Time management is the art of combining different skills and techniques to increase work output and utilize time effectively. These skills are important for paralegals who need to do many different things each day. The legal team relies on paralegals to perform clerical tasks that can be time and energy consuming.
There are a few factors that can hinder a paralegal from accomplishing desired goals. This results to low quality output at work and burn-outs. Some tend to procrastinate because of improper time management. However, paralegals can make smarter decisions, achieve goals on time and minimize burn-out if they are able to manage their time effectively. Here are some techniques that can help paralegals eliminate these hindrances to let them work faster and smarter.
Paralegals work in a setting where they are expected to perform different jobs from legal research to documentation. The first thing that they should keep in mind is a clear set of goals. This should be done first thing in the morning, the night before or prior to any activities. A set of goals for the day is essential to stay on the desired path and not divert to unnecessary activities. Finishing a task such as a report requires proper goal-setting and implementation.
Paralegals should also have a goal before making or answering a phone call or replying to emails. It is helpful to think about the situation first and decide on what the expected result from that action should be. A few minutes should be allotted for each action. This will help eliminate unnecessary conversations that can lead to waste of time and effort. Setting goals before conversations will ensure that all important topics are covered and none are missed.
Paralegals can set goals for an hour, a day, a week or even a year depending on the desired outcome. These can include short-term and long-term goals. However, short-term goals are more helpful in an office setting. Goals like finishing a report or researching a subject are usual everyday things in a legal office. Setting goals will result in time-efficiency and better work output.
Keep a Schedule
It is best to have a schedule or an organizer handy. After deciding on goals and outcomes desired, the paralegal should then keep this information in an organizer. Proper scheduling is important so paralegals will identify the activities for the day. A calendar along with the organizer is also helpful. This is good for reminding paralegals of deadlines and important events. The calendar should be constantly updated to avoid confusion.
The goals and activities for the day, week or month can be written in a checklist. Personal goals and plans should be separated from those at work. A harmonious balance between work and personal time will help a person work better and smarter. It is best not to let personal time intervene with work time. A paralegal should know how to prioritize activities to stay focused on what should be achieved.
The office telephone is one of the things that can stop paralegals from working effectively. A ringing telephone can easily disturb an individual who is trying to finish a report or do any other task. It is important for paralegals to distinguish important phone calls from the unwanted ones. This lets them utilize time and effort efficiently.
Paralegals should allocate a specific time of the day for answering phone calls or checking voicemails. They can set all incoming calls to go to voicemail while at work. Screening calls is also helpful so only important calls from known callers go through and the rest go to voicemail. This will eliminate spending time answering each phone call and having unwanted conversations.
However, paralegals should return a phone call as soon as possible. This is important so callers won’t feel unimportant or rejected. After listening to the messages on the voicemail at a scheduled time, they can decide on the goals and important topics that need to be discussed and return the calls. Paralegals must remember not to engage in unnecessary conversations over the phone so as not to waste time.
Emails and Faxes
Emails can also waste a paralegal’s time and effort. Notifications that pop up while online to show new emails disturb people when working. Paralegals don’t have enough time to open and reply to each email all day.
One technique that can help paralegals is to screen emails. This will automatically separate important emails from the less significant ones. They can also leave important emails and keep them in the unread list. This is a good reminder to open the email and reply to it at a scheduled time. This will eliminate the hassle of reading each email and replying while working on a task. However, it is also important not to make the sender feel neglected. The paralegal can send out email replies stating that the message was received and the appropriate party will get back to them with the information as soon as possible. A calendar on computer software can also help in determining when to reply to emails. The software automatically sorts emails and sends notifications about events and tasks.
The same should be done with faxes. Paralegals should set aside all documents that need to be faxed and allocate a particular time for them. This will minimize time and effort spent on trips to the fax machine.
Staying organized is a major aspect of good time management. Keeping the schedule, goals and workplace organized will result in a healthy work environment. Since a paralegal’s work is diverse and always on the clock, it is important to eliminate any clutter.
The first priority is to have an organized work environment. The desk should be free from clutter and unwanted files or objects. Anything that is used frequently should be close and visible. The person should identify where each objet goes and try not to mix them up. Significant items like mobile phones, keys, wallets or bags should be kept in a secure place. This minimizes the time spent searching for objects.
The paralegal should also have a clean space for all files and documents. These can be arranged alphabetically or in any way that is easier for the person. The inbox should also have emails properly organized. Properly marking emails that are already read or replied to is a helpful technique. The same thing goes for files on the computer. These should be separated and arranged in a particular order such as by client or date.
Most paralegals prefer to work on different tasks on their own. It is natural for people to have the need to control their own work space and environment. However, not everyone can finish all work responsibilities in a day. No person can effectively do two tasks at a time. Even if the task is finished, the quality of work will not be good. This is why it is best to properly delegate tasks in the work place. Some tasks can be given to other paralegals since they usually work in teams.
Some paralegals also have assistants assigned to them. Entry-level responsibilities can be given to assistants to maximize time and effort. Paralegals can dictate their correspondence, pleadings and memorandums to their assistants. Assistants can help in minor jobs that can take up most of the paralegal’s time.
It is also best to identify tasks that can be finished alone or with other people’s help. Receiving assigned work from different attorneys at the same time will result in low quality output and even missed deadlines. Paralegals should know how to allocate tasks to ensure that all deadlines are met and tasks are done effectively.
Proper communication is the key to creating a good work environment with colleagues. Paralegals can politely inform officemates that there is a task to be finished whenever they are being disturbed. Tasks can’t be finished if the paralegal spends too much time on unwanted conversations over the phone or with colleagues.
Another benefit from good communication is proper work delegation. Not all assigned tasks from attorneys can be realistically finished in the time-frame given. This is the best time to be proactive and talk about realistic approaches to the task. All paralegals also have their own limitations. It is best to identify these limitations and properly communicate them to colleagues.