RL 76: Amy M. Gardner — Time Management: Planning for Success
Release Date: 02/12/2018
In this episode, I am excited to have Amy M. Gardner on. Amy M. Gardner is an attorney and certified professional coach who coaches attorneys on career, leadership, and professionalism issues as a principal at Apochromatik. She also provides group trainings and consulting services to law firms and other organizations. Amy has a unique track record of working with law students as dean of students at the University of Chicago Law School and a successful career practicing law, first as a Skadden litigation associate and later as an associate and then partner at a mid-size Chicago firm.
Amy has been interviewed by news outlets and websites on topics including time management, leadership, professionalism, and developing and maintaining friendships as an adult. She received her B.A. from Luther College, her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and her M.A. in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University. She is a graduate of the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching.
- Amy starts out the episode by talking about her career path and how she kept focused on keeping her career in line with her true self.
- Different important aspects lawyers should be aware of when thinking about time management, as well as different tips and tricks to tracking your time.
- For attorneys with a significant other or spouse, what the most important hour of the week looks like in keeping the relationship strong.
- An amazing perspective on goal-writing to make sure you are staying motivated in reaching them, are realistic and attainable, and how to avoid beating yourself up with goals that seem too hard.
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Amy Gardner: [00:00:08] Nor am I investing my time the way that I want to and the way that I need to in order to achieve my goals.
Intro: [00:00:18] Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast, we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs, and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Jeena Cho: [00:00:38] Hello my friends, thanks for being with us today. In this episode I'm so happy to have Amy Gardner. She is an attorney and certified professional coach who coaches attorneys on career leadership and professionalism as she is at Appochromatik. She also provides group training and consulting services to law firms and other organizations. Amy has a unique track record of working with law students as dean of students at University of Chicago Law School and a successful career practicing law or as a litigation associate and later as an associate partner at Miss Chicago firm. Before we get into the interview, if you haven't listened to the last bonus episode go back and check it out. I shared a 6 minute guided meditation practice to let go of stress and anxiety. It's a preview for my course Mindful Pause, which will relaunch in March. So often I hear lawyers say they know they should practice mindfulness but they don't have the time, and as I always tell every lawyer they can start with just six minutes or .1 hour. Of all the hours you dedicate to your clients, work, and others, you deserve to have at least one hour to yourself. Mindful Pause is designed for lawyers like you to fit into your hectic schedule. Also, check it out in the show notes or head on over to JeenaCho.com to learn more. And with that, here's Amy. Amy, welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast.
Amy Gardner: [00:02:01] Thank you. I'm so happy to be here. I really appreciate it.
Jeena Cho: [00:02:04] So let's just get started by having you know give us a 30 second introduction of who you are and what you Dale.
Amy Gardner: [00:02:10] Sure. So as you mentioned I previously practiced law first at Skåne Chicago and then at a mid-sized firm in Chicago. It is now part of Nixon Peabody and after making partner there realized. About a year later that it wasn't quite the right fit for me and quite what I expected it to be. So I went to the University of Chicago Law School as the dean of students there created a number of professionalism and leadership programs there and had the opportunity to do some coaching trainings and start using a Coaching Approach with students which I found really rewarding and enjoyable. And so when I decided to leave the University of Chicago Law School I wanted to hang on to some of the elements that I had really liked about the Dean of Students job and one of those was the coaching aspect. So I completed an intensive coaching certification program and now I coach attorneys and other professionals often as you said on career and leadership issues. So people who are not sure if they want to make partner or people who want to make partner but need to work on certain skills to be able to get there or people who just have been sliding through their careers and need help to start move into moving into a place where they're actually deciding what they want and then for people who want to make a change. I often do mock interviews resume review cover letter review and things like that.
[00:03:33] And then as you mentioned we also do trainings often for law firms and other organizations on things like time management. How to receive feedback how to give feedback how to be a good mentor or good mentee. All sorts of topics like that just trying to help attorneys and other professionals to get rid of the distractions and distortions in their careers and really focus on what they want out of their careers and lives and then how to get there.
