My assistant, Wendy, and I had a heated discussion recently regarding my calendar.
“It would help if, instead of just putting stuff for me to do on my calendar at random times, you’d make appointments with the client for me to call them. That way it’s an actual appointment, not just a suggestion,” I said.
“I put stuff on there so you will get it done when I put it on there! It IS an appointment!” she argued.
“NO BUTS!” she cut me off.
Turns out, because of a computer issue, she hasn’t been getting all her (or my) email for the past week or two and had no clue how busy I’ve actually been. She thought I was just sitting on a bunch of work.
Silly rabbit! I have in fact been VERY busy taking care of all kinds of stuff, including all of the client production matters she puts on my calendar. But there is only one of me, and there are only so many hours in the day, and sometimes that half hour “appointment” to draft a document or return phone calls just won’t cut it.
That means that some things get put off. It’s just the way it is.
Last month, I talked about how you are only as good as the last thing you did for your client, because all he’s going to remember is whether or not you returned his call. That is also just the way it is.
But… and it is an awfully big “but”… you also have to cut yourself a little slack. You are only one person.
One person can make a very big difference when that one person is a lawyer. One person can also make herself crazy trying to get EVERYTHING accomplished that needs to be accomplished.
Delegate what you can. Hire help if you need it.
In my BigLaw days, I once went for several months without an assistant, not including the several more months of trying out new assistants who either did not work out or quit shortly after being hired. So I was used to working without an assistant. But I also had had the very best assistant EVER for a brief time (before the firm rather stupidly let her be hired away by another Big Law firm in Downtown Orlando), and I knew what a difference it made in my productivity. A great assistant keeps you on schedule, on task and free from distractions. And puts things on your calendar so you don’t forget them. And reads all of your email so that things don’t fall through the cracks. And… well, you get the point.
When you start to get enough client work to fill your calendar every day, that’s a good indicator that you need to hire someone.
What you can’t delegate, prioritize.
If you do not prioritize and actually get some of those things off your to-do list, your firm grinds to a halt. The only way those things will get done is if you get as many of the distractions that take up so much of your time out of the way.
Start by scheduling time to return phone calls and emails, and do your darnedest to stick to that time. It’s easy for calls and email to overtake your day, so you have to set some limits. After that hour or ninety minutes or whatever is up, move on.
Next schedule some marketing time every week. No marketing equals no new business, so whether it’s scheduling lunches with potential referral sources or writing an article for a magazine or posting to your blog or just updating your website, you HAVE to make time for this every week. Stick to those activities you have scheduled. Don’t spend so much time marketing you have no time to do the work you bring in.
The next thing I do is to clean off my desk. Completely. Then I put back on my desk only those things that I must work on right away. What work I can farm out to my associate of counsel, I hand off to her. Everything else goes into my assistant’s inbox so she can deal with it: scheduling the follow-up, writing a letter or email, or putting that work on my calendar for the next day or week, as appropriate.
Then, I can actually get some work done.
What has to be put off, put off.
Maybe not forever, probably not forever, but for a few days. Or even weeks. Because you cannot do it all. Even with help, there is only so much you can do.
Just be smart about your procrastination. Are you procrastinating because this is something that can actually be handled later? Or are you avoiding doing something because it’s boring or repetitive or because you don’t really like the client that much (be honest!)? If it’s something that really can be done later, do it later.
If not, do it now so that it doesn’t become a road black to getting other things done.
If something gets put off over and over and over again, ask yourself why. And if the answer is, “because it’s not really important at all,” take it off your to do list entirely.
Put in the time.
The last bit of advice I have for people who, like me, get swamped, overwhelmed, sidetracked and otherwise have trouble fitting everything into their day, is to make sure you are putting in the time.
It’s just now noon, and so far I’ve had five meetings. I’m heading to a client’s food truck grand opening for lunch (a marketing activity). This afternoon I’ve got calls and email to return and client work to do. Tonight I will be working on some bookkeeping and administrative stuff, albeit on the living room sofa. That’s a pretty typical day.
As a business owner, you cannot complain that you don’t have enough time to get everything done in a day if you are only putting in minimal effort and minimal hours.
And then go home.
You also can’t let yourself burn out by working twelve to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Acknowledge that everything did not get done, then go home and have a life.
For me, that means keeping my weekends (at least mostly) a work-free zone. I work out with a trainer Saturday mornings as incentive to exercise the rest of the week. I also see a nutritionist once a week to keep me eating right. I go to bed by 11:00 p.m. pretty religiously so that I’m getting enough sleep. I make a lot of time for friends and family as often as I can. I’m far from perfect, but I’m trying to carve out a personal life as well as a business and a career.
Recognize that it’s just you.
You are allowed to be human. You are only one person.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.