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Your career: Tripping up your time trolls

Take control of your time and productivity.

Image of a woman in the shadows of a huge clock

In the Norweigan fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a fearsome troll living under a bridge is outsmarted and defeated by the quicker-witted and more nimble goats.

The trolls that suck away your time at work are likewise easily vanquished, says Andrea Verwey, a Vancouver-based lawyer coach and consultant. Even if, as she says, “Often the troll is you.”

So how do we steal time away fromourselves?

Verwey says there are two main categories of time trolls: those that keep lawyers from getting the work they’ve done down on their time sheet; and those that keep lawyers from getting down to work at all.

Making sure that you record every bit of work you do – those three calls you made from the train on your way to work, or the half-hour you spent on a file after dinner – can add as much as an hour a day to your billings, says Verwey, who was a presenter at the November CBA Leadership Conference for Professional Women in Vancouver.

“For a lot of people that’s the difference between going home at 6:00 to their kids or drifting another hour until 7:00.”

As for not getting down to it, Verwey says the biggest problem is the legal profession’s “open-door phenomenon.” Being available to colleagues and clients all day makes it hard to focus.

She suggests pinpointing your most productive time of day, say between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and closing the door – to people, to phone calls and to emails, except for emergencies – during that time.

“Two-thirds of lawyers are introverts and yet we’ve created this culture where everybody is supposed to be responding and reacting and chatting and available all the time,” she says. “Giving introverts permission to carve out this little bit of quiet, reflective time every day is quite empowering, so they can be fabulous and chatty the rest of the day.” 

Tips for dealing with time trolls

1. Carefully monitor your time. Keep a piece of paper at hand and stop at least three times a day to make sure you have everything recorded.

2. Do a lunchtime self-assessment: If you have two hours down at lunchtime you know what the rest of the day is going to look like. You might need to rejig your afternoon plans.

3. Stop losing sleep over your billables. Make sure when you get to the end of the day that you’ve written down everything you possibly can and then walk away from it.