Can 20 hours make a difference in a year?
The answer is yes! Last year, we found out from the Clio Legal Trends report that fast-growing law firms are increasing their revenues by 20-30% every year. How? It all comes down to finding an extra 10-15 minutes per day to spend on valuable work. Those extra minutes a day may feel insignificant but over the course of the entire year, the compound effect is huge.
It turns out spending just an extra hour per week on valuable work adds up. Even when, practice area, firm size and an increase in staff were accounted for, it boiled down to utilization. Utilization simply measures how many hours a lawyer puts into billable work each day. At the average firm, this works out to roughly 2.5 hours a day. Ten minutes a day seems simple enough, but practically how do you find them? Lawyers are some of the busiest people we know.
Ground Rule 1: What gets measured gets managed
The solution is to figure out how you’re spending your time. Most of us already have a “good sense” of how we divide our time. But Peter Drucker’s 70-year-old adage “what gets measured gets managed” takes it one step further because what is measured can also be improved.
Step 1. Start tracking what a typical workday and workweek looks like for you. This will give you a better sense of the tasks that are taking up your workday. You can try using a journal, spreadsheet or even a browser extension tool like Toggle (free for Chrome) that prompts you to fill in details every time you start a new task. At the end of the week, set aside some time to review and collect your learnings. Divide all your activities into core areas: client work, administrative tasks, meetings, business development, management time and anything else.
Step 2. Once your time is categorized, you'll be to pinpoint time-wasters that are stopping you from spending an extra 10-15 minutes a day on valuable work. Time wasters come in different forms and sizes. They can be administrative, they can come from organizational drag, like too many unnecessary meetings or a really manual expense process. Also be wary of any activities where you completely lost all sense of time, when something that should have taken a few minutes took an hour or more.
Having identified a realistic list of time wasters, you can commit to tackling and improving them over time, either through changes in behavior, processes or tools.
Ground Rule 2: Use single-tasking and compounding
Our advice is, always tackle one task at a time, otherwise known as the science of single-tasking. You’re not going to be able to fix all your time-wasting problems in the first week. Neuroscience confirms this, multi-tasking may seem fun and productive, but it actually has the opposite effect. “Attempting to do two challenging tasks at once will lead to a drain in productivity” points out Hal Pashler, a psychology professor at UC San Diego. By focusing on fixing one task, you’ll become fully engaged in figuring out how to solve that problem. You’ll be an expert in how to complete that task a lot more efficiently which also means you’ll be able to solve the problem quickly and move on to fixing the next time-waster. Over the course of the year, these mini fixes and time savers will start to compound to an extra 1-2 hours a week.
Similar to the Tesla approach, which we’re big fans of. Rather than taking on one long massive rebuild, Tesla optimizes its production line, by making constant tweaks all the time. Those small tweaks compound over time to a lot of innovation. Or in your case, this could be time for more valuable and meaningful work.
Ground Rule 3: Make technology work for you
We’ve all seen the profound impact that technology can have. But how come you are still stuck with that stupid time-reporting app, built by consultants in the 80’s, which crashes if you use a “.” instead of a decimal? Well, that’s because the legal industry traditionally has been a typical enterprise software market.
The “enterprise-ness” of software used to imply that it was safer and better supported by the company behind it. However, in the last few decades, the rise of software-as-a-service, and an explosion of consumer tech means that even free open-source projects can have resources, support and security teams far beyond an “enterprise” focussed company. The rise of consumer tech has pushed people’s expectations of what good software looks like and it’s been slowly changing the enterprise landscape as well.
The availability of free-trial and freemium consumer software is actually also shifting how employees interact with technology at work. The expectation is that software should be ergonomic and that you should be able to test it out yourself. A lot of innovation is starting to happen from the bottom up as employees sign up, test tools and realize these tools are also very usable in the workplace. Don’t wait, instead find technology that will work with you to reduce the drag on your time, not against you.
Practical Time-Saving Recommendations
Our team at Donna tries a lot of new tech each month, to help reduce the amount of manual work and mundane tasks we do. That’s why we wanted to share some of our top time-saving picks with you, which will help you gain back those valuable hours in 2020. Depending on your role, team size and organization, all or some of these tools may be a good fit. But most importantly you’ll be able to give most of these a try out on your own.
Do you have to cope with any of these time-wasters?
Problem: I spend a lot of time scrolling up and down, looking for defined terms when I’m proofreading legal contracts.
The average legal document contains roughly 50 terms per document, so if you’re reviewing 3 documents per week that can add up to 11 hours of scrolling a year. Try Donna (free 30-day trial) and endless scrolling and looking for defined terms will be a thing of the past. Donna’s handy pop-ups bring up defined terms and definitions right in context as you’re reading through your document. Plus Donna will also identify over a hundred typical drafting mistakes that are easy for the human eye to miss and handy suggestion pop-ups which you can fix or ignore as you go. Donna is available as a Microsoft Word add-in that installs within seconds.
Problem: Every Wednesday I spend 15 minutes looking for our Friday meeting notes to figure out which clients I should be focusing on this week.
Try Otter.ai (free 600 minutes per month), it transcribes meeting notes automatically for you. It records the conversation or meeting, transcribes it instantly and lets you share the notes with colleagues so they can leave their comments or keep track of follow-up actions. Plus you can easily search transcriptions, so you don’t have to waste any more time leafing through your notes. Otter is available as a mobile app, or in your desktop browser.
Problem: Ironically, I spend too much time figuring out how much time I spent this week on billable work.
Try Timely (14-day free trial). Timely sits in the background and records every activity for you, so you don’t need to spend that hour trying to figure out how you managed your time this week. It's all summarised in a handy dashboard, so you can see time spent on a particular client or how much time you spend on billable work in a week. It integrates with most of the tools that lawyers use and will only interrupt you to describe the new task you are working on. Timely is available on most devices including mobile.
Problem: I visit about 20 external clients a week and often spend Saturday morning looking for all the train receipts and putting them into a spreadsheet.
You need a Pleo company card. (Give your accounts team a heads up about their free trial). With Pleo, you get a company card and real-time notifications every time you make a purchase, which reminds you to take a snapshot of the receipt. All your spending is then automatically categorized and sent directly to your finance team, so you don’t have to worry about filling in detailed expense sheets at the end of the month. Pleo is also available on mobile app so you can keep track of things on the go.
Problem: I’m constantly getting distracted by colleagues asking me where to find a specific template in our DMS.
Try Notion (test it out for free), it's an easy-to-use Wiki for you and your work colleagues. It's a time saver because everything is in one place, so you don’t have to crawl through folders, emails and remember where those case commentaries live. And it lets you collaborate on spreadsheets, databases, notes, calendars and to-do lists. It can act as a project planner and tracker and so much more. It probably gets rid of 3-5 different apps that you were using to do each individual task. Notion is available as a desktop and mobile app.
Of course, these are just some examples. The goal shouldn’t be to take this list of tools but to really spend some time to notice the small things that are taking up your time. Seemingly insignificant moments can add up to a significant amount of time in the course of the year. Luckily it works both ways. So tackle one task at a time, become a time-efficient pro in that task, and move on to the next time waster. Don’t forget to figure out what valuable work you will focus on in your newfound time. Set clear goals for yourself, either in monthly or quarterly intervals and stick to these timescales. Get ready to feel an amazing sense of achievement!