Like everyone else, lawyers want to make the most out of the finite time, energy and resources available to them. Lawyers in private practice in particular often experience significant demands on their time. They face regular deadlines imposed by others without regard to their other time requirements, and often multiple clients require something to be done at the same time. There are regular interruptions during the work day via email, phone and fax. And, there is always something more to do on a client’s behalf – one more witness to interview, one more case to read, one more clause to add or edit …

How is a lawyer to juggle all the balls in the air, serve multiple clients well and maintain some semblance of personal sanity? We could look to teachings of two popular productivity gurus, David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Tim Ferriss (The Four Hour Work Week), both of whom are well known in the technology community. They each have valuable tips to offer lawyers who hope to enhance effectiveness, reduce stress and accordingly improve the enjoyment of their work lives.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done system (GTD) is based on enhancing productivity and reducing stress by being very organized and recording everything that needs to be done in one central place. The goal is to free the mind from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done or where to find things, so you can concentrate on actually performing tasks.

The GTD system of being organized (called “Managing Workflow”) can be summarized as follows:
1. Collect inputs;
Inputs includes notes, emails, documents and just about everything else accumulated and unorganized around you.

2. Process inputs
The following graph explains the steps to follow when processing the collected inputs:


3. Organize Results
Information related to tasks and projects can be stored in:
– a next action list categorized in a way that makes sense to you;
– a calendar;
– a standard folder tickler system for paper based reminders;
– reference files;
– waiting for list;
– someday/maybe list; and
– read/review stack.

Being “paperless”, I store almost everything electronically and use Toodledo, an online to do list which synchs with my Iphone.

4. Review Options for Next Actions
At least once per week, David Allen advises you to review all incomplete items in your lists and flag the ones that need to be addressed soon.

5. Do a Next Action
Decide what to do next based on where you are, the resources available, the amount of time available and your energy level.

In the Four Hour Work Week, interspersed with humorous anecdotes and lifestyle tips, Tim Ferriss focuses in on effectiveness and highlights Pareto’s principle – 80% of the value of what we do comes from 20% of what we do. His advice is to cut out the non-essentials in our lives and focus on just those things that add the most value.

The key to his productivity message is elimination to the extent possible of all the distractions of modern life and our own bad habits that get in the way of our focus on what we should be doing. Some tips he offers are:
– A low information diet;
– Batching like tasks;
– Checking email only twice a day;
– Asking yourself during the day if you are being productive, or just being busy, i.e. performing a crutch activity, that is avoiding the task that you really should be doing but feels overwhelming or unpleasant;
– Make your to-do list for tomorrow before you finish today;
– Stop multitasking;
– End your day at 4 PM or end your week on Thursday;
– Never have a meeting without a clear agenda;
– Hang up a “do not disturb” sign;
– Automate what you can; and
– Outsource what you can.

I have no claim of superior personal productivity, other than the thoughts and advice from David Allen and Tim Ferriss have helped me to feel somewhat more in control of an often chaotic work day.

Comment and let us know what works for you.


  1. To increase my productivity, I like to alternate between powering through tasks and taking short breaks. I’ll set an alarm for forty-five minutes and focus intently during that time with the knowledge that I can take a break when the timer goes off. Often, the momentum I build up during that time drives me to continue working long after the alarm sounds. When my focus does begin to dissolve, I take a five to fifteen minute break–get a coffee, go for a short walk, read a newspaper article–before returning to work. That time allows my brain to rest and reboot, preparing it for another round of work.

  2. Of all the incredible time management resources out there, I have to say that David Allen and Tim Ferriss are the absolute best! I have spent years in the offices of disorganized and busy professionals and the principles discussed in The 4 Hour Work Week, can transform someone’s life. They are realistic, and they cut to the core of what people are regularly doing, that is hindering their success. (too much time on email, unplanned, lengthy meetings, interruptions, mental stress from taking in too much info, etc).
    I just love hearing success stories of professionals practicing the art of the GTD system and Tim Ferriss!