How to Manage Your Time

How To Manage Your Time | Corporette2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to manage your time — but you may also want to check out our other discussions on time management.

How do you manage your time, either to meet billable minimums, stay motivated and productive, or to fit everything into your life? (2016 mini update: do check out this cool billable hour spreadsheet tool.) February is time management month — and we haven’t talked about how best to manage your time in a while. Here’s Reader T’s question:

Would you consider doing a post on billable hours – specifically, what people’s minimum requirements are, and how they go about meeting and/or exceeding those minimums? My firm requires 2000 hours and I had a horrible time last year just making the minimum. I swore this year would be different, but it seems I am back to my old ways. What do people do to stay continuously motivated and productive?

I recognize that this question is geared toward the lawyers who read your site, but maybe others have similar goals/requirements that they have to satisfy?

Great question!  I haven’t been in a billables environment for a while (and even then, my firm had no required minimum), but time management is something I still struggle with daily, so I’m curious to hear what readers say. My top tips are:

  • Avoid email and the Internet.  There are levels to this.  I remember realizing at one point when I was a lawyer that if I left some work on my desk (such as hard copies of things to read, edit or review) and avoided turning my computer on entirely, I was far more productive for the first hour or two of my day.  I still could check my emails on my Blackberry to make sure there were no fires, but even now I prefer replying and processing emails when I’m sitting at my desktop.  Other avoiding email suggestions:
    • Check and see how often your computer is “fetching” new emails.  If it’s every one minute (which I think was the Outlook default, at least a few years ago), change it to 15 minutes — you may also want to consider turning off notifications (such as dings or bells) that new email has arrived.
    • Choose set times to look at (and respond) to email throughout the day.  This depends on your job — for some people you can limit it to 12 PM, 3PM, and 6PM, and be done with it.
    • Adopt a system to keep your inbox clear of clutter.  I’ve recently started using Mailbox and love it, but it only works with Google email addresses (or businesses using Google Apps).  I haven’t read Getting Things Done in a few years, but I believe the advice there is to put a “2 minute” rule on email — if you can reply to it within two minutes then do it immediately, otherwise save it for a specific time in the day.
  • Reassess the usefulness of G-chat and other online chatting services.  For the most part, I have refused to use these since 2009, so I’m totally out of the loop — they were just way too big of a time waster for me.  My husband and I text throughout the day, but we don’t really have a running conversation.
  • If you can’t avoid the Internet, use Leechblock I still use this sucker daily.  Facebook seems to be a particular time suck for me (I have clearly “liked” too many publications’ pages because I barely see any news from actual friends in my newsfeed), and I have Leechblock set to redirect me from Facebook after one minute every hour.  I also have Leechblock set to stop me from going “down the rabbit hole” with particularly sticky websites — you know the ones, where you go in to read an article, and suddenly realize two hours have passed?  BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Jezebel, Mashable, and a few others are all limited to eight minutes per day, total.
    • Corollary: Avoid getting sucked into articles, and otherwise handle information overload A lot of my time was wasted online by reading articles — I’m not sure if it’s a new feature, but I’ve recently become aware that I can hover over an article link, right-click, and save it to Pocket (without opening up the article in my browser at all).  I’ve also started using Evernote to clip (and file) articles that I want to read eventually but have no immediate application to my life, such as Tim Ferriss’s recent “definitive list” of the resources for how to write a bestseller.
  • Use a time tracker, like RescueTime I still use RescueTime to track where and how I’ve spent time.  It can be a time waster itself, though, if you go in to look at your reports/categorize etc.  You may also want to keep a “real time” tracker on paper for a few days on paper — set up an Excel spreadsheet that starts and ends whenever you want to finish your day, maybe in 15 minute increments, and manually write in what you’ve done with your time (including things that don’t make it into your billable report, like “got snacks, talked to __” ).  Then sit down after a few days or a week of doing this and see what it is that you’re doing with your time, and where you’re losing it. If you seem to have naturally productive times every day, protect that time by avoiding scheduling meetings and more. On the flip side, if you seem to have naturally unproductive times — a lag in the afternoon, for example — see what else you can put there.  A late lunch? A midday workout?
  • Use a set time system, such as the Pomodoro time management technique. When I’m being good I do use this — the idea is that you work in a 25 minute increments on ONE THING AT A TIME.  When 25 minutes is up, you get a 5 minute break, and then another 25 minute increment (or “Pomodoro”) starts.  I’m currently using the Clockwork Tomato timer on my Android.
  • Look for the bottlenecks in your time.  If you spend a lot of time waiting for other people, find a way to make that waiting time more productive.
  • Finally: know where you should be with your billable hours.  With something like law firm billable hours, you know what your minimum is for the year, and you can figure out what your minimum should be each month — so schedule a check-in 10 days before the end of the month (or some such) to see if you’re on track.  If you need to, pick up more work, cancel some personal engagements (e.g., lunches with friends), or go in on the weekend.

