Quimbee logo
DMCA.com Protection Status

Time Management for Lawyers

5.0 out of 5 Excellent(39 reviews)
Start your FREE 7-day trial
Preview this course and the rest of Quimbee's CLE library for free with a 7-day free trial membership.
Buy this course - $49
Get access to just this course for $49
Play video

Time Management for Lawyers

I once heard that the legal profession is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie. As lawyers, the more work that you get done, the more pie, or work, that you are assigned. If young lawyers do not learn how to manage their time and case load effectively, this can be a source of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm throughout their entire careers. This presentation discusses what time management is, why lawyers should care about time management and discusses various methods and techniques lawyers can use to get organized. This course will discuss why multi-tasking is not effective, why procrastination seems so satisfying in the moment, and how to break the habit loops that can keep lawyers stuck. By the end of this presentation, the participants will have several tools to utilize to become more productive and manage their legal practice and lives more effectively.


Cheyne Scott
Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, PC


Cheyne Scott - Hello and welcome to Time Management for Lawyers. My name is Cheyne Scott, I am a Partner with the law firm of Chasan Lamparello Mallon and Cappuzzo, law firm located in Secaucus, New Jersey, and I am also a Certified Life Coach. I help lawyers make partner without burning out. How do I have time to do both of these things? That is because I have effective time management skills and I am going to teach them to you today.

So, what we're going to do during this presentation is we are going to answer the question what is time management? And then we're gonna look at why lawyers should even care about time management? Does time management affect everyone the same way? Why does multitasking make you less effective? Why do you procrastinate, and how can you stop? And finally, what are practical time management techniques that attorneys can utilize?

So let's define time management. It is defined as the practice of using the time that you have available in a useful and effective way, especially in your work. It is also a form of decision making used by individuals to structure, protect, and adapt their time to changing conditions. So the three themes of time management are; structuring, protecting, and adapting. So time structuring is how people apply their activities to time using a schedule, a planner, or other devices that represent time in a systematic way. So think about the idea of routines, calendaring, scheduling.

So, I have a bit of a morning routine, and then I practice time block scheduling, which we will discuss when we get to the practical time management skills at the end of the presentation, but that's just an idea of what it looks like to structure your time.

The next theme is time protecting, that is how people set boundaries around their time. So maybe putting your phone down and putting it on do not disturb while you're working on a deadline, maybe saying no to your college friends request to have a quote, unquote, "Quick chat about a legal matter in their life." Those are examples of protecting your time from things that are not going to move you forward in whatever you're going goal is at that time.

And then there's time adapting, how people are responsive and flexible with their time. Examples, a meeting is canceled. Do you watch Netflix, or move something up on your calendar that was next on your to-do list? Maybe you have a meeting on your calendar, but just received a motion for a temporary restraining order, and the judge chambers is calling you to argue the matter right now, how are you going to adapt? Or maybe you're on your way to court, but just found out your child's daycare is closing because of a COVID outbreak. How do you adapt? And that's what time adapting is.

So why should lawyers care about time management? Well, we look at success, wellbeing, and ethics, and how time management works with them. So time management and success; studies have shown a link between time management and job performance. So first of all, by having a job, you demonstrate a sense of stability, or being in law school, or being in any higher education, you have to manage time, and so there's some level of stability and scheduling in your life. And time management is positively correlated with motivation, proactiveness, meaning the more people manage their time, the more likely they are to be motivated and proactive. Studies have also shown a link between time management and wellbeing. The link between time management and wellbeing goes back to ancient scholars who taught organizing one's time was necessary to a life well lived. Time management gives people a feeling of control over their lives, and with that increase of control and self-efficacy comes a reduction of stress and anxiety, specifically the effect of time management on life satisfaction is 72% stronger than that on job satisfaction. Just a reminder that our lives are a big microcosm and a job is just part of that. And so, if you are increasing your life satisfaction overall then the job satisfaction in my opinion goes with that. Time management and ethics.

So, there are a few court rules that can be affected by time management. So the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, rule 1.1, competence; rule 1.3, diligence; rule 1.4, communication; and rule, 8.4 misconduct. So let's start with rule 1.1 on competence. That rule states that a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. Rule 1.3, diligence. A shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. So comment two of rule 1.3 provides that a lawyer's workload must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently. This comment requires a lawyer to exercise competent time management skills, such as monitoring the status of multiple projects, defining and prioritizing a project's sub tasks, tracking and meeting deadlines, and estimating the time required for the adequate completion of all of the various components of the lawyer's workload. Comment three to this rule warns lawyers to avoid procrastination as quote, "A client's interest often can be adversely affected by the passage of time or the change in conditions, in extreme instances as when a lawyer overlooks a statute of limitations, the client's legal position may be destroyed," unquote. I say this often that 99% of mistakes can be fixed. That 1% includes statute of limitations, resumes and cover letters, okay? Those are mistakes that may not be able to be remedied. And so, it's really important to manage your time when it comes to statutes of limitations so you're not finding yourself in violations of rule 1.3 for diligence. Rule 1.4, communication, requires that a lawyer must keep a client informed about the status of a matter, and promptly comply with reasonable request for information. Unfortunately, one of the most common forms of bar complaints is when the client just is not getting communication, when they're not getting return calls for a significant amount of time. And often it's just, the lawyer is overwhelmed and they just don't have time and there's so many cases, but when that bar complaint comes in, then that's more time that you have to dedicate than you had to dedicate before, whereas if you would return the email, return the phone call, there could have been a different outcome. Then there is 8.4, misconduct. This is a big one. Rule 8.4 says, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to; A, violate or attempt to violate the rules of professional conduct, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another; B, commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects; C, engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; D, engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; E, state, or imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official, or to achieve results by means that violate the rules of professional conduct or other law; F, knowingly assist a judge or judicial officer in conduct that is in violation of applicable rules of judicial conduct or other law; or G, engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status in conduct related to the practice of law."

