Attorneys notoriously live (and die) by their calendars.
Missing deadlines and hearings, I don’t need to remind anyone, can result in disciplinary actions. The attorney calendar is a fine, precision instrument like a car or space shuttle. It needs to be maintained, cradled, and tuned.
Done the right way, calendaring can keep you more than organized: it can improve your efficiency and even help ensure a sane work life balance. Keeping these seven guidelines in mind can make a big difference.
1) Keep to-do’s separate from calendar entries.
David Allen’s GTD fans are familiar with his idea of separating to-do items with calendar entries. His advice: only put something on a calendar if it has a date associated with it. Don’t schedule something with the idea that you’ll work on it that day. Allen writes in Getting Things Done:
The calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all. The only rewriting should be for changed appointments.
2) Always maintain critical information in calendar appointments.
The last thing you need in your hectic day is looking at a calendar event, then shuffling to another program to find telephone numbers, contact information, or relevant details for your appointment. When you schedule the event, put phone numbers in the event header field so you don’t even have to drill into the calendar information for details.
Relevant URLS, notes, and directions should also be stored in the metadata for the event (i.e. notes and location fields).
3) Bill directly from your calendar entries if your software permits.
Your time entry is automated if you use a calendar program that automatically funnels the duration of your appointment into your billing program. Not all calendaring programs do this, so investigate which ones do.
It’s not just hourly billers who need to track time: studying time spent on flat fee and contingency cases gives you an idea of the ROI for your efforts. Furthermore, should the court require you to provide time-records, you’re covered.
Shameless plug and full disclosure: Rocket Matter, the author’s company, provides this Bill as You Work functionality. We observed real-world attorneys spending days recreating their invoices by pouring over their calendars and thought that was an inefficient and unprofitable way to do things.
4) Be as mobile as possible.
You need to be able to quickly check and make appointments whenever and wherever you are. With smartphones and near-ubiquitous Internet access, there’s no excuse not to be able to know and update your calendar. If your calendaring software isn’t mobile, hopefully it can interact with a fully portable offering like Google Calendar.
5) Limit recurring events as much as possible.
There are certainly exceptions to this rule. Status meetings are a biggie. At our workplace we put biweekly review and retrospective meetings on our calendars.
We don’t however, put our daily standup on the calendar. That would clutter things up. You want a calendar that tells you something interesting not a bunch of noisy information. When you do something everyday, you don’t need a reminder that it’s going to occur unless you’re Guy Pierce’s character from Memento.
Also, eliminate any meeting on your calendar that you don’t follow through with more often than not. Any regular appointments that you don’t regularly hit? Kill them and free the space.
6) Review your calendar nightly and weekly.
Most likely, your calendar is in front of you all day long. But two things will put your mind at ease when you break from work. Make sure you scan the following day’s events before you leave work at night. In addition, scan it before the weekend’s over on Sunday night.
Knowing what’s ahead not only helps you avoid missing early morning appointments, it gives you a sense of peace and control knowing that tomorrow is well-planned.
7) Use time blocking for personal priorities.
If you have to be somewhere, whether exercise is a personal priority, you need to hit the bank, or see your kid’s dance recital, block it off! If it’s your goal to go to the driving range on Mondays at six, block off that time in advance and make it happen. Don’t hesitate to put a hard stop on your time.
What about you? What do you do to make sure you have an efficient calendar system?