By Keisha Stanford • October 31, 2010•Writers in Residence
Almost a month into work, the time crunching started. When making plans last weekend, I caught myself trying to figure out exactly how long brunch would take. Two people + sit down brunch + catching up after several months = 1.5 hours (or maybe 2). Then that calculation got factored into everything else I needed to get done that day: 1 hour (walking dog) + 0.5 hour (yoga) + 0.5 hour (conversation with Mom) + 1.5 hours (trip to grocery store & Target on a Sunday, with the Oakland Raiders playing a home game) + 2 hours (laundry, cleaning apartment, and making lunch for the week) + 1.5 hours (traveling to and from San Francisco, getting stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge, and finding parking in San Francisco) + 1.5-2.0 hours (brunch) = a full day.
I knew that some of these tasks could be consolidated. I could easily talk to my mom while doing laundry and making lunch for the week. However, just thinking of it all, I instantly got the feeling that I had a lot to do in a fixed amount of time. And I hadn’t yet factored in the things I needed to review before my Monday morning case meeting.
I ultimately said yes to brunch, since this would be the second time we rescheduled. Yet, I found it odd that three weeks into work, I was making such a complicated calculation of time spent for something so simple as brunch with a friend. Honestly, I think the calculation had more to do with my recent return to keeping track of time than anything else.
As many new associates know, the practice of keeping track of everything you do during a day is foreign, at best. Different people use different systems, and everyone has their bit of advice on the best way to do it. Some attorneys carry around a notebook, jotting down start and stop times throughout the day. Others have a pre-printed form, where they keep track of narratives and client-matter numbers in one place. The more technologically savvy use an array of electronic timers, each of which has its own client or matter number assigned to it. Still others use intricate spreadsheets that track time and calculate running totals for a given month or the entire year. Some people enter their own time, while other have secretaries who are able to assist them with getting their time into the firm’s time entry system.
After the jump, I share my system, including the "super-spreadsheet"
I was a “timekeeper” for five years before law school. During that time, I tried several different styles until I found one that worked for me. I started with handwriting, but then I found that I was spending twice as much time on “time.” I was tracking and recording it in one place, but I still had to enter it into the system. If I did that every day, then it wasn’t too bad. But, as I soon came to realize, my days got busier and busier, and it became increasingly difficult to sustain that system.
I then switched to the “smart timer” system, which allowed me to click between matters with relative ease (assuming I was in my office and at my computer when I started working on something). The program that firm used allowed me to attach narratives to the timers and then just assign everything. I can type much faster than I can write, so I could quickly enter complete narratives or short blurbs to remind me of what I worked on that day. This system worked well with the immigration practice in which I worked because each foreign national was a different matter, and one could easily work on 30 matters in a given day. The firm’s time entry system also had a reporting function, so I could easily run reports for a particular matter to see where I was in relation to project budgets.
Litigation is a quite different. Since there is not as much back and forth between matters during the day, I have found that tracking time is a little easier, at least for clients that do not use task billing. However, my new firm’s time entry system is a bit more complicated than the one I previously used. Fortunately, I have a secretary to assist with some of this. Yet, I still am working out an effective system for keeping track of my time. And, as with many things, I am getting by with a little help from my friends.
When I was a summer associate, my secretary at the time (who was absolutely wonderful) gave me an incredible resource, which I now pass on to you. This document is one of those intricate spreadsheets that tracks your time for the day, month and year. It is even capable of tracking billable and non-billable hours, pro bono hours, trainings, and vacation hours. To track these hours, you will need to enter the breakdowns in Columns A through G. These tallies will transfer over to Columns N through T, with the totals displayed in Row 3.
I must admit that my Excel proficiency is somewhat limited, so you will need to update the formatting on the summary tab. As with most things, you should do what works best for you. However, with a bit of tweaking, this spreadsheet may be the solution to your timekeeping problems.
Unfortunately, I do not have a solution to the problem of a limited number of hours in each day. I will say that you have to make time for the things in your life that are important to you. In some cases that will mean 1.5 hours for brunch with friends or family, or 0.5 hours for yoga, or maybe…just maybe, 2.0 hours of relaxation at home, watching football (there’s plenty of time left in the season!) or rereading the Harry Potter series. Whatever works for you!