Have a Task? Book an Appointment to Do It

When I joined the law firm as a mid-level associate, the managing partner shook my hand and welcomed me. “We’re happy to have you”, he said. “I’m happy to be here”, I said, and asked, “where are my files?” “In your office. You have one hundred to start with.” I walked with excitement and, admittedly, not a little fear and trembling, into my office, fired up my computer, and thanked my lucky stars for joining a paperless firm. Then I clicked on each file from A to Z. Where to start? What to do? Didn’t every file need tasks doing right now?

I froze a bit and thought I should surf the web. That would really do the trick. The files run themselves, you know. Snapping back to real-life, I took a sip of coffee and reviewed every file, drafted up one-page summaries of each, and set out the to-dos for every file. Then I really did freeze. Same question. Where do I start? Best to procrastinate and get to know my fellow colleagues. I marched over and chatted with the lawyer next door – literally in the next office – and we talked about everything but files. Before I left, I casually asked, “By the way, how do you manage your tasks? I’ve got hundreds of tasks for all these files and don’t know what’s the best way to start.” And, as casually as I asked, casually came advice that changed my practice forever.

“Oh, that one’s easy. Book an appointment for every task. And book separate appointments for all your files to review them. Thirty minutes a file, three months between reviews, then however long you think is appropriate.”

I dutifully did so. And I have rarely been surprised by what needs to be done, or has(n’t) been done on a file since. So there it is. There are many ways to manage your tasks, from daily to-do lists to ongoing master to-do lists. This one, slightly novel, worked for me. Make your to-dos appointments in your calendar. When the time comes, do the task. If you can’t get around to it that day, book another appointment. Yes, this fills up your calendar, but the reward is an effective and free task-management system.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

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