Trial & Error: How to manage your time (Part 3)

In my last two columns, I offered up tips on how to bundle tasks and up your efficiency game — all to help you manage your time better. But no matter how much you bundle, or how efficient you are, you will never be able to do it all. In then end, some things just won’t get done, which means you have to prioritize — that is, decide what is truly important and what can be safely left at wayside.

And, all of my friends who went to business school have taught me there’s a tried-and-tested method to figure this out: the Eisenhower Matrix, invented by, you guessed it, former American president, Dwight Eisenhower. This is a standard concept at any MBA program and, in my opinion, it ought to find its way into the legal profession.

Here’s how it works: you build a chart (see below) that allows you to sort everything on your to-do list by urgency and importance.

Here’s how I might use the matrix on an average day:

Urgency vs. Importance


As you can see, once I know what’s most important and most urgent, I know I have to do that first. If it’s urgent, but not all that important, I delegate the task; and if it’s important, but not that urgent, I’ll schedule it for later. If it’s neither important, nor urgent, I know I don’t have to do it.

Learning about this paradigm has shifted the way I think about my time and has forced me to focus on what is important.Time is, after all, our most precious resource. And this matrix helps me establish a plan. Give it a try and you should be prioritizing in no time — pun intended.

Atrisha LewisAtrisha Lewis is a third-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewisAnd also check out all of her past columns.



Photo from Sean MacEntee

Trial & Error: How to manage your time (Part 2)

In my last column, I discussed how you can bundle your tasks together to free up extra time. But, today, I want to talk about efficiency — another useful time-management tactic that will help you do more with the time you have. Here are three ways to boost your efficiency:

Give yourself deadlines

It’s easy, when I’m working on a task without a hard deadline, to let calls and e-mails distract me. My solution is to assign myself deadlines. If I’m drafting a statement of defence, for instance, I give myself two hours to finish the job. This artificial boxed-timeline forces me to ignore everything else and get it done. It’s also consistent with Parkinson’s Law, which says the time required to complete a particular task will expand according to the amount of time allotted to it.

Make calendar appointments with yourself

Endless to-do lists overwhelm me. How do I know where to start? But by making calendar appointments with myself to finish specific tasks, where I allot a reasonable amount of time, I am both organized and committed to the task at hand. Plus, it keeps me from feeling guilty that I’m not doing something else.

Ask for help

Our profession is remarkable: even the busiest among us are generous with our time and are happy to discuss cases and files with those asking for help. When I’m truly stuck on something, it’s far faster to talk to more senior lawyers at my firm than remain frustrated. My colleagues often save me from “reinventing the wheel” by offering up a solution to a problem they once had, and know how to easily solve.

Next month, in part three of this time-management series, I will discuss the importance of making priorities.

Atrisha LewisAtrisha Lewis is a third-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewisAnd also check out all of her past columns.



Photo from Sean MacEntee

Trial & Error: How to manage your time (Part 1)

Let’s face it: lawyers are busy. Thanks to the billable hour, time is literally money. So what are the best practices for managing one’s time? I asked some of the busiest lawyers on Bay Street to see how they do it, and discovered three important principles: unlocking time, being efficient, and prioritizing. I will discuss each in a separate post over the next three months. First up: How to unlock your time. By that I mean, how to find new time in your day. Here are three ways to do just that:

Bundle your tasks

Bundling refers to combining two or more important activities together so you can do them simultaneously — a common way lawyers I surveyed unlock extra hours in their day. Bundling is different than multitasking, though. For instance, reading a book while working does not save time if you need an hour to work and an hour to read your book, and doing both at the same time takes two or more hours.

One lawyer “bundles” by taking his mentees for “check-in” walks where he heads to Shoppers Drug Mart to buy items he needs at the same time. Sonja Pavic, an associate at Osler, lives five kilometres away from the office. She “bundles” her inevitable commute with her workout, and runs to work most mornings in the spring and summer. She also listens to BBC news podcasts during the run to catch up on the main headlines. Other lawyers schedule calls during their commutes. I try to meet a friend at the gym so I can “bundle” my workout and stay in touch with the important people in my life.

Learn to say “no”

Your downtime is precious, so there’s a tremendous about of benefit that can come from learning to say “no.” Outside of work, busy lawyers turn down everything that does not bring them joy. Many of the lawyers I canvassed decline social engagements they aren’t up for, and have people to help them with their house chores. Eliminating activities from your schedule that you feel forced to do will free up time for more of the things that you actually want to do.

Delegate (and trust) your team

Delegating to your team (which includes your legal assistant, law clerks, students and junior lawyers) is the biggest key to unlocking time. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing it’s faster to do things yourself, consider the time you spend teaching as an investment. Perhaps the first few times you delegate a task, it takes longer to teach and review than to do yourself, but eventually your team will learn how to do it correctly with minimal to no supervision. If you can’t delegate to your team, perhaps you need to reconsider who is on it, or if you are giving them the right support.

Next month, in part two of this time-management series, I will discuss strategies for working more efficiently.

Atrisha LewisAtrisha Lewis is a third-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewisAnd also check out all of her past columns.



Photo from Sean MacEntee

Making It Work: The Precedent guide to getting it all done

Precedent Spring Issue 2015 CoverLet’s face it: in order to a lawyer (and a damn good one at that), it means that you are making a commitment to a profession that demands a lot of time and energy. But that doesn’t mean you want to sacrifice the rest of your life.

So how does it all get done?

You’ve got to be resourceful. You’ve got to let some things go. And you’ve got to work hard to achieve balance.

Find out how some of Toronto’s most productive lawyers are killing it at the office and making time for their hobbies, vacations, families, fitness and even sleep. Don’t believe us? Check out the stories below:


Angela Chaisson

How Angela Chaisson finds time to go for lunch with her firm every day

Cornell Wright

How Cornell Wright finds a way to make it to soccer practice

Bindu Cudjoe

How Bindu Cudjoe makes time for friends, family and annual vacations








Unfiltered advice from lawyers with kids

Shelby Austin

Learn from Shelby Austin’s day planner

healthy lawyer

How to keep your job from killing you







Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth

Illustration by Naila Medjidova