Jeena Cho: [00:04:02] I think your career is just so interesting because I find that so often lawyers like really super identify with who they are with what they do. It's almost like the sum of their entire sum of who they are as just being a lawyer and just seems like such a huge jump to go from like being in a law firm to going back to a law school as as a dad and then now kind of going off on your own and doing coaching and you just talk a little bit about that journey. And like you know how did you know that it was time to shift. And did you have any like hesitations about letting go of your identity as a lawyer.
Amy Gardner: [00:04:45] I think for me it was I loved practicing law. I had done two trials. I had second chaired a really big jury trial in Texas. I had taken a bunch of depositions I had done all the things that you're supposed to do. And I had enjoyed a lot about that. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge but several of my professors came to me and said hey you know the Dean of Students is leaving. You should think about doing this. And I was sort of like give me a break. I'm a law firm partner. Why would I want to go be responsible for 700 students.
[00:05:20] And I had the opportunity to do a four week fellowship in Europe through the German Marshall Fund and I met all of these amazing lawyers in different cities in Europe who were doing things that felt more meaningful to me than the work that I was doing at that point and it got me thinking more broadly about what I could do with my skills and experience. And that didn't necessarily involve discovery disputes and things like that and I realized that OK maybe the Dean of Students thing is a good idea and as I talked to friends about it people person after person kept saying oh my gosh that's perfect for you. When I get my notice my old firm the partner I been working for started laughing and said Of course you are of course an expert. And so it was and I was working for a particular Dean makes schol who is now the president at the University of Oregon. And Mike really wanted as he put it. He liked the fact I downshifted from a law firm to higher ed and he really gave me a lot of runway and support to do a lot of things with community building and professionalism and leadership training that the university Chicago Law School hadn't done before. So he really enabled me to approach it from the standpoint of somebody who had been supervising junior associates and knew what they needed and the opportunity to see students learn and grow was really exciting and meaningful. And so I really liked that aspect in terms of when I decided to leave and deciding what I wanted to do next. It was a long process.
[00:07:00] I won't bore you with but I had decided back in 2014 to leave and I stayed for two years after that. And so during that time I had met with a career coach had really I had the gift of being able to think about what I wanted to do and how I would do something that was aligned with my values. But that didn't have some of the drawbacks that I had seen as a dean of students because I had had offers to go to other schools and knew that that wasn't where I wanted to spend the next segment of my career. And I saw how valuable it was to work with a coach who didn't have her own agenda and who simply wanted me to figure out what I wanted and then helped me get there and as opposed to a mentor or even a significant other who often has their own slant or viewpoint on things. And I saw how valuable that was and realized how valuable that might have been. At other points in my career and especially as I started using coaching techniques students realized wait a minute. I really like this and this actually could be my career rather than just a segment of it.
Jeena Cho: [00:08:11] Yeah. You know maybe we can spend a little bit time talking about you know working with a coach. I think it's not something that's necessarily familiar to lawyers. I I would go to college. I love working at a coach. You know how is working with a coach Lessie different than seeing a therapist like what's the role of a coach and why should a lawyer consider working with Coach Sure.
Amy Gardner: [00:08:38] So it's different than working with a therapist in large part because coaching and agreements are set up to be short term. So for example you might sign on with a coach for 12 sessions and that isn't to say that you can do a second set or third set of sessions but it's generally focused on discrete issues so another difference is that with a therapist where and I say this not in any way as a dig against therapists and I have recommended therapy to many many former students and attorney friends over the years but in therapy often it can be more focused on looking at the past and looking backwards and understanding actions and issues and focused on more mental health issues like that that can be more pervasive versus in coaching. If somebody comes to me and says I need to learn how to have a better relationship with my boss we're going to look backwards a bit to understand how the relationship got to where it is but then we're going to be focused on the strategies going forward.
