If you’re an attorney, consultant or other professional who uses billable hours, at least one of these scenarios probably sounds familiar: 

  1. You’re so busy and are pulled in so many directions that you often fall short of your billable hour targets, even though you’re working 40+ hours per week. Your time just keeps getting eaten up with non-billable activities. It’s a constant struggle to get enough work done that actually drives revenue.   
  1. You regularly meet or even exceed your target for billable hours, but there’s a cost. You’re working all the time and sacrificing time with your loved ones and your own self-care in order to keep your billing up where you need or want it to be. It might be hard to find enough time to develop your business and serve your clients the way you’d really like to. Maybe you’re even on the verge of burning out. 

Is time management affecting your ability to hit your billable hour goals? 

I don’t need to tell you how important good time management is when your work involves billable hours. If you’re self-employed, how well you manage your time on any given day directly determines how much you earn that day. If you work for a firm that has clear expectations about billable hours, good time management lets you create time for business development, other important projects, AND your personal life. There are other ways to all of the right things done besides working 14 hours a day at your desk and leaving exhausted, demoralized, and knowing you will come back and do it all again tomorrow.   

Some of the smartest, most accomplished attorneys and consultants struggle with time management and productivity challenges around billable hours. 

It’s a really difficult balance to strike: You need to create enough time to get X amount of billable activity done each day—without neglecting the most important non-billable work, or sacrificing your personal time or sleep.  

That’s a big challenge on its own. But as you well know, in competitive fields like law and real estate, there’s constant pressure to work those really long days and take on as much work as you possibly can. And it seems like the pressure is only growing. One recent survey (Clio’s 2023 Legal Trends Report) found that legal professionals were working 25% more cases and recording 35% more billable hours in 2023, compared to 2016.  

Talk about a huge shift in workload over a short period of time! You have to wonder… what did all those legal professionals have to give up in order to increase their caseloads? How much sleep and time with loved ones did they sacrifice in those years in order to record 35% more billable hours? 

To be clear, boosting your billables and bringing in more revenue is a great and totally achievable goal! My concern is this: Do you have a time management plan that’s actually going to let you get all the billable activity done, without losing control of your time or letting your life become about nothing but work?  

3 Steps to Manage Your Time Around Billable Hours 

#1 Give yourself permission to take control where you can.

Navigating client service and billable hours means you’re often forced to conform to other people’s schedules. You may often feel like your time isn’t your own, or become overwhelmed by last-minute changes and client requests. Some of that is unavoidable when you work with clients, so it’s essential that you take control in any areas that are yours to control. When you do get into those periods where you’re being really productive and feeling great about your work, notice what’s going on. What time of day is it? Where are you physically working? Are you in do-not-disturb mode with no outside distractions? Keep a running list of things you can do to create the conditions under which you do your most productive work so you can recreate them in the future.  

#2 Take notes about your stressors.

Inevitably, there are going to be moments when you feel stressed, panicked and out of time. The next time that happens, don’t scramble to push through and get 20 things done in 10 minutes. Instead, pause and jot down some notes about what’s going on. What’s making you feel stressed? What things do you still need to get done? Were there avoidable factors that led to this situation?  

Not only does this exercise give you a minute to breathe and refocus, but it also creates a record filled with useful information. Later on, when things quiet down, you can go back to your notes and strategize about the best way to tackle the unfinished things on your list. Keeping these notes also lets you notice patterns over time. For example, you might realize that those stressful periods are always happening around certain kinds of tasks, certain clients or even certain times of the day, week or quarter.  

#3 Put together a bare-bones schedule for the week.

A tightly-planned schedule is probably going to fall apart quickly once the busy week actually starts. As soon as you get one urgent client call that you weren’t expecting, the whole schedule is off. It’s imperative to take advantage of as much flexibility as your work allows, especially when you need to maximize billable hours.  

Start the week with a loose schedule that has the big rocks (appointments, meetings, etc.) in place but has plenty of space left to allow for things to show up. Then you can focus on new billable work as it comes up without having to waste time shifting things around. When the urgent billable work is done, you can look at all your important non-billable activities and decide: what’s the highest-priority thing for me to do right now?  

Need more support with time management for billable hours?  

I understand the unique time management challenges and pressures faced by attorneys, consultants and other professionals who use billable hours. I’ve worked with so many of these clients over the years! If you’re ready to change the way you manage your time, schedule a one-on-one, free Strategy Session so we can talk about how True Focus might be able to help.  

Be well, 


Sarah Reiff-Hekking