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Melissa Shanahan

#253: Make the Invisible Work Visible: An Audit of Your Calendar

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If you want more time and freedom to focus on the things that would move the needle in your firm but you keep getting caught up in the busyness of the day-to-day grind, this episode is for you. 

Do you know how you’re spending your time right now? Your time is your most precious asset, and the reality is your calendar probably doesn’t accurately reflect how you’re spending it. There is so much invisible work on your plate that isn’t being captured anywhere, and the only way to truly know where you can buy back your time is to take stock of where it’s going right now.

Join Melissa on this episode as she gives you an exercise that will help you audit your time and energy and make the invisible work you’re currently doing visible. You’ll learn why creating space and bandwidth are essential if you want to grow a healthy firm, what happens when you don’t take stock of the activities you engage in, and how you’ll end up throwing money at the problem if you don’t take action on what Melissa is sharing this week.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats when enrollment opens again!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• The first thing you must do if you want more freedom and time.

• Why your calendar doesn’t accurately reflect how you spend your time.

• What happens when you don’t take stock of the things you engage in day to day.

• The things you must consider if you’re looking to hire.

• A mental exercise that will help you buy back your time.

• How to make the invisible work on your plate visible.

Featured on the Show:

Create space, mindset, and concrete plans for growth. Start here: Velocity Work Monday Map.

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Join the waitlist for our next Monday Map Accelerator, a 5-day virtual deep-dive event.

Schedule a consult call with us here.

Buy Back Your Time by Dan Martell


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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #253.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hi, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I am so glad you're here. We are talking about something super important today. Some of what I'm talking about today might sound redundant, you've may have heard it or versions of it on this podcast before. But listen, what we're covering, everyone needs reminders of.

I swear to you, if you are listening to this podcast, you should have, what I'm going to share today, top-of-mind consistently. You should have reminders about this consistently. I teach this stuff and I need reminders about it consistently, so that I can continue to grow and achieve what I want to achieve with my experience with my company and your experience with your law firm.

So, that's why we're talking about it today, because it matters. And for any of you who are wanting more freedom and more time to be able to focus on the business, rather than just grinding out in the business, this episode is for you. No matter what level you are at with the growth of your firm, you will keep experiencing the ceilings you'll bump up against where you've got to create more capacity again.

No matter where you are on your growth journey with your law firm, this applies to you. Let's start with this idea that if you want more free space, you need to in fact buy time back. There is an awesome book called Buy Back Your Time by Dan Martell, it's very out in the world now. I hear people talking about it all the time online. I love that book. I talk to members and clients about that book consistently.

And we will be digging in even more on some of the concepts in that book because they line up so nicely with the work that we do inside of Velocity Work. So, here's what I'll say.

If you want to get more freedom, and more time to focus on things that you would prefer to focus on, that you know would move the needle for your firm, but you are caught up in a lot of busyness and a lot of the production kind of work for the firm, then you need to hear me when I say, the first thing you have to do, that you probably don't have done, is create some sort of list of the activities that you engage in week to week, day to day.

Most people don't have this. And the reason they don't have this is because they don't track their time. Now, I know many of you are opposed to tracking your time. But I want you to consider for just a minute, this isn't tracking time for billing, although many of you do that, many of you don't. This is more about tracking time.

Your time, how you spend your time. Your most precious asset. How you spend it. It is an exchange. It's a currency exchange. And so, how are you spending that asset? Are you spending it wisely? Or are you just spending it? The only way you're going to know, is if you take stock of the kinds of things that you are doing, the kinds of things that you are spending your time on.

Now, here's why this is so important, to be able to get your hands around all of the things you're doing. Because if I were to look at your calendar, most likely, your calendar would not reflect how you're actually spending your time. In some instances, yes. In many instances, no. And that is because there is a bunch of invisible work that you are doing that is not being captured anywhere. And so, it's almost like not getting credit for it.

It's just the stuff you're doing behind the scenes, and keeping things going, and making sure that there's sort of checks and balances, and you're sending these emails, and you're making these phone calls, and you're organizing this thing over here, and you are making sure to file when you need to file this over here.

It's like you're doing all of this invisible work, and none of it is on the calendar. The problem with that, is that you try to delegate, but you don't have a list of things that you can delegate because you never take stock of what it is you actually do that you could pass off.

