I have to handle the Smith motion by tomorrow. I gotta get to my pre-bills this week. I need to get back to Susan Client with that amendment I promised her. Sound familiar? Those are the kinds of time management-related phrases we say to ourselves all day long. And while that language serves as a vague inner “to-do list,” it’s not specific enough to be very useful in planning how we’re going to spend our available time on a given day.
As my clients and readers know, I strongly advocate starting each day by devoting 15 to 30 minutes to plan out the unallocated hours before you. Those who do plan usually run through a sequence like this: they look at their calendar, scan a task list (whether mentally or written), and prioritize intentions for the day. And while this is better than just diving into the maelstrom without any planning, it’s not as valuable as it could be.
Some take daily planning to the next level of effectiveness by actually committing to specific times for tackling particular tasks. But what happens if you have three important things to get done today and only two hours open on your calendar? How do you avoid feeling frustrated at the end of the day because you didn’t “finish” that motion, your pre-bills, or that amendment?
How can you improve your morning planning to make the best use of your two available hours?
The secret is in identifying the clear, discrete next action you must take on each task and assign a realistic amount of time for that action. For example, getting that amendment to Susan Client may actually be a multi-step process requiring you to assemble and review existing documents, get answers from three other people involved in the process, do some statute research, and finally draft the document.
So rather than telling yourself in the morning that you’re going to get that amendment to Susan even though your schedule and your list of other tasks will prevent that from happening, identify the very next step, think that through, allot a realistic amount of time to it, and decide when you’re going to work on it. Having completed that step, you’ll be able to focus more effectively on the next step whenever you decide to get to it.
By consciously breaking out the “to-do” item into discrete activities – that is, by identifying the next specific step(s) to be completed within an allotted time – you’ll feel (and you’ll BE) in greater control of your workflow. You’ll have a better feeling of overall momentum. It’s not that you’ll magically be less busy, but you won’t be weighed down by that nagging sense of guilt and ineffectiveness you’ve tolerated in the past.