Many lawyers have told me about the difficulties they have managing their time given all of their competing priorities. Recently a partner related the difficulties of doing it all; practice, billing, managing, teaching and balancing their lives. The general problem applies to any executive who is busy whether they control their schedule or someone else, who manages them, does.

When it comes to time management position in the hierarchy matters but the active ingredient for success is the discipline with which people manage their own time. Discipline in this case means what you do when no one else is pressuring you. The road to success is to diligently work at your plan on the days when nothing is interrupting you.

I’ve run into a few time management ‘systems’ over the years. One is titled ‘Clean up the Messes in Your Life to Find More Time’. Another is ‘Plan Tomorrow at the End of Today’. Here is a good one: ‘Do What You do Best and Delegate the Rest’. One of my favourite ideas is to ‘Create a Won’t Do List’.

Here’s one more that has worked for a number of my clients: 

It’s the ‘School Schedule Model’. Here’s how it works.

Create a schedule for yourself that has 7 periods a day 5 days a week. That’s a chart with 35 boxes. Just like you had in Grade 8!

The owner of the schedule can set it up in any way that meets their needs. And then it’s the application of discipline that makes it work. Think evolution rather than revolution. So prepare to change up the schedule as you learn what works best.

This outline, for example, is aimed to increase marketing time.

Period 1 everyday is 15 minutes first thing with your assistant getting both of you organized for the day’s priorities and sending out at least one marketing invitation to a lunch or coffee meeting in the future.

Period 2 is the next 90 minutes where you have your nose to the billable hour grindstone. That is working privately, without interruptions, to put in your own billable hours.

Period 3 for the next 90 minutes allows for meetings and interaction that are set up to meet your needs. Some of these are billable hours.

Period 4 is a business development lunch.

Period 5, 90 minutes again, after lunch is all your other activities: e.g. returning calls and emails, meetings with other lawyers and clients, coffee meetings, non-billable managing activities. These are activities where you’re responding to others’ needs. You want this period to be chock full of responding to others needs and wants. That will help you overcome the tendency to be tired or even sleepy after lunch.

Period 6, also 90 minutes, is more billable hours responding to immediate needs and deadlines that may have arisen that day.

Period 7 is 10 minutes alone at the end of everyday to plan tomorrow as a prelude to meeting with your assistant the next morning. Keeping the two of you organized and focused will reap rewards.

The above is only one possibility. You can have a different number of periods each day if you want. So 5 some days and 8 others. You can have a different schedule each day, so say mentoring only happens for 30 minutes of Fridays.

You want to create a schedule that works for you and let it evolve over time as you learn more about what works best for you. The underlying idea is figure out what you really want to prioritize and then ‘pen [not pencil]’ those activities into your schedule. [I know you can’t ‘pen’ something into your electronic schedules. But maybe you can do something to give certain activities more importance.]

Of course there will always be interrupting emergencies that you have to handle ‘now’. Handle them.  The key to time management is to be focussed on your own agenda on the many days when no one else is interrupting you with their urgency, which likely is important for both of you.

Many people get in their own way because they are addicted to solving urgencies when it doesn’t need doing. One example of that is checking and handling your email randomly during the day. This throws you off. Things can wait. They would if you were in a meeting. But we have an urgency addiction because when we solve one we get a little burst of endorphins which feels good. We have to learn to avoid doing that to ourselves.

Jerome Shore is an Executive Coach in Toronto, Canada. Clients to look to Jerome for help with Marketing, Leadership and Stress Management. He can be reached at coach@coachingclinic.com or 1-416-787-5555.