For Lawyers, Auditing Your Time Management Workflows Can Make You More Productive

Technology, mobile devices, and an ever-expanding suite of applications can enhance productivity, efficiency, and collaboration and ensure a more efficient allocation of our time and resources—in theory. In practice, most people feel stressed for time, overwhelmed by a constant stream of notifications and information from multiple channels, competing demands, impossible deadlines, and never-ending to-do lists that they can never seem to get done.

Indeed, advances in mobility have allowed lawyers to work on the go and meet the 24/7 expectations of the global market. Still, there’s a cost to all this convenience: more communications and information across multiple channels every day has resulted in more arduous challenges for every lawyer already struggling to meet billable requirements and get through a higher administrative load. It’s not surprising that most lawyers consistently feel that they do not have enough time for themselves or their loved ones and experience difficulty in striking a healthy work-life balance.

Quality of time matters as much as the amount of time

It’s not only the amount of time that lawyers spend working that matters: quality of time matters too. Producing high-quality work requires distraction-free time and optimal cognitive performance. But these are often compromised by multitasking, cognitive overload fatigue, and context-switching costs that result from having to contend with an overabundance of micro-decisions, administrative tasks, communication threads across multiple channels, and demands for immediate and real-time responsiveness at the cost of our focus, performance, and health.

Indeed, the mental stamina needed to constantly fend off, tend to and resolve endless interruptions and distractions, re-engage with work thereafter, as well as the seemingly endless administrative tasks associated with digital communications, are resulting in immeasurable and corrosive productivity loss, potential demoralization, increased employee retention and training costs, burnout and other mental health challenges stemming from chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol. This directly compromises a firm’s bottom line because law firms depend on their associates to be efficient and in top form in order to stay profitable.

The impact of poor time management on law firms

According to the Clio Legal Trends Report, lawyers spend 2.3 hours per day (or 29% of an 8-hour workday) on billable tasks and 48% of their time on administrative tasks. Neither of these statistics include the immeasurable and significant amount of time lost to distractions and spent regaining focus, or for leaked time not captured on timesheets at all due to the sheer impossibility of accurately tracking supersonic digital activity with old manual billing methods.

This means now more now than ever in an age when client demands for cheaper rates and greater transparency are pushing firms to provide deep discounts and alternative billing structures, spend more time preparing and reviewing timesheets. Law firms cannot afford to shoulder costs to productivity, profitability, morale, and employee retention posed by current challenges and practices. Law firms must dig deep to understand the operational challenges that are putting them at risk of losing productivity, revenue, and morale, reconfigure workflows that align with our daily practices and aspirations, and leverage historical data to price legal services in a new way. Time audits and redesigned practices that implement new technologies that automate and streamline workflows like ZERØ, reduce our to-do lists and allow us to get more done, increasing not only productivity but also the sense of accomplishment critical for morale. ZERØ’s software not only recoups time that would otherwise never make it to timesheets, but also reduces time and mental energy spent billing and generating narratives in a manner easily integrated into a lawyer’s optimal workflow, lightening their load, and leaving them with more mental energy to take on the day.

A new path forward to time management

Although making to-do lists allows us to understand what we need to do by forcing us to prioritize amongst tasks in light of time constraints and other limitations, all too often, they are the source of anxiety and shame. It is time to ditch our misguided view that doing it all is only possible if we do it all simultaneously—that we can beat the system by working more when most of us are already overworked and exhausted. It is unrealistic and unsustainable. We cannot create more time or get everything done, but we can exercise better time management by redistributing our time more wisely and making sure that we’re spending our time on the things we want to spend it on and delegating out what we can. Our capacity to weather changes and grow depends on how we handle complexity. To chart a path forward to where we want to be, we must first know where we are. To do so, we must first acknowledge and accept how ever-so-quickly changing realities are impacting our day to day life—in the office and outside of it—so that we can tune in to what is working for us, and change what is not.

The time has come for us to reassess our relationship to technology and develop new and integrated practices that allow us to take back control over our most valuable resource: time—so that we can lead happier, healthier, more successful/productive lives.

Tips for conducting a time audit

  • Our ability to accurately estimate the time needed for a task directly impacts how effectively we’ll be able to accomplish our tasks. When we have to spend more time on a certain task than we thought we’d need to, this can result in us feeling stressed, because inevitably that extra time is eating away at the time we could be spending doing something else. On the other hand, overestimating how much time something should take may result in us lingering over something that needn’t have taken us so long. When handling your next three assignments, ask yourself how long you think it will take before you start, and after you’ve finished, compare this with how long it actually took.
  • Did you know that it takes 23 minutes on average to regain concentration and focus after we’ve been distracted? Over the course of a day, make a note each time your attention is derailed and indicate what distracted you. Understanding how much time we lose to distractions, and when they tend to be most frequent, is necessary for making critical changes to our workflow.
  • Certain tasks require different levels of energy. If you tend to have less energy in the morning, consider using the first hour of your day to get through the quick administrative tasks, and block out time for focused distraction-free writing when you typically feel in your prime. Over the course of the next week, make a note of your energy levels during the day, and let the results inform how you plan your schedule the following week.
  • Do you usually communicate with clients over the phone, email, or text? Do you like to read emails from your phone or tablet? How do you account for this time? How much time do you typically spend on administrative tasks, and how many things do you typically forget to bill?
  • Use tools like ZERØ that help you effortlessly and accurately take stock of your time so that you can easily assess the tasks comprising a project and how much time they take, and so that you can use this information to make more effective staffing and billing decisions.
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Amy Sapan

Originally from New York and based out of Tel Aviv since late 2010, Amy Sapan has over eight years of corporate legal experience, principally in the fields of high-tech and private investment fund formation. She has previously held positions at Amit, Pollak, Matalon & Co. and Yigal Arnon, two of Israel’s leading law firms, as well as Dickstein Shapiro LLP in New York City, now defunct. She received her J.D. magna cum laude from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and her B.A. in International & Area Studies summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a member of the NY State Bar and the Israeli Bar Association. She is passionate about gardening, art, craft, dance, swimming, ecology and movement.