Lawyerist Productivity Journal Review

lawyerist journal review

(And a Primer on Personal Productivity)

I have a mild obsession with notebooks, organization and personal productivity. I’m always looking for new and better ways to get organized, stay informed and maintain focus.

So when I stumbled across the Lawyerist Productivity Notebook, I was intrigued.

Lawyerist

If you’re not familiar, Lawyerist is an online community of small law firms. Its cornerstone is a website that provides a wealth of information to help law firms build and grow their practice. While Lawyerist started as a popular blog, it has since grown and evolved into a very active online community with a wealth of resources and tools for small law practices.

Underpinning many of the tools and advice that’s shared on Lawyerist are a set of best-practices and processes that every law firm should employ to run their firm. Lawyerist provides a lot of these tools to their members – things like business plan templates, product comparison charts, work planning and personal organization templates.

And in many ways, the Lawyerist Productivity Journal is the culmination of many of their own, home-baked tools and best practices, learned, developed and refined over years of practicing law and working with busy attorneys.

A Quick Intro to Personal Productivity

At its core, the Lawyerist Productivity Journal is akin to a personal organizer or planner: A physical notebook to manage your projects, tasks, schedule and more.

But it’s a lot more than that.

The Lawyerist Journal is as much a system as it is an organizer. A system to help you keep your arms around your cases and your practice. A system to keep all important information at your fingertips, without losing focus on the things that matter the most.

A quick disclaimer: I’m not an attorney.

But, I am a busy professional with goals, projects, deadlines, tasks… and lots and lots of obligations competing for my attention. Over the years, I’ve experimented with a variety of personal organization systems to manage my projects and my workday, ranging from the Getting Things Done (GTD) system to my own personally-created dashboards and other systems in third-party tools like OneNote. (Some of which I’ve borrowed from Lawyerist’s own, online tools.)

Sidebar: Analog vs. Electronic

Naturally, I’m an avid user of technology. I appreciate great software systems to hold information, manage workflows and generally keep an entire organization on the same page. I, like many business-people, use software to manage clients and sales, software to manage our marketing, software to service clients, software to mange projects and software to manage accounting.

But when it comes to aggregating all of the information (that I need to be aware of) to a single, central system that’s front-and-center at all times, I keep finding myself coming back to a manual, pen-and-paper system to stay organized.

Technology is great… but there’s nothing quite like a notepad, planner or journal to keep everything together and top-of-mind. A pen-and-paper, or “analog” system has inherent benefits that software, even great software, just can’t compete with.

With an analog system for personal productivity and work planning, there’s no menus to right-click > maximize. There’s no clunky login process, or application time-outs. Your system won’t get lost behind other windows. There’s no friction.

With an analog system, such as a journal, your most important things are on your desk, in your face, and will be even if your computer crashes or another window goes full-screen on your computer.

It’s simple and effective. I’m not saying that a lawyer or professional should ditch their technology tools (like their practice management or document management software). Rather, I’m saying that an effective analog system, such as the Lawyerist Journal, can complement your other technology tools and aggregate the information within them. And in a way that keeps you out in front of your work (rather than reacting to it).

The Lawyerist Journal

Coincidentally, I came to the this ultimate realization about the same time that I first stumbled across the Lawyerist Journal. So I immediately ordered one, and anxiously unboxed it when it arrived.

Sections

The Lawyerist Journal is organized into five tabs, one for each category of information:

  • Goals
  • Projects (Cases)
  • Tasks
  • Schedule
  • Notes

For each section, the journal includes ready-made pages, or templates, for you to use. As Lawyerist describes it:

“This isn’t just another notebook. It comes with page templates we designed to help you stay focused on your big-picture practice goals, as well as your day-to-day tasks.”

And I’d completely agree with that summary.

Goals

The first section of the Lawyerist Journal is Goals. Part of managing your day-to-day responsibilities while keeping an eye on the big picture is to define your firm’s big-picture goals. What are your big picture initiatives or objectives for this year? What do you need to accomplish this quarter to achieve those goals?

The Goals section allows you to define these high-level goals. And the fact that Lawyerist made this the first section is not arbitrary. It’s important to keep your big-picture business goals top-of-mind while in the trenches of your day-to-day work. You should review, reflect on and refine your goals regularly.

You can hand-write each goal in each section (This Year, Next Year, This Quarter, Next Quarter), or even draw pictures or sketch diagrams. The flexible, free-form nature of pen-and-paper is another natural benefit of using an analog system.

You’ll also find that each square in this section is the perfect size for a standard post-it note, a brilliant bit of design, so you can write goals on post-its, move them around or replace them.

Projects / Matters

Next is the Projects tab, where you will manage your matters or other projects. In my view, this section is the meat of the journal, and of Lawyerist’s brand of productivity management.

