(and the one question you should ask throughout your workday)
Each day we are inundated with emails that are pointless. All it takes is just one person to press “Reply to All” and a monster is created. All of sudden half of your office is sending you a string of pointless Reply to All and swamping your email box with a completely meaningless, silly email. You delete the string of emails (I don’t bother reading them) but why should you even have to?
Kill the Reply to All email monster with one simple rule: Tell your staff that they should reply only to the primary sender of the email. Never hit the “Reply to All”. To make things simple, end your emails with, “To save time, please reply only to me rather than hitting the Reply-to-All.” Better yet, avoid group email altogether.
Ed Wilcenski, Esq., an elder law attorney in Clifton Park, has a unique solution to the Reply to All monster. Ed has a simple rule: unless an email requires his response, he should not be copied on emails. Let me give it to you straight from Ed:
“I recently implemented a system whereby my staff is not permitted to copy me on email messages unless my review or response is required. Instead, I block off a half a day each week and give the staff an opportunity to meet with me without interruption. They are expected to prepare an agenda in advance.”
I love the concept of restrictions on email and weekly meetings with staff meetings with the submission of a written agenda before the meeting. This is a beautiful time-saver that gives your team face-to-face time with you on a weekly basis with an agenda that almost guarantees a productive meeting. No one complains–you’ve got happy campers and killed the email Reply to All monster.
This is advanced stuff! But even Ed isn’t quite ready to my methods for killing email.
“I’m not quite sure I’m ready to leave my outlook program off for half a day, but I may experiment with variations on the theme.”
Hey, no one’s perfect. But Ed is not alone. When lawyers read my “Rules of Communication” that limits clients’ access to me, their response is the same: “Sounds great, but that would never work for me.” Or perhaps, “I pride myself on giving my clients access to me.” (you don’t think I’ve heard this before do you?)
Come one! How do you know that my “Rules of Communication” won’t work for you if you’ve never tried them? Look, you just have to get your clients to buy into your Rules of Communication from your first meeting with them and once you’ve reached an agreement, they’ll understand the steps that they must take to meet or speak with you. Just explain one thing, “You will always have access to me, but when my schedule permits.”
How to kill useless “Thank you” emails
Everyone wants to be polite but the trivial Thank-You emails that swamp your email inbox are pointless interruptions to your day. Kill the Thank You emails with a heavy dose of the acronym, “NRN” in the subject line of your emails. “NRN” means “No Reply is Needed” or even better, use “NTN”, an acronym for “No Thanks Needed”. You just killed the trivial Thank You emails in one foul swoop.
Let’s face it: email is greatly over-used and wastes a ton of your time every day. The simple rule of thumb is “send less, receive less”. Remember, being busy is not the same as being productive.
Aggressively Unsubscribe from List Serves and Group Email Lists
It’s always tempting to answer List Serve questions to serve our fellow members of the bar. Hey, we’ve worked hard to acquire these fancy degrees and sometimes we want to show off our knowledge. As New Yorkers say, Forget About It!
Aggressively unsubscribe for all of your List Serves. Sure, it’s great to help out a fellow lawyer by answering their questions, but this is a complete waste of your time. List Serves and group emails are just another pointless distraction in the course of your day. Make sure you remove this distraction whenever a new, unwanted email pops up in Microsoft Outlook by unsubscribing from list serves and group emails.
Have your secretary check and clear your email twice a day
What if you never had to read email again? Guess what? You can just by having your secretary or paralegal check and clear your email twice a day.
Experiment with removing yourself from email completely by giving your secretary carte blanche to answer your email. Rather than spending 2-3 hours a day reading and responding to email, let your secretary do this at predetermined times during the day, say 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Just explain to your secretary that you want her to filter through your emails, respond to as many of the emails as she can and then mark the emails that you need to see. Tell your secretary to use her judgment (you trust her by now, right?) and get rid of as many of the emails as possible.
If an email absolutely requires your response, it’s no big deal. Just having your secretary mark the emails as “Action Items” that require your response and voila! You just vanished roughly 90% of the emails from your inbox.
The ONE QUESTION you should ask throughout your workday
Here’s a question you should always ask (at least every hour through your workday), “Can someone else do the work that I am about to do?” If the answer is “yeah, my secretary can do this”, then STOP what you are doing and give the damn task to your secretary.
If you can delegate a task, you MUST delegate it. I know, it’s so easy to say, “Yeah, but I can do this faster” or maybe, “I can do this better”. No, no, no! If the task can be delegated, you cannot do it…that’s if you ever want to get things done and see your family for dinner every once in a while.
Be brutally honest with yourself by asking, “What are the things that only I can do?” Don’t even start a new task without thinking, “Can my paralegal or secretary do this?” I’ll bet there’s a good chance they can and that means, STOP working and delegate the job.
As a malpractice trial lawyer, there are certain things I can’t delegate like trials and depositions—only I can do those things and it won’t be right to pass off this work to other lawyers in my office. But I’m really not that indispensable or important to virtually anything else. Just about everything else from preparing discovery responses, bills of particulars, responding to email, and meeting with clients can be done by my team members (in this case a world-class paralegal, Corina Skidmore). And guess what? The same is true for you.
Hey, I was the worst offender not long ago. That’s right, I had to be “the guy”. I had to be the one to answer client phone calls and respond immediately to the flurry of emails from clients and defense lawyers (oh yeah, I was convinced that I was so important to my clients). What a huge waste of time! And let’s face it, did clients really insist that I answer every phone call or respond to their emails? Hell, no (and you should fire your clients if they are that bossy).
You have to get over the idea that you are indispensable to your clients. You’re not serving your clients by running around in fifteen different directions. So, what can you do?
A BONUS tip from the legend, Steven R. Covey: Never buy another newspaper again!
In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the late Steven R. Covey gives you a secret for instant personal management success: Turn off the news! That’s right, turn off the TV and don’t read newspapers or spend time getting your News Fix. But isn’t it important to stay current on world events? Au contraire, my friend.
Covey makes the distinction between your:
#1: Circle of Influence, and
#2: Circle of Concern.
The distinction between your Circle of Influence and your Circle of Concern should determine how you spend your time.
Within your Circle of Influence are the things that you can change, i.e., your family, health, fun and spiritual life and oh yeah, your business—this is where you should be spending ALL of your time. Your Circle of Concern is your much broader concern for world events, i.e., the civil war in Syria, that you cannot change or influence. Your Circle of Influence is a small sub-set of your Circle of Concern.
We could spend all day worrying about the civil war in Syria, but we’re not about to change a damn thing about it, right? So what’s the point worry about it? And besides, who really cares that you are knowledgeable about world events?
But what can you impact in your world? Let’s start with your health, your faith and yes, your law practice. By refusing to read the newspapers and watch TV, you are limiting the distractions presented everywhere within your Circle of Concern and you’re focusing your time and energy within your Circle of Influence.
Covey’s reasoning is sound and timeless: if you can’t influence world events, why waste time reading and worrying about them? Rather, focus on the things you can change within your Circle of Influence.
Now, it’s time to take the medicine by turning off the boob-tube (that’s what my mother called TV when I was a kid) and stop reading newspapers and magazines. Hell, just think of the time you just saved.
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