If you’re like most lawyers I work with, you spend your day battling a tidal wave of to-dos, just trying to keep your head above water. You struggle to find little slivers of space for your well-being amid the constant, crushing combination of endless emails, phone reminders, sticky notes to yourself, calendar pop-ups, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and messages marked unread to help you remember tasks.
Many lawyers attempt to handle this endless bombardment of tasks by powering through, planning, or both.
More Powering Through. You may feel convinced more willpower will solve your problems. You think just being a little more focused, disciplined, or productive will finally do the trick. Just push a little harder, and you’ll be able to catch up and keep up with everything.
More Planning. You may believe a little extra organization will be the key to making it all fit. You make careful to-do lists or fill your pristine paper planner with the countless things you need to get done. You’re convinced if you can make it fit on paper, you can make it fit in real life.
As you’ve probably discovered, neither of these strategies work. When you use productivity, powering through, and planning as tools to cram even more tasks into your already-overstuffed day, you will only burn out and become overwhelmed even faster. Always trying to go a little bit further and faster, treating yourself like a racecar, is at odds with your well-being.
Time Management Based on Priority Clarity
An effective time management strategy is crucial to your well-being in today’s practice environment. Our industry is facing a catastrophic time management crisis, as well as a well-being crisis, and the two are directly linked. Earlier this year, I wrote about the importance of time management skills, especially for early-career associates, but usually neither law schools nor law firms teach lawyers foundational time management skills.
It’s also crucial that you ground your time management strategy in your own priorities – in other words, your own needs, what’s most important to you, your values, what makes you happy, and where you want to direct your career and life. Psychology tells us attention to your priorities is what makes humans happy.
When you are clear on your priorities, they serve as a filter for how you spend your time and focus your attention on what’s most important. Without that filter, you’ll keep sprinting faster and faster, squeezing an increasing number of tasks into your day, and more efficiently burn yourself out. For example, when I build time management trainings for law firms, I always teach time management skills in the context of their connection to priorities, because time management is ineffective (and dangerous) otherwise. Once you are clear on your priorities, however, an effective time management strategy connects your priorities to the way you spend your time each day, supporting your well-being and leaving you happier and more fulfilled.
Law Firms Can Boost Well-Being by Providing Time Management Training
Given this direct connection between time management and well-being, law firms looking to lead our industry by promoting lawyer well-being can supercharge their efforts by providing time management training and support for their lawyers.
Priority Clarity is Hard for Lawyers
Unfortunately, getting clear on your priorities can be surprisingly difficult, especially for lawyers. As you move forward in your legal career, you may not stop to consider what is most important to you or whether you’re building a career and a life aligned with your priorities. Making this problem worse, practicing law is very demanding and rarely leaves enough space for your own needs or what makes you happy.
As a lawyer, it’s easy to put your priorities on the back burner for so long that you feel disconnected from them. It may even feel strange, difficult, or unfamiliar to figure out what you want, what is important to you, and how you want to develop your life and career. You may also feel vaguely unsettled, as if you have untapped potential, an intense pressure to free up more time, or daydreams about living your life a different way.
Time Management Directly Supports Your Well-Being
When you are clear on your priorities, they act as a guide to how you spend your time. Time management skills then empower you to intentionally direct your time and effort to what’s most important. When you have an effective time management strategy that works for you, you also get the important things done more efficiently, rather than exhaustingly, so you feel accomplished every day, without burning out. In other words, when centered around your priorities, time management directly supports your well-being. Combining priority clarity and time management is not only crucial for your survival in practice but also for your well-being to peacefully coexist alongside a successful and fulfilling practice.
About The Author
Kate Ahern guides lawyers and law firms on time management, priorities management, burnout, associate development, and the related impact of gender bias and other external pressures. She’s also a law professor and a former transactional attorney (and generally more fun than her LL.M. in tax might suggest). Connect with Kate at www.KateUnfrazzled.com