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Life is what happens in the spaces of time while you are waiting for something important to happen. Or so it may seem in a law firm. Even for busy junior associates, the truly “big” events in a working day may be relatively few. There are the occasional meetings with senior lawyers, phone calls or meetings with clients, and events outside the office, such as court conferences or negotiation sessions. Much of the rest of the time, however, appears to be “free,” at least in the sense that you do not absolutely have to do any particular thing at any particular moment. Indeed, at most law firms, there is really no requirement to punch a clock or account for your every activity throughout the day. So long as you get your work done, and bill sufficient hours, you appear to be free to work as you please. But are you truly free? With even a little experience at a law firm, it becomes apparent that you cannot conduct your activities in a truly careless or chaotic manner. Your efficiency and your well-being may be jeopardized if you do not place some structure on the use of your time. Here are some methods of time structuring that may be effective for you. TIME PRIORITIES On any given day, there are some things that you absolutely must do, some that you would prefer to do if you have time, and some that it would be nice to do, but that you can, in theory, put off indefinitely. In simple terms, these are high-, medium- and low-priority items. � High-priority items tend to have immediate, significant effects, such as preparing for and attending a client meeting. � Medium-priority items tend to have significant effects, but their immediacy may be more limited, such as organizing documents for a deposition that is to take place in two weeks. � Low-priority items have very long-term, more limited effects, such as keeping up on reading of journals in your area of interest. This ranking immediately suggests some structure for your use of time. High-priority items may be the only things you work on in a given day. When they are not, at very least you will want to ensure that all high-priority tasks associated with a given day are accomplished. Some time management experts, for example, suggest that you should begin working on your highest priority task soon after coming to work, and make sure that any high-priority tasks are completed before you move on. KEEPING TRACK OF PRIORITIES That form of response to high-priority tasks is not absolutely required. But it is important to have some sense of priorities, and a method of keeping tracking of them. Some experts, for example, suggest using a written system to keep track of them. A simple “to do” list may suffice. Listing all the tasks you expect to perform during the day, prioritizing them, and then adding to and subtracting from that list during the course of the day, may help you to put your priorities in concrete, recognizable terms. For many people, creation and use of such a system can provide real confidence that it is possible to gain control over what might otherwise be a very hectic, frazzled work experience. At a minimum, keeping a calendar of upcoming activities will permit you to account for the events that you absolutely must attend, and the tasks that have specific deadlines. The extent of the detail in such a calendar is up to you. But having some regular system of recording your schedule, and sticking with the process of keeping track of major new events, activities and modifications in your schedule is vital. INTERRUPTIONS Maintaining a rough priority scheme for your time, moreover, permits you to deal with interruptions and sudden reordering of priorities. Interruptions may occur in many forms — the surprise telephone call from a client, the sudden call down to a partner’s office for an impromptu team meeting, and many others. You should plan for such likely events, and learn to deal with the effects they may have on your priority scheme. So, too, events in a day may overtake your priority scheme, and require reordering of priorities. In a call with a client, or meeting with a partner, for example, you may be assigned new tasks with relatively high priority. When interruption and reordering occurs, you should have some system to adjust your time management. Here are a few suggestions for how to respond: � Collect your thoughts, whenever there is a transition in your day (an interruption or reordering event). The temptation may be to plunge immediately back into your work, to counteract the feeling that you are behind. But that way constitutes an abandonment of time planning, and may lead to mistakes in prioritizing. Spend at least a few minutes reviewing your work priorities, before starting back to work. � Find the rhythm of your personal style of work. Perhaps you work best in the morning. Try to schedule your highest priority work for that time, and avoid interruptions, if possible, during that period. If interruptions arise during that period, moreover, consider whether it is best to go back immediately to your prior activity once you have dealt with the interruption. Conversely, if there are particular times in your day when you know it will be impossible to attend to high-priority work on a concentrated basis, plan your high-priority work for another, more effective, time if possible. � Consider whether some interruptions and rearranged priorities can be avoided through better communication. Keeping in periodic contact with clients and senior lawyers, at times that are most conducive to accomplishing your work priorities, may avoid interruptions and sudden reordering of priorities at inopportune times. DAILY RITUALS It has been said that the only things that are important in life are the things that are done every day. A professional’s day must include certain daily rituals important to long-term success. Treating these rituals as low priority can mean they are rarely done and eventually ignored altogether. Here a few common rituals that you may wish to incorporate into your daily routine: � Handle administrative matters. Do your daily time sheets. Chat with your secretary for a few minutes to make sure that he or she knows your plans and needs. Spend time cleaning off your desk and in box, and filing. These are only a few of the administrative matters that you may wish to make a daily priority. � Attend to your health. Go to the gym, or find some other form of exercise you can do regularly. Eat a healthy lunch. Get up and stretch periodically. Meditate, or take a short nap if you need one. Again, this list is hardly exhaustive or necessarily right for you. The point, however, is that you will function much better if you are physically fit. � Maintain personal contact. Call your clients and potential clients periodically, of course, but also keep up with friends and colleagues, inside and outside the firm. Make dates to see your old classmates. Take time to stop by the offices of lawyers in the firm that you know, but with whom you do not always work. These kinds of activities can keep you energized and stimulated, and in many instances can lead to informal networks helpful to your career. � Plan some fun. Even a few minutes every now and then spent planning something fun — an office party or other event, or a personal vacation — can give you a breather from a hectic day. � Do some good. Putting even a small part of your efforts into activities that you view as beneficial to the communities to which you belong (at the firm, within the profession, in your neighborhood, at your religious institution, within your family, or wherever else may be important to you) will make you feel good. Such efforts over time can lead to real improvements in your surroundings. � Fill in the gaps. Think of some of these daily rituals as potential gap-fillers. When you are waiting, between meetings, conference calls and trips, can you do some of these things? If so, the time will not be wasted, and you will be more effective. These suggestions, of course, are ideals. We all have crazy days where schedules are destroyed by events, and work drags on, seemingly forever. Those days should be exceptions, not the rule. Planning your days should make it possible to do more, and feel more enthusiastic and fulfilled, than simply reacting to events, or living in factory-like drudgery. Your time is largely free for you to shape. Your challenge is to use that freedom wisely. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and co-director of the New Associates Group there. The views expressed are solely the author’s and should not be attributed to the firm or its clients.

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