In over a decade of legal practice, one of the drudgeries of being a lawyer has been keeping track of my time. I am not alone in this view. It is almost a universal complaint. Since lawyers often bill hourly, many of us have to track tiny blocks of time, usually in six or fifteen-minute increments. On some very busy days with lots of small tasks, it may take (or seem to take) as much time to note what I am doing as it does to do it. On other days, of course, I am immersed in a project for hours and can simply note, for example, “3.2 hours, drafting of _____.”
Since I started my own practice in May 2012, I have had the opportunity to put into place my own systems and procedures. I deviously considered throwing out time tracking altogether, because I do a lot of flat rate work. On the other hand, if a client cancels mid-project, I may need some evidence of the work I have done, so I still need a sense of my time invested.
During the summer of 2012, I split my time between law practice and studying for the Connecticut bar. At that point, my time entries were easy, and I did most by hand. I moved to a spreadsheet as work picked up. At some point, I realized that a formal time-entry program would save me time – and time is money, as we all know. It is infinitely more organized and allows you to run reports, generate invoices, etc. I chose Freshbooks, in part because it is accessible on the iPhone and was recommended by other lawyers. There are many others commercially available. If you have never used one of these programs, you name projects and tasks and enter hours into a calendar. Their site explains the rest.
To my surprise, I found that although it takes time to make the entries, I am actually excited to tally up the hours at the end of the day. It is no longer a drugery but instead a happy event.
Maybe it is because, as a small business owner, I am run in so many different directions. Despite feeling busy, it is sometimes hard to figure out what took up so many hours of my day. Maybe I relish the sense of accomplishment. Maybe (surely) it’s exciting to know I’m getting paid!
It has been extremely useful to see how much of my time goes to administration (I bill that as a block, without entering each task), research on a new aspect of one of my practice areas, client development, etc. It also keeps me on track, so I don’t fall into the trap of being unproductive or succumbing too often to “time sucks” (we each have our favorite ones). I can review my own time entries and step back as my own boss to see where it’s all going.
On some days I bill over 10 hours. On others (like today that’s a “blizzard” day in my neck of the woods and beyond), I bill around 3 or 4. I even “bill” the non-billable, professional parts of my day, like this blog post, so that at the end of the year I will know how much time I spend on each task and where to make efficiency improvements or delegate. (I don’t bill the time I spend at the gym, although I’ve considered it on occasion as an interesting exercise, no pun intended.)
So I have a proposition for you, especially if you have never tried this. If you wonder where all your time goes, try one of these programs (free) for a month. Rather than relying on efficiency experts, articles and coaches to get your rear in gear, look over your own shoulder and see what you can see.
Enter as many tasks or as little as you please to get a true sense of your own time management. Tweak at will. See if you spend your time on what truly matters to you personally and professionally, or if you can track yourself to get your time more aligned to your priorities. Have fun.
This post is one in an occasional series about the interplay of legal practice and everyday life. Anne Marie Segal is admitted to practice law in New York and Connecticut.