Does it seems like you keep trying to cram more and more into each day, until the days are bursting at the seams? Have you been busier than normal lately? If so, you’re certainly not alone.
Morning court appearances. Client interviews. Motions. Depositions. Administrative hearings. Research. Lunch. Writing. Re-writing. Office management. Visiting the scene of the crime or the accident. Settlement proposals. Bond hearings. Returning telephone calls. Trials. Errands. Exercise. E-mails. Pre-trial conferences. Press conferences. Responding to discovery requests. Correspondence. Plea negotiations. Family time. Mediation. Meditation. Reading case updates. Witness interviews. Afternoon court appearances…
Sound familiar? The trial lawyer’s life is a busy one. Unless you have the luxury of working for just a single client on a single matter, you probably get pulled in a dozen different directions by a dozen different people every day. How do you deal with it and get the most out of your day? How do you fit it all in?
Here’s a quick tip to help you get the most out of your day. You’ve probably heard the old saw about the teacher, the rocks, and the jar, right? In case you haven’t, here it is:
One day, a teacher stood before his class. On the table in front of him was a large glass jar and a bucket of large rocks. Each of the rocks was larger than his fist. He carefully placed rock after rock into the jar until the rocks reached the edge of the jar. Then he asked the class, “Is the jar full?”
“Yes,” they agreed.
“Not yet!” he said, and then reached under the table. He withdrew a bucket of smaller rocks and carefully poured them inside the jar until they reached the edge. Again, he asked the class, “Is this jar full?”
Most of the students agreed, that yes, the jar was full.
“Still not yet,” he said. The professor reached under the table a second time and brought out a bag of sand. He poured the sand into the jar until it spilled over the lip of the jar. For a third time, he asked, “Is this jar full?”
They weren’t as sure of themselves this time, but most agreed that the jar was full.
The professor grinned as he reached under the table once more. “Nope!” he said. “There’s still more room.” He pulled out a pitcher of water and poured the water into the jar, until the water cascaded over the edges. With a kindly look in his eyes, he informed the class, “Now the jar is full.”
Then the professor shared a pearl of wisdom. “Here’s the most important point you must remember: You have to put the big rocks in first. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to fit them in.”
What are the most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow? Which five things would, if you completed them, make the biggest difference in your life? Those are your “big rocks.” You need to fit them into your schedule before you accomplish anything else.
This evening, before you go to bed, pull out your favorite pen and write down the five most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow and the five most important things you need to accomplish this week. What matters most? Do you need to prepare for an upcoming deposition? Finalize a settlement proposal? Tell a client some bad news? Whatever they are, and no matter how distasteful they may be, these are your top objectives. You need to accomplish these objectives before you work on anything else.
Too often, you won’t work on these important objectives because you’ll get distracted by minor matters that feel urgent and important (or are just more fun to work on.) The biggest culprit is in front of you right now. E-mail is one of the biggest time wasters in your office. (Ironic that I tell you that in an e-mail message, huh?) How many times have you had someone send you a simple two line email that triggered an hour’s worth of work?
One way to help you focus on the big issues is by planning time to return calls and emails. When you get into the office bright and early in the morning, don’t boot up your email program. Instead, work on your #1 priority. Dedicate a specific time for responding to emails. Maybe you dedicate 10:00 AM to 10:45 AM for e-mails and phone calls. Your time will be much better spent if you focus on your highest priority objective and don’t let the interruptions distract you from that task.
If you want to get the most of your day, don’t work on anything else until your most important objective is completed. After your most important project is completed, start working on Project #2, then #3, etc. That may mean ignoring “urgent” phone calls or conversations. But according to the Pareto principle (“the 80/20 rule”), even if you accomplished only the #1 item on your list, you’ll have fit more into your day than most other attorneys in your office.
Try this plan for one week and see how much more you can get out of the day.