“I have to handle the Smith motion by tomorrow.”
“I gotta get to my pre-bills this week.”
“I need to get back to Marjorie with that amendment I promised her.”
Sound familiar? Yes, that’s how we talk to ourselves all day long. And while the language serves as a vague inner “to-do list,” it really isn’t specific enough to be useful in planning how to spend your available time on a given day. It just creates a continuous, nagging form of stress that degenerates into the “I didn’t get it done!” blues.
A Better, More Efficient Way to Plan Your Day
Instead of diving into the maelstrom, begin each day with a 15- to 30-minute morning planning session to figure out how you will spend the unallocated hours before you. Try a sequence like this:
- Look at your calendar
- Scan your task list (whether mental or written)
- Prioritize your intentions for the day
While this is better than doing no planning at all, it’s still not as valuable as it could be. You want to use your morning planning to make the best use of your available hours.
Break It Down: Commit to Completing Small Pieces of Your Big Tasks
What happens if you have three important things to get done today and only two hours open on your calendar? How do you avoid feeling frustrated at the end of the day because you didn’t “finish” that motion or your pre-bills? Rather than try to complete the whole task at once, the trick is to identify the clear, discrete next action step you must take to move toward completion of the task. Then assign a realistic amount of time for that particular step. For example, “getting that amendment to Marjorie” is probably actually a multi-step process requiring you to:
- Assemble and review existing documents.
- Get answers from three other people involved in the process.
- Do some statute research.
- Finally, draft the document.
So in the morning, don’t tell yourself you’re going to “get that amendment to Marjorie.” Instead, identify the very next step—assemble and review existing documents—and block a realistic amount of time in your calendar to do it. Completing that specific step will give you a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, instead of frustration at not finishing something. You’ll be able to focus more effectively on the next step—when you decide to do it.
By consciously breaking out the whole “to-do” item into discrete activities you’ll feel—and you’ll be—in greater control of your workflow, and regain momentum. No, you won’t magically be less busy, but you won’t be weighed down by that nagging sense of guilt and ineffectiveness you’ve accepted in the past.
Bill Jawitz helps attorneys learn how to maintain their professional success while becoming healthier, more balanced individuals. Bill and his partners at SuccessTrackESQ coach and consult with solos, small to midsize firms and corporate legal departments to achieve measurable gains in profitability and quality of life.