Readers, how do you manage your time, whether it’s to meet your billable requirements or just juggle work and life? 

(Pictured: cool20010721 001_new_chess_clock, originally uploaded to Flickr by RobandSheila.)


  1. Wow, Kat, I am posteing early for a change! Yay!

    I manage my time by makeing sure that I start early every day and I bill enough every day to hit my weekley goal of 120 hour’s each week. At first I thought this was NOT possibel, but after getting trained by the manageing partner, I can do it. Now there will be some week’s that I take time off, but I make sure that everything get’s billed; many times portal to portal on case’s, with each case handeled sepearately.

    The one word of advise I can give new associate’s is NOT to worry, but Just Bill. The cleint does NOT care about the bill if you give good result’s. In my case, it is through litiegation, and my sucess with the court system. I had Frank run a spread sheet for me and he proved that I win 93% of my motion’s in court and 88% of those case’s that go beyond 3211(b). When the manageing partner tells new cleint’s, they are VERY quick to sign our agreement to be retained. It is in THAT agreement that they also agree to automatic review’s by the manageing partner of all my work and the 50% UPLIFT, which none of my other freind’s from law school have their firm’s EMPLOY.

    None of my other freind’s from school get a clotheing allowance, but that is b/c of the uplift and my hourley billieng’s! YAY! That is why I am stickeing around for the time bieng as a PARTNER. If I become a judge or go inhouse, I will have to forego this PERKE! FOOEY!

    • Jennifer2 :

      120 billable hours a week? That’s all? I mean, that’s barely 18 hours a day! Come on, Ellen, you can do more than that. I know you can. What are you doing with your other 6 hours a day? You should be billing in your sleep!

    • I work at an accounting firm and we have weekly billable right now of 55 hours – it does down after our busy season. I have turned off all facebook, twitter and any other kind of notifications on my phone. I even has my personal email notifications turned off. Around lunch is when I might physically click on the app the check any notifications. Our company does not block social media but I do not access them on my work computer – which also helps.

  2. Anon4This :

    These are some great suggestions. I especially like the idea of using Pocket for saving articles for later reading as I frequently struggle with getting sucked into reading numerous articles (or comments on blogs I like).

    In addition to the above tips, I recently started using the app “30/30” on my iPhone. It is similar to the Pomodoro technique mentioned above, but you basically put all your to-dos into the list on a given day and allocate the amount of time you want to spend on a task. Then you push play and the app moves you from task to task (including breaks) based on the time you allocated for each task. It is very user friendly and you can change the order of the tasks you complete, add additional time or subtract time if you finish early. I’ve only been using it the past week, but so far it has helped me to be better about being productive in short bursts.

    • Ooh, that’s very cool. I’ve been using toggl to see how much time I am spending on things but that seems like a good way to do it (and force yourself to do the pesky stuff)

  3. Anon for this :

    Sorry for an immediate TJ – rant alert. What are your thoughts on members of the opposite sex hanging out one-on-one? My long-distance boyfriend has a lot of straight female friends (mostly coworkers), and I think it’s inappropriate for them to be alone together in date-like situations (e.g., dinner). However, I also have existing trust issues, having been cheated on multiple times by an abusive ex. Yes, I’m in therapy.

    A few months ago, my boyfriend, his female friend, and her husband got four tickets to a comcert, the assumption being my boyfriend would bring a date. In the meantime, he and I started dating. The woman and her husband got separated. And it turned out the extra tickets could be re-sold for a significant profit. So tonight, he and she are going to this show, alone. I’ll mention that she has a reputation for being “bedroom-oriented” and that she and her husband apparently split up because she is more desirous than him. I feel so jealous and uneasy about this whole thing. It’s not that I actually think something will happen–I know it won’t–it just feels gross or improper or something. I keep imagining this woman flirting with my boyfriend, the two of them dancing, being mistaken for a couple, etc. I brought it up with him and we had a serious talk. He admitted that he feels uncomfortable going out alone with someone else, but that he feels compelled as she is going through this rough patch.

    Advice for getting over this? Do you girls get jealous? Does your boyfriend/husband/SO spend time alone with other women? Am I just acting insanely possessive because of my own trust issues? I feel like I’m going to vomit today.

    • TO Lawyer :

      Ok it sounds like there is a lot going on here and a lot of it, I’m not going to touch. BUT I don’t think it’s inappropriate for friends of the opposite-sex to be “together in date-like situations (eg dinner). How else do you expect friends to hang out?