Okay, let's talk about some examples of ethical violations and time. So there was a lawyer in West Virginia who was suspended for billing over 24 hours in a day. Now, I know the joke that lawyers become lawyers 'cause they're not good at math, but there are not more than 24 hours in a day, I would never recommend billing more than that. There was a matter where a lawyer was suspended for three months for failing to memorialize an agreement among other failures of due diligence. Often, this will happen when there is a failure to manage your time and the settlement agreement is done, but it's just never put in writing, and this can be a very serious violation as was in this particular case. Another ethics case, a lawyer was publicly reprimanded for failing to prepare for trial as a municipal prosecutor. I will tell you preparing for a trial as a municipal prosecutor is a very difficult task. It takes a lot of time, it require witness prep, and documents, and exhibits, but there isn't responsibility on the lawyer to manage the time effectively. And it had to be so bad that the person was unfortunately reprimanded for the level of unpreparedness that occurred. And finally, a New Jersey attorney was disbarred for ignoring an estate matter for years, becoming paralyzed by not knowing how to handle the matter among other transgressions. This is something that I see or hear stories about more often than you think, where someone is not familiar with an area of law, they get paralyzed in the indecision, paralyzed in the fear of not knowing what they're doing, and instead of either referring it out to someone else or asking for help, they just put it in a drawer and hope it'll go away. They start ignoring phone calls and emails, and then eventually after years the bar complaint is filed and then everything is found. So, this is kind of a discussion on time manage but also a reminder that asking for help is always a better alternative than being paralyzed and putting it away.

Let's discuss some malpractice warning signs. A disorganized office. I know many people who will say to me, "I know where everything is in my office." And that seems really true until you get a call from the court and you need to find something immediately, and your pile of legal pads, and redwelds, and documents, and sticky notes, and paperclips, and pens that you forgot existed are all in a pile and impossible to find. Another issue with that is if you are injured or unfortunately die, there has to be a way to find things in your office and find things in your files. So, it's just a good idea to keep some level of organization in your office. I'm not saying you have to Marie Kondo it, but at least needs to be in some level of repair, and that way you are more likely to manage your time effectively because you know where everything is. Disorganized files, same kind of concept. You have files everywhere, and then you have no idea where this document is, where that document is, where that sticky note that said exactly what the judge wanted is, you're just not keeping it organized and that's going to waste a lot of your time. Failing to keep a personal calendar. I have a digital and a paper calendar. Some states ethics rules actually require that you keep a calendar, and it keeps you organized, productive, and efficient with your time. Being a sloppy timekeeper. For example, guessing time can get you disbarred. Just like that case I told you about with a person who billed more than 24 hours in a day. One best practice tip that I have is billing twice a day, bill during your lunch break, and then bill at the end of the day. Do not wait until the next day to bill. You will tell yourself, "Yeah, I'll come in early and I'll bill," you will not, you will come in, and then you will start working on the next thing, and then you'll say, "Oh well, I'll bill at the end of today." And then the end of the day comes and you're completely wiped out. And then that trend continues until the end of a week where you know you have worked an excess of 80 hours 'cause you've been so busy, but for whatever reason, you have no recollection as to what you you did. And that's where you start guessing time, and that's where you get into really big trouble. I don't recommend it.

The next point, so is time management for everyone? Does it work the same for everyone? And the answer is no. Unfortunately time management literature has been traditionally directed towards the childless and to men. So for example, time management manuals will tell readers that they're gonna have all this productivity, but then that level of productivity may not be accessible to women or people with children. So for example, if they're saying, "Hey, you have to get up at five in the morning, do your meditation, and write in your journal, and then work out, and then you will have your day together." But that's not keeping in mind that someone who has a small child and getting their kids ready in the morning, someone with a higher level of housework, may not fit with that typical male-oriented time management advice. And then there's also this issue with false and unrealistic equivalency of time management of famous people. So, if you've ever heard, "Beyonce has the same 24 hours in a day, or Jeff Bezos has the same 24 hours in a day," but they have more time to get things done than average people who can't afford a nanny, a driver, chefs house, cleaner, personal assistant, and so, it's important when reviewing time management literature and studies to take a step back and see can this apply to everyone, and so, it's not necessarily accessible to everyone, even though we all have the same 24 hours in a day.