And one thing that I have observed is, what people will do, is they will get themselves to a place where they feel like they need to hire, and they hire a position to take a bunch of work off their plate that's visible in the calendar. And the problem with that is, as the owner you are then left with the invisible still. And the invisible is what has to go first.

So, one way to think about this for yourself is to consider that when you are hiring you want to hire for the lowest cost replacement of the things that you're doing. And if your brain goes to, “I need to hire an attorney,” and you don't yet have enough support staff to be taking on the tasks that a lower cost employee or contractor could take care of, you are basically wasting money in the business and creating an inefficient model or trajectory for yourself.

And the earlier that you do that, the harder it is to course correct. Now, if you're already on your journey, and you don't have much support staff but you have a couple of attorneys, and maybe some support staff or not enough support staff, so your attorneys plus you are doing administrative tasks or paralegal kind of tasks that don't really need to be done by you, but you're what you've got and they’re what you've got so that's who's doing it, it's a very expensive way to go.

And so, I want you to consider what positions need to be hired… or what people or technology can you use… what people need to be hired to take away the lowest cost tasks. And if you don't think you have enough of them to warrant a hire for that, you're wrong. That's what I would say, you're wrong. You just haven't taken stock enough.

You think that it's a good move to hire an attorney when you don't yet have it even documented, and you are not fully aware of how you're spending all your time on these administrative tasks. And so, what I will say is, that you have to start with making the invisible work visible. And when you complete an audit of how you spend your time… Which there's many ways you can do that, I will jump into that in a minute…

When you complete an audit for that, it helps tremendously with your decision making about investments that you're going to make, so that you can get back your time. Because the more time you get back, the more you can focus on the work that will actually grow the firm. That will actually develop your team. That will actually bring in new business, instead of just grinding.

Here's the truth. You build the team; the team builds the company. You build the people; the people build the company. Of course, with you at the helm, that's the whole idea, right? So, if that's true, how do you get rid of 80% of what's on your calendar? You should ask yourself this question.

How do you remove 80% of what is on your calendar? This is a really good mental exercise. It doesn't happen overnight, but taking stock in this way can be truly powerful. And even if you don't do 80%, that's not the point. This is a mental exercise to get you to think differently. How can you take a big swing at getting things off of your plate, in a way that frees up your time, and gives you the ability to really help this company grow?

What if you could do that? So, it's a great mental exercise to go through. I highly recommend you sit down and you look at your calendar, brainstorm, come up with creative ways, and how long you think this would take in order to get about 80% of your current activities off of your calendar.

Now, again, you'll do this responsibly. Just because you do this mental exercise doesn't mean you have to be married to what comes out of it. But oh, my gosh, this will get you thinking very, very, very differently about the growth of your firm, about your relationship to the work, about what you are going to focus on that makes a lot of sense for the health of the organization.

Yeah, so I highly recommend that mental exercise. Now, you hear us talk a lot, in Velocity Work about the importance of honesty with your calendar. You have to be honest about how you're spending your time, about how long things take. And that is the first step to be able to make a solid plan for how you're going to accomplish all the things that you say you want to do in a given week or a day, right?

People overestimate what they can get done in a week because they don't sit down and don't look at it. They're not getting honest about what it takes. They're not honest about the fact that what they have on their plate is going to take more time. No matter how they slice it, it's going to take more time than the time they have to give.

So, when they try to put all of these activities into a container that's too small, you can see where the frustration will happen. At the end of the week, this is when you feel deflated that things didn't get done that you had in your head you wanted to get done. But the problem is you didn't map it. That's why we teach Monday Map/Friday Wrap.

People have such a hard time with Monday Map/Friday Wrap because there's a bunch of invisible work, and they aren’t honest about how long things take. Those are the two main reasons. And so, it's painful at first, when people start Monday Map/Friday Wrap, but that pain is necessary. You have to go through that.

It's almost like a reconciliation of just how off you've been about the work that you have in front of you, and what it's going to take to get done. Not just the work you have in front of you, it's like you don't account for the things that have truly been invisible work, that you just do in between here and there as they pop up. It's just not a good way to manage how you move through time.

