If you’ve ever watched the clock turn over at midnight and found yourself still at the office, you’ve likely wondered where all your time went. As a lawyer, time management is critical for maximizing your billable hours and avoiding burnout.

While the right technology can enhance time management, attorneys should also be mindful of the habits they practice. It may be easy to slip into unproductive routines, but with a little strategy, it’s entirely possible to re-establish good time management habits and get the most out of your day.

Time management challenges for lawyers

While each industry has its own productivity challenges, time management is especially complex for attorneys who often work in fast-paced, high-pressure environments. With billable hours to meet and a laundry list of unbillable tasks, simply keeping track of everything can feel like a full-time job.

To further complicate matters, lawyers are often perfectionists. This tendency is an asset in the courtroom, but it can make time management more stressful if you feel like you need to give 100% in all of your efforts.

4 habits to implement for better time management

Time management improves when you set clear boundaries and train your brain. Implement the following habits to gain those valuable hours back every day.

1. Block out your day

In the morning, use a planner to allocate every hour of your day, and stick to it. Over time, blocking out your day will give you a better understanding of how long each task actually takes and what interruptions are causing delays.

To be the most productive, try planning the hardest task of your day first. When you do the hardest thing first, it won’t be looming over your head, allowing you to be more productive the rest of the day. Some lawyers, on the other hand, perform better when they warm up with a few small tasks before working on the most important ones.

In short, take some time to see what works best for you and make it your routine.

2. Schedule protected time

It takes an average of 25 minutes after a disruption to get back to a scheduled task. To avoid interruptions, give yourself two to four hours of protected focus time each day (depending on what else needs to be done). Send your phone calls to voicemail, make yourself unavailable on internal messaging systems, and don’t check your email. This gives you time to complete tasks that require your full attention.

3. Avoid underestimating time

Be honest with yourself about how much time each task takes. If you underestimate a task, then you’ll end up working late every night. Look at past timesheets or your planner to see how much time similar projects have required before you decide to take on new work. If you simply don’t have enough time in your day to complete your tasks, it may be time to consider outsourcing or rethinking your workload.

4. Don’t multi-task

When working, only do one task at a time. Switching between tasks can take up to 40% of someone’s productive time. Not only does this lead to more mistakes, but it also leads to more stress. Instead, work on tasks one at a time in order of importance. You’ll complete them faster and see better results.

Mastering your time management takes focus and patience but in the end will relieve stress, help avoid burnout, and assist in maximizing billable hours.