So let's talk about common time wasters. So one of them is management by crisis. You don't calendar anything, and you don't put anything in your calendar, you trust your memory, and every day is plagued by a crisis that could have been avoided by just calendaring. So you're saying, "What, the judge's chambers is on the phone? I had a status conference?" So you drop everything. You rush into your office to find the file, which is buried under 50 other files. You breathlessly search for the Zoom invite, but you have about 20 of those in your email, but then you finally find it. You show up to shovel to the Zoom as a judge is wrapping up the status call and directs you to speak to your adversary about the details. But your adversary doesn't like you. So you never follow up, and then when the next status conference is scheduled, you do the same dance again. So that's an example of management by crisis.

Another common time waster is telephone interruptions. Caller ID and voicemail are there for a reason. If it's not the managing partner or your primary partner calling, then it can wait. I cannot tell you how much time I've wasted answering a call that was not anticipated and not scheduled, and then ending up speaking to someone for a very long time. So you might get a call from a potential client, great. You have a voicemail for a reason to set that potential client up for an intake call. But if you interrupt your current work to speak to that potential client and you haven't had parameters to that call, the 10 minutes that you wanted to spend on that call can turn into an hour easily. Or maybe a colleague calls you up to catch up that you could have scheduled for convenient time. Let non-emergent calls go to voicemail, and schedule time to call them back so that you're not stealing time from something else that you need to get done.

Another time waster is inadequate planning. So say for example you have an appellate brief due on the 15th. You haven't started anything until the seventh. And by the end of the day, the first day that you started working on the brief, you realize you started way too late. You then spend nights trying to catch up on the research, and you're sorting and organizing the underlying trial record, meanwhile, your other cases are suffering. If you had started earlier, you would have time for all of your other work. Another time waster is attempting too much. You scheduled multiple matters for this week, and now you're overwhelmed and don't have time to complete them effectively or efficiently. And so, you beat yourself up and tell yourself, "Well, I just don't have enough time," well, no, you just attempted to put too much stuff on your calendar at once.

Another time waster, drop in visitors, this is almost similar to the phone calls, but a lot more enticing because it's a human at your door. So even when your door is closed, people take your presence as an invitation for a chat when you are a nice person. They knock, you wave them in. They say they only want to take a minute of your time. An hour later, you're behind on the whole day and decide to give up, instead of telling them, "Hey, I'm working on a deadline, let's talk at lunch." You let them in, and now you're secretly resenting them when you're the one who didn't set a proper boundary.

Another time waster, ineffective delegation. This applies more to senior attorneys. You're probably not delegating as a first year associate, but even then failing to ask for help can fall under this category. We can offer and get into a place where we believe we're the only person who can work on a file, and then we don't delegate for help, and then you wanna handle everything on your own. The problem is the practice of law is like a pie eating contest, where the prize is more pie. The longer you practice law, the more the work increases, it seldom decreases. So if you do not learn how to effectively delegate, you're going to get stuck.

Next is personal disorganization. We talked about having a clean desk, but for some people, disorganization goes beyond their desk and into all areas of their lives.

Another time waster, lack of self-discipline. An example would be not billing your time before you go home. Another time waster, inability to say no. As someone who is active in local and state bar associations and does seminars and speaking engagements, just like this one, it is difficult to sometimes say no, but then you end up having a lot of things on your calendar that you can't handle. Sometimes you need to limit yourself and set a number of events per year. Well, what about legal work? Well, there is an art to turning down legal work. I would never recommend saying no outright. What I would recommend is saying, "I would love to help, I just wanna let you know I have these assignments due that I'm working on with another partner." Remember, it is not your job as an associate to work out who is more senior and whose work is more important, it is the partner's job to figure that out. That way you're not saying no, you're saying yes, and please tell me how this is going to work with the other assignments I currently have. I know that sometimes when I've said that the partner will immediately say, "Okay, that's fine, I'll ask someone else," or they'll call the other partner, then they'll both call me and say, "Hey, this is a priority, the other one, the other assignment you can do in a couple weeks." But just saying yes to everything is not going to serve you. Other time waster is procrastination, which we're gonna talk about in more depth, meetings, paperwork, leaving tasks unfinished. This goes back to getting distracted by phone calls or drop-ins. You may be working on something, you get distracted, and then you don't finish it, but then you completely forget about it until 4:00 a.m. panic wake up time. Other time wasters, inadequate staff, socializing, confused responsibility or authority, poor communication. This would happen to me when I was a young associate. I would go into the partner's office, they'd give me an assignment, I'd take copious notes, I'd get back to my office, and then I'd realize I had no idea what they wanted. And then I'd panic because well, I don't want them to think I'm an idiot. So I do an assignment and give it to them and hope it's right. This is a waste of time if it's not what they wanted.

When I was in law school they taught me that you have to always answer the partners with a memo. Now that I practice I see that they don't want a memo. Sometimes they want an email with case summaries with the cases attached. They want a phone call saying that you found what they were looking for, and then they'll tell you what to do next. Ask questions. Communicate and make sure you're clear so you're not wasting your time or the partner's time. Another time waster, inadequate controls in progress reports. Sometimes partners are terrible at giving you feedback. When I was an associate I used to wonder, "Why don't they give me feedback? Did I do a good job? Was it terrible?" Now that I'm a partner, I get it, they were swamped and busy. It's no excuse, but this is what's happening. My feedback as an associate was getting more work. So you may waste time because lawyers are not the greatest at giving progress reports like you're in school. And so, often you're not sure if you're doing a good job and that's gonna cause you to procrastinate more. Couple other time wasters are incomplete information, and that could be incomplete information about an assignment, which goes back to poor communication, and travel.