So, getting honest, part of getting honest, is doing an audit and making the invisible work visible. And being able to say, “Okay, these are the things I'm really spending my time on. These are the minutes that I'm giving to this thing, this thing, and this thing,” and being able to document that somewhere so that then you can have a look. And then, you can start to see, “Oh, if I did hire the lowest cost tasks, if I hired at the lowest cost tasks first, this is a whole bunch of them.”

The other thing I want to say is, do not get caught up in this perfect role. So, you may have in your mind that there is a certain role that you need to hire for, a legal assistant, let's say. But they should only do legal assistant kind of things, they should not have any other things. They should be able to just do legal assistant things.

Well, as you grow, you have that luxury to be able to slide people into more of a honed in vertical. But as you're growing, waiting for an entire job to be able to hand a new person is not the way to go. You get help as you need it. You buy back your time as you need it. And when you do that, sometimes you will hire an assistant that will handle some legal assistant kind of activities, as well as some other administrative activities.

And then, as you get busier and you grow, you realize that one person can't handle all of this anymore. And so, you actually do need to split up the roles. But you can make those decisions along the way. And remember, you will have the bandwidth to make those decisions along the way, because you're buying back your time.

So, this concept about buying back your time, which was titled and popularized by Dan Martell, it’s an important one. If you want to grow this business to what you envision for yourself, to have an experience with your firm in the way that you envision this would look, then you're going to have to take the opportunity, and you're going to take advantage of…

If you want to have the experience with your firm that you imagined you could. And now you find yourself really spread thin, and not enough time to even try to fix yourself being too spread thin because you're so spread thin, then you have to hear me when I say, this is unavoidable.

If you don't do and follow some of the principles and standards that we're talking about on this call, you will end up paying. You'll throw money at the problem and you will bloat out your firm. You will start your firm on this track, where you have just hired in someone to take some of the big visible work, and you're left with the invisible. You are left with the lowest cost tasks on your plate, still. That's not the way to do it.

If you want to have a healthy company, you have got to hire the lowest cost tasks first. Create more space for you and bandwidth, and then you can, after you kind of settle in there, you can hire for the next lowest cost task sort of level. You get settled there, and then you can hire in. You just keep replacing yourself to the best of your ability.

The reason I wanted to do this podcast, is because when I meet law firm owners… And I do often, I have consults with them often… and they have an attorney or two working for them, and they don't have a paralegal. Or they have one paralegal, one attorney, and they have no one to handle the administrative stuff.

This is backwards to me. It tells me, “Oh, they've thrown money at the problem. They've definitely done the best they can, but they need help. They need help recalibrating what it means to have a healthy firm.” And so, my goal with this podcast is just to meet you where you are. Have you listen to this and figure out where are you on your journey. How can you hire in, so that you can get the lowest cost tasks off your plate? Settle into that, and then do the next level of lower cost tasks.

They do not need to be a part time person here to handle this type of task, and a part time person here to handle this type of task. That is not how growth goes. You have somebody come in, they're a team player, and they're going to handle anything you give them. Anything you train them to do. I'm talking about the lowest cost tasks, to be able to hand off, right?

And as you grow, you have the luxury of having people in more of a vertical, instead of doing a lot of things. But the truth is, if you don't hire someone to come in and do a lot of things, do that sort of generalized lots of things, you're going to be the one that's doing generalized lots of things, And, that's a no.

Okay, another point I want to make about hiring for these administrative tasks. So many of you, when you're making your first hire for these administrative types of tasks, you wait and wait and wait and wait. Because you're just not sure what you would hand off, there's some trust stuff going on, all of that. Just hire them.

Because when you bring them in… Find someone that's a good fit… when you bring them in, what gets to happen is that you have this person here, and you will find things for them to do. If you think for two seconds that you're going to let them just sit and twiddle their thumbs, you know yourself better than that. That's not going to happen. You will keep finding things to give them.

And if you don't just load up their plate as quickly as you would technically want to, that is okay, you're still saving money. Because it is a better use of your money to have this resource here that you can keep dripping things to and keep dripping things to, instead of you being the one to do it. You're keeping yourself in a loop that way. So, the cost is so much higher, to just not get the person in and be able to transfer responsibility for tasks that you just shouldn't be doing.

Now, when it comes to tracking time, and making the invisible work visible, there's a couple things I recommend. I have tried everything. So, when I'm recommending these, it's through a lot of experience in having done this. For instance, when I read Buy Back Your Time, there were some resources that Dan Martell makes available to readers, and I used one of the trackers for a time and energy audit.

