“Do Now” vs. “Due Now”: Work According to Plan, Not According to Deadlines


Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

If you are always tackling your next deadline or latest e-mail, you will never find time to develop your business—or even just get ahead of your deadlines. If this sounds like you, the key is to start planning your schedule instead of letting your calendar dictate it.

In order to integrate work planning into your schedule, make it a habit. Schedule an hour every week for work planning, and schedule days to work on things, instead of just the days things are due. Here is how I do it.

Weekly work planning

I like to do my personal work planning on Sunday night. My brain seems to start switching over to “work mode” on Sunday evenings, anyway, so I go with it. Friday afternoons and Monday mornings are also a good time to do your work planning.

While you can work plan with your colleagues, I recommend doing it on your own. You should be setting personal goals, not just going through your master case list and deadlines.

Plan on paper or on your computer, whichever works best for you. I start by working with my work planning template on my computer, and then print it out so I can keep it up-to-date with scribbles during the week.

Capturing your work

Start with your appointments and deadlines. If you are using my template, use a fresh row for each thing you are working on (client matter, big client you hope to land, volunteer work, etc.). Write down the date of each deadline and a short description. Next, write down anything you need to be doing now, anything you need to do at some point, and anything you are waiting for someone else to do, in the appropriate columns.

Walk away from your desk for a moment, but bring a few note cards, Post-Its, or sheets of paper. Is there anything you need to do that is not on your work plan? Many people keep their to-do lists basically in their heads. Stop it. Your goal should be to get everything out of your head and onto your work plan.

Write down everything that is still in your head. Go back to your desk and add all those things to your work plan.

Planning your days

Now make five columns, one for each day of the upcoming week (or just use the top row of my work plan). This is to help you plan out your week. I usually aim for two or three “most-important tasks” (MITs) each day. I put my energy into completing those tasks, and even if they are the only things I get done, I am satisfied.

Glance through your deadlines. Some of those things will go into a certain day of the coming week by necessity. For example, you may need to serve an answer on Thursday. If you do not need any time to work on that answer in advance, write something like “draft and serve answer” in the Thursday column. If you need to draft it beforehand, write “draft answer” on, say, Monday or Tuesday, and “serve answer” on Thursday.

When you have filled in the must-do tasks, you will probably have some more room. Use that space to set daily tasks that are not “due now,” but that you could do now, so you do not have to do them later. There is nothing wrong with finishing your motion papers a week before the due date; just wait to serve them.

If you look for things to “do now” rather than working only towards things that are “due now,” you will find many openings in your schedule to get more done, whether for your business or yourself.

(photo: Great Beyond)


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  • Great post! At Total Attorneys, our product teams work in scrum teams that do their work via a series of sprints. Basically, each team keeps a story board that lists tasks in different columns according to where those tasks are in the overall process of completing a project, and then they keep a burn-down chart that keeps them aware of deadlines while they work. This helps combine both the “do now” mentality and deadline awareness. For two simple examples of how this works check out these graphics:

    It is a process that takes a little training, but once you understand how it works, it can be really helpful in managing tasks effectively and efficiently.