One of the biggest wishes attorneys have is to increase their billable hours. This makes their firms more successful and brings home more money for the family. Unfortunately, there is no way to add more hours to the day. This means lawyers must get smart about how they spend their hours. In an attempt to recoup some of the “lost hours in the day” to billable hours, we have compiled here a list of top productivity hacks for lawyers to implement immediately. By creating a new routine with these productivity hacks in tow, you are certain to improve your billable hour outlook.
10 Ways to Improve Productivity and Increase Billable Hours
- Do, Delegate or Dump. When faced with any task, ask yourself this quick decision-making question: Do, delegate or dump? David Allen, an author of the beloved time-management book Getting Things Done, offers this nugget: If it takes two minutes or less, do the item right away. If it will take more than two minutes, determine if you are the best person to handle the item. If not, identify who to delegate to and delegate it. If the item doesn’t require action from you or from someone else, delete it. Keeping it just clogs up your to-do list or inbox unnecessarily.
- Prioritize Your Top three Tasks On A Daily Basis. As a lawyer, you have a never-ending list of to-do items that requires you to constantly move. But without prioritization, you may find yourself jumping between tasks without ever finishing anything. And without focused prioritization, you know you have tasks to complete, but may not get to them if you allow other to-do items to get in the way. The solution is simple. Spend 15 minutes at the end of the workday or at the very beginning of your day identifying the top three items you must complete making that day a success. Then do those things first! Be careful here. It is easy to add more to-do items to your list of things to accomplish than you can reasonably get done in a day. Remember your goal is to set your list of to do’s to something you can actually achieve. Doing otherwise sets yourself up for failure, which will only set you back further. A good rule of thumb is to choose no more than three priority items in any given day. If you manage to hit your top priority items, you can then move on to other tasks waiting in the queue.
- Eat The Frog. Mark Twain once said, “’Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” What does this mean for lawyers? Do the task you dread the most first. If it’s making that phone call to a belligerent insurance adjuster, do that first. If it’s researching a topic you’re unfamiliar with, and thus aren’t sure how long it will take you to find what you need, do that first. The amount of satisfaction you will feel upon completion of this eating-a-frog-like task will help fuel your drive to move on to the remaining items on your to-do list.
- Do Similar Tasks Together. Multitasking is a myth. Allowing outside interruptions to break into your focused work time will cause you to take even more time trying to get back in the groove. Stop letting your email inbox notifications interrupt your motion drafting and stop answering your phone every time it rings. Batching like tasks together keeps the amount of time spent on these tasks low. Respond to emails all at once. Return phone calls at one time. This will allow you to have focused time for writing, researching and other billable work.
- Set A Timer When You Check Your Email. The email inbox can cause a few minutes to turn into an hour or more. Do not allow your email to take over your afternoon. Following the previous “do, delegate or dump” rule, only go through your inbox two or three times a day. Identify what requires attention now, what requires attention later, and what can immediately go into the trash. Then work on the items that require attention until your set time is up. Give yourself no more than 20-30 minutes at a time!
- Track How Much Time You Spend On All Tasks. Setting a timer for email is great, but it would be even better if you could use a timer to identify where you spend all your time. This means tracking all of your time on any given day. In addition to your billable work, track emails, phone calls, networking, billing, time spent on social media, etc. After a week or two, you’ll be able to look back on your days and see where your time is going and what, if anything, you can change to gain more billable time back in your days.
- Play To Your Strengths. If you are most effective in the morning, block the morning hours for getting work done. That leaves your afternoons for phone calls, emails, and meetings. If you get your energy from other people, start each work day with a client or networking meeting. The energy you get there will supercharge you right into focused work. The worst thing you could do for yourself is schedule research and writing time during the common afternoon slump or before you’ve had your full caffeine fix in the morning.
- Identify Tasks You Can Outsource And Outsource Them. Let’s revisit the “delegate” approach mentioned earlier. You do not have to do everything for your law firm to be a successful partner. For instance, you may believe every phone call deserves a human answering on the other end. But you also understand how one short phone call can derail a whole morning. If this sounds all too familiar, consider outsourcing your calls to a virtual receptionist such as Call Ruby. Or perhaps you find yourself getting lost in billing and invoicing? Consider hiring a virtual or part-time bookkeeper. Bookkeepers can help you complete most of your day-to-day financial tasks while also keeping your books streamlined and clean for your accountant—saving you money and time down the road.
- Use Legal Case Management Software. You lose time every time you switch between different systems for law-firm-related tasks. By putting all of your client management, task management, document sharing, calendaring, email and document repository, and more under one program, you will save hours in learning systems, tracking what is happening where, training staff and much more.
- Use Video Conferencing Whenever Possible. Everyone has access to the internet these days. Eliminate unnecessary drive time and improve meetings by scheduling video conferences in lieu of in-person meetings. Want to save even more time? Shorten your meetings as much as possible and head into each meeting with a clear agenda of items to discuss.
Bonus Productivity Hack: Dictation Saves the Day
Whether you’re writing a brief for a client or a blog for your website, you can take hours out of your writing time by simply learning how to use the recording function on your mobile device. While numbers around the internet vary, generally people can type about 40 words a minute, but can speak up to 125 words a minute. Think of the amount of time you can regain by recording your thoughts instead of writing or typing them. And you can record yourself while you’re at your desk or in the car. Just think of the “free” time that now becomes valuable work time!
What Do You Think?
Are you ready to implement the productivity hacks listed here to increase your productivity as a lawyer and improve your billable hours? Are there hacks you rely on daily that we missed here? We’d love to hear from you!