But it requires me handwriting stuff in, or even just having a PDF that I can fill in with textboxes on the sheet. I just have trouble sticking with that. What I ended up doing was calendaring my time. So, every 15 minutes at the minimum, and hour at the maximum… and it depended on what my day was like what was going on… I would get notification. Am I logging what I'm doing, as a notification on my phone.

So, am I logging what I'm doing? Then I would turn to my calendar and log what I was doing, in calendar time. Even if it was double booking something, because I was supposed to be doing this but I was doing this, I was like, “Okay, this is reconciliation.” So, I just added to the calendar exactly what I was focused on, and how much time I had been spending on it or anticipated spending on it.

And then the next time, I would go again. Yes, I had a bunch of things calendar for myself that day. But when I was doing this push to make the invisible work visible, I just added events to it. And so, there were certain colors; a color that I made for the events that were me throughout the day, and there was a color for events that were already pre-planned. And so, I could easily see what was going on there.

Now, something since then… Because that was working for me for a bit and it was super helpful, by the way. Because there are times where on the weekends you might pull out your computer and do something, depending on what's going on in your firm. I still have those moments, where it depends on the phase that we're in. And there are times where it makes sense for me to pull up my computer on the weekends and get some things accomplished.

And so, by me putting it on the calendar, it helped me see how much I was actually working. Very useful. It is about bringing awareness to the forefront so that you could do something with the truth.

Now, since then, something that's been rolled out inside of our company, which I really love, is an app called Clockify, where people can track their time and what they're working on. You can set it up to be customized to you or your firm.

We have the departments listed so they can write in the tasks that they're doing or the thing they're working on. And then, they put a category to it, which is really the department. We even went further than that. So, we have Client Work, which is the Client Services Department. But it's Client Work, specifically. Or Member Area Work, or Podcast Recording for me.

So, there are different things you can do with activity types. And oh, my gosh, that has changed everything. The timer is automatic. I can look at reports that are very telling, not just for myself but for my team. It's not about micromanaging what they're doing with their time, it's more about understanding what people are doing with their time.

Sometimes I'm shocked at how much they're getting done in a time period. And other times, I realize, and other team members have noticed this as well for one another, wow, they're spending a lot of time on that thing. What are they doing exactly? I wonder what takes that so long? So that we can say, “Hey, next time you do this activity Loom yourself, I want to learn what it's like to actually get this done from top to bottom for you.”

That has been eye-opening for not just me as an owner, because now I am shoveling things off of my plate. Because I can see this so much more clearly. And I can see where maybe I can't delegate the whole thing, but I can be teed up better, so that it's easier for me to just drop into the important work instead of getting things together. And so, it's been really helpful.

And clients that do these kinds of audits for themselves and they do make their invisible work visible, there's this bitter-sweetness about it. Because it's frustrating when you see all the little minutia that you're involved in and doing. But it's also freeing, because this is your ticket. This is your ticket out of that existence. This is your ticket to more freedom.

This is your ticket to being able to have more time to spend on the business, and on the things that you know, from your perspective, you could be so much more valuable to the organization with focusing on different kinds of things.

But until you do this work, it is nearly impossible to create that freedom and that time for yourself in a way that's responsible for the company. In a way that's responsible for your firm. If you don't do it this way, then what… again, I'm going to reiterate this… what you will likely do is spend a bunch of money to bring someone in for higher level tasks that are doing visible work, and still, you're left with the invisible.

That sets you up, out of the gate, as bloated way of existing. It will reflect in your P&L. It will reflect in your frustration at work. It will reflect on the amount of time that you don't have that you wish you had. It will reflect in all areas. Do it the right way.

This isn't using just discipline to do it; it's just operating from a root cause analysis kind of place. And, it's playing the long game. So, put yourself in a position to be able to figure out the root cause of why you don't have time, and the activities that are really soaking it up. There's big stuff, but there's also a bunch of little stuff. So, take stock of that.

Because with that, you can do something with it. With that awareness, with that knowledge, you will be on your way to more freedom and more time to focus on the things that you can bring the most value to the organization by focusing on.

Alright, everybody have a wonderful week. I will see you here next Tuesday.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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