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Start Page: Make the most of your 24 hours with workflow planning

Seth Wilson
March 26, 2014
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WilsonLawyers are hardworking professionals. But, most feel like there is more work to get done than is possible in the 24 hours everyone has each day. Legal professionals understand the reality of professional development: “the better you get, the better you’d better get.” (David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done”) So how can you manage work and all of life’s other commitments? Develop, and use, good workflow plans.

Here are three tips to help you “plan your work and work your plan” (Vince Lombardi):

Track what you do and how you do it

Review and reflect

Draft a plan and do

Track what you do and how you do it

Workflow planning starts by simply observing how you already “do work.” The goal here is to capture enough data about what you already do to later organize that work in the most efficient and effective way possible.

To start, grab a legal pad (or your favorite notebook) and take notes on what you do now to get things done. Also, make notes on what type of work you do (e.g., making phone calls, writing, reviewing documents, entering time and meeting with clients).

Use your notes to identify the patterns in the work you do. Jot down times when you often get interrupted. Note when you feel most productive. Think about what time of day is best for you to perform tasks that require the most focus and thought. Consider where you work best on certain types of projects.

While you are capturing this information, think about your current system for tracking your to-dos. Sticky notes? Legal pads? Is your to-do list on your computer, phone or tablet? When is the last time you updated your to-do list? Do you only make a list of things to do when you can’t keep track of everything in your head? Maybe it’s time for a new system?

It may take a week to gather enough information to identify some patterns, so keep at it. Your notes should be detailed enough to jog your memory and help you act as a productivity consultant for yourself.

Review and reflect

The key success factor is to actually take time to review your notes. Remember that note you made on your best time for projects that require focus and thought? Schedule an appointment with yourself at that time slot to review the remaining notes you have made on your workflow. What stands out to you? What patterns developed? Are there types of tasks that are similar in nature? The idea here is to evaluate how you are doing things to make sure that you are being as effective as possible.

Ask yourself: Am I the best person to perform all these tasks? Learn to delegate what you can to keep yourself free to focus on things that require your particular skills.

Draft a plan and do

You have created and reviewed your workflow. Now, it is time to draft workflow plans. Start the week by scheduling several two-hour appointments on your calendar to work on projects that take large blocks of time to complete. Choose several projects to work on during those times. Discipline yourself to actually do what you said you would do that day.

Next, make a list of the next steps needed to move your projects forward this week. Keep that list up to date, organized by the type of tasks to be completed (e.g., a list of phone calls to be made when you have access to a phone). Microsoft Outlook Tasks or a smartphone app are great for tracking and sorting these tasks.

Think through the best place to do a task. For example, don’t write out a long email on your smartphone. Put “draft email to atty smith re: property transfer” on a list of things to accomplish when you have a full-sized keyboard available (or access to dictation).

Finally, draft checklists for yourself (and your assistant) on what to do with the various inputs you face every day (email, snail mail, etc). As an example, I have a workflow plan for turning my snail mail into email for review. I take my snail mail directly to a scanner and scan it to my email. I return to my office, handle any immediate actions from the mail and file the paper mail. Later, I review and file the email with my workflow for processing email.

Draft and work your workflow plan. Review and revise it as necessary. Continue to improve your processes until they work as smoothly and effectively as you do at your best. You will feel more in control and better able to focus on tackling the work – and fun – that comes your way.•

__________

Seth Wilson is a partner at Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP in Indianapolis. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm, and frequently speaks and advises on legal technology issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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