[00:09:44] And it's going to be more focused on not looking at underlying issues I would never ask a client about what my relationship with your father teach you about this situation and things like that if there are deeper issues that I'm going to refer a client to a therapist because I have loads of counseling and coaching training but I'm not a therapist. And so there are times where I have clients who work with both a therapist and a coach. I have clients who have worked with a therapist who then has recommended that they work with the coach. So we're going to be more focused on how the client can move forward and address particular skills and the changes they want to make in life. So things like if you know you want to make partner figuring out what skills you need and then how you can get those skills versus getting into more mental health type issues it.
Jeena Cho: [00:10:37] Can take a little bit about sort of the nitty gritty of how to be a better human. If he had a lawyer and I knew a thing that so many lawyers struggle with that is actually managing their time you know first time as one of our most important resources and most valuable resources and we only get fourteen hundred forty minutes a day and I think there's this expectation that if you just keep adding more things onto your to do less somehow it will magically get done and now that we're in this really all that mindful about what we put on that list is just more stuff gets piled on there and then we and then our entire goal is to just try to work through that to do less and we sort of measure how well we're doing by how many things we checked off our to do that. Now what are some things that lawyers can do to kind of stay on top of their time and manage their time better.
Amy Gardner: [00:11:29] So it may sound counterintuitive but one thing that I found incredibly helpful is for lawyers to track their time and often lawyers say wait a minute I already have to record my time for my job. But what I found with my clients and in my own experience is that there are all these things you do during the day that aren't reflected in your time sheet. And those are things both at work and afterwork. And so what I recommend is tracking all of your time for a week and if you do that you'll figure out where those 4800 and 40 minutes a day are going and then you can use that information to evaluate am I investing my time the way that I want to and the way that I need to in order to achieve my goals and when I've done this for myself. I've often found that I am doing things that don't need to be done or I'm doing things that could be automated or delegated off of my To Do list.
[00:12:25] And so you do lose that dogmeat head us crossing something off your to do list. But what you save is just a little bit of your energy for things that really matter rather than things that are getting you distracted.
Jeena Cho: [00:12:38] Yeah that makes a lot of sense. You know when I was going through my career transition I was working with a coach and she kind of had me do something similar which was as I'm going through my day actually color. Could the calendars I use google calendar show you know when I look back if I the last hour that I spent if I really felt like at ease and if I really enjoy what I was doing I would be a different color. And then if I like really trended and hated what I was doing it be a different color. No it's really interesting to see after a week just seeing like you know where where these little pockets of time where I like really hated what I was doing and there I knew other pockets of time where I was really enjoying and feeling like I was you know experiencing that sense of flow and ease.
[00:13:23] Now I was like OK like now I'm going to try to do more of coming of course like like can't be just all about you know the stuff that makes you happy and whatever the pleasure chasing. But it was a really interesting experiment to do and I think there's a lot of value in just seeing where your time goes and not sort of going through it mindlessly.
Amy Gardner: [00:13:43] It's fascinating that there are all these studies that show that we overestimate in our minds how much we actually work during the week. And this can be really revealing to see OK maybe actually I'm not working as many hours as I think or maybe I'm not spending as many hours on housework and hoping that my significant other being an active part of the relationship as I thought maybe I'm not spending as much time with family members or friends as I thought. And for me sometimes as little things like when I've done this sometimes I've discovered that I waste a lot of time. If I start with e-mails in the morning and that's been really valuable to realize that I'm starting my day with other people's priorities and of course there are limits to how much you can ignore your email for the first hour of the day when you're a lawyer. But it can really lead to some useful insights about where your time is going and where you can find more of it. And like you said where you would like to be spending more time and what's making you happy.
Jeena Cho: [00:14:41] Yeah. So do you not take your e-mails pacing in the morning.
