“You’re working too hard. Why don’t you look for ways to work smarter?” That was a key element of the feedback I received during this quarter’s mastermind meeting. After hearing my colleagues’ suggestions, I put some new practices in place to help me work smarter, and I do believe I can already see a difference.
And you’ve no doubt heard this distinction before. All sorts of management experts talk about how to work more efficiently, more effectively, maximizing the results of time. Some of them even have good ideas.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to say that practicing law is hard work. I don’t have any question that it is challenging and demanding, for reasons that I’ve mentioned numerous times. When clients question whether it’s possible to “work smart” in practice, my answer is a resounding yes.
Working smart means managing your physical environment. If you take the time to keep your desk clear, so it’s always easy to locate the files and the resources you need. Nothing wastes time like clutter. The simple act of taking an extra 5-10 minutes to clear and tidy your work area at the end of the day can yield significant time savings. I had to learn this the hard way, but having learned it, it’s become a standard for myself in the office.
Working smart means managing energy. If I’m exhausted and I try to power through rather than resting, chances are good that it’ll take me more time than usual to accomplish anything. I’ll make more mistakes, and I won’t be as creative as I might otherwise be. I’ve put structures in place to take advantage of my energy rhythms (you’ll often find me at my desk at 6 AM, but only rarely after 6 PM) and I’ve been working to enhance my energy with enough rest, enough exercise, good hydration and nutrition, and fun.
Working smart means managing commitments. It’s easy to say yes to every demand, but it just isn’t smart. Making intentional and purposeful decisions about which commitments to accept and which to decline allows me to avoid the frazzled, frantic pace that undermines good work. By the same token, I aim to prioritize my work so that I accomplish what’s most important first.
Working smart means managing people. Good delegation enhances effective work. Whether it’s requesting research or asking an assistant to draft routine communications for my review and editing, delegation frees my time so I can concentrate on doing the things that others can’t do. (Thanks to our global marketplace, getting help is easier and less expensive than ever before. I’m hiring. Should you?)
It’s important to note that what’s smarter for one person will be useless for another. You must identify what makes sense for your practice, your preferences, and your clients. (That’s why Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys includes numerous exercises that make it easy to figure out now you can best apply the principles I share.)
Does any of this mean that it’s possible to take shortcuts and reap the rewards of practice without putting in plenty of time and effort? Absolutely not. But attention to smart management will make the time and effort you put into your practice pay maximum rewards.