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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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