How often have you left the office at the end of a day feeling deflated, because you’ve billed less than your daily average of time needed to meet your annual budget? It’s also easy to be discouraged when you are below budget as the year-end approaches.
Very often, time management, and not the lack of work, is the culprit. Why is this? Like a race, if you fall behind early on, it may not be possible for you to “catch up” and cross the finish line ahead of your billing target for the day. What do I mean by this?
Think about a sporting event where one team is far behind its opponent in the last quarter or period of the game. Or, imagine a marathon runner who is one minute behind the frontrunner in the final home stretch. In both examples, it’s virtually impossible to catch up.
The same holds true in your workday. If you are behind in your docketing at four o’clock in the afternoon, you simply can’t catch up, unless you are willing to stay late and pay a price. That’s an option, but not always possible or desirable.
“Falling behind” during the month is a bigger issue. If you are behind on billable hours on the 25th day of the month, it means you are in a serious “catch up” dilemma once again. Will this be a source of stress? Absolutely. How easy is it for a baseball team to come back from ten games back? The same applies to your law practice.
How do you stop the “falling behind” billings dilemma? Think about drag racing, horse racing or the 100-meter dash. The competitor who gets out of the starting gate or blocks FIRST has the advantage to win the race. Did you know that the team that scores first in the Super Bowl wins the game approximately 70 per cent of the time?
When I work with lawyers who battle to reach their daily billing quota, it’s common to find that they are not logging sufficient time early in their day – they simply don’t get in the game until late in the day. It can be as innocuous as arriving at the office and having a coffee, reading the newspaper, or checking emails for the first hour. Then, it takes time to listen to phone messages and wade through the pile of mail on the desk. A colleague may drop by to have a brief chat about last night’s game or a favorite TV show. Does this sound familiar?
The solution? Play time management football. Simply divide your workday into four equal quarters of time. Use your lunch break as “half time.” The goal is to be ahead of the game at the end of each quarter in your day. For example, if your billing target is 8 hours a day, then you should have 4 hours logged by the mid-point of your day. You should have 2 hours logged by the end of the first quarter of the day. Keep track of your stats.
If by the end of the third quarter you have logged close to your daily quota, then you can coast comfortably for the rest of the day. However, if you have little time logged by the end of the first quarter, then you are going to have to work very efficiently and will be faced with the decision whether you stay late to make your billing quota.
After the first week or two of tracking your progress in this manner, it will become apparent to you exactly when during the day you are falling behind in your docketing. Try to uncover a pattern.
Ask yourself: “Are there any early morning rituals or habits that I can eliminate completely or move to a later part of the day to open up space to complete between one and two hours of billable work by the end of the first quarter of my day?”
Like any great sports team, practice makes perfect. New habits take a few weeks to develop, but everyone can make it to the top.
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