Amy Gardner: [00:14:45] So I try to not check my e-mail first thing in the morning but it's really hard. So my compromise is usually I just skim it to see if there's anything urgent and then I try to come back to it spend a couple hours getting concentrated work done and then come back to it a bit later because I've found that otherwise if I start off by replying to emails first thing in the morning my day goes down a path that may or may not be consistent with what I need to get done that day or want to go on holiday.
[00:15:13] Often if you give things a few minutes rather than responding instantly a lot of things work themselves out.
Jeena Cho: [00:15:19] Yeah that's true. Yeah that's one of the things that I struggle with all the time and I you know and especially when I teach mindfulness classes as one of the things that comes up really often lawyers as I tried to find a healthy relationship with your inbox and that there is anything like single or easy answers to that because I notice you know I also try not to check my e-mail friends in the morning but then I just have that anxiety around like what's that. And then when I do use the Internet you know usually there is like if there's nothing urgent then it's like okay great I can sort of go home at my day.
[00:15:57] But if there is something that requires my attention that can end up derailing my day in a way that I wasn't anticipated in hindsight it's like that. Think how we could have waited until some other day to reach Antti but it's really hard not to kind of get sucked into the vortex of whatever it is. And bandsmen your inbox and I feel like as we kind of evolve and trying to figure out. Like what. Like what. No. And it really hasn't been that binds. So e-mail became such a crucial part of how we communicate and I think we're all sort of struggling to try to figure out like what does that balance look like.
Amy Gardner: [00:16:40] And I think there's a big difference for me. So it's often a client emergency as a client just got an interview on very short notice and I need to help the client get ready for the interview. So it's not an emergency persay but it's you know it's something urgent. But obviously if you're practicing law there are times where I think they have an emergency that may or may not be an emergency. But then there are true emergencies.
[00:17:04] But to the extent that you're just dealing with normal things that are you know the things that make up your day and you have something that is more critical. You have to figure out what works for you in the setting that you're in and with your clients and try to stick to it but it can be credibly difficult to do that.
[00:17:25] You have a tool that you like to use for what your client's son BNA to track their time and see where you know they're spending how they're spending their time so we do. And if your listeners visit our Web site it's Apple chromatic dot com notably in the show notes. But if they go there and sign up for e-mail list and type in the word time to me I'm happy to send them a link so that they can download it for themselves. But it's just one page essentially where you log what you've done every day you do that and I recommend doing it on paper. We just found that there's something about the physical act of writing it down and if you use an app has made that on your phone then you can get sucked into the rabbit hole of all the other things going on on your phone.
[00:18:12] So I recommend using paper and then once you log your time for the week and the second page of the download has an exercise you can do to tally up what categories of your life most of your time is going to and which I think that second step could be really instructive. I think the first step can help you see. Yikes. I actually spent half an hour today trying to figure out a perfect Spotify Running list and I only ran for 20 minutes anyway. And so that piece of it is really helpful for awareness but then that second step I think is really helpful to see whether you're spending your time in a way that's consistent with your priorities and your values. And of course every week is different.
[00:18:53] All that but I really think it can be credibly valuable.
Jeena Cho: [00:18:58] For the lawyers that are married and they have significant other you know people that they love and want to spend time. Like what's your suggestion for kind of carving out time for that person and really prioritizing it or you have like tools or shedded GS or actually cultivating those relationships that are meaningful and important to you.
Amy Gardner: [00:19:24] Sure so I got married at the beginning of my 3L year in law school to my college boyfriend. So many many moons ago. We've had a lot of practice of this and one thing that has worked for us and that has worked for several of our clients is and bear with me because I know this is going to sound completely unromantic but it's a weekly calendar meeting and we really recommend that you set aside an hour where there are no distractions and you sit and talk with each other about your week ahead. And in the coming weeks. And the idea is that it gets you in touch with each other. It gets you in sync and it just helps minimize the chaos.
Jeena Cho: [00:20:09] Yeah I really like that idea that anything there is all this expectation that your relationship should just work magically vanish.
Amy Gardner: [00:20:19] If only if only that level of eight words.
