Increasing Productivity in Your Law Firm
It’s 6 a.m., your room is dark, and the alarm clock is blaring. You crawl out of bed and stumble to the shower before pouring yourself a strong cup of coffee, hopping behind the wheel and weaving through traffic on your commute to the office. You walk in the door, set your belongings down on your desk and take a seat. And, if you’re like most people, you boot up your computer, scour the dozens of emails you received since you last logged in, and think to yourself, “What next?”
For some people, prioritizing is simple and can be performed without much forethought or effort whatsoever. For others, not knowing where to even begin each day is common, and procrastination is a serious problem that places barriers on productivity. If you find yourself struggling to complete all the tasks on your plate in a timely manner, try these three tips for prioritizing your workload and watch your levels of productivity improve dramatically.
Eat that Frog
In one of his most famous remarks, Mark Twain once said that if you start off each morning by eating a live frog, you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the day knowing that eating the frog was likely the worst thing you’ll be faced with. By getting the worst task of the day out of the way first thing in the morning, you can spend your time focusing on other tasks you need to complete rather than wasting all your time avoiding the one you are dreading the most.
While your job obviously will not require you to literally “eat that frog,” make a conscious effort to knock out that one task you want to do the least the minute you walk in the door. Maybe it’s checking your voicemails or calling back that client whose been harassing you all week long. Perhaps it’s taking care of pesky paperwork that has been piling up because you just can’t bear the thought of dealing with it. Have you been putting off an important conversation with an associate or one of your employees because you’re dreading the outcome?
By facing the frog head on and forcing yourself to “eat it,” you’re forcing yourself to deal with the situation you’d rather avoid and potentially saving yourself countless hours of time that would be spent thinking about this particular task you know needs to be taken care of but that you are not actually completing. Although the idea of starting your morning doing something you dislike or have been dreading doesn’t exactly sound like the most ideal way to begin the workday, the relief and sense of accomplishment you will feel when you can check that dreaded item off your to-do list will make eating that frog worthwhile.
If you feel as though you have too many tasks to complete on your own in a reasonable amount of time, it’s time to master the art of delegation. Your employees may already be saddled with a ton of their own tasks to take care of; however, the reason you hired a team in the first place was to help you achieve your law firm’s goals and accomplish everyday tasks in a timely manner.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, start by making a list of each of your employee’s strengths and skill sets. Next, take a look at the tasks and duties they already perform. Is there an employee who has a little extra time in their day to help out with an extra task or two? Is there someone whose skills aren’t being utilized to the fullest extent that you could ask to take on additional projects? Evaluate which of your employees is best suited for the tasks at hand, and assign those duties you need help completing to those individuals accordingly.
Just be sure you don’t put too much pressure on any one person who already has a heavy workload, as this can result in frustration and burnout, leaving the employee feeling overwhelmed and potentially unable to complete the assignments you have delegated to them. To ensure your team doesn’t feel blindsided by the new duties they’ve been asked to complete, consider sitting them down individually or in a group to discuss your plans to delegate assignments. You might be surprised by some of your employees’ willingness to step up to the plate and help out with those tasks that you’ve had trouble finding time to get around to.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
When you sit down and look at your workload for the workday, it might seem never-ending and a bit overwhelming. At first glance, you probably feel like every task on your to-do list is urgent and must be done as soon as possible. However, it’s imperative to break a hefty workload down into smaller bites that can be accomplished without stressing yourself—or your associates and employees—out in the process.
As previously mentioned, the first thing you should do each day is eat that frog. Have two “frogs” you need to tackle? Experts recommend you “eat the ugliest one first,” and then move on to the next one. Once your figurative frogs are off your plate, check your to-do list for items that absolutely have to be completed that same day or the day the follows. Is there a deadline you are facing for a client’s court date? Is there a task that needs to be finished up ASAP so paperwork can be filed appropriately or mailed out by a specific date? Mark those tasks “urgent” and knock them out immediately.
After you’ve completed the most urgent tasks in your workload, look through the remainder of your daily or weekly duties and prioritize the items in order of their real—not perceived—importance. Some employees swear by simply listing out items and placing those with the most pressing deadlines at the top. Others find color coding items to be a more effective method.
A variety of project management software is also available to help you prioritize the projects on your to-do list. Some of the most helpful features these tools contain are columns for projects that are pending, in progress, out for review and complete so you can track the status of every item in real time. Many project management tools also offer formats that can be customized, so you can assign specific names to columns in which you place your tasks that need to be completed as well as color code individual task buttons to help you keep track of everything on your list easily and effectively.
These features come in especially handy should you decide to assign specific columns or colors to individual clients your law firm is currently assisting. By taking advantage of these project management methods, you’ll be able to better manage your time and determine at a glance which projects on your to-do list require attention the minute you start your workday and which ones can wait a little longer to be tackled.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h