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Initiative, Change, & GTD – Self-Management for a New Lawyer

I wanted to highlight a bit about developing the initiative necessary to make changes in our environment and personal habits. Often times people mis-manage their time in all areas of their life – personal, work, housework, emotionality, physically, etc. Or worse, they are not even aware that they need to be actively managing certain areas of their lives. Management is relegated to something that someone else does to them, while they’re at work. As such, they flail about wondering why they don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done that they wish to. If you’re a new attorney, it’s incredibly important to manage your time effectively – for your clients, your work product, and yourself.

A good way to jump-start that change is to ask yourself a series of questions in regards to whatever area of your life is not in order. Whether it be your office, exercising, cleaning your house, or not being at the office at midnight finishing that brief, the below template (Courtesy of the always excellent Bussinessballs) is a good starting point to help guide you in the direction you need to go:

1.1 Take a look around your environment (home, family, business, personal). What issues do you see ongoing that you have not managed yet?
1.2 What has stopped you from managing them until now?
2.1 What would you need to see/hear/feel to recognize when it was time to do something different?
3.1 What criteria do you use to decide what aspects of the situation need to be changed?
3.2 Which aspects should stay the same?
3.3 What is the difference between the two?
3.4 And how will you know if you’ve chosen the appropriate elements for each?
4.1 How will you decide who would need to be brought into the ‘change’ conversation to ensure you have buy-in from interested parties?
4.2 How do you plan on bringing them into the decisions you need to make?
4.3 How will you know that they are indeed supportive of your change issues?
4.4 How will you know if they are not supportive?
4.5 How will you manage the situation if they believe they will be harmed by the change?
5.1 How will you and your decision partners determine all of the aspects that need to be managed?
5.2 What elements of the situation need to be shifted first?
5.3 What elements of the situation need to be shifted second?
5.4 How will you handle differences of opinion?
6.1 How will you monitor your process?
6.2 How will you know if/when you are going off course and need additional support (possibly from the outside)?
6.3 How will you and your decision partners help you in your monitoring?
7.1 What will success look like?
7.2 How can you be sure that the problem will remain solved over time?
8.1 What does follow up and follow through look like?

By asking yourself this series of questions and answering them, honestly, it should provide you with an idea of the actions you need to take to make the adjustments in order to make improvements in your workflow. Businessballs also offers a reflective diary (PDF) template that offers a quick and easy way to make notes as a situation arises in which there is an opportunity for improvement.

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.


  1. I like your point that sometimes we do not realize we need to manage things in our lives (I call it having a plan). You can always fine-tune or adjust the plan over time, but you have to have a plan to begin with.

    Also, it is amazing how much time can be lost to e-mail, facebook, surfing the internet, and TV without ever realizing it. E-mail was the eye opener to me. It is kind of a sneaky time waster if you are constantly checking it and replying. I like to be responsive, but being within a two to five hour timeframe is usually very acceptable!

    • “I like your point that sometimes we do not realize we need to manage things in our lives (I call it having a plan). You can always fine-tune or adjust the plan over time, but you have to have a plan to begin with.”

      This has definitely been the case for me. While it might seems kind of cheesy to do at first, running through an exercise like the above has helped me recognize patterns and behaviors that have prevented me from managing my time effectively.

      For example, when I first got into running a few years ago I had a tough time getting started with it and finding time to take runs. However, when I sat down and began to ask myself why I didn’t go run, what am I doing instead of running, what is going on in my environment when I want to go running – and it led me to recognize what was preventing me from running.

      I needed to manage my personal time and environment in order to develop new habits that would enable me to take the time to run.

      Recognizing how I was squandering my time (email, FB, tv, etc. as you noted) really began for me back in 2002 when I went a year without TV. While I do watch TV now, it might only be a couple hours a week. It’s amazing how much more free time I have. Although the interwebs certainly consumes more of my time than I would like!

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