Okay, so let's talk about multitasking. Multitasking is the simultaneous performance of two discreet tasks. This typically applies to automatic tasks, such as walking and talking, you can do those two things at this time. Simultaneous performance of non-automatic multiple tasks is not possible. So, texting and driving, those are non-automatic multiple tasks. Multitasking does not lead to better performance. There was a study done of pharmacists. Second year pharmacy students were given 10 prescriptions to check and to record and write down any filling errors. The students in the study group were given a cell phone and were interrupted by the researcher who was posing as a talkative customer. So the students in the control group were given no distractions. And so, when subjects were multitasking and getting those phone calls while they were filling those prescriptions, they took significantly longer to complete the prescriptions and they made more mistakes. Another interesting result of the study was that the students self-perceptions of their multi-tasking abilities were not related to the speed in which they completed the prescription checking task nor their accuracy. In other words, the students thought that they were doing a really good job at multi-tasking, when in reality they were objectively doing a terrible job. So not only is multitasking not effective, but we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that we're doing a really good job just because we have that feeling of productivity, which gets us to the concept of task switching, that is changing between two separate tasks sometimes rapidly. So each mental switch from one task to another distracts the mind from the primary task. Think about a time in which you have sat down to watch a crime documentary on a streaming service. So you're watching the crime documentary and then you start scrolling through your phone. And then it gets to some crescendo of the show, and you completely miss it 'cause you were texting or because you were scrolling on your phone. So you rewind it to a few seconds, the 30 second rewind, but then you get a little bored in the 30 seconds leading up to that one part that you missed and you look back down at your phone, and oh my gosh you missed it again. This is because you are doing a mental switch between watching the crime documentary and looking at your cell phone. So, in order for you to get that part that you keep missing you've gotta put your phone down. These switches come with the cost of mental delay, prolonged duration of activity, reduced quality, and increased workload.

So there was a study of ER doctors and they found a few interesting things about task switching. First, interrupted tasks were completed more quickly than uninterrupted ones. So the authors theorized that physicians shortened the primary task to compensate for their interruption and to make up time, potentially hurrying to complete the task by taking shortcuts, not fully completing some aspects of the task. Each of these has the potential to increase medical errors and subsequent risk to patients. Another interesting thing they noticed were that interruptions occurring just before a task was completed, or during a key step in a task increased the risk of error through task component in completion. So maybe you drafted the proposed order for the motion, but forgot to add a section that was required by the court rule because you were interrupted as you were doing that. And so, there's increasing literature citing the danger of distraction in air flight, driving, and healthcare that comes from all these studies about multitasking and task switching. And it takes the mind time to return to a primary task after it's interrupted. So when a task is interrupted, the time to resume the initial task varies and depends on the duration, how long were you interrupted, the cognitive demand, and the timing of the interruption. And if you're working on a brief, and someone stops by your office to talk to you about last night's basketball game, and you talk maybe five minutes, it's going to take you some time to get back to the brief. It's not an instant return, and in some cases, instead of going back to the brief, you'll start looking up stats, seeing what the other sports websites have to say about your team, what are your favorite players saying on Twitter? What's your rival team saying? This makes you inefficient, but it seems really important at the time, which takes me to procrastination. So what is procrastination? It is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite knowing that one will probably be worse off for the delay.
Another definition sounds a little bit more scientific, the primacy of short term mood repair over the longer term pursuits of intended actions. In other words, procrastination is about being more focused on the immediate urgency of managing negative moods than getting on with the task. So procrastination stems from the selves discrepancy between the current self and the future self. So the version of you who does not have the summary judgment brief done, and the version of somewhere in the future that has the summary judgment brief completely done and has moved on with life, is on the weekend enjoying their best life. So the perception of the gap between the present, the person who hasn't done the thing yet, and the future self, the person who has done the thing, seems really far and out of reach, and can generate negative mood states. So this dissonance between the present and the future creates a negative mood. And the negative mood motivates avoidance and disengagement from necessary and intended tasks. And the negative mood states may also trigger defense reactions to protect the current self at the expense of the consideration of the consequences of the future.

 He here's a non-legal example. You had a new year's resolution to work out. So you signed up for a gym, you went twice, and you haven't been, and now it's February. So your mom asks you one day when you're on the phone, "Hey, when are you gonna work out again?" You get defensive and you say, "You know what, it's too cold," you'll do it when warms up. But then it warms up around April or May, and then you say, "No, I'm too busy with work." And then in August, "Oh, it's too hot to work out. Their air conditioning doesn't work that well." And, oh, look, now it is January again, and you've had a gem membership for a year and you haven't used it, and you beat yourself up about it. And so procrastination is also linked to shame, recalling that you procrastinated before feeling shame, and then using that as evidence that you can't do the work now. And even when you catch yourself procrastinating, when you still have plenty of time to complete the assignment, then you decide that you still can't do it because then you'll complete the assignment later than you wanted to, and then you'll have to feel the regret of putting it off so long. So, you decide it's better to just stay here and not do it at all because doing nothing to protect yourself from feelings that you're actually feeling anyway seems like the safer bet. Okay, how do we fix this? The first step is awareness. So let's simplify this process so that you can see what's going on in your brain and you can know that nothing has gone wrong, you're just a human with a human brain and there is a way to change this pattern.