      It sounds like what you’re saying is that you think it’s inappropriate for your boyfriend to hang out with his female friends one-on-one. I know you have existing issues and this might sound harsh, but that’s unfair and ridiculous. I would honestly be so upset if my male friends stopped hanging out with me because their girlfriends didn’t like it. It would be completely disrespectful of the friendship we’ve spent years building.

      Also – I take issue with you mentioning her “reputation” – first of all, it’s slut-shaming. Second, just because a woman desires s3x does not mean that she is going to try to sleep with every man she sees. So what if she has an active s3x drive?

      But that said, your feelings are your feelings and I think it’s good you brought them up to your boyfriend because you need to be honest in a relationship. If you trust your boyfriend, you need to trust him – regardless of your discomfort with him hanging out with other women. Even if this other woman made a move, it wouldn’t mean anything because your boyfriend wouldn’t let it go anywhere right?

      Maybe some of what I said sounds harsh but I think that your feelings are arising from your trust issues and not the impropriety of single women hanging out with men who are in relationships.

      • Anon for this :

        You’re right – it was slut-shaming and I apologize. It just is literally 95% of what I know about this woman– that her proclivities align with my SO’s, and that freaks me out a little.

        • TO Lawyer :

          Thank you for acknowledging this. I probably got a little incensed because I have a lot of close male friends and unfortunately have lost some (or they stop hanging out with me) because their girlfriends think I have a “reputation” but I would never try anything with one of my friends, especially while they’re in relationships

          • +1. I’m usually the single female hanging out one on one with a married male friend with no ulterior motives.
            The harsh reality is you either trust him or you don’t. And you don’t need to be the “cool” girlfriend. Ultimately if he’s going to misbehave there’s nothing you could do about it, unless you want to be a psycho.

        • Contracts :

          The next time you visit your boyfriend, try to make an effort to get to know this friend, and any of his other female friends. If your boyfriend is friends with her, there’s a good chance you will develop a friendship with her, too. That might lessen your feelings of jealousy, and it could bring you closer to your boyfriend. Getting a good friend out of the deal would be an added perk.

      • TO Lawyer :

        Just wanted to add – I have a male close friend and we go to concerts together fairly frequently because we like the same type of music. Even when I had a boyfriend, I didn’t think it was inappropriate because we don’t act date-like when we’re together. He has a girlfriend now and we still do all the same things we used to because we were always just friends

      • If the woman finds your boyfriend attractive (and your boyfriend is weak), and both are up for doing the dirty deed together, I guess they could hook up and have at it in the bedroom, but if there is nothing more than raw sex between them, then you can rest assured that they will not become a couple at your expense. My main concern would be whether, if she were truly “bedroom oriented” she might take him there more than once, and might give him a gift that kept on giving, which is not what you need in your relationship, particularly if you break up later. The last thing you need is something to give your next boyfriend, because it is not something he, or anyone else wants. Good luck to you on this one.

      • Small Town Attorney :

        DH has a self-imposed rule: if he’s one-on-one with a woman, he ALWAYS tells me about it. Usually it’s just “I was going to go to lunch with male coworker & female coworker, but male coworker cancelled and so it was just me & female coworker.” The advantage is, it’s an early warning sign for both of us. If he’s one-on-one with a woman and doesn’t want to tell me about it, he knows that’s a problem. If I find out he was one-on-one with a woman, and he didn’t tell me about it, I know that’s a problem.

        Maybe you and SO could establish some sort of boundary rules like that to help with the trust issues?

        • Contracts :

          My husband and I practice the same. Not only does it encourage honesty in each other, we never feel the need to be jealous. It also makes it easier to encourage him to hang out with his friends of any gender.

        • I’m married and its different when you’re dating, especially early days, but I do this too. My general rule is if it would look shady if you were a politician/celebrity, don’t do it. Dinner might be OK but not in a romantic dark place, not drinks at a bar.

      • I don’t understand why the now separated couple didn’t sell their two tickets and you and your boyfriend use his two tickets.

    • HappyHoya :

      I don’t have a problem with members of the opposite sex hang out one-on-one. A lot of my coworkers that are also friends are male, and a lot of my husband’s oldest friends who happen to live in our area (where it would be possible to catch up periodically) are female. We do hang out with these people without each other. Most of them are coupled, and happily so (as far as we know), FWIW. That said, it doesn’t sound like your boyfriend is making good decisions about his female friends, if it bothers you. It sounds like you have a good reason to be wary of the situation, and he should take that seriously, whether or not there’s a risk of anything happening. As much as I care about my male friends, and I’ve known many of them longer than I’ve known my husband, I would cease hanging out with them one-on-one if it made my husband even the slightest bit uneasy.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Way back in the day, Bruce Springsteen brought the “Born in the USA” tour to the Los Angeles Coliseum. A friend of my then-fiance’s had two tickets, and between the ticket purchase and the concert, he split with his wife. I was a huge Springsteen fan so he invited me along and I went and we had a great time. Nobody, least of all my fiance, had the slightest qualms about any of it.

