Making the Most of Your Time

Close-up of a clock
Photo by noor Younis on Unsplash

The summer I was 16, I got a job working for my father’s law firm.

That was the summer I learned the word nepotism.

My dad was determined that no one would claim that I was taking advantage of being “the boss’ daughter”.

My role was to assist the secretaries. I picked up lunch. I ran from floor to floor getting documents signed. I filed. I sat in at the receptionist’s desk while she had lunch.

I was told by my dad to track my hours like he did. By the tenth-of-an-hour.

At the end of my first day, I had been in the office for 10 hours. But my time sheet added up to less than 4 hours. So many of the things I did just didn’t seem like “value”.

For example, each elevator ride took a tenth-of-an-hour.

And often I’d have to stand outside a partner’s door for two or three tenths-of-an-hour before they’d motion me in so I could get the signature.

Just taking the lunch orders from the 10 summer associates could take over an hour, walking from office to office and waiting while they considered the menu flyer.

Kathy, my dad’s longtime assistant was horrified. Horrified that I was planning to bill for just four hours when she knew I had put in a full day of work. Horrified that my dad had given me “attorney time sheets” for my administrative work.

The two of them had words about it.

In the end, Kathy and my dad reached a compromise. I would still use the attorney time sheets, but I was to assume that everything I did that wasn’t “personal” was billable. That included elevator rides and hovering outside office doors, waiting for signatures.

It has been many years since that summer. But I remember it so well. I formed some of my core ideas about the nature of value and work.

I learned that value is not always commensurate with hours spent. If you have to write down how you spend time, you realize where time might be wasted, and it can prompt better habits.

I also learned that sometimes the value is in achieving the goal, even if it takes longer than you think it should. The secretaries found my willingness to wait for the signature so valuable, because I always came back with the signed document. If they sent it through interoffice mail, the process might take days instead of 3 tenths-of-an-hour.

To this day, I periodically do this exercise of tracking my hours and then evaluating at the end of a week. I don’t have to do it with timesheets anymore — there are apps now. But time is the most valuable asset we have. We can make more money but we can’t make more time.

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