Don’t Try to Manage Time, Manage Your Activities

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01Aug2012

Don’t Try to Manage Time, Manage Your Activities

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By Allison C. Shields, Esq.

You can’t really “manage” time, which is why I’m not the biggest fan of the term “time management.” I only use it – and then only very reluctantly – because that’s the term most people are familiar with.

But in actuality, the only thing you can control is what you do with your time; you’re really managing your activities, not your time.

This may seem like a silly distinction, but this small shift in thinking can profoundly and positively affect your productivity.

In her book, Time Management from the Inside Out  and other writings on the subject, author and professional organizer Julie Morganstern advises that instead of thinking of time as abstract, you should think of time as something tangible – a container. There are only a limited number of things that can fit into the container.

Trying to manage your time is like trying to manage your closet. You know you can’t “manage” the closet; instead,  you need to manage what is in the closet. Only a limited number of things will fit into the closet. Once the closet is full, you can’t keep cramming more stuff into it. If you want to put something new in the closet, you will need to make room by getting rid of some of your “stuff.”

The same is true with the “stuff” that fills your days – if you want to add something new, you need to make room.

Get Everything Out of Your Head

Most lawyers are constantly pressed for time and feeling stressed about how much needs to be accomplished on any given day. Too many demands and not enough resources leads to increased stress and poor productivity. David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done describes his process of organizing all of your stuff and reducing anxiety about it at the same time.

Allen’s basic premise is that you are less productive because your mind is always trying to collect, process and keep track of all of your commitments, or “open loops.” His process focuses on managing commitments so you can free your mind to concentrate on the task at hand – and be more productive in the process.

The first step to doing so is to “get everything out of your head.” That’s because when you try to remember all of the things you have to do, or if you don’t have faith that the systems you have created will ensure that all of your important tasks will get accomplished, it’s difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.

Essentially, this step is an information dump – writing down every single thing you can think of that you need to do. One of the things that you will notice as you do this exercise is that some of the items on your list will be single tasks that need to be accomplished. Others will be projects that consist of multiple tasks. Don’t worry about that too much during the initial exercise – just try to get everything down on paper first.

Once you have “collected” all of this information, then you can begin to organize it – and when you are confident that you have collected everything and you aren’t going to miss anything important, your mind will be clear and you will be better able to focus on the next actions that you need to take. Your mind (and your thinking) won’t be cluttered up with trying to remember things, but instead can be used to solve problems for your clients. As Allen says, you’ll be using your mind to think about things, instead of thinking of things.

About the Author

Allison C. Shields, Esq. is President of Legal Ease Consulting, Inc.

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