      That said, that was my relationship. Every relationship is different. If the thought of your boyfriend going to a concert with another woman makes you want to vomit, then perhaps you need to be in a relationship where it is agreed and understood that such a thing will never happen. I think this is the kind of thing where you just need to find a partner who is on the same page as you are.

      • Anon for this :

        This is really interesting. I guess part of my problem is that the only male friends I have are either in super serious relationships (and I hang out with their SOs and wives) or are men I used to flirt with/sleep with before I had a boyfriend. The latter I have stopped contact with since becoming monogamous. I’ve just never had close male friends, so have no idea what that’s like.

        • Diana Barry :

          I too have never had male friends with whom I hung out one-on-one. Nowadays my male friends tend to be the male half of a married couple with whom DH and I hang out (couples dates).

        • One of my closest friends is a guy, but we’ve never had any kind of relationship (or even the desire for one, although he may have crushed on me in seventh grade). One thing I do to try to make sure that our relationship is comfortable for his SO is make sure that it’s clear that (i) she’s always welcome whenever we’re going to get together and (ii) I’m interested in her as a person. I think this is critical in opposite-sex friendships.

          A reasonable SO will then realize that there are times when she shouldn’t come (like, I’m having a serious personal crisis and need to talk only to my close friend), and will be comfortable coming when she doesn’t want to. I’ve always been friendly with his girlfriends, and I think that’s why.

    • There is no way I would be ok with this. I have a good male friend and my fiance has a good female friend but since we have been together we only socialize with them as a couple. I don’t think the occasional dinner would be a big deal (and I have gone to casual dinners with my male friend alone) but my fiance has also met my male friend (and his girlfriend) and I fully disclosed all the details before and after and usually invite my fiance (and his girlfriend) to come along. Dinner can also be a business thing so I don’t think it is inherently inappropriate. A concert is never a business thing and I agree that the tone (being mistaken as a couple, drinking, dancing) is entirely inappropriate to do with a female friend when you are in a relationship. I do not think you are being overly jealous – this is just an inappropriate situation. I’m sure she can find a girlfriend to go with her. If he wants to support her he can send her cookies or take her to coffee (although I don’t think it is appropriate for him to be her sounding board about the divorce anyway – that is just asking for an emotional affair). If it was me, I would be asking him not to go.

      • Being mistaken for a couple is often something that has nothing to do with the actions of the “mistaken” couple.

        I frequently have dinner, coffee, etc. with my brother. We are frequently mistaken for a couple, and it is because we are 1) alone together and 2) in the same age bracket and 3) obviously having an enjoyable time. And it makes me sad that society assumes that two people of different s*x who are out alone together absolutely must be a couple. (It also makes me sad that society would never assume this of two people of the same s*x who are out alone together, but that is a different kettle of fish).

        TL;DR – people aren’t going to mistake one man and one woman at a concert or dinner together for being a couple because dinner or a concert are “couple” things. It’s because society assumes one man plus one woman together anywhere = couple. Which is dumb.

        • If it makes you feel any better, when I was in college, people assumed my friend and her sister were a romantic couple until they found out they were sisters.

        • I’ll do you one better. My brother and I are a year apart and often hang out together, and people sometimes mistake us for being a couple. Recently at an NHL game they put us on the “Kiss Cam.” Nooooo thank you!

          • Yikes.

          • This is personal nightmare of mine with either dad or brother. I love in an area where it isn’t uncommon for men to date women 30 years younger. I’ve also had people tell me that my “boyfriend” and I look so similar. Because, um, he’s my brother not boyfriend.

          • Happened to me in my hometown AT CHURCH with my brother after I’d been away at school for a while.

        • +1 My brother and I are also often mistaken for a couple.

      • This is just ridiculous. I don’t know how you could maintain a close friendship with a friend with whom you insisted on ONLY hanging out as a couple. My partner and I each have friends of the opposite sex who we spend time with both together and solo. I usually invite him along and vice versa, but there are times when I want to have a solo catch-up session with my friend or even just do an activity that my partner wouldn’t be particularly interested in. If you are each trustworthy people, your behavior is aboveboard, and you trust each other, there’s no room for this kind of crazy insecurity in your relationship. In the case of the OP, it sounds like her boyfriend is trying to behave like a decent person in an awkward scenario. I would acknowledge that it’s awkward and then let him go. At the same time, if you’re feeling this way because of anything on his end — he tends to flirt a lot with other women, he’s lied to you before, etc. — then maybe this is really just a symptom of the fact that you don’t trust him.

