Law firm owners often start the year really energised and enthused.
They’ve set some really ambitious, inspiring and motivating goals for themselves, their firm and their life, and they can’t wait to make them happen.
But by about the end of February, those goals have already fallen by the wayside. They’ve got caught up doing all the busy work in their firm and they’ve basically given up on working towards their goals.
Now, something people often say to me is, “You must be so busy, you do all these things, how do you fit it all in?”
The truth is, I’m actually not that busy.
I do get through a lot of work but I’m very strategic about how I plan my time and how I prioritise the things that I need to do.
That means that I get more done in less time, and I’m able to achieve my goals.
So I really wanted to share with you my five tips for how to prioritise your time so that you can actually hit the goals you’re setting for your law firm.
#1: Review your goals
Those goals that you’ve set for yourself at the start of the year, the reason why you’re super amped about them is because you’ve just created them.
You’ve written them down so they’re super fresh in your mind and you’re feeling super jazzed about them, but that feeling will fade in time.
So you need to create that excitement about those goals day in and day out.
Me, I review my goals every day.
I review my mission, my vision and my core values for my company. I look at my three year goals, my one year goals and my quarterly goals and I review them. Every day.
Now, often when I talk to my coaching clients, the law firm owners who are part of the coaching program Scale Up, they say to me, “Isn’t reviewing your goals on a daily basis boring?”
No, it’s not.
My goals for my business and my life are some of the most motivating things for me. For me to remind myself what they are on a daily basis, I actually really love it.
For those of you who don’t not find it as energising as I do, I would say to you this:
Sometimes the things we need to put in to achieve a certain output or result are not glamorous or fabulous or super fun. Sometimes they can be a bit bland.
This is just one of those things.
And also, if you think about how excited you were at the start of the year about your goals, don’t you wanna recreate that for yourself?
I think that’s such an important thing to be able to do for yourself as an entrepreneur and as a business owner.
I honestly think that if you try it for a couple of weeks, you’ll find that you really will start to enjoy it.
#2: Categorise tasks
Most law firm owners that I talk to, when I first started working with them, they have these great big to-do lists.
I used to have a big, long to-do list in a spreadsheet myself, and I called it the Spreadsheet of Doom.
I used to sweat with anxiety before I opened it every day, but one thing that I learned to help me reduce my anxiety and begin to prioritise my time strategically, was to categorise those tasks.
There are so many articles, blog posts and videos out there about how to categorise and prioritise your tasks, and any one of them could work for you.
One that I remember is, you put your tasks into four quadrants. On one side it’s Important and Not Important, and then on the other side it’s Urgent and Not Urgent.
So you categorise your tasks into one of those four quadrants, and the idea is that you’re supposed to do the Important and Urgent things first.
That’s too complicated for me. I need something way more simple.
How I do it is, I categorise tasks as either A or B.
A means it’s a task that is helping you move forward to achieving one of the goals that you’ve set for your law firm. B is everything else.
I find it’s pretty clear when I’m looking at a task, figuring out if it’s linked to moving forward to achieving one of your goals or not.
The idea is, you prioritise everything that’s an A over the B’s.
Where it can get a bit sticky, and this is where law firm owners often challenge me, is that most of your client work is going to be a B task.
Because client work often will not directly lead you to achieving your goals.
Now, how can you categorise and prioritise an A task like marketing or implementing some new technology over something urgent for one of your clients?
To start with, that is a real challenge. I get that.
But this is more of a journey and a transition, because as you do this, you will see that the B’s always try to overtake the A’s.
What’s really important is that you start to see where that is interfering with you achieving your goals.
Once you recognise that, you can start to think strategically about how you can spend more time on A tasks and less time on B tasks.
When it comes to the legal work that is a B task, you need to start looking at how you can hire lawyers, paralegals or legal execs to come in and do that work for you.
A great example of that is Caralee Fontenele.
Caralee is a family lawyer in the Gold Coast; she has a law firm called Collective Family Law Group.
Caralee has built an amazing business. She has scaled her law firm to well over $2 million per year, and she does none of the legal work.
She’s solely focused on her goals; building her team, building the culture, overseeing the marketing and overseeing the client processes and things like that.
She is totally focused on the A tasks. Over time she has delegated all the B tasks, so that she can just focus on the A tasks.
