By Cliff Ennico
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
Big words, these, but the concepts are both fairly simple.
By “compartmentalization”, I mean dividing your week or day into blocks or “chunks” 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 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 nights to writing this column. If family commitments prevent my 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, blocking off “compartments” for each task on my to-do list, and updating the to-do list.
I set aside one hour late morning, and one hour late afternoon, for answering phone calls and e-mail messages. 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 e-mails (and text messages if you accept them – I don’t) is “Time Vampire No. 1”. As I’ve said before in this column, an e-mail response requiring more than 50-100 words should be a phone call or “live” meeting.
I schedule one hour on Wednesdays for my grocery shopping, dry cleaner and local errands so that I don’t have to do them on Saturdays.
I work on my book manuscripts and PowerPoint presentations for speaking engagements on Thursday afternoons (usually a slow time in my practice), unless I have a transaction closing the next day, in which case I work Tuesday afternoons on these.
I schedule two to three hours on Saturday mornings 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 e-mails on Sunday unless I have a transaction closing the next day, in which case I look only at those e-mails.
By “prioritization,” I mean ranking the projects on your to-do list and deciding which projects 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 new client call takes precedence over getting an existing project done (this may sound backwards, but in my world most new clients are calling several attorneys who have been referred to them, and in that competitive situation I want to make sure mine is the first 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 (a) the client is under extreme pressure to respond promptly and appreciates a quick turnaround and (b) 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 probably thinking “yeah, this all sounds great, but it’s impossible to do all the time.” And you would be 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 with 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?”, my response is always the same:
“Don’t worry. You are not being ignored, you are only being prioritized.” Followed by a smiley-face emoji. Works every time . . .
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and 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 Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2017 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Follow him at @cliffennico.