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December 30, 2022

How to Avoid Calendar Collisions as You Plan for the Year

Quick – what words and phrases immediately come to mind when you think about your calendar?  See if some of these ring true: cluttered, hard to read, inaccurate, untrustworthy.  And what emotional associations arise?  How about frustration, resistance, pressure.  If any of these fit, you’re not alone.  

Too many attorneys work off of calendars that are hard to read or missing critical information (or both). They ignore the entries and end up missing things or double-booking their time. Or, the time that is scheduled often falls short of what’s needed. As a result, their calendar becomes less than reliable; it becomes a subtle source of burden and/or resentment rather than the helpful tool it should be.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

As we launch into 2023, there are steps you can take to significantly improve your relationship with your calendar. 

Schedule Adequate Time

If you’ve got a meeting scheduled for 10:00 and you enter it on your calendar for 10:00, you can stay on track only if the meeting is in your office and you don’t need to do a single extra thing to prepare for it. If you have to drive somewhere, you obviously have at least some awareness of the necessary travel time, but do you account for it in how you describe the event in your calendar?  For example, “Smith depo, 10am, RLL office, Boston.” But what if the depo is in your office?  You may need to make some copies before the meeting, review notes, or even pick up a fresh cup of coffee, so it’s wise to take those activities into account. 

Instead of entering that meeting on your calendar for 10:00, you will serve yourself (and any support team folks who can see your calendar) much better and keep your schedule accurate if you block the event so your calendar shows you as occupied from say, 9:15 (if you have 35 minutes of travel time) or 9:45 if it’s in your office.  The point is to capture your pre-event reality in your schedule. This is the first half of the technique that will keep you from being crunched between events.

The same is true on the backend of your calendared events.  For example, if you conservatively allocate six hours for the depo, extend the length of the event to tack on an additional 45 minutes for travel (or 15 minutes for post-event clean-up/follow-up if it’s at your office).  So, the event text “Smith depo, 10am, RLL office, Boston” will be blocked on your calendar from 9:15 to 4:45 or “Smith depo, 10am, here, 12th floor conference room” from 9:45 to 4:15.  This is called “scheduling the whole event.” 

Another all-too-common – and easily preventable – calendar mistake arises from CUTTS: Chronic Underestimation of Task Time Syndrome.  If your weekly case status review meeting regularly runs two hours even though you really think you wish it would only take 90 minutes, calendar it for the realistic time it’s likely to take. Be a realist rather than an optimist when it comes to scheduling time. That doesn’t mean you need to give in and surrender to the idea of an unnecessarily prolonged meeting. What it does mean is that if the meeting runs the usual length, your schedule remains on track and you’re not going to be late with the next task. If you are able to end the meeting early, you have precious “found time” to use however you’d like.

Schedule Time for the Boilerplate Tasks

You don’t need to record the regular tasks on your calendar, right? You know you’ve got to do them, and there’s no point in cluttering up your calendar, right? WRONG on both counts. Regular, repeated tasks take time just like everything else and that time has to be accounted for.

Your calendar keeps a record of your available time, and you need to allot some of that time to your regular tasks. You should include things like:

  • Filling out expense forms
  • Tallying and checking billable hours
  • Returning phone calls and emails
  • Updating progress reports

You should even include time to look at your schedule and review your daily plan each morning. Then you’ll understand your goals for the day and what to expect so that when adjustments need to be made, you’ll know where those will fit in best.

Create Some Artificial Deadlines

Many very important tasks are neglected because they don’t come with a deadline. Lawyers often manage time well for their clients but poorly for their own practice. 

Tasks such as client development get pushed to the back burner because there “isn’t enough time” remaining after taking care of the tasks with deadlines. So, to treat yourself as fairly as you treat your clients, you need to schedule deadlines for the “important-but-not-urgent” activities that will elevate your career development (such as rainmaking) and bring you permanent efficiency gains (such as leveraging your practice management software more effectively).

Schedule time on your calendar for pre-conference networking or contacting potential referral sources. Schedule time to ask clients to post reviews. Schedule time to write an article for a professional journal.. Create deadlines for tasks that don’t have any so that those tasks can become a part of your schedule. Start by making a list of tasks that you know are important but that are currently not part of your calendar. Then schedule time to address those tasks.

Find a Format That Works For You

For your calendar to work best, it must be easily accessible, usable, and readable.

By now, almost all lawyers have synced access to their calendars on their phone, their tablet, and via the web (in addition to their desktops).  If you don’t yet have that capability, get on the stick!!  Accessibility is a prerequisite for effective calendar management.  

So is usability.  But this can get tricky depending on the practice management software and platforms used by your firm, many of which integrate with Microsoft Office 365.  These platforms sync with O365 but then present their own calendars and email interfaces to the user.  Whereas O365 gives users tremendous flexibility in how Outlook calendars and email are displayed, that flexibility is often reduced (or overridden) by these apps.  

The point is that it is absolutely worth devoting a few hours to experimenting with how your calendar is displayed on your main device – for most folks, their desktop or laptop (e,g., day view vs. week view; 15 vs. 30-minute default time blocks, day start and end times, etc). Remember too, that your customizable settings will also determine how your calendar shows up on your phone and your tablet.

Readability is about how you format events in your calendar. For example, some people like to color-code certain activities or categories of activity (though beware of creating too many different colors).  One culprit that leads to difficult readability (on smaller devices for sure, but even on your desktop) is overlapping meetings – which causes event text to be cut off and can cause brain confusion. The solution here is to include regular calendar maintenance in your daily morning planning time to clean up such overlapping events by, for instance, declining meeting invites you know you can’t make.

You Can’t Ever Make More Time, But Your Calendar Can Help You Manage It Better

A poorly-managed calendar can make you think you have more time than actually exists in your day. You can easily end up overscheduled and behind, which means that important tasks fall by the wayside and you feel stressed and out of control.

When you manage your calendar correctly and allow adequate time for all your tasks, you can stay on track and maintain your poise. Think what a difference that can make at the end of every day as you move ahead into this new year! For help with managing your time more efficiently, contact the team at Lawyer Time Management to learn about the tools many law firms use to increase productivity and improve staff satisfaction.