She couldn’t do that straight away, she had to work towards that over a number of years.
I was the same in my law firm. From the time I decided I wanted to focus on A tasks only, it took me about three years to transition away from doing things like legal work and other B tasks.
But it is definitely possible, and really, it’s what you need to do if you’re serious about growing and scaling your law firm so you free up your time and stop practicing in the chaotic way that you do now.
You really do need to find a way to get the B tasks off your plate and prioritise the A tasks.
That just about always means hiring people, but that is why you do it.
#3: Set boundaries
When you set boundaries around your time, you can focus on the stuff that you’ve prioritised.
Setting boundaries is where you look at the areas of your life where you’re not as productive as you want to be, and figure out how you can put some rules in place, either for yourself or with other people, so that you can prioritise the work that needs to be done.
Say, for example, you’ve prioritised working on automating a new document for your practice, but you’re getting distracted by what’s going on on social media.
You really need to start setting a boundary with yourself around that, whether it means leaving your phone in another room while you’re working, or turning off notifications.
Team members can be a challenging one as well, if they want your attention all the time. If that’s the case, then you need to set really clear boundaries with them around when you’re available and when you’re not.
With my team, I have my team day on a Monday. That’s when I do all my team meetings and we catch up and go over everything they might need me for.
They know that I’m just not available any other day.
Sometimes someone might try to book time with me on another day, but I’m not interested in catching up with them about those things on those days.
Monday is the day we can talk about all the things.
It’s scheduled in their calendar, it’s scheduled in my calendar, we have an agenda, we’re going to cover that thing, so they need to wait until then to talk about that with me.
I know that gives a lot of lawyers anxiety, but your time is so important and you need to guard it, so setting boundaries for people like that is super important.
That leads on to number four, which is…
#4: Saying no
Setting boundaries is often the easy part. Saying no and sticking to those boundaries can be quite difficult.
The reality is, people will try to cross those boundaries all the time. They may not do it knowingly, but they will do it.
That doesn’t mean you should give up on those boundaries, it just means you need to get better at enforcing them.
The more you enforce them, the more people will respect them. It will take a little bit of time, but people will get there.
You also need to re-examine your boundaries fairly regularly, because often you will set a boundary and you’ll enforce it for a while, but bit by bit people will start to cross those boundaries again.
It may not be until six months later when you’ll suddenly be like, “Hang on, you guys aren’t supposed to be doing that.” So you need to re-examine your boundaries and start to reinforce them again.
It is a bit of a constant dance, but that’s just reality.
Just because you’ve set a boundary and people are crossing it, does not mean you should give up on it. It just means that you need to say no.
Learn to say no more often and that boundary will become clearer for people and for yourself.
#5: Prioritise self care
A few months ago, I decided to do the 75 Hard program.
75 Hard is called a mental toughness challenge, but it has a really strong fitness component.
What it is, is there are certain tasks that you have to do every day for 75 days. You can’t miss a day or else you have to start again.
The tasks include things like two 45 minute workouts, and one of them has to be outside, and you have to read 10 pages of a business book every day.
I really wanted to do this program because it looked really challenging. I like doing really hard things and I love doing things where I feel like I might get a significant mindset shift, so I committed to doing it.
I knew that if I was going to get all of the workouts in I would have to prioritise them over work, because often exercise is the first thing to fall off my calendar when work is busy.
So I was quite worried about the impact that prioritising workouts would have on the business.
At the time, business was growing quickly and my team was working really well together and we had a lot of momentum, and I didn’t want to slow that down by not being available or by having to cancel meetings because I was exercising.
But it actually had a really positive impact.
By prioritising my self care, I gave myself a lot more time to think about ideas and how to deal with different situations, and decisions that needed to be made.
So when I was working, I was more productive than I had ever been.
The self care really brought me a lot of calmness and clarity, so instead of being fuddled in my brain when I would have to make a decision, I was so much clearer and I could process things much faster and make decisions so much quicker than I usually would.
My conversations around goals and things with my team members were a lot more productive, and meetings were more efficient.
It was a hugely positive experience and it really has helped us, I believe, to grow even faster.
The team is working so much better and I’m so much clearer than I ever have been on who we are as a business and where we’re heading.
That’s why I recommend you prioritise self care above your work.
I challenge you to do it for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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.