Tips/Tricks/Hacks/Programs For Tracking Time

This is part of my series where I try to help anonymous strangers on Reddit (as u/AgileAtty). You can find the original post here.

Solo practitioner here (using Clio for billing/client management).

We all understand how important it is to track time, but I still struggle. Does anyone have any programs they find helpful, or tips/tricks/hacks they can share that they have found helpful?

Thank you in advance.

There are three high level systems in your law firm:

  1. The “Getting the Work” system;
  2. The “Doing the Work” system; and
  3. The “Getting Paid” system.

Your law firm cannot succeed if any of those systems is not working well and in balance with the others. If I had to guess, I’d say you are over-emphasizing one or both of the first two systems to the detriment of the third. Do that long enough and your practice will fail.

It is easy to overemphasize the “Getting the Work” system because you get a big ol’ dopamine squirt when someone hires you. It feels good because it validates that people like you.

It’s easy to overemphasize the “Doing the Work” system because you get a big ol’ oxytocin squirt when you do something to help someone else. We are societal creatures and it feels good to help people.

But the feels don’t pay the bills.

We avoid the “Getting Paid” system because it causes us stress (cortisol) and doesn’t have the same immediate feedback loop as the others. Tracking time today doesn’t yield money until as much as a several months from now: at least until the end of the month to bill (another stressful task) and then however long the client takes to pay.

This is where standard practices come into play. We have to create standards and policies to use as scaffolding to protect ourselves from our own lesser instincts. They need to be hard and fast rules, consistently applied, in order to work.

The best policy is the combination of the following:

  • No “Doing the Work” task is actually done until you have entered your time for it. That means you don’t get to move on to the next task (or check email, or Reddit) until the previous task is completely done (meaning time is tracked).
  • No workday is finished until you’ve logged all of your time for the day. You’re better off blocking out the last 20 minutes of your day to log time than you are trying to do another 20 minutes of billable work, because doing the work without getting paid for it is going to kill your business.

In addition to that, make it easy for yourself. The Desktop version of Clio (really just a dedicated browser, but it runs like a desktop app) is better than the web app for keeping timers running. Or use the Clio app on your phone as your timer while you do the actual work on the desktop. I’d recommend against 3rd party timers or manually writing time because it creates additional steps to actually get the time logged in Clio.

Finally, I question your assumption that it is important to track time. There are lots of great examples of alternative business models for lawyers that don’t rely on billable hours. If you’re interested in them, check out Jonathan Stark’s Hourly Billing is Nuts and/or Brita Long’s The Happier Attorney.

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