The number one key to success is something that can be learned: time management. Whether you’re considering paralegal classes, balancing school with your other responsibilities, or a new paralegal, time management is an absolute necessity.
Why Time Management Is Essential
Both in school and in the legal industry, time management skills are essential. When you’re in school, you have to balance your course assignments, your family, and your job. Part of your schooling experience is working on and improving those skills. If you’re considering school, you should know that many of your instructors will give you deadlines by which you must turn in certain assignments. Sometimes those dates will overlap. The purpose of this is to help you learn how to budget your time throughout the process of completing your project. This helps prepare you for working in the legal industry.
Many law offices have billable hours for their paralegals. This means that paralegals are given a certain number of hours that they must work on client matters that can be billed to the clients. Sometimes, those billable hours are extremely high and account for 7.5 hours of your day. Some firms don’t have billable hours for paralegals, but you still need time management skills to balance deadlines for court documents and to handle multiple cases at once.
Tips to Improve Your Time Management Skills
You can start improving your time management skills before you ever enter into the legal industry. If you’re already in the legal industry, you’ll find that your job gets much easier if you’re able to better control your time. Of course, even with the best time management skills you’ll still have emergencies and days (or weeks) where you have pressing priorities and there’s no obvious way that you should order your tasks. Time management doesn’t create perfection. It’s about making the best of the time you have. Here are some tips you can use.
Determine how you’re using your time. Before you can figure out exactly where you need to improve, you need to have a baseline. For the next week, track how you use your time. To get you ready for a law office, track your time in either six or 15 minute increments. Those may seem like odd time increments, but that’s how many legal billing apps track time. You can use paper and pen, Word, or your actual calendar. During your work day, track everything. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t leave things out. This exercise is designed to do things. First, it helps prepare you to track your time (which also takes time). Second, it will show you where you need to improve.
Spend time every day setting your priorities and reviewing your calendar. Every morning, look at your responsibilities. Determine your biggest priorities for the day and place those on your calendar. These are things that you must absolutely accomplish. At the end of the day, review what you’ve accomplished and consider the following day. Knowing what to expect is a big part of being able to manage your time.
Say no to social media. Social media is a big part of our lives. While it can be useful, it can also cause you to waste more time than you realize. Learn to say no to social media. Pick two or three times per day to check in. Do not use it during the time you’re in class, should be studying, or you’re on the job. The only time you should use it during those periods is if it is related to what you’re doing. E-discovery is increasingly popular and social media is commonly used during divorce proceedings. So, while you may need it to use it at some point, do not use it for personal reasons when your attention should be elsewhere.
Know when you’re most productive…and capitalize on it. You know when you’re most energetic and focused. That’s the time you’re going to be most productive. If you’re a morning person, schedule your most pressing projects for that time. If you’re an afternoon person, use your morning to get the little things out of the way so that you’re ready to put your full focus on your most difficult matters.
No procrastinating. First, know that there’s a difference between true procrastination and needing to think things through on a work or school project. Just say no to procrastination. The problem with procrastination is that it makes it easier and easier to do it in the future. You end up frantic with deadlines hanging over your head. When we’re pressed for time, it results in projects that are not as good as they could be. Divide your time appropriately and then follow through.
Time management isn’t something that’s mastered overnight. It takes a constant commitment and daily decision making. You’ll find, though, that it’s certainly a skill that makes life easier!