Jeena Cho: [00:20:22] Yeah. And sometimes you actually need a little bit of planning to be spontaneous rationing. Yeah.
Amy Gardner: [00:20:31] We have a checklist that we go through to make sure that we had everything. And it really it makes a tremendous difference.
Jeena Cho: [00:20:40] What is your checklist.
Amy Gardner: [00:20:42] So we like to start with three things that we're grateful for from the previous week. And the idea is that that starts things off on a positive note and helps you share in those joys that you may not have had the chance to talk about yet. And then we focus on the week and weekend ahead. So who has what major commitments who will be home late one night of the week who will be swamped which days. Things like that. And then after we go through the week then we look over the next month to try to minimize big surprises. So who has a work trip coming up who has a big meeting to prepare for that's going to take a lot of her time. Any upcoming holidays or birthdays that you need to get a gift for. And then any upcoming trips or 3 day weekends that you might want to schedule something fun during and then we go on to meal planning for the upcoming week and make a grocery list and then go through duties. Who is going to get the drycleaning when it's ready on Wednesday. Who is cooking that week. And certainly for people who have children you'd want to go through and who's handling the soccer team snacks on Thursday. Things like that and what we found you know there's been a lot written lately about emotional labor and how that can end up divided in a relationship.
[00:21:59] We found that having this meeting where we're both talking about all these issues has really helped make our marriage much more equal that I think it might be otherwise and it just helps you feel more like a teen because you're approaching the league with the United Front you with better communication and it just it increases the feeling of camaraderie when things don't go quite as planned. And for us it's really helped minimize the chaos.
Jeena Cho: [00:22:25] Yeah yeah I can see how this would help to sort of reduce that cognitive overload that we can have a kind of like does running through all of these scenes that we have to keep in the back of my mind. It's like OK like I just have to keep running through that safe. Don't forget it.
[00:22:40] But this actually kind of set its proper place in space so that you don't have to like constantly think about us and what the fear of forgetting is you know that I might do to pick up the dry cleaners or go pick up the milk or raid and I guess this kind of does heal nicely into and it's also like beginning of the year. It's a nice time to start to think about them and I don't even really like that word. New Year's resolution because I think it's just kind of has her baggage and kind of goes along with that. You know I think so I feel like we started off the beginning of the year with all the best intentions but you know eat or kale you get more exercise or whatever it is. Now of course by January were ready for gotten high resolution.
[00:23:27] So suggestions or thoughts about how to sort of plan your goals so that you know you don't like immediately forget it or else it's just one of those things that kind of just add to that sense of burden and guilt.
Amy Gardner: [00:23:44] Yeah. There's nothing actually magical about January 1st. And so I encourage people to give themselves Grace with January and think about goals you know year round because any day is an opportunity to start a new habit or to start working on a goal. One of my favorite resources for goal setting is this book by Michael Hiatt that came out in January of 2013 called best year ever. And so a lot of my thinking about goals has been really informed by my clients programs and books about goal setting. But one of the things that he recommends is we've all heard of SMART goals. He recommends the smarter goal framework which I really love and basically the idea is that your goal should be specific measurable and actionable. But instead of realistic like we normal talk normally talk about with smart goals he recommends that your goals be risky and the ideas that you give yourself the chance to rise to the challenge by setting goals that are going to stretch and challenge you. And so that's one piece that's a little different. And then he of course recommends a b time keyed then the the E.R. pert of smarter is E is for exciting and the idea is that it has to be something you feel inspired by because whether it's the thing itself or the thing that will result. So you may not be excited by the thought of paying off your student loans but the thought of the financial freedom you'll have afterwards might be the exciting piece for you.
