Find out how to organize your projects so you can stop wasting time and energy in a chaotic law practice.

Busy lawyers can’t create more hours in the day. But they can increase their productivity with this 3-part series! Parts 2 + 3 will cover time management obstacles and managing others. Stay tuned!

Do you feel like your life and work are chaotic? Do you wish that you were more organized? If so, here are a few tips to get you heading in the right direction.

Organizing your work is about creating order from chaos, noticing the details that compose a broad project or idea, and assigning roles, responsibilities, and due dates to specific tasks. Managing a heavy workload is about breaking down complex tasks into discrete tasks, prioritizing them, and finally calendaring in a completion date for each one.

The ability to manage projects, people, and your time is an essential leadership skill. Like many skills, it’s made up of a collection of competencies, all of which you can learn, and with practice transform into a habit: (1) Project Management; (2) Task Delegation; (3) Time Management; and (4) Giving Effective Feedback. When you demonstrate these skills, you are more likely to be perceived as an effective leader. And when you use these skills, you are more likely to feel in control over your life.

Step 1: Set aside time for time management.

The first step is to set aside the time to organize your work. As lawyers with lives outside of work, you may be balancing multiple responsibilities while trying to build a book of business, keep clients happy, and deliver work on time. Each one of these goals is a hefty project in need of a plan and management; however, every plan starts with the choices you make for how to spend your time.

Time management is the art of knowing your vision for a successful and happy personal and professional life, the ability to identify the key goals and specific tasks in the near and long-term future to realize your vision, and the willingness to prioritize your tasks on a regular basis. Time management begins with task prioritization. Which of your responsibilities brings you the most concern? Tackle that project first.

Step 2: Decide on a project.

Do you feel like you are being chased by a big storm cloud when you think about your many responsibilities, your need for more work, or your concerns about meeting the deadlines for the work that is already on your plate? Thank about your work. The project that brings you the most anxiety is the project to tackle first.

Project Management is breaking down a complex, multifaceted project into discrete tasks, due dates, and measures of success. One important task is to identify any required resources to complete the project, such as additional people, time, money, space, or technology. If your most worried about having a light workload and your focus has turned to increasing your workload, start by identifying the different types of tasks that fall under marketing and business development.

Step 3: Break down your project into categories of tasks and then individual tasks under each category.

What are the specific tasks you will need to accomplish as part of your marketing and business development efforts? On a regular basis, you will need to get noticed for what you offer and remain top of mind in your potential and present clients’ minds. Most people do this by publishing articles, blog posts, and tweets; maintaining an updated website and LinkedIn profile; meeting new people at different events; and deepening and maintaining relationships with people through shared experiences and one-to-one conversations.

Included are the decisions about specific tasks to undertake. Which events will you attend? How will you prepare? Do you have ready-to-use short answers to expected questions, such as: Tell me about yourself? What do you do? What’s new? Do you have a bio to use when you deliver programs? Do you have a list of places and audiences that would be receptive to have you as a guest speaker?

Step 4: Describe the measures of progress and success for the end-state of the project and any key milestones.

It’s easy to run into trouble if you have not described your project and tasks as specific and measurable goals. One very common mistake is to describe projects and tasks too broadly.

What is a final state for the task or project and what has to happen to get it there? Although you’ll have a good idea of when you’re finished with a project, you may miss an important detail or not know where to begin a project that you described too vaguely. Describe your projects and tasks in ways that are specific and with measure of progress that are objective. Specificity means that anyone, with your level of expertise as a lawyer, who is reading the description will understand what you must do. Complete the first draft of a 1500-word article on the most recent wage-hour cases is a specific task, while networking is not a specific task. The former tells the reader what to do, while the latter leaves the reader wondering where to go to network, what to do while in the process of networking, and who to network with.

Step 5: Assign your tasks to time slots on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.

This final step requires you to estimate the time it will take to complete a task and to prioritize various tasks. What has to happen before it is in a final form to add to the larger project? One of the most effective tools in product management is a daily “to do” list of specific, discrete tasks. Not only will you feel good every time your finish a task and cross it off your list, you’ll end up getting more accomplished in the time you have available.

For more strategies on assigning tasks and increasing productivity, you can find Heidi’s 7 Winning Strategies to Increase Productivity here.