    • Anonymous :

      For me stuff like this depends on the woman. My husband has always had a lot of female friends– throughout the 10+ years we’ve been together, pre and post marriage. With many… most, actually, the friendship does not bother me.


      There have been a couple of women throughout the years who I had a funny feeling about. Ones who for some intangible reason I just felt like I couldn’t trust. For example, I always felt like this about one woman he was friends with, and I found out from a mutual friend at one point that she inquired as to whether we were still dating because she WAS in fact interested in him.

      To me, this taught me that you should trust your instincts. If it really bothers you, there could be a reason.

      • crock pot :

        My (married to my mother) father used to stay in my apartment when he traveled to my city. Oh the stink-eyes i’d get in the elevator.

        If the friend doesn’t feel right to your BF and he still hangs out with her, doesn’t he havt some thinking to do? And don’t you have some thinking to do re that? He seems to do things that make him uneasy and yet he does them. That doesn’t seem right to me.

      • Anon for this :

        Thanks for this perspective. Part of the weirdness is that they’re not good, old friends. In fact, I don’t think they’ve ever hung out alone before. So it’s weird that it would start after she’s gotten single.

    • Anon with this :

      I have lost several friends, male and female, because their SO didn’t like them spending time without them. As the single friend in a group of couples, I do find it uncomfortable being the third or fifth wheel with friends and their partners. I meet up with the couples because I don’t want to be excluded solely on the fact that I’m single, but I look forward to spending time with my original friends that I’ve known a long time and feel completely at ease with. That said, I always remember this piece of advice my grandmother gave me, “people only stray if they want to, opportunity or not.”

      • I’ve been single, and this happens to me too. I want to talk to the woman I’ve been friends with for a decade, as much as her husband is a wonderful person, I don’t want to share my personal drama with him. Please, couples, some non-couple time is good!

    • baseballfan :

      My unpopular opinion: Attached/married men and women spending time alone with members of the opposite sex may very well be playing with fire. My husband has had dinner a time or two with a female he used to work with, and I have done the same, but generally speaking I think this is the type of thing that can get out of hand. Or it may not. But if I am in a committed relationship, I think I owe it to my partner to not even go near something that might develop into an issue. Affairs don’t go from zero to 60 in a few seconds. They develop gradually and this is why you always hear people saying “but I never meant things to end up like this!”

      I’m not responsible for anyone’s relationship but my own. But this is my view. A couple we are friends with has a policy not to ever be alone at a meal with someone of the opposite sex, even if it is a casual work lunch. While we haven’t taken it that far, I totally respect this couple’s protecting their relationship, even though it has resulted in some people thinking they are crazy. If your partner is the most important thing to you, why chance going down that road?

      I do think you are doing the right thing by talking about it, and I think it’s telling that it sounds like he’s not really comfortable with it anyway. This woman clearly needs some girlfriends.

      • The no-work-lunch with opposite-sex co-workers seems extreme to me. I’ve had some very productive lunches with my (male) boss and would hate to be shut out of that type of mentoring situation because of my sex.

        • Anonymous :

          In my area, which is very religious, this type of no-lunch policy is actually quite common. One of my friends, an associate at a 50 attorney law firm with only three other female lawyers, has been told outright that she is not staffed on certain cases because the male partner wants someone he can talk about the case with over lunch. One time, a fellow associate actually got up and left the breakroom when she tried to sit at his table. I’m all for happy marriages, but the I-don’t-eat-alone-with-women-who-aren’t-my-wife policy often enforces, whether intentionally or not, ugly workplace sexism.

          • +1000. I have been on the other end of this despite trying to dress and behave really conservatively at work, and it is absolutely infuriating to have your boss feel nervous about being seen with you alone because of people like some of the posters here who seem to think that a business lunch is fodder for an affair. I’m sorry, but that attitude really burns me up. It makes networking and business development for women much harder than it should be.

          • Blonde Lawyer :


          • My boss will only have lunch with women, not dinner. He had gossip surface after having dinner with one of his daughters (GROSS). While I understand his perspective, and feel a little better that it’s not due to trust/fidelity issues, it is frustrating. Women absolutely miss opportunities because people assume something improper is going on.

      • Damn good thing you’re not gay. Almost all my best friends are also women. And I date women. OH NO! Does that mean I can only be friends with gay men, because neither of us will be interested in each other?

      • baseballfan :

        I’m not sure who to reply to so I will reply to myself. :) A few things:

        – My view that couples really shouldn’t spend time alone with the opposite sex, and others’ views that this extends to any time alone, even a work lunch, has nothing to do with trust, nothing to do with insecurity, and nothing to do with worrying about appearances. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about what I do.