So, one thing to look at is the habit loop, that is a neurological loop that governs any habit. The habit loop consists of three elements, a cue, a routine, and a reward, and this comes from the book, "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. And it's probably one of the best time management books that I've ever read because it breaks it down so simply, and it changed the way that I looked at all of my habits, non-legal and legal. So say for example, you're working on a case with an adversary that you don't get along with. Unfortunately this will happen in your legal practice. So, every time you sit down, do the assignment in this case, you feel anxious, you feel annoyed, you feel frustrated. That's the cue. So instead of working on the task, you get up and you get a snack, and if you're in the office, you'll go to the vending machine and buy some garbage, or if you're working from home you go to the fridge or to the cabinet, you get some chips or you get some cake, whatever snack is available. And so, the reward is that you temporarily escape the anxiety, annoyance, and frustration, and you get a little hit of sugar and salt from the snack, but you're not getting the work done. So your brain is signaling this loop and it feels like it's happening to you and that you can't stop it, but really you just taught it that avoiding feelings is more important than getting the work done, and you get to have snack instead of getting work done, instead of having that negative experience of having to talk to this adversary. So now you're not getting work done, and you're getting COVID weight, and you're blaming it on the case when it's really just you. So to break the habit loop you first need to be aware that it's happening, then, accept that it's not something outside of your control, this is just a habit loop. So when you sit down and begin to work on the assignment, you let those feelings of anxiety and annoyance and frustration just be there, nothing has gone wrong, but we're not running from it. And then you watch your brain, play the video of you walking to the kitchen and grabbing the bag of chips or cookies and just say, no thank you, and if you sit for about five minutes, less than a .1, eventually your brain says, "Okay, well, I guess I'm not dying. I guess can live without the routine and the reward, do whatever you want." And then you start working on the assignment, and you show your brain that nothing has gone wrong, and you break the routine and the reward cycle and you replace it with something else. The routine is now that you do the work, the reward is a feeling of accomplishment you get when you're done. And you're just telling your brain, "I'm not gonna die, and it's safe for me to work on this."

Another way to look at breaking the procrastination cycle is the self-coaching model. And the self-coaching model is the main tool that those of us certified by the Life Coach School, by Brooke Castillo teach, it's a tool that if you learn it, apply it, and become a master of it, you can really use it to change any area of your life, especially the area of your life where you procrastinate. And so it has five elements. There is a circumstance, a thought, feeling, actions, and results. So a circumstance is something that happens in the world that you cannot control role. So a non-legal example would be weather, traffic, a baby crying on an airplane, these are things that you cannot control. And these things cannot create anything for you until you have a thought about it. And a thought is a sentence that happens in your mind, and your thought creates a feeling that is a one word description of the sensations in your body caused by thoughts. If you're thinking I'm so glad that it's sunny, you are going to feel happy. How do you know if you're happy? It's a sensation in your body, you feel whatever feeling that happiness creates in your body. What if you're upset about it raining? Well, you know you're upset because you feel it in your body and that's caused by your thoughts. And then you have actions, that is your behavior, what do you do, and what do you not do in the world because of how you feel? And then finally you have your results. What you see in the world has an effect of how you act. The result will always be evidence for the original thought.

So how do we apply the model to procrastination? Well, here's an example. So a lot of times procrastination will come from being a perfectionist. And so, let's say the circumstance is that a brief is due tomorrow, 100% neutral cannot create anything for you until you have a thought about it. And your thought is, "If I do complete this assignment perfectly, the partner is going to be upset." And because of that, because of that perfectionism, you're feeling anxiety. As a result of that anxiety, you're procrastinating. And then you procrastinate, you let the time continue to go until you can't handle the discomfort of the procrastination any longer, and then you rush to complete the work. And then you overlook mistakes in the writing because you're working on this from a place of anxiety. And your result is you complete the assignment in a rush, you make the mistakes and the partner is upset. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You didn't do this because the brief is due tomorrow, you did this because you believed that the partner would be upset if you didn't do it perfectly. Let's look at this differently. So same circumstance, brief is due tomorrow, and you think to yourself, "I'm due doing the best I can." That probably feels better, and you feel deliberate, and you stay focused on completing the assignment. You complete it in enough time to thoroughly proofread it. And as a result, you take deliberate control over the assignment and you do the best that you can. Do you see the difference here?

Another example, the let's talk about procrastination and time scarcity, when you are convinced that you don't have enough time. So let's say you have five briefs due next week. You keep looking at the calendar, they are on your calendar. And your thought is, "I have too much work to do and not enough time to complete it," and you feel anxious. So as a result of that, you procrastinate. And so, you're scrolling through social media, you're completing other non emergent tasks, you're watching videos on your phone, you're complaining to others, a lot of times I will find myself on the group chat complaining about work or walking down the hall, I'm that person that's interrupting someone. And then sometimes you might believe that once you get this assignment done, we'll never be in this situation again, somehow it keeps happening. And so your result is you don't have enough time, but that's not because you didn't objectively have enough time, it's because you spent all that time procrastinating and doing all these things like scrolling on the internet and complaining that if you had actually taken the time to work on something, you would've gotten things done.

