Overwhelmed? You Won't Be If You Take Charge

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"I'm so overwhelmed that I just don't have time to take care of myself." Those were the first and last words of a very short conversation I had recently with an obviously harried lawyer.

Do you feel the same way? If so, do you think you are providing your clients with the best service possible — which they expect and which the rules of professional conduct require you to provide?

Some would say it's a matter of time management. The reality is that we cannot manage time; we can only manage ourselves and our priorities. What are your priorities? Have you calendared your priorities — actually written them down in your calendar? If you haven't, you're likely to feel like the lawyer I spoke to.

The ramifications are obvious: lack of fulfilling practice, lack of quality control, harried and on-the-run decision-making without sufficient evidence or forethought. Not the characteristics of a good practice.

For lawyers, no resource is more valuable than what Lincoln called our "stock in trade" — time. Lawyers don't really sell time, but time, in the form of billable hours, typically measures our effort. With billable-hour collection targets looming and the press of completing and billing projects, the need for more time can be overwhelming.

Then come the urgent voicemails, unread text messages, overloaded inbox and family pressures, creating what seems to be an evitable time shortage for keeping the practice functioning.

In fact, you simply need a review of priorities. Most lawyers who claim they have too little time or are overwhelmed generally either fail to make a list of priorities, hop around any list they do make, or allow themselves to be distracted by too many other tasks. That is the definition of procrastination.

How can you develop a practical approach to prioritizing in order to change the scenario? First, get your calendar and schedule personal time for periodic retreats, with a significant other if applicable. Then add into your schedule the professional education you need to satisfy bar requirements and stay current in your area of practice.

Next, schedule time to address client issues. Finally, schedule your marketing time, time to network, speak and write to let others know what you can offer them.

Obviously, you won't know today what you will need to do next week. But you can schedule the time during which you will address these various issues for clients, etc. Scheduling disciplines you to prioritize how much cumulative time is devoted to each, and what you value more.

The schedule won't be perfect, and it will be subject to change. But by making the effort to construct and adhere to it, you will be far ahead of most others and certainly far along the path of controlling your own environment rather than being a slave to it.

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