        That’s the thing about this whole issue, really. Speaking for myself, it’s not about me and whether I think my husband is doing something he shouldn’t, or whether he’s making me uncomfortable. It’s about my wanting to avoid putting myself in a situation that could lead to a place I don’t want to go. If I am crossing a bridge, I don’t walk close to the edge, even though I am perfectly capable of doing so without falling off. I walk down the middle because why would I even take a chance?

        I believe in guarding your heart, that’s all. Again, affairs don’t start overnight, they start with friendships that are nurtured to be something they shouldn’t be. Will everyone who has lunch or dinner or goes to a concert end up in an in appropriate situation with that person? Certainly not. But protecting my marriage is more important than having dinner with a male friend.

    • When I was married I wasn’t “allowed” to have male friends. It sucked. If you can avoid doing that to your significant other great.

      Sounds like you’re a bit insecure, which is understandable given the history of being cheated on. But think about it, if your SO is a good catch, I can guarantee there will be girls who are interested in him. There will probably be ones who are more attractive, or smarter, or younger, etc. than you are popping up from time to time. If you don’t believe he’ll cheat, all your worry must stem from the belief that you’re not enough to hold him. Best to work on that.

    • First Year Anon :

      Yah, I wouldn’t try the “it makes me uncomfortable you have female friends you hang out with solo” thing. I would be very frustrated if a guy did that to me in the reverse scenario. I feel like you either trust the person you’re with, or you don’t. It doesn’t matter if the girl flirts with him, a trustworthy boyfriend won’t cross the line. I’ve had plenty of guys flirt with me when I was in a relationship and it never, ever crossed my mind to flirt back or cheat.

      Also, I think it’s good if a guy has female friends. Shows me can interact with women well.

    • Anne Shirley :

      I vote insanely possessive. There are lots of guys I go out with- dinner, concerts, brunch, even the odd wedding. They have girlfriends and wives. We are not interested in each other, except as friends. Don’t make your insecurity his problem.

  4. Anything similar to Leechblock for use in Safari??

    • LifeScienceGoingToFinance :

      I found this useful:

      It lets you control how much time you allow yourself during work/freetime browsing pages that you can specify.

  5. Sydney Bristow :

    I’ve been planning to go back to a book I read called Extreme Productivity to try and really absorb all the techniques. I read it but didn’t try to implement anything as I was reading it, but I remember many of the ideas and theories behind them being interesting. The author focused a lot on how to do the daily nonsense that you have to get done while also staying focused on making progress on those things that actually impact your life in a meaningful way. Sorry that isn’t terribly helpful, but it might be worth checking out.

  6. I will betray my cynical side but, when it comes to billable hours, the deck is stacked against you. I left a firm with a 1700 hour requirement (medium high in my niche) partly because of how impossible it was to meet those expectations. I had to be on call and responsive during the day and do all my substantive work at night and on weekends when I could get large chunks of uninterrupted time to concentrate. It sucked and I couldn’t find any way around it. So I asked myself if I wanted to live like this, decided no, and quit my job. I now have a 1200 hour goal and my sanity.

  7. TJ: Wish me luck. In 45 minutes I get to go into a meeting with my supervisor in which I am going to have to flatly refuse complete a task I’ve been given. This is the first time I can think of in my career when I’ve a) been personally involved in a moral/ethical conflict and b) stood up to a manager. I just keep telling myself that caving in is not an option and that someday (hopefully sooner rather than later) it’ll make great interview fodder.

    • Anonymous :

      Good luck! I’ve done this and it was scary but so worth it in the long run.

    • Good for you. Let us know how it goes if you feel comfortable doing so.

    • Senior Attorney :

      Same here! I did it once, fully intending to quit my job if it didn’t go well, and lo and behold, it went fine, there were no repurcussions, and I lived to tell the tale.

      Good luck and good for you, for standing up for yourself and your principles!!

      • Well, that was a complete non-event (NOT COMPLAINING!). I’d already pushed back on this topic once and was dreading having to “put my foot down” and/or having this manager try and pull rank over it. But at some point in the last week she apparently came around to my point of view and the particular point of contention didn’t even come up. Existential crisis averted. :)

  8. Diana Barry :

    For billable hours: when I had a high minimum (2000), I set an aggressive goal for myself. I divided the 2000 by 48 (number of working weeks) and then by 5, which comes out to 8.333 billable hours a day. I then billed AT LEAST 9 hours a day if I had the work. Most days it was between 9 and 10.5, depending how long I stayed at work and how efficient I was.

    If the work isn’t there, that’s a different issue than if the work is there but you can’t make yourself do it for whatever reason. I am in the latter boat and think I am just burned out and tired and need a vacation!!!

