Practice Management Time Uncategorized


Written by Steven Levy

Reprinted from January 29, 2016

Should be a word. Really. Deurgentifying.

As in, techniques to keep all the urgent stuff from overflowing your timesheet and preventing you from getting to the important stuff. (And as of this writing, is still available.)

AWAL matrix2AWAL matrix3

As I wrote last time out, your day should look something like the graphic on the left, but too often the tiger of urgency (, also available) turns your day into the graphic on the right – filled with stuff that’s hair-on-fire to someone, but neither important (i.e., core) to your real job nor something you can easily solve.

I hear you saying, “I know, I know. But what the houndstooth can I do about it?”

You play D.

In basketball, “playing D” means playing defense, a rare enough skill in these days of I-want-the-ball-so-I-can-be-the-star. It means sort of the same thing in the office. You play D by taking one of the following five actions in response to an incoming low-value request for your time:


Delete It. Ignore it. That’s your first and most obvious line of defense. Not every incoming request must become your fire drill. An email asking what to order for lunch? Unless you have real food allergies or keep kosher/halal, don’t respond. You’ll find something to eat. (And if you do have dietary requirements, quietly let some of the administrative folks know, and they’ll watch out for you.) Third name on the CC line? Or worse, on a distribution list? A request for your help from someone who could do it himself but doesn’t want to take the time to try?

But of course you can’t ignore every urgent-but-unimportant response. So your next choice is…

Delegate It. Gee, you can do it better? Well, maybe so, maybe not. (“Your way” is a synonym for “different,” not “better.”) Second, what important task will you rush or leave undone so you can complete some urgent-but-unimportant task 5% better than someone else in your organization? (Remember the name of this website. Attorney With a Life. Life itself is one of those important tasks.)

Deflect It. Deflection is a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors trick, but that doesn’t make it wrong. In a few hours, send back a mail asking for clarification on one of the points. Propose a deadline for a first draft of midafternoon three weeks from Thursday. If it’s a voicemail, shoot back a mail (not now, a few hours from now) saying the VM was garbled and you’re not sure what was requested. In other words, push it back on the requester without overtly doing so, by leaving the requester with the next move. I know this sounds like something Wally from Dilbert would do (he’s the co-worker who finds ways to do nothing but drink coffee). I don’t suggest you use this approach on real work, but it’s an effective occasional barrier against stuff that you recognize isn’t going to make the top three of your to-do list.

Defer It. If it doesn’t have to be done immediately, don’t let it get in your face. Set a time when you’re less busy or less productive on real stuff. If you’re a morning person, for example, late afternoon isn’t your most effective time, which makes it a great place to do tasks that don’t require intense focus and brainpower. And almost everyone has a postprandial slump, that period right after lunch where people from some cultures take a nap.

Deferral is also a good way to handle important tasks that are interrupting other important tasks. Set aside a time where you can focus in a serious way on the new task, and get to it then. Put that time/task on your calendar, or on your task list.

Do It. Sometimes it’s easier to right-now a minor request. You’ve already interrupted your work flow by looking at it or listening to it. If it takes you 60 seconds to do it, then just do it. (Nah, is taken.)

Note that all of these play-D techniques are best applied to urgent-but-unimportant requests that you receive at inopportune times. If it’s important, then you need to find time, plan it, understand it, succeed at it. But keep in mind that the only way you’ll really have time to get to the important stuff – and to have a life – is to play D to the rest of it.

About the author

Steven Levy

As the CEO of Lexician, I help lawyers around the world manage their projects, their time, their teams, and their clients. I am the author of four books for legal professionals, including the new edition of the groundbreaking Legal Project Management and the time-management guide, The Off Switch. Before founding Lexician, I was the former head of Microsoft’s Legal Operations / Technology department. You can contact me at or learn more at

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