How successful lawyers prioritise their workload

All lawyers work hard – long hours, lots of paperwork and after-hours events go with the job. But there are some who just seem to effortlessly get things done and others who spend all their time drowning in busywork. You only have so much time available in your working day – so how do you make sure it’s used most effectively?


Just follow our four-step plan for prioritising your workload:


Step 1 – brain dump


When your mind is constantly trying to keep track of all your tasks and commitments, it’s extremely hard to focus on the task immediately in hand. You need to reassure yourself that nothing important will be forgotten, so that you can free up your consciousness and improve your productivity. Start by writing down every single thing you can think of that needs to be done, regardless of importance or urgency. Only when you’ve got everything out of your head and on to paper, can you go ahead and organise it.


Step 2 – sort into priorities


Now you’ve got a list of everything you need to do, you need to decide which tasks to spend your time on. One of the most effective decision-making tools for this is the Eisenhower Matrix, named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who used it to organise his workload and priorities. You basically need to assign every task to one of four categories, depending on how important and how urgent it is.

Tasks in the first box are your highest priority, as they are both important and need to be completed soon. Those in the second box tend to be more involved projects – you need to schedule time in the future to tackle these. You’d ideally delegate those tasks in the third box, but make sure you check they have been done. Tasks in the fourth box are time-wasters and should simply be dumped.


Really effective time managers leave little unplanned, so most of their tasks tend to fall into box 2. Anything that moves into box 1 should be dealt with as quickly as possible to keep your stress levels under control.


Organising your to-do list like this helps you to realise that a lot of things that seem urgent, like answering phone calls or reading emails, may not actually be important at all, but are just distracting you from more important priorities.


Step 3 – think about the long term


It’s not always easy to identify exactly which tasks are the most important. Obviously, billable work is vital, as that’s what your current clients pay you for, but this may not be the most valuable work in the long term. For example, without spending time on business development, you might not have work in the future, and without spending time billing, you won’t have money coming in. You also need to spend time on strategic planning, to ensure both your firm and your own career have a clear direction.


Step 4 – work to your own rhythm


Everyone is different; some are at their most effective first thing in the morning, while others have their best ideas in the middle of the night. Knowing your own working pattern allows you to allocate tasks to the right time of day. For example, if you’re a morning person, don’t waste time reading your emails then but save them until the afternoon when you’re flagging and need an undemanding task.


There’s also an opinion that you should always try and ‘do the worst first’, so you get any tasks you are dreading over with as quickly as possible and the rest of the day will be smooth sailing!