    • That’s the way I do it, too. I have a goal of at least 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. Plus I keep a running weekly goal based on the 40 – i.e., if 4 weeks have passed, I say my goal is 160 and here’s what I’ve actually done – if it’s lower, I know I have a “debt” to work off, if it’s higher, I know that I have some more wiggle room. That makes me feel on top of things, because if I’ve screwed up one day or week, I know exactly what I need to do to get back on track before it gets out of hand.

      (My official goal which is not very official is 1800/yr, but I was told in the interview that 2000 is where the really serious bonuses start coming, so I’ve made that my goal.)

  9. On the flip side of this, how do those of you without billable requirements stay focused and productive? I work at a small firm without any billing requirements, and I often find myself procrastinating, especially if the project is boring or complex. Anyone else have this problem?

    • oil in houston :

      doing this right now, but being on this site lol
      seriously, I give myself deadlines / targets- if I finish this by 5, i can go home early, I can have a coffee when I have finished this chapter, and so on and so forth….

      • I try to do this too but saying, I have to x,y, and z done today. But if I’m ahead of schedule for the day, I let myself get distracted. I’m not saying I envy anyone with billables, but some kind of target number would be helpful.

        Not to mention, there are few emergencies and deadlines in the area I practice in!

  10. Woods-comma-Elle :

    I have a spreadsheet tracking my billables as against targets on a monthly and annual basis. My biggest problem is that I can have really quiet periods which eat into my day and make it harder to meet my target (1500). But it works both ways. Last year I was way off track in September, then had two 220+ hour months and just scraped it across the line.

    If I’m busy, it’s much easier to be productive, but I suspect that applies to everyone. I have recently adopted the ‘if it takes less than two minutes, do it now’ tactic and it is working well. I’m also trying to employ the ‘do the unpleasant tasks first’ (when that’s an option), which sometimes works but sometimes doesn’t because I may spend longer doing them because I don’t want to do them.

    Really, I’m just a huge fan of lists and ticking off even the smallest of tasks for a sense of accomplishment!

    • Woods-comma-Elle :

      Oooh one other thing – if I start off the day being productive, it’s much easier to keep it up, so sometimes getting into the office and getting stuck in before everyone else gets there and starts chatting to you/emailing you/phoning you can really make a difference.

      • Agreed. I arrive by 8:30 at the latest. I’ve usually already billed over an hour before most people show up.

        I also bring my lunch and eat it at my desk every day. Its not very social but it makes it easier to get in, bill my hours, and go home to my family at a reasonable hour.

        • Well, I guess it helps to know your work habits! I hate mornings and find I can crank through projects after 5 when everyone is leaving or wishing they could leave. I would also rather stay late than bring work home (even if that means staying in the office until 10 or 11) but again, personal preference. A lot of people with kids regularly put in an extra hour or two when they’re home after dinner.

          If part of your issue is that you can get through part of what you need to do and then need someone else’s input (senior associate/partner, paralegal, etc), see if they would be up for a designated late night. Having everyone work late on, say, Wednesday can be more productive than if you work late occasionally, and someone else does mornings, and someone else does Saturdays. I’m in consulting, not law, but this is very helpful when everyone’s normal working day was full of meetings. And misery loves company, you might stay until 8 on your own, but get into a groove and stay until 10 with your team.

      • Yes, the 2 minute rule is key! No point in adding it to a to do list when you can quickly do it.

    • For timetracking, I use Toggl ( It also has a timeline function, which tracks what windows you have open during times of day so you can get a more accurate count of your time (and so you can see how long you’ve spent on facebook instead of on work).

      To keep myself productive, I check how many hours I’ve billed by lunch and calculate how much I need from there. I keep a tab on how many hours I should be billing each weekday, so I know if I don’t make those hours today, I will have to make them up in the next few days or on the weekend.

      So I have a goal of at least 6.5 hours a day, and I tally my monthly hours to make sure I’m on schedule. If I’m not hitting my daily mark, I’ll start recalculating how much I need to do per day to get back up to speed for the next month (which would come out to like 8 hours a day, etc).

      It also helps to come into the office earlier. I find myself surprised I billed 3 hours already by lunch when I come in early, which makes me feel better about my afternoon (esp right around that 2pm/3pm sleepy time that creeps up on me). If I get bored or sleepy, I just take a walk around the office, maybe go refill my water, go to the restroom, etc.

      For to-do lists, I use Wunderlist ( and Todoist ( Wunderlist is pretty, but Todoist has better functionality. Both are excellent tools and have multiple platforms (phone, tablet, desktop). I also keep a word doc of tasks in my queue and docket – makes me feel more accomplished when I can drag something from “drafting” to “to be filed.”

