Once you have mastered (or at least accepted as truth) the three basic principles of time management described in last week's column, it's time to tackle the tough job: organizing your time day to day so you can start enjoying life.
Getting control of your time is, at least in my experience, a two-step process: compartmentalization and prioritization.
Big words, these are, but the concepts are fairly simple.
By compartmentalization, I mean dividing your week or day into blocks of time devoted to specific activities and creating walls between them so as to reduce or eliminate distractions — the biggest enemy of any time management program. You know how you can never get a hold of a physician on Wednesdays when they play golf? That's an example of compartmentalization.
Here are some of the ways I compartmentalize my time each week:
Unless I have family commitments, I devote two hours on Sunday night to writing this column. If family commitments prevent me from doing so, I write the column first thing Monday morning and don't do anything else until it's done.
Sunday nights are also for looking at my calendar for the coming week, updating the to-do list and blocking off compartments for each task on my to-do list.
I set aside one hour in the late morning and one hour in the late afternoon for answering phone calls and emails. I try to schedule all calls during these time slots if possible. And during these slots I do nothing else. I try to take less than an hour during each slot wherever possible because responding to emails (and text messages, if you accept them) is time vampire No. 1. As I've said before, an email response requiring more than 50 to 100 words should be a phone call or a meeting.
I schedule one hour on Wednesday for grocery shopping, going to the dry cleaner and doing local errands so I don't have to do them on Saturday.
I work on my book manuscripts and PowerPoint presentations for speaking engagements on Thursday afternoon (usually a slow time in my practice), unless I have a transaction closing the next day, in which case I work on these on Tuesday afternoon.
I schedule two to three hours on Saturday morning to draft contracts and other legal documents I couldn't get to during the week. I will occasionally schedule calls during this period with clients who are working on entrepreneurial ventures in their spare time and can't call during the workweek (I call them "evenings and weekends clients"), but try not to make a habit of this.
I never, ever look at emails on Sunday unless I have a transaction closing the next day, in which case I look only at those emails.
By prioritization, I mean ranking the projects on your to-do list and deciding which will occupy the available chunk you have set aside. Prioritizing your time involves creating a set of protocols to help you decide between project A and project B at a particular moment in time.
Here are some of my protocols:
A business acquisition or other large transaction closing in a matter of days gets top priority, with only a few exceptions.
A call with a new client takes precedence over getting an existing project done. (This may sound backward, but in my world, most new clients are calling several attorneys who they have been referred to, and in that competitive situation I want to make sure mine is the first response, or at least a prompt response.)
Matters involving a large fee take priority over matters involving a small fee, except for consulting and employment agreements, which tend to go to the top of the pile because the client is under extreme pressure to respond promptly and appreciates a quick turnaround, and I can usually do the work in an hour or less so it doesn't dramatically alter my schedule.
Now, some of you reading this are thinking, "Yeah, this all sounds great, but it's impossible to do all the time." And you are right. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to time management — emergencies (such as a sick child or a death in the family) and clients with high-fee projects requiring immediate turnaround always wreak havoc on even the best time management program. You will constantly be updating and changing your plan, and there will be times when something slips through the cracks and you have to apologize to someone whose scheduled call you missed, or whose deadline you can't meet despite your best efforts.
My approach to such solutions is, as usual, to use humor. When a client sends me an email asking, "Where's my document?" or "How is project X coming along?" I always respond: "Don't worry. You are not being ignored; you are only being prioritized," and I follow that with a smiley face emoji. Works every time.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.