So let's change this. Same circumstance. Your thought is, "I have time to get everything done," and so, you are more intentional. And so, from that place of being intentional, you start to cont adversaries to request adjournments. And then you start working on the assignments that were not adjourned, and you stay focused and off of social media and away from distractions. And as a result, you do have time to get it all done. But do you see the difference here? When you believe that you have too much and you can't complete it, you're not gonna come up at the solution of asking for adjournments, or your brain is gonna tell you, "Oh, your adversaries hate you, they'll never agree to it." Or if you've journaled this too many times, it's a lie because your brain is always going to look for evidence of what you're thinking because your brain wants to be efficient. And so, if you continue to follow this habit loop of time scarcity and perfectionism, your brain is gonna become really efficient at procrastinating and really efficient at managing time inefficiently. So let's talk about some time management tools. So I hope you can see that between the habit loop and the model, how you think about a circumstance is really key as to how you manage your time around various circumstances. So it's not just about tools, which we are talking about next, you could have all the tools, all the apps, all of the calendars, all of the books in the world, but if you don't understand the underlying cause, the psychology behind why you procrastinate and what feelings you're avoiding, then it doesn't matter how many tools that you have, you're still gonna default, and then you're all gonna believe something's wrong when it's really just that you're avoiding negative emotions.

So with that in mind, let's talk about the time management tools.

So the first one is the Pareto analysis, the 80/20 rule. And so, the idea of this theory is that 80% of results will come from 20% of your effort. And so, awareness of this can help you focus on activities that will have the biggest impact in your career and your personal life. We do not realize how much small time wasters take up 80% of our time, and that the difficult things that we don't want to do have the biggest impact on our lives. So what this principle looks at is what 20% of your tasks will really help you grow in areas that you wanna grow. So for example, what 20% of your tasks will really help you grow at your law firm? And what behaviors do you really engage in that are destroying 80% of your chances of success? Are you being too argumentative? Are you complaining instead of working? Are you coming late to work? Are you not billing your time each day? These are things that you maybe don't wanna do, but have the highest impact on your success. Another question that the theory looks for is which one or two activities are responsible for 80% of your time wasted? For me, it used to be answering phone calls that I'm not anticipating instead of letting them ring and go to voicemail, or allowing people to drop by my office, instead of saying, "Hey, can we talk at three o'clock?" And so, this rule is really good at just getting you clear on what your priorities are currently, and whether they can be moved around so that you're focusing on the 20% that will really make a huge impact in your success.

The next tool is the Pomodoro Technique. That is a time management method, uses a timer to break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks, and each interval is known at a Pomodoro from the Italian word for tomato. And so, you want to decide on the task that you want to work on, set the Pomodoro timer, typically for 25 minutes but it can be less, and then work on the task, and end work when the timer rings and take a short break, about five to 10 minutes. This can be really good if you're working on sections of a brief. So maybe set 25 minutes to work on the statement of facts of a brief, or set the timer to work on a memo, set the timer to review documents if you've gotten discovery in, and it's good to just break it up with a break, go take a walk.

The next tool is the Eisenhower Matrix, or the Eisenhower Principle. This is a method that utilizes the principles of importance and urgency to organize priorities and workload. This method stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, where he said, quote, "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent," quote. Eisenhower did not say that he created the matrix. He actually attributed to a former college president, but they gave it to him, so we call it the Eisenhower Matrix. So the tasks are evaluated using the criteria of important or unimportant and urgent and not urgent, and then placed according to quadrants on the matrix. The important and urgent quadrant tasks are done immediately and are usually involved with personal matters, so crises, deadlines, and just problems. So a flat tire, that is urgent and important, you have to do it immediately, a crying baby, a call from a managing partner, motion for temporary restraining order or an order to show cause that requires an immediate court appearance, you do that. The next quadrant is important and not urgent. So think of date night, that is important, but not urgent, it doesn't need to be done right now. Spin classes, vacation, things that you will schedule that are important to you, but don't have to be done right this second. The next quadrant is unimportant and urgent. So those can be interruptions, calls, meetings, email notifications, those types of things. And then there's unimportant and not urgent. And those are tasks that need to be dropped. Time wasters, social media, Netflix, Amazon shopping, that's not to say that you don't do them ever because obviously those are things that we enjoy doing, but we delete them from our work day, we delete them from our time in which we are in a productive space.

The next tool is Parkinson's Law. This law says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This challenges a notion that working harder means working better. So for example, if you keep telling yourself that you'll just finish this assignment on the weekend, then you will work every weekend because you've expanded the time of all of your assignments completion. But if you tell yourself, "Hey, I'm not gonna work this weekend." Your brain will find a way to get it done. You will be shocked at how efficient you can get when you say I'm going to do this in two hours, I'm going to do this in four hours. Now, some assignments and some tasks can't be done in that amount of time, but once you start to understand how long things take when you are uninterrupted, you can start to create a pattern in which you are more efficient, and when you set a time limit and you're less distracted.

