Time management

Time management is the ability to plan your time productively and manage your assigned tasks in an effective and efficient manner. Effective time management assumes that you also manage your attention/focus. If you prioritise the wrong things, you cannot be effective overall.

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 Developing effective time management

A career in law can be extremely demanding, so it is important that you develop effective strategies for managing your time. Feeling like there isn't enough time to do everything that you need to can lead to a build up of stress.

Skills you can develop to improve time management include setting clear goals, prioritising and list making, organising your schedule, tactics for managing the things you don't want to do, moving on from failure and frustration.

As well as skills and tactics, your time management strategy should take into account:

  • Biological patterns: our diurnal rhythms dictate when we are at our most attentive - that is, morning lark versus night time owl, and the post-lunch after a heavy lunch.
  • Physiological preferences: for mentally strenuous tasks, our brains like to work in short chunks, but it seems attention spans are getting shorter with each generation.
  • Work environment: depending on your role, you may work in an open plan environment or have your own space - the former tends to suit extraverts better than introverts in terms of productive thinking.

Once you have identified ways in which you can improve the management of your time, you can build the skills and adjust behaviours to reduce time-related stress.

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Self-assessment questions for time management

Ask yourself these time/attention management questions to discover how effectively you manage your time:

  • Do I have a clear understanding of my priorities in life and work?
  • Do I have systems, processes and tools that support me in achieving those priorities?
  • Do I set realistic goals to ensure I meet deadlines?

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Tips for enhanced time/attention management

These tips use the method of action programming

1. Plan for your five big goals first

Whether we live to work, or work to live, most of us will have critical priorities - family, health, and relationships - that make life worth living. Lose sight of these and you sign up for an unhappy life with little meaning. Try making your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) to ensure your priorities are clear.

2. Invest in simple tools

Tools such as concertina files and a diary with a year, month and day planner (with the latter ideally divided into 30-minute slots) will enable you to cascade your big goals into smaller actions. These activities will get you to your big goals and will act as reminders to aid your success.

3. Develop a master to-do list

This list must have absolutely everything on it, both work and personal. You will feel the burden lift from your shoulders.

4. Dump

Get rid of things that are not related to your goals.

5. Delegate and outsource

Share the burden - delegate what you can.

6. Group related activities/actions

Once you have grouped actions, allocate approximate times to them. This should then be transferred into your diary.

7. Diarise the routine/repeated activities

Put your routine activities into your diary before you add specific actions from the previous step. It's important that you prioritise and take into consideration your personal preferences. Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle will help you decide.

8. Manage the 'pending' items

Manually file in your concertina folders and/or electronically in apps so that they grab your attention at the right time for you to chase.

9. Habitualise planning

Plan your activities on a weekly and daily basis to ensure you prioritise them effectively and remain focused on your goals..

10. Focus

Concentrate on three things that must get done each day. Tackle them first before distractions jeopardise your attempts. Consider how your environment contributes to distractions and how you can manage them. Also factor in breaks. Try using the Pomadora technique (a time management method that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks). Be realistic about what you can achieve.

Finally, be mindful of work-life balance. Be wary of the current trend of work-life integration - it implies a never-ending battle to juggle priorities versus embedding principles to make your work and life co-exist for equilibrium.

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