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5 Small Changes That Can Improve Your Time Management Skills

Whether it's making sure we get through all our necessary tasks, prioritize important projects, or simply stop wasting time on Facebook, pretty much every legal professional could improve their time management skills. And you can.

If you want to improve your time management skills, approach it like you would go about getting into better shape. (No, we don't mean signing up for a gym membership you never use.) Make a few small changes and start building "healthy habits" in order to improve your overall effectiveness and productivity. Here are five places to start.

1. Make Lists

You can't manage your time well if you're not on top of what needs to be done. That's why everyone -- lawyers, paralegals, horticulturists, everyone -- should start their day off by making a list. Actually, by making two.

Every day, when you get to the office, create one list of things that must be completed that day and one list of longer-term tasks, things you need to accomplish, but you don't need to accomplish today. Need to finish up that demand letter or write back to a client ASAP? Those go on list one, where they'll take precedence over, say, reorganizing your client files or looking through applications for a new paralegal.

2. Take Breaks

It might seem counterintuitive, but you're more productive when you take breaks. Research shows that "brief diversions" can improve your focus, allowing you to power through the tasks ahead. Those who don't break tend to become less efficient and aware the longer they work. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," after all.

You can maximize your breaks by taking them early and making them screen-free. Research shows that morning breaks and strolls outside tend to do a better job at keeping us sharp and aware.

3. Ignore Your Email

Forget multitasking. If you want to use your energy well, make sure you dedicate it to one thing at a time. That means letting distractions slide when you can. And there's nothing more distracting than constant emails. So anything that's not absolutely necessary to address, ignore. You can come back to it when you have a free minute.

4. Reduce Your Administrative Tasks

Lawyers in small and solo practices rank "spending too much time on administrative tasks" as the third biggest challenge the face. One of the more effective ways you can free up time for actual legal practice is by reducing your administrative burden. That may mean hiring extra help, like a legal secretary or paralegal, delegating more tasks to your existing support staff, or using practice management software and other tech tricks to make the administrative tasks you do have to do a bit easier.

5. Get Better at Using Your Computer

Finally, since your computer is where you do much of your work, you should make sure you know how to use it well. Make sure you're optimizing the features in programs like Word and Outlook so that you're not wasting time unnecessarily and consider investing in some productivity software that can make your daily tasks go by a bit faster. Here's a good place to start.

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