Management matters: Five things lawyers rarely do, but should
Vol. 80, No. 1 / Jan.-Feb. 2024
Jeffrey R. Schoenberger is a senior consultant at Affinity Consulting Group.
We all know lawyers with great qualities: compassion for those they work with, willingness to listen, and the ability to write and speak clearly and creatively.
Hopefully you recognize these qualities in yourself, too. Still, there are five things I’ve noticed lawyers rarely do – but should – to help them even better serve their clients.
1. Use your calendar to its full potential
There are obvious dates we need to track, like statutes of limitations, discovery, motion, and appeal deadlines. You also have deadlines unrelated to work matters, like personal or civic commitments. Use a technique called “time blocking” on your calendar, where you schedule meetings and time to work on these responsibilities.
2. Keep better track of your tasks
We live in the golden age of task management applications. For a solo practice, I’d start with the task management app included with your smartphone, the device you’re most likely to have with you. For iOS users, that’s Apple Reminders. For Android users, it’s Google Keep or Gmail Tasks.
If you need something with more robust sharing/team capabilities, Microsoft 365 subscribers get Microsoft To Do. Google Workspace subscribers can share tasks with Google Keep or Gmail Tasks. The Microsoft and Google offerings are cross-platform (Android, iOS, Mac, and PC). Apple Reminders is accessible on Windows, with some work, but not on Android.
Finally, a third-party option I really like is Todoist. Although a subscription service, it has a free tier, works on major platforms, possesses excellent search and filter tools, and integrates with many web services.
3. Plan your work
While an aimless road trip or walk may be delightful, few people run a successful practice or career that way. If you’re using your calendar and have your tasks and deadlines in order, it’s time to create a clear picture of that day’s work.
Most task management apps have a “today” view that shows the tasks you’ve scheduled for the day. If you want to stay “techie,” I’d start there for a daily plan.
Personally, I eschew tech in this area. I want something physical that gives me the satisfaction of checking off a list. For this, I use Analog, a system of pre-printed index cards from Ugmonk, though there’s no reason you couldn’t use traditional index cards. You can also try index card-sized templates in Notability or GoodNotes.
4. Huddle up
If your practice is more than a true solo situation, it’s good to know what everyone on your team has on their plate. Start each day with a morning huddle. Hold it at the same time every day, and keep it brief. Each team member should arrive with their daily plan. The team leader highlights priorities for the day, and each team member then has one minute to describe their daily plan.
Using a task management service makes it easier for team members to compile their daily plan. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Slack offer channels where people can post updates in advance of the meeting. It also gives you an action list for later review.
5. Be deliberate in your e-communications
Your e-communications are more than apps “dinging” at you. I think of all the electronic ways people can reach me like a candy dish sitting on someone else’s desk. I wasn’t hungry, and if I hadn’t walked by it, I would have felt no need to grab a piece. But it was there and convenient, so I snagged one.
Make e-communications less front-of-mind by reducing how and when they notify you. Establish a schedule of when you check them. Instead of having email or chat always open, consider scheduling four email checks via time blocking throughout the day (e.g., 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.). This schedule is a good mix of frequency interspersed with solid blocks for substantive work, and the 4:30 p.m. check allows you to read and respond to emails by end of business day.
Using these five techniques with the right technology will help you achieve a more efficient and less stressful work environment.
Turn these “never do’s” into “have dones.”