Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on motherhood in the legal profession, in partnership with our friends at MothersEsquire. Welcome Alyssa S. Hodges to our pages. Click here if you’d like to donate to MothersEsquire.
“Turbo” is my nickname. Management for my team at Deloitte — my first job out of law school — will tell you that I quickly earned this nickname because I’m always looking for the fast, efficient solution. Most of my mentors will tell you that I gravitate more toward the pragmatic and shy away from the theoretical. I don’t know why I’m this way, but it helped me succeed in law school as a single parent. It’s also helped me build a successful law practice.
Today, I’m sharing some strategies I’ve picked up along the way. Use the ones that resonate with you and ditch the rest. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember that you can do anything you set your mind to. Anything.
You’re not a car — don’t let them kick your tires. I send a form to prospective clients. It asks for all of the information I’ll need when drafting their litigation or estate planning documents. This saves so much time. I can quickly run a conflicts check. I have the correct information prior to drafting, so there’s no need to call the client multiple times to get a birth date or social security number. It also requires a time investment from the client — if they are willing to put in the work to give me what I need to know about their case prior to the consultation, I am more than willing to discuss their case with them.
Cut out the distractions. I don’t allow notifications on my computer. So, if I’m drafting a motion or a trust, I won’t know I’ve gotten an annoying email from opposing counsel until I’m done with that task. Studies show that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds, on average, to refocus after an interruption. (Thank you, Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, Irvine.) I don’t have an extra 23 minutes in my day, and if you have a family, neither do you. Turn your phone off, close your office door, disable your doorbell — whatever it takes. If you (like me) have kids at home while you are trying to work, give them an activity and set a timer. Put a cup of water and a healthy snack within their reach. Actively avoid interruptions and you will *magically* be more productive.
Everybody needs to sit in the right seat. I don’t mow my lawn or clean my house. I don’t manage my website or handle my marketing. I don’t answer cold calls or write my blogs. Why? Because I went to school to practice law. And I’m not good at any of those other things. So, I pay people to do the things I’m not good at. This does two really great things: it frees up my own headspace to make me do my job better, and it gives someone else who is more efficient at the task than I am a job. If your goal is to save money by continuing to inefficiently do things you are not good at, by all means go for it. But if your goal is to make more money and have more time with your family, hire someone to do the job who knows what they are doing. I once watched a patent attorney spend three days trying to fix a copier. His hourly rate was $350. You do the math.
Guard your calendar with your life. Birthdays, holidays, and tax season come every year. I carry a paper calendar and sync my digital calendar to it. (I once had my digital one wiped out completely right before a meeting — never again). As soon as I get a new calendar each year, I block out dates. My kids’ birthdays get covered in stickers and highlighter. There’s a full-day buffer before and after to prevent myself from scheduling trials around their birthdays. I know people who don’t celebrate birthdays and holidays for religious reasons, and if this is you, I highly recommend blocking out days on your calendar that are specifically saved for quality time with your loved ones. You will be far more productive if you schedule vacations and breaks — and then take them.
Also, I’m trying to master something called “time blocking.” I know that every year I will need to report CLEs, so I block out time in my schedule for them. The same goes for administrative work, meetings about marketing, networking … the list goes on. Time is a more precious resource than money, and if we know to set aside money for taxes each year, we should also know how to set aside time for things we want and need to do.
My parting thoughts have nothing to do with saving time –- at least not in the way you might think. Life is short. Set up an estate plan that protects your loved ones. Have a plan for someone to help you pay your bills in case you are ever incapacitated, especially if you have minor children. Write letters or emails to your kids and grandkids. Record your voice, so they’ll still have you if you’re ever suddenly gone. If you don’t know what to say, tell them, “I love you and I’m proud of you.” And say those same words to yourself as often as you can.
Alyssa S. Hodges is focused on thoughtful estate planning and fierce advocacy in family law. She’s a member of MothersEsquire, WealthCounsel, and Personal Family Lawyer. She also owns Cake For Breakfast Press, LLC, a children’s book company, featuring characters dreamed up by Alyssa and a good friend from undergrad. More information is available at CakeForBreakfastPress.com. Her two children are by far her favorite people ever and her constant motivation to save time for what matters. Visit FireBreathingLitigator.com for more information.