Another time management tool is the Getting Things Done method. The GTG method rests on the I idea of moving all items of interest, relevant information, issues, tasks, and projects out of one's mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items with known time limits, in other words, efficient lists. One of the partners I worked with when I started practicing law told me that you're in your first year, just still working off your bad habits from academia, where you memorized a lot of information for a 15 week semester and then you dropped it. In the practice of law there are no semesters, and you can't possibly expect your brain to remember things, you need to write them down. The practice of law is not a closed note test. The notes are open and you can write them all down and look at them. So don't recall things intuitively, get them down on paper. And so the GTG method simplifies things by putting them all in one place, and so, your stress can be reduced and your productivity can be increased by just having things that you're not working on right now on a list so that you're not worrying about, "Did I forget something," it's already on the list and it's going to be taken care of. And so you can work on the task that you have in front of you without distraction from the other things that you will do later. Everything is on a list, you will learn to trust yourself. And this system requires you to have the following; an inbox, so this is where you write everything down. It can be an app on your phone, it can be a app on your computer, it can be a list on your yellow, legal pad. When tasks come up, you put 'em in the inbox, you write them down. Next is a trash can. That's where things that you don't have to do can go, trash them, if they're not necessary, they go away. Next is a filing system. One of the hardest things for lawyers is filing things. You have a mountain on your desk. You claim to know where everything is until your boss, or the client, or the court calls you suddenly asking where something is and you have no idea where it is. For every new matter that you open, you need to have a redweld with file folders, with your pleadings, your correspondence, your documents, your discovery, your attorney notes or research. This will vary depending on what type of law you practice, but those are the common categories for litigation attorneys. So when documents come in, you put them away in your filing system immediately, and you calendar when you're going to review them, don't keep them on your desk to passive aggressively stress yourself out since you haven't looked yet.

A key point on your notes, do not, and I cannot stress this enough, do not have one dedicated legal pad for each file. This seems like a really great idea first until you put the wrong legal pad in the wrong file, or you start writing about another case on the legal pad and now you have notes from another case in the legal pad in the other file. The pages of your legal pad are perforated for a reason. When you take notes, even if it's on multiple cases in one sitting, you write on one page per case. You rip that page out of the legal pad, you put it into your attorney notes folder for that particular case. That way you're not struggling six months from now to find what your client told you about the document because you have a filing system that you are following. Next one is several lists. And so for me, I do a list for work, a list for bar association activities, a list for personal, and a list for business. So, those are my lists of to-dos. And then you want a calendar, paper or digital. I use both, and that's where we get into one of my favorite methods, time blocking. Time blocking is a productivity technique for personal time management where a period of time, usually a day or a week, is divided into smaller segments or blocks for specific tasks or to dos. So it combines the function of a calendar with the to-do list. So, take your lists, estimate the amount of time that you need to do each task, and put it on your calendar.

Example, you have a motion for summary judgment in a labor and employment case. And you can put work on summary judgment motion on your calendar for Monday and Tuesday, but that is too vague and your brain isn't going to want to work on that. So if you break it down to, okay, a material statement of facts, and even break that down into sub parts, print out and review all deposition transcripts, print out and review all medical records and reports, create a timeline line, and then maybe you have outline legal arguments, sub parts or research, print out and review all cases, prepare case summaries that you can put right into the brief, how many cases? My rule of thumb is one hour per 20 pages. So you can kind of estimate the time it's gonna take you to review a case and create a case summary based on how many pages are in the case. Analysis, you'll set time aside for that, break that down into arguments, how long will each argument take? And then you have the conclusion. So once you've estimated all the time, you can see how many days it will take you to work on the summary judgment brief. Now, will this be a perfect method? No, but the more you do it, the more you're going to have an understanding as to how long each section takes, as opposed to just blocking summary judgment on your calendar. Also, instead of getting into the procrastination of, "This is too much, and I don't know where to start, and I'm doing this wrong," you'll be changing your thoughts to, "I can do this, I know where to start, and I'm doing this." Plus, you've created the artificial urgency of a deadline instead of pushing up to the real deadline and rushing out of anxiety. You will see your productivity change and you'll notice that you're less exhausted. When you fuel your work with the feelings of intention, and determination, and certainty, you're going to feel a lot better than when you fuel your work with anxiety, stress, and fear.

Finally, Eat The Frog technique. A quote from Mark Twain, "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." So the frog is the one thing that you have on your to-do list that you have absolutely no motivation to do, and that you are most likely to procrastinate on. And so the concept of eating the frog means just do it, otherwise, the frog will eat you meaning that you'll end up procrastinating for the rest of the day. And once that task is done, the rest of the day will be an easier ride and you'll get both momentum and a sense of accomplishment at the beginning of your day. Now, sometimes the frog is something that I think is going to take forever, like a summary judgment brief. Most, I would say 99% of the time, the frog is something that will take me 15 minutes or less, making a phone call to someone that I don't particularly like, sending an email in a case that I don't really like at all. And if you don't do that thing, it eats you all day until you do it. And so, get it out the way in the morning, then watch as your productivity shoots up because you're no longer avoiding the feeling you think that doing the thing will create. So, let me talk about my methods and best practices that have worked for me in my last 10 years of practice. So I looked into all of the above time management processes and combined them a bit.

