Stressed? Overworked? Here’s how to manage your time

Lawyers have big workloads and if you don’t keep on top of things you’ll never leave the office. So get your house in order with some time management tips

Strong time management skills are important for aspiring solicitors and barristers because lawyers often work long hours while juggling a heavy workload with competing deadlines. And saying there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done will not carry much weight with senior colleagues.

Thankfully, time management is a skill that anyone can master – even those of you who leave writing essays until the eleventh hour when the internet is mostly likely to let you down and the printer has run out of ink.

Helpful time management tips include setting realistic and manageable deadlines, creating a to-do list and not putting off difficult tasks.

Dead serious

There are a number of reasons people miss deadlines, but it usually because either the deadline is unrealistic to start with or it is inadequately planned for. Others include: the person responsible for meeting the deadline is let down by others; or they spend longer on a task than is necessary.

If a deadline is non-negotiable – such as the date for handing in an essay – planning is key. Break the assignment into manageable tasks and if appropriate into a series of stages. So in the case of an essay, you could set yourself a deadline for completing your skeleton, then the research, followed by the first draft.

For students a weekly to-do list is usually sufficient but in the workplace, during exam time or when application deadlines are approaching a daily schedule is preferable.

Also, remember to allow sufficient time to complete each task thoroughly and to a good standard, allowing for daily interruptions. Then stick to your deadlines.

Another top tip is to prepare your list at the end of each working day or on Sunday evenings and then put everything you need on your desk – such as relevant client files – ready for you to start working on them the following morning.

Face your fears 

When compiling your to-do list put each task in the following categories, which can either be listed alphabetically or colour-coded:

  • Most urgent and there will be big consequences if not done or deadline is missed.
  • Important but less urgent.
  • Trivial and nice to do but not urgent and will have few consequences if put off.
  • Can be delegated or even eliminated.

Most of us have been guilty of delaying working on complex or less interesting jobs. Instead, we focus on those we find most interesting even if they are less urgent or the consequences of not doing them are less severe.

Frog

It is therefore advisable for you to get into the habit of “eating that frog”. The frog is a metaphor used by time management expert and best-selling author Brian Tracy for the most challenging task of the day – the one you’re most likely to procrastinate over but probably also the one that, if completed, will have the most positive impact on your  life.

Mastering such discipline will not be easy for most, but many people believe that if you push yourself to do this for 21 days in a row, your resolution will have a stronger chance of turning into a habit. And remember that unpleasant or difficult jobs are unlikely to become more pleasant or easier by putting them off. In all likelihood they will make you feel more stressed, resulting in you rushing to get them done and risking the quality of your work.

Another top time management tip is to try to finish a piece of work without interruptions. If you put work aside to go drinking with your mates (even for a cheeky half-pint), you will lose time picking up where you left off. That said, taking short breaks helps to regain your focus, especially if you are suffering from writer’s block in the middle of that all-important essay or application form.

Being organised goes hand-in-hand with effective time management. You do not need to waste precious time by frantically looking for a missing email or client file. The first step towards being organised is to operate a clear-desk policy by keeping on top of all your paper work, including lecture notes and books.

Also, organise information such as emails and important documents by putting them into sub-folders on your computer. The next step is to keep a diary – this can either be paper-based or one on your computer or smartphone. The main point is to update it regularly and keep it in tune with your to do list.

Follow these simple tips and you will have more time to focus on the social side of university and work.

Husnara Begum is a career coach and business skills trainer

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