      To get something done that I just have trouble starting (like studying for an exam or outlining back when I was in school), I would just do it in small increments and reward myself accordingly. For example if I finished the outline today, I could watch 1 episode of an addicting drama series I’ve put on hold. Or if I finished taking X number of practice exams, I could buy ice cream at the store LOL.

  11. I despise the billable hour. I have no incentive to streamline tasks or avoid unnecessary work-up on cases (in litigation), and I always feel pressured to meet the goal even when there simply isn’t enough work to do. The focus is always on more work, not better work, and pumping up the bills as much as possible. It’s a major reason why I don’t intend to go to law school (currently a paralegal).

  12. Anonymous :

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    Get Stuff Done Like A Boss: Design Your Workflow and Double Your Productivity in 21 Days

  13. Honestly, I think the billable hours requirement is ridiculous. I am lucky to be at a firm that does not have the requirement, but I think if I was, I would think the incentive would be (at least during slow periods) to stretch out tasks as long as possible so as to collect enough hours. Without the billable requirement, if I have a research project to find XYZ and I find it in 2 hours, I bill 2 hours and move on. If I had a billable requirement and knew that I had to bill 9 hours per day, I would probably stretch out the research project to 4 hours by combing through every single document that had anything vaguely to do with the topic, just so I could bill enough time that day.

    • Anonattorney :

      Well, the big incentive to not do that is when you constantly see your hours written off because the billing attorney cannot with a straight face tell the client that you just took 4 hours to do a 2-hour project. Or when you have to talk to the client and discuss why it’s taking you so long to fnish a task. Not to mention that whole stealing thing . . . .

      At least in my firm the pressure from the billable hour requirement comes from knowing that my inefficiency is atually costing my client real dollars, and consequently our firm some business. I am much more motivated to work efficiently on a case where I’m billing by the hour than on a flat rate or contingency fee case. It must be different in huge firms where you never have any client contact as an associate, or when a client has so much money that another $5000 for someone’s inefficiency is negligible.

      Sorry for the tone, this is just a sensitive area for me. I take my billables very seriously and never overbill, and I know that other people do and get away with it. I shouldn’t take it personally, but I kind of do. :(

      • I completely agree with you – billable hour “crimes” royally hack me off! When I first started working in a billable hours environment, the recession was just beginning to impact the amount of work we had and the things that went on really annoyed me – work being done at the wrong level so senior staff could hoard hours, work being stretched out to account for more hours, juniors being pressured into writing off hours so the managers could look amazing by producing the work under budget…

        Seriously, if you’re not being honest about your billable hours, who are you actually benefiting? If you bill over or bill a more senior member’s time, you’ll only have to write them off or you’ll be called up on being grossly inefficient or you’re heading for an embarrassing conversation with the client. If you under bill, then you’re not really demonstrating how long the work actually takes so you’ll never accurately be able to bill the client.


  14. Great post! I loved reading this and there’s loads of handy hints. I haven’t been in a billable hours environment for almost a year now and even then the recession prevented anybody – even the partners – from taking billable hours goals too seriously anyway. Regardless, I used to like to set myself goals anyway and I find the hacks that I used then have come in very handy now I’m freelance.

    I totally agree with the email ideas and wanted to add that I think there are some apps which will give you an alert with an important email (e.g. an email from a certain email address) comes in. Admittedly, I haven’t used any personally but I have heard other people swear by them. I think one is called AwayFetch or AwayFind (?).

    I also find RescueTime is useful for keeping track of lost time and, importantly, made me realise that maybe some of my multi-tasking habits were not as productive as I thought. However, it’s not foolproof, especially when you use different things for different degrees of productivity (e.g. was I on Wikipedia because I was checking out the basic meaning of something I was researching or because I was looking up what happened on HIMYM last night?). I also agree that organising all your tasks is a massive time-zap and it constantly checking the reports themselves can be a distraction too. That being said, I’m definitely think I’m more productive with it running than without it.

  15. Hate the Billable :

    At the beginning of every day, I open up an email and type in the start time for the day, then I keep a running tab of all the work I do for all clients, projects, etc. I typically list the different clients and add any time spent communicating over email before arrival, but otherwise, just type in the start and stop time for every task for various clients, and in my special category (“BS”), I do the same for those trips to the water cooler, calls to mom, lunch, facebook, etc. It keeps me honest to do it in real time, and helps me to avoid losing time, which was my biggest issue. Did it really take me 3 hours to review that document? Yes, it did, starting and restarting throughout the day. At the end of the day (or beginning of the next day), I would do the math myself, dropping in 3.25 hrs here, 1.75 hrs there, and email the whole thing off to my secretary to input. Nothing like looking at that email and seeing “5.5 hrs BS, 1.5 hrs Newco” to keep you focused on the work. And if was wasn’t busy, I could do my BS at home.

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