In the Projects section you’ll see a simple table layout, with a row for each matter or project. For each project, you’ll see a section for:

  • Dates: What are the relevant dates and deadlines for this matter?
  • To Do Next: What your next actionable items? (Write them in and cross them out as you complete them)
  • Later/Waiting On: What have you (appropriately) deferred, and what have you delegated or are otherwise waiting on someone else before you can proceed on this project?

If you’re familiar with the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, you’ll feel right at home with this system. The Lawyerist Journal’s approach to managing cases and projects helps you clearly break down every project into deadlines/dates, what you need to do next and what you’re waiting on. It makes this visible at a glance, instantly, and is a core tenant of GTD and (in my opinion) effective project management.

Now, you might be thinking: “But–I use practice/case management software! It has my to-do’s, my deadlines, contact info, billable time, documents–and a whole lot more than this simple page can hold!”

Of course you do. And this is how a great pan-and-paper productivity system like the Lawyerist Journal will complement your existing technology tools.

Your practice management software (theoretically) holds all of the information about any particular matter: Every appointment, deadline, related contact, task, time entry, document, email note, research and more.

But, you need a way to quickly and effectively distill all of that information into a clear, simple list of the most important (and actionable) information. What’s due next? What do you need to do today? Who’s court is the ball in?

In that way, the Projects section is where you can manually summarize this key information from all of your other technology tools and databases. An “Executive Summary” of information that also lives elsewhere (deliberately duplicative).

Tasks

Next is the Tasks section of the journal. Here you can keep track of all of your tasks and to-do’s.

This could be your daily list of to-do’s. Or it could be all of the tasks associated with a particular matter or project. Or it you can use the ‘CONTEXT’ field to organize your tasks by function or department, such as marketing, finance and so forth.

Beyond simply using this section as a generic to-do list, a great way to stay organized is to define your firm’s goals in the Goals section, then define the specific tasks for each goal on its own Task page.

Similarly, you can define the high-level elements of each case or project on the Projects tab, then map out the individual tasks for each project on a correlating Tasks page. This helps separate the big-picture/most important elements from the (necessary, but nuts-and-bolts-ey) tasks and to-do’s.

Schedule

Next is the Schedule section. It’s a weekly planner (calendar) with three key elements.

Most Important Tasks (MIT’s), where you define your most important things to do that day. In my own personal work-life, I find MIT’s to be a key to staying on top of, and in front of, the most pressing things. The idea is simple: In the fray of your workday, from phone calls, to emails, to meetings and all of the other noise: What are the one or several things that–no matter what–you must get done? Document them as MIT’s, and don’t finish your workday until they’re complete.

Related: MIT’s – Most Important Tasks

Weekly Schedule, which looks and works like many other planners or calendaring software (such as Outlook). You can use this to schedule appointments or block off sections of your work day for certain projects or tasks. Some of you (like me) may still prefer software-based calendaring such as Outlook or your favorite practice management software, in which case you can use the Schedule section alongside your software… or not at all. (I still recommend implementing some system to manage daily MIT’s, however.)

Notes, a free-form notes section where you can jot down any notes, such as things to schedule or other calendar-related items.

Notes

The final section of the Lawyerist Journal is the Notes section. The template page provided closely follows the Cornell method of note-taking, which, if you’re not familiar, is a great way to take notes quickly, then later summarize the most important information and take-aways.

Related: The Cornell Note-Taking Method

Each page has a section for Topic, Date, the main notes body section, the traditional Cornell Method left margin and a Summary section at the body.

Once again, the Lawyerist Journal’s simplicity makes it highly effective. You can use the notes section for:

  • Matter / project notes.
  • Call or meeting notes.
  • Client intake notes.
  • Research or case law notes

And more.

The more you can tie each element of the journal together–tying goals to tasks, or tying projects to notes–the more wholisticly useful the system and the journal become.

The Journal Itself

The Lawyerist Journal, and the system it applies, is useful to any attorney or professional. But its isn’t just a great system full of great templates–its a great journal. The physical journal itself is high-quality (and manufactured by Bindertek). Its “boundless” binding is made from high quality, durable disks that you can use to add or remove pages (or entire sections) as you see fit.

The cover looks and feels great, and will look amazing on your desk or in a meeting. Lawyerist, and Bindertek, clearly puts a premium on quality.

Closing the Loop

The Lawyerist Productivity Journal is a great product that applies a great personal productivity system with a great design aesthetic. You’ll likely customize the journal to meet your own unique needs (I did), and possibly expand on it to make it even more useful.

You can learn more or order your own at the Lawyerist Journal website.

Whether you’re an old-school organizer or a high-tech power user, I think you’ll find the journal not only useful, but an essential part of your personal toolkit.