Two Tiers in a Bucket: Time Management on Lock Down
Time management is all about task management. If you can break down what you have to do into smaller, more digestible (more ruffage-like) pieces, you’re far more likely to get done what you need to get done, and far less likely to become distracted. (Of course, you can, and should, consider building into your day equally bite-sized breaks, as small rewards.) Managing your time through the processing of discrete tasks is the most realistic way to generate consistent and quality work product in the age of information fatigue. Splitting up larger tasks into tinier chunks is a time-tested method of nibbling away at big jobs, that would otherwise nearly completely dominate your attention and effort.
Time and tide wait for no man; but, task and time serve at the direction of man, and lady. Getting your various tasks into small packages is only one big thing; the next step is to organize your method for proceeding, by attaching time sensitivity to those tasks. Every task has a due date, hard or soft; and, generally, folks rank tasks based on due date, establishing a time-sensitive prioritizing of their work. But, it’s easy to get caught up in projects (even a series of smaller ones), and to lose a day, whether by hyperfocus on one matter, or by feeling overwhelmed concerning the prospect of the potential difficulty involved in finishing a long-term assignment.
So it is that your tasks are tiered, by a natural default: due date. But, having a list of things that must be done on a daily basis can lock you into a myopic tunnel vision; and, if you’re only focused on what you have to do for a given day, you lose a comprehensive vision of what it is that you are doing, more generally, and your sense of what your job entails, in a more abstract construction. The trick to maintaining both a daily and an overarching sense of what you will do is to expand your hierarchy: Yes, you should have your daily tasks to process; but, you should also create task lists for things that are due within the week, within the month, and at longer intervals.
In order to keep this up, you should take some time to reset yourself every morning, establishing your tasks for the day; similarly, you should take the opportunity, each Monday, to put down your objectives for that week, and to look at any new, longer-term projects that you intend to work on. Under this approach, you create something like your own lock system, moving your tasks forward in much the same way that boats are processed through canals. The analogy becomes clear if you think of each segment of tiered tasks as a lock: the lock is filled with water in the morning, which is drained off during the course of the day, as you complete your work; the next morning, the lock fills up again; and, the locks behind follow suit, moving you forward, like a ship, little by little.
Of course, none of this is rocket science; and, I haven’t invented anything new here. (Although, I do like the canal/locks analogy; that’s pretty sweet.) Most people organize themselves by this method in a subconscious way; but, therein lies the problem: if you’re doing this subconsciously, you’re more likely to forget what it is that you intended to do, and you’re more likely to think only in the moment, rather than with an understanding of both what you have to do today, and of what all of your work means in the context of the all of the rest of your work.
Consistently generating tasks based on a long-term heirarchy of needs will force you to think globally about everything that you do; and, this revision of your thought process will offer you a better sense of what your law firm is and does. Since most attorneys are exceedingly busy, and have a broad number of short-term and long-term assignments to manage, there is real utility in leveraging an effective calendar management and task reminder system, synced with your email, so that you can have a check on your, obviously sterling, memory, to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, and also to have a convenient check-down list to review, for purposes of quickly seeing where you’re at, and where you’re going.