In the August 9 issue, I made my case for allocating far more time to business development than most lawyers do, or would even consider. In keeping with my philosophy of always providing the "how" for any "what," today's guest post by law practice efficiency consultant Bill Jawitz offers some concrete steps to making choices that will enable time for sustainable business development.

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Mike’s right that most lawyers don’t devote enough time to business development on a consistent basis. But let’s bring the “dog-ate-my-lunch” riff to a different (philosophical) level: The reality is that we can’t get, make, find or have more time. Time simply passes, inexorably, day by day, minute by minute. We can, however, choose how we spend our time. Indeed, “time management,” is a misnomer; I prefer to call it Choice Management.

So assuming you buy Mike’s contention that you must devote meaningful time to effective client development action, how can you improve how you spend your time? Here are the nine steps you can choose to practice:

  1. Clarify your commitment to a specific direction. Goals are aspirational; objectives are measurable states in time (e.g., goal: “I want to have a bigger book of business”; objective: “I want two new medical device defense clients in place with total target annual billings of $1.2MM by July 1, 2017). Most attorneys stay floating at the goal level and never get real about objectives.
  2. Engage in rigorous daily and weekly planning. Don’t just start your day by sliding into whatever groove you were in the night before. Learn to map out your day and week with a greater degree of intentionality around what you will spend your time doing and when. Use a tool like this checklist as part of your morning routine before you start the regular “work” of your day.
  3. Capture your tasks reliably. Yes, to-do lists are hard to manage for most attorneys. But that’s no excuse for pretending that you can be your best by keeping your tasks in head (or on sticky notes or multiple yellow legal pads). Whatever system you use, whether digital or analog, it’s essential that you use it regularly to free up mental bandwidth and make better decisions as you’re planning your day.
  4. Prioritize your “white space.” Even the busiest litigators have periods between trials when they have blocks of time during the week that are not otherwise claimed as of a given morning (blocks where you don’t have be on the phone or in a meeting). So what typically goes into that white space? Whatever circumstance or interruptions flow into it, that’s what. The mastery-level skill is to look at your white space during your morning planning time, select your priority actions, and schedule them on your calendar.
  5. Delegate and supervise. You’re almost certainly holding onto too many things you tell yourself no else can do (or do reliably). To the degree that’s true, the gap can usually be closed by a) learning to delegate and supervise more effectively than you’re doing now, and b) by making sure your team is trained properly to meet the performance standard you desire for the particular delegated task. Want to tackle this challenge seriously? Read Bruce Tulgan’s outstanding book It’s Okay to Be the Boss: The Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need. Whether you depend on admin/support staff or a team of Senior Associates, you’ll all get more done, and thus be able to devote more time to business development.
  6. Organize your physical and digital space. Most lawyers waste an obscene amount of time looking for information they should be able to retrieve quickly. Consider hiring a professional organizer to help you clean up your stuff and create more efficient systems for your physical paperwork and your computer folders. There are organizers who specialize in working with attorneys. Your ROI will be exponential.
  7. Optimize your most important procedures and systems. The Pareto Principle (the "80/20 Rule") applies here. Of all the discrete tasks and processes that you and your team spend time on over the course of a year, a small percentage of them (say 20%) take up the majority of your time (say 80%) – for example, handling email, drafting largely repeatable communications, storing/locating documents, WIP and billing. By optimizing these and other frequent tasks (that is, by improving their efficiency), you can recoup literally hundreds of hours of time a year. 
  8. Set expectations and boundaries. Do you take on too many obligations or fall prey to scope creep in client matters? Do you chronically underestimate how long things will take? Do you allow well-intentioned callers and drop-in visitors to eat up your time? Almost all of attorneys suffer from some of these maladies to one degree or another, but you can learn how to protect your time without doing harm to your relationships with colleagues or clients. It’s both science and art, and it ties directly into the last step.
  9. Know and grow yourself. However you view yourself -- whatever ideas you have about your personality and your work style -- you most surely do have a core M.O. Everyone does, of course. As reflected in instruments such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or the DISC, we all exist on a variety of behavioral continua that compose our “natural style” of living day-to-day, including life on the job. From perfectionism at one end of the spectrum to detail-aversion on the other, from a preference for consistency vs. a desire for variety, where you naturally land on a given continuum influences how you use your time. The greater the self-awareness, the greater the opportunity to improve your decision making around time.

Hackneyed though it may be, here’s the concluding adage: You can’t do the same thing and expect different results. So, since it’s a self-evident truth that there are more things to do on any given day than time available to do them, we’re back to choice management. You’re reading ResultsMailVT, so that’s an excellent start. Now it’s time to execute. These nine steps to dramatically improved productivity will let you devote that time – if you choose to. (To establish your choice-management baseline, take this Self Assessment.)

Bill Jawitz

Now that you'll have more time for business development, let's talk about how to get work that brings out the best in you, for clients you enjoy, and who pay you in full and on time. Schedule a free conversation to see if the approach that has helped so many lawyers is a fit for you.

Mike O'Horo