[00:25:13] And the idea is if you don't have something about the goal or the outcome that's exciting you're not going to follow through. And then he has a second R so that the smarter is relevant. And they're saying you know this goal has to align with my life my values and then my goals have to align with each other. So if you're a junior associate at a big firm you could have a goal to go from a couch potato to running a marathon in a year. And that might work for you but you're also trying to get home to new baby. Then you might just not have the hours that you'd need each week for the long runs to be able to run a marathon. So it might be that a goal of running a 5 K or a 10K might be more relevant to your life. And so the idea is that from the get go you're writing goals that are going to be achievable but also excite you and be relevant to your life. And so you're setting yourself up for more success just as you're writing your goals than another piece that so many people advise. And I've definitely seen in my own life and with my clients is the importance of writing your goals down and so you can have that frame of reference and so you don't just put them in the back of your mind. And also keeping your y front of mind. So it's when you reach the point that things are you're actually having to deliver on these goals and do the work to achieve them. Remembering your why is so vital to keep you going. I actually had a goal last year to finish my master's degree from Northwestern and public policy and administration.
[00:26:54] And when I wrote out my Y in January it seemed so obvious why I wanted to finish my master's degree and the weekend that my final capstone paper was due. I actually went back to my wife to remember why am I doing this and and it and I was like okay I can get through three more days.
[00:27:11] All right. It was really helpful for me. And then you know we also we often write down our goals and then set them aside and you know January 15th to remember what they were because we haven't kept them front of mind. But we also have a schedule time to work on them. So I encourage my clients to set aside some time whether it's every day or every weekend. When you're actually going to work on those goals. Yeah I didn't really know.
Jeena Cho: [00:27:36] Yeah I think it's you know sometimes really counterintuitive but actually setting goals that I think there's this sense like if I you know set the goal to run a marathon then that's somehow better than you know running a 5 k. But I think sometimes it's actually more helpful to set like a fairly easily achievable goal because then you don't have that sense of discouragement. So by January or if you're not on track to run a marathon then you feel sure discouraging you start engaging in negative self taught. Like oh my guys are you again so going into it and then saying like you know what. I'm just going to you know walk or run specification potato. And that's like an easily achievable goal. And then you can sort of work your way up from there like I often talk to lawyers about you know meditation and then it's like I'm going to start meditating I'm going to do half an hour a day and I'm like No no no.
[00:28:32] You know it's over like two minutes a day you know like honestly that it's just so many of these habits are really more about consistency rather than duration.
Amy Gardner: [00:28:43] Absolutely. And I think that you know help letting yourself build momentum and get some easy wins can encourage you and keep you going. So you could do something if you your goal was to say run a 10k in November you could set a goal. I'm going to run a five K by April. And you know you give yourself that checkpoint so you can feel that sense of accomplishment and celebration and give yourself something that's more readily attainable as a stepping stone on your way to that bigger goal.
Jeena Cho: [00:29:12] Yeah. Anything that feels like a nice place to pause in and if the list is out there that are interested in learning more about you or your services. Where should they go.
Amy Gardner: [00:29:27] Sure so we'd love to have them visit epigrammatic dot com. It's a p o c h r and h t. K dot com. And again if you enter a time in the message on the sign up box to join our email list you'll automatically receive a download of a Time Tracker and that you can use to receive tracking your time helps you get more on top of it and find more time.
Jeena Cho: [00:29:51] And we finally get to one more question. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?
Amy Gardner: [00:30:00] So to me, being a resilient lawyer means hanging onto the reasons that you went to law school and keeping those in mind, even on the days when it can be very easy to forget. And then every day trying to be a little bit better than you'd been the day before.
Jeena Cho: [00:30:17] Thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it.
Amy Gardner: [00:30:21] Thank you.
Closing: [00:30:28] Thanks for joining us on The Resilient Lawyer podcast. If you've enjoyed the show, please tell a friend. It's really the best way to grow the show. To leave us a review on iTunes, search for The Resilient Lawyer and give us your honest feedback. It goes a long way to help with our visibility when you do that, so we really appreciate it. As always, we'd love to hear from you. E-mail us at email@example.com. Thanks and look forward to seeing you next week.