quite different from one another, there is a common thread between these tips: honesty. Being honest with yourself on such issues is usually difficult, but it can yield strong dividends. A solid, matter-of-fact assessment of how you manage your time is a good first step toward efficiency.