There are a few common refrains that I hear over and over again from the clients who come to me for support with time management and productivity.  

Things like, “I’m working all the time but still not getting all the important stuff done.” Or, “I give so much to my business that I barely have a personal life anymore.”  

Sometimes they’re things that are specific to certain industries or times of year. For example: I tend to hear from consultants about their frustrations with prospecting for new clients during the summer months, and talk to business owners about the time management piece of preparing to step back from the business for a summer vacation.  

Recently I’ve been hearing another refrain come up a lot: “It’s hard to plan my day because something always comes up!”  

Does that resonate with you? I seem to hear it from my attorney clients the most, but it’s also a common frustration for realtors, consultants and other business owners. When you’re balancing a ton of different responsibilities in any given day and you do client service work, it can feel like your day isn’t really your own to plan. Even if you feel like you have good time management habits! 

Sure, you can create a meticulous schedule for the day ahead, allotting yourself adequate time for all your most important tasks (plus a nice lunch break so you can refuel and reset for the afternoon)! But that schedule will fall apart when a client calls at 9 a.m. with an urgent request. Or the brief you planned to spend 30 minutes on takes two hours instead, putting you 90 minutes behind schedule. Or a family member calls you in crisis and needs you to solve a problem.  

I call these “wildcards”: the unscheduled tasks or obligations that could potentially pop up and derail your time management plans, at any time, on any day. 

Examples of wildcards include:  

  • Clients want unscheduled conversations or make urgent, time-sensitive requests. 
  • Administrative tasks and meetings take much longer than you expect. 
  • You realize you made a mistake in previous work that you need to go back and fix.  
  • New projects or short deadlines pull you away from what you were already working on. 
  • Hold-ups on specific projects while you wait to hear back from other attorneys/agencies/collaborators.  
  • Traffic issues add to your drive time as you travel to client meetings, or keep clients/collaborators from meeting you on time. 
  • You or a loved one gets sick, and you have to head to a doctor’s appointment or end work for the day.  

These kinds of distractions will be part of your daily reality for the rest of your career. Time management planning can help you minimize the impact so you can prioritize and respond efficiently when they happen, allowing you to get all the most important stuff done with your day and not be totally derailed by surprises.  

4 Steps for Managing Wildcards (While Maintaining Productivity)  

#1: Notice what the wildcards tend to be for you.

What form do those unanticipated time-stealers take in your life and in your business? Cast your mind back over the last week or so, or flip back through your calendars for recent days. Were there days that you ended up working late, or didn’t get the most important things done? The things that have pulled you out of your plans recently are probably things that pull you out of your plans frequently. 

#2: Look for patterns in how wildcards tend to show up in your day.

Are there days of the week or times of the day when things are especially likely to become chaotic? Are there specific clients, collaborators or technical tasks that are frequent wildcards? Notice patterns in how you respond to these derailing events, too. Let’s say something unexpected comes up, and it’s going to take about an hour to resolve.  You need to shift from task A (what you planned to do for the next hour) to task B (dealing with the urgent task). How’s your productivity going to be affected by that sudden shift? How long is it going to take you to change gears and fully focus in on task B? How much productive time will you lose when you then have to transition back to task A?  

#3: Come up with a realistic estimate for how many minutes/hours you spend managing wildcards in the course of an average day.

Do you spend 30 minutes dealing with things you didn’t plan for, or is it more like two hours? Make sure to account for any time you spend transitioning from those activities and getting refocused on your planned work. 

#4: Looking at your calendar for the week ahead, decide how you’re going to account for that time.

Let’s say you decide to budget 30 minutes into each work day for managing those unexpected-yet-expected distractions. Start by picking the time of the day that the wildcards tend to arise and then hold a 30 minute appointment in your calendar and label it “wildcards”.  Now you’ve got the time set aside proactively to get them handled.  If you don’t need to use that time for a wildcard on a given day, you’ll then have 30 minutes to get ahead on something that is important or to invest in some selfcare. Any patterns you noticed in step two are also going to affect how you approach scheduling around wildcards.

There are a ton of ways to use time management strategies to keep structure in your work day, even as distractions threaten to unravel everything—the key is to find the right mix of strategies that will actually work for your life and your practice.  

Need more support with time management and productivity?  

Attorneys, join me July 31st for Unlocking Productivity for Attorneys! Designed especially for you, this free webinar will help you learn to overcome the distractions that derail your day—and create a plan of attack that will let you get back on track when your day does get hijacked by wildcards. Ready to seize control of your day so you can actually enjoy your work and your life? Click here to register for this free training! 

Be well,  


Sarah Reiff-Hekking