The first step was awareness. So first I found that Parkinson's Law explained why I was working really late at night and why I was spending so many weekends in the office while I still did not have a significant increase in my time sheet because I was giving myself too much time to finish things, and I knew I had be more disciplined with my time. The 80/20 rule in the Eisenhower matrix helped me identify my time wasters and taught me how to truly delegate and let things go. I learned about the habit loop and saw why I was compulsively checking my phone when I didn't want to work on something. And I learned the model and was able to come up with the thoughts that created useful feelings that would drive me to do the work and to have results I wanted at my work.

Second step was everyday application. So the getting things done method and time blocking combined were the most effective tools for my time management. So, Sunday nights, I separate out my time by personal work, bar association, and business, and I make a list of everything. So for personal, I set my workout goals for the week. So you could write out, I wanna work out three times this week, I put the TV shows that I wanna watch on the list. There's so much TV out there, and if you let yourself go you'll end up binge watching instead of actually getting work done. So for example, this week, the final season of "Attack on Titan" is out, so I wanna get home on at least one day next week so I can watch it. So that's an example of a personal thing. Anything else that you do that's personal, maybe you have to renew your driver's license, maybe you have to take your suitcase to the repair shop, maybe you have to do grocery shopping, that is personal, put that on your personal list. For a bar association events, I list whichever ones are coming up that week on the list. For work, I have a running list of all of my cases by case name, file number, discovery, end date, important deadlines in a Google doc, and then I access that on my phone, home, or work computer, and I just go methodically through that to make sure that I know what's coming up that week. Next to each item on the list I write what is the estimated time, then everything goes in the calendar. I use Google Calendar. I've tried all these fancy and expensive online planners, it doesn't matter what you use, I find Google Calendar to work the best for me because it's free and you can color code and you have it on all devices. So, personal is in purple, red is work unless it's a court appearance, which is in green, bar association is orange, and business is light blue. Now, I do have due dates, meetings and deadlines in my paper calendar, but the actual time blocking where you can actually see how long you have allotted for everything is in the Google Calendar. And so, after you fill in all of the time blocks, I have one hour of open time each day, which is in gray, a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the afternoon, if possible. Obviously if you have an all day mediation, deposition, trial, hearing, you don't have any open time, but on a day that you're working in the office all day, I keep open time and that's where unexpected phone calls, drop-ins, or email responses go. So for example, I might put a 11:30 to 12 time block for open, and a 3:30 to four o'clock time for open. And let's say somebody draws by my office at 10 o'clock while I'm working on something, I'll say, "Hey, do you wanna talk at 3:30, or do you wanna talk at 11:30?" And so that way I automatically know where to put someone.

Let's say, for example, I see that I got an email in, or I see a phone call come in, I will put them on that open time. One important thing that I did is I turned off all notifications on my phone and my computer. Every beep and beep turns into task switching, which makes you inefficient. It is also a part of the habit loop. You hear the noise, you have a cue, you try to resist the urge to look, but you're feeling like you're missing something that's definitely urgent. So you enter the routine of looking and you get the dopamine hit, the reward of stopping that discomfort of missing out. Take that loop away, move all of your social media apps and email off the front page of your phone, make it so then when you pick your phone there is a slight separation between you and the apps. Now, this won't stop you every time, but it may make you stop and think, "Uh-oh, I'm procrastinating, I'm in a habit loop, let's take a walk instead." So instead of going through the day thinking, "I don't know what to do," the list is there, the calendar is there, and you don't have this decision fatigue and being paralyzed by indecision, it's all there in front of you. And then finally, I always make sure when I'm scheduling and time blocking to eat the frog first, that method really works, you put the thing you don't wanna do first, and sometimes I will pair it with something that I enjoy. I might do something as simple as have my morning coffee as I'm doing the thing I don't wanna do. I also have a video game theme music playlist on Spotify that I play when I'm doing something that I don't wanna do. Now, this won't work for everyone, but it certainly breaks the seriousness of the moment and it hits you with nostalgia. And these are my best practices, combining all the tools that I mentioned.

 So to recap, we talked about what time management is, why lawyers should care about time management, whether time management affected everyone the same, why multitasking makes you less effective, why you procrastinate and how you can stop, and multiple practical time management techniques that you can utilize. As I said before, it doesn't matter which tool you utilize if you haven't determined why you're procrastinating. So I really encourage you to take the time and pay attention to what you're thinking and feeling the next time you decide that you want to scroll on your phone instead of making that phone call that would take 15 minutes that you really don't wanna make the phone call for. And from there, you can pick the technique that works the best for you. And you can do what I did and just combine a bunch of different techniques and just kind of see what works, it's trial and error, you will never be 100%, okay? We ebb and we flow, we have weeks in which we are super energized, and we just have weeks in which we're tired. So we don't wanna turn this into a perfectionist fantasy where if I just get this time management together, I will be the lawyer of the year. You're already a good lawyer, these are just ways to improve your skills even further. If you have any questions for me, my information is here.

My name is Cheyne Scott. I am a partner with Chasan Lamparello Mallon and Cappuzzo, I am also a Certified Life Coach, and I talk a lot about time management because without time management you can burn out. So please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. I hope everyone continues to be safe, and healthy, and have a great day.

Start your FREE 7-day trial
Preview this course and the rest of Quimbee's CLE library for free with a 7-day free trial membership.
Buy this course - $49
Get access to just this course for $49

Course materials

Supplemental MaterialsHandout

Practice areas

Course details

On demand
1h 0m 35s

Credit information