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Practice management: Take charge of your workload

Practice management: Take charge of your workload

By Judith Bennett

Practice Management 

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Learn to prioritise your time with what is important for business success, not necessarily what is urgent. 

Do you race between urgent emails and meetings to realise at 6pm that you have not started that important matter or thought about your client acquisition strategy for a week? Do you feel like you have too much to do while your priorities are not being achieved?

The urgent/important matrix is a tool to help you organise your workload and priorities by deciding what is important versus what is urgent versus what is, essentially, a distraction. The goal is to schedule your time on tasks that are important but not urgent, and so maximise your productivity and meaningful outcomes, and help minimise your time stress. 

This tool was developed by former US president Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and featured in Stephen Covey’s 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While work has changed, time management remains vital.

Step 1: Understand the matrix 

The matrix sets out the two main criteria for activities as urgent and important: 

  • important activities contribute to achieving goals and values – professional and personal 
  • urgent activities demand immediate attention and often have immediate consequences. 

Our natural tendency is to be far more likely to deal with urgent activities, regardless of importance. As Covey writes: “Urgent matters are usually visible . . . [and] insist on action . . . often they are pleasant, easy, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant.” 

When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we can schedule our time to prioritise what is essential for our success. We can move from “firefighting” to growing our businesses and our careers.

Step 2: Evaluate your time 

Find out how you spend your time now. List all your activities in a typical work week including everything that takes up time. Classify them according to urgency and importance. Estimate the percentage of time you spend in each quadrant. 

Step 3: Strategise your work 

Here is what to do with quadrant 1, 3 and 4 to free up time for quadrant 2. 

Quadrant I: Important/urgent may include unforeseen issues with serious consequences. To decrease “emergency mode”, focus on the activity and do it efficiently and well. It may also include issues you have left until the last minute. The more you focus on quadrant 2 activities the less such quadrant 1 activities occur as you are actively preventing them in the first place. 

Quadrant 2: Important/not urgent activities allow you to pro-actively work on valuable opportunities and clients, make progress towards your goals, carry out longer term planning and risk prevention, and be more balanced and focused. Schedule them with blocked out times every week. Plan to do these in your peak mental times. 

Quadrant 3: Not important/urgent activities are not relevant for your priority goals, but are urgent and often important to others, such as emails, meetings and administration. Delegate or outsource these tasks. Batch similar tasks together at specific times, using technology to assist. 

Quadrant 4: Not important/not urgent activities include “busy” work and time wasters for lawyers. Always question why and how your work is directly related to or has an impact on achieving your goals. Eliminate time-wasters. Deal with your addictions or weak spots, such as limiting social media or turning off notifications on your phone and computer. 

Use the urgent/important matrix to help you identify what activities you should focus on and what you should eliminate. Schedule activities based on important and urgent. Deal with your truly urgent issues and also work towards your important, longer term goals.

Judith Bennett is a lawyer, manager and business coach for the legal profession at www.business4group.com.

 


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