I spend a lot of time talking to law firm owners who tell me about problems they have with their to-do lists.
They’re often a million miles long and have 11 million different tasks on them.
What that means is, they’re not getting through as much as they want to.
That leaves them feeling unproductive, overwhelmed, overworked and over it.
I can totally relate to this.
When I was a lawyer, I was pretty organised.
But when I became a law firm owner, I became overwhelmed.
I had so many different to-do lists. I used my email inbox as a to-do list. I had a to-do list in my notebook, and a few other ones in random other places too.
Despite all these lists I always just ended up dealing with the most urgent situations.
I never really got the things on my to-do list(s) that I needed to get done.
If there was a client calling up demanding something, I would deal with that.
If there was a team member who urgently needed help with something, I would deal with that.
I was basically just dealing with the biggest fire that needed putting out at the time.
And that’s draining, right? It’s frantic and reactive, and you just feel like you’re not moving towards your goals.
And you’re not.
As entrepreneurial, ambitious law firm owners, I know you have big goals.
But if you’re constantly running from one fire to the next and not working towards those goals, that will really drain you.
So I’ve had to really figure out how to reprioritise and plan my time.
Now, I can see that every day, I move a little bit closer towards the big goals that I have for myself and my business and my life.
So today I’m sharing my five tips to creating a to-do list that you actually get done.
#1: Plan ahead
This seems simple right, but hardly anybody actually does it.
The best way to plan ahead is to plan tomorrow’s to-do list today.
This means you need to be organised and you need to have a set time every day that you plan for tomorrow.
I like to do mine at the end of my working day. I set aside 10 – 15 minutes to actually plan ahead what I’m going to do tomorrow.
I book that time in my calendar and I do it every day.
I actually really look forward to it too, because it means I can stop work for the day and know that I have tomorrow already planned out.
I can start tomorrow with lots of momentum, because instead of trying to figure out what I need to do, I can just get started straight away.
That knowledge really puts my mind at ease in the evenings as well.
#2: Read your goals
Before you actually plan your to-do list, go through and read your goals.
By your goals, I mean your mission, your vision, your core values, your three-year goals, your one-year goals and your current quarterly goals.
If you’ve done your strategic planning then you should have all this information in a document.
It will really help you if you have these goals in a one-pager, or somewhere you can read them succinctly.
You’ll find that having those goals fresh in your mind means you can plan your to-do list based on the things that are going to help you work towards those goals.
Those goals are your priorities for your business, so they can be your priorities for your day.
As well as that, by checking in with your goals you can review them and check they’re still relevant for your business today, and update them if you need to.
#3: The top five
This is a productivity technique that I’ve talked about before.
The top five is all about choosing the top five things you can do tomorrow to help you achieve your goal. This becomes your daily to-do list.
This is why it’s so important to read your goals and remind yourself of them first.
For example, say you have a quarterly goal of opening up 20 new matters or files or cases, whatever you call them.
To do that, you need to start contacting existing clients that you haven’t spoken to in a while to reconnect and see if they have any legal issues or opportunities you can help them with.
So you decide that tomorrow, you’re going to call five of them and see if they need a hand.
That might be one of your top five to-do items.
Once you’ve looked at your goals and you’ve got your top five things for the day, write them down.
Put how much time you think they’ll take. The idea is that you get all five things completed every day.
I find that as I complete each one and I cross it off, it gives me real satisfaction.
At the end of the day, if I’ve completed all five, I give it a big tick. If I don’t, then I give it a cross.
Ending up with a cross is a really good indication that I probably haven’t planned my day right.
So if that happens, I’ll do a quick review to see where I’ve gone wrong.
I’ll see what’s happened in my day that prevented me from finishing off that list, and I often learn a lot from that.
You can even start to see trends emerge of things that are constantly getting in your way.
Often it’s that boundaries are being over-stepped.
You need to set boundaries with people around you, whether it’s team members or family members or whoever, just regarding your time and your availability and when they can come to you with things.
Another common reason you don’t get through your list is that it’s just too long.
For example, say you want to hire a new lawyer.
That’s a massive task, and clearly you wouldn’t be able to finish that in a day. I’ll address this point more in a moment.
But in order to do five things in a day, they need to be things that you can finish in no more than an hour.
We do this in my coaching program, Scale Up, and often law firm owners say to me, “Five things? That’s not many things to get through in a day.”
But if you look at your to-do list at the moment, with 11 million things on it, how many of these things are you actually getting through each day?
That big, long list might look impressive, but often those law firm owners aren’t ticking off ANYTHING in a day.
Sometimes they might get through one thing, or two things, or maybe three things.
But if you’re consistently getting through five key things that move you towards your goals every single day, that is powerful progress.
#4: Break it down
This goes back to what I was just saying about dealing with massive tasks.
If one of those top five things is going to take you longer than an hour, then you need to break it down.
Create a project plan or a list of steps to break that thing down into smaller pieces.
Those smaller pieces are the things you can use as to-do items in your top five.
An example might be, you need to draft a contract for a client, and it’s quite complex. It’s going to take you a number of hours to draft this contract.
You wouldn’t put ‘Draft contract’ as one of your top five items. But you can break it down.
It might be you’re going to draft the first three pages, or the first five clauses, or whatever you think you can achieve in around 45 minutes to an hour.
If you can do that every day until it’s finished, that’s good, steady progress that you can be satisfied with at the end of each day.
#5: Schedule it in
Once you’ve got your top five to-do list items, you need to bring up your calendar and have a look at what you’ve got planned for the day.
You will just about always have meetings or appointments or other commitments already scheduled.
So you need to slot your top five things in around those other commitments.
Put them into your calendar and honour them.
Honour them for the time you’ve set aside, whether it’s an hour or whether it’s less than that, and move onto the next thing when that time is up.
Putting things in your calendar will mean you’re so much more likely to actually get to them when the time comes up.
You have to be disciplined with yourself and commit to doing what’s in your calendar each day, because you recognise and acknowledge that everything in there is important.
One trick with doing this is to avoid having a fully booked calendar each day. If you do that, you won’t have time to get to these top five things.
But if you build buffers of time into your calendar each day, you can make the progress you need to make on the things that will take you towards achieving your most important goals.
If you’re interested in scaling a law firm, or building, designing and selling online legal solutions and learning about how to do the marketing around that, then there’s plenty more for you to discover over in my Savvy Lawyers Facebook group.