You’ve heard this conversation a million times. You ask a friend how they are doing at work and you get the same answer, “You would not believe how busy I am.” Yada, yada, yada. Everyone’s busy, right? Even your best friend’s mother, who sits at home watching soap operas, is “so busy you wouldn’t believe it”.
But whether you are busy is not really the question. The question is whether you are productive. And here’s the problem: every morning when you go to work you are bombarded with distractions and interruptions. It’s amazing you can get any work done.
So, what can you do? Give up? (I’ve considered that a few times). But here are a few fool-proof methods to making the most out of every second of your work day.
Just say “NO” to Email
The best step you can take TODAY is to stop checking email in the morning. Better yet, don’t even open Microsoft Outlook until at least noon.
Reading and responding to email serves almost no purpose other than wasting your time. But email is a welcome distraction to productive work, so when that little box pops up in the lower right corner of your computer screen, you are tempted to read and respond to the new email. JUST SAY NO!
By the time you read and respond to the new email, you just wasted twenty minutes and by the way, what were you even doing when you got the email? By the time you figure out what you were doing before the e-mail, you just wasted half an hour.
Here’s a solution for you: Do not open your email until noon (this means closing out of Outlook completely).
This is really hard to do for email junkies (I confess that used to be me) and you won’t be perfect, but give this a shot. You will be amazed at how much more productive you will be. You will dedicate your morning to productive work on your top cases. Damn, it feels great when you spend two hours of completely uninterrupted work time on your “A” cases.
When I am in the office, I avoid the craving to read email by shutting down Microsoft Outlook. I do not scan or read email until noon (at the earliest) and I try to avoid reading email until 4:00 p.m. In the afternoon, I close out of Outlook until 4:00 p.m. Yeah, it’s hard sometimes and I’m not perfect. But you will not believe how much more productive you will be once you just say no to email.
Here’s a little tip: You should ask your secretary or paralegal to respond to monitor your email and respond to everything he can. Tell your secretary that you only want to know about emails that are critical (you trust him to know what’s important). Delegate as much as you can when it comes to email and your life just got a whole lot easier.
NEVER take unscheduled phone calls
This is a big one. During the course of a work day, you may get 10-20 unscheduled phone calls. On average you spend 15 minutes on each call. Now, do the math. If you get just ten unscheduled phone calls on a single day, you just wasted 2 ½ hours on the phone on meaningless calls. If you get 15 or 20 unscheduled phone calls, you just wasted…well, you get the idea.
Unscheduled phone calls are the second biggest waste of time (a close second to emails). So, what do you do? Don’t you need to answer phone calls to stay accessible to clients?
Yes, you should be accessible to your clients, but on your terms and when it suits your schedule.
Here’s my solution: When a new client calls me, I explain that I will always be accessible for a meeting or phone call but on my terms and according to “John’s Rules of Communication” (this is a seven-page document explaining the rules for communicating with me and yes, the clients must sign all seven pages).
It’s real simple: if a client wants to speak with me, he has to call my paralegal to schedule a time for the phone appointment (I only make phone appointments between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.) and before our phone appointment, I ask my clients to send a fax to my paralegal explaining the issues that they wish to discuss.
I allot 30 minutes for the phone appointment and I will be able to prepare for our appointment by reviewing the fax that you send. With your fax in hand, I will be prepared to answer your questions instead of fumbling with feeble answer like, “I’ll have to get back to you.” That’s what I call a productive phone appointment.
Will your clients really agree to this?
I have never had a client refuse to live by my rules. But if they do, I give them a couple of warnings (in writing) and if they still complain, I fire them! Life is just too short to deal with stupid clients.
By the way, if you want a copy of “John’s Rules of Communication”, just send an email to my paralegal, Corina Skidmore, at email@example.com and she will email them to you.
Turn off your damn cell phone
Cell phones suck! Yes, I am not a fan of iPhones or the latest whiz-bang technology. For the most part, cell phones just provide another source of interruptions.
And what really sucks about cell phones is they give your friends and family instant access to you. So, what can you do? Turn the damn cell phone off!
Are the text messages and instant messaging from your secretary really that important? (they’re not). So, here’s what you can do: leave a voice message on your cell phone alerting the caller that you only answer your messages at 4:00 p.m. each day and they should not expect a response from you before 4:00 p.m.
Get your clients and staff to live by your rules instead of reacting to the mindless interruptions created by cell phones, emails and unscheduled phone calls!
How you can avoid the Time Vampires
Time Vampires are the staff members or coworkers who just “want to pick your brain for a second”. Yeah, you know who they are. The staff members who promise they will “just take a second”. Half an hour later you are left wondering what happened.
The interruptions from Time Vampires range from meaningless stuff like fantasy football or the latest about the elections in Guam. Just mindless chit-chat that just wastes your time.
You need to take two steps to avoid the Time Vampires:
#1: Close your door. But take it one step further: tell everyone in your office that you have a “closed door policy”, i.e., if your door is closed, you do not want any interruptions…not even to discuss the weather.
#2: Establish the ground rules with coworkers. When coworkers ignore your rules (and just barge into your office) and ask for “just a second of your time”, you say the following: “I’m busy right now. But I will give you all the time you need at 4:30 p.m. today. Does that work for you?” Your staff member will say, “but I just need a second”, but you have to be firm with your rules.
Guaranteed—your staff members will not want to see you at 4:30 p.m. and you know why? That’s right, their question was not really important in the first place. VOILA! You just saved yourself from the Time Vampires.
Don’t knock this until you try it: The value of a cave
Do you want a foolproof secret that will make you instantly productive? Here’s a little secret: find a place where no one can find you (I like the Albany Law School Library—I didn’t go to school there but no one seems to care), bring your files and turn off your cell phone. With no phone calls, text messages, emails or interruptions from staff or coworkers, VOILA!…you just became instantly productive.
I recently spent 10 ½ hours of UNINTERRUPTED work time in my cave (actually a cubicle in the law school library, but “cave” just sounds better)…in a single day. You have got to try this!
It is amazing how much work you can do without any interruptions. But you have to get away from the office. It just won’t work to ask your staff members to avoid interrupting you…they will and even if they don’t, it’s just too easy to get distracted by phone calls and Time Vampires asking you about the last night’s Yankees’ game.
My time in a cave is easily the best and most productive use of my time.
Force yourself to spend 80% of your time on your Five Best Cases
Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a must read and I love his third habit, “Put First Things First”. The essence of Covey’s third habit is:
“Things that matter the most must never be at the mercy of things that matter the least.”
For lawyers, Covey’s Third Habit can be re-stated: “Work on the cases that will make the most money and ignore the rest”. Yes, make a list of your top five cases and focus on them over all others (even if that means neglecting your other cases).
I call my top cases the “A” cases and ask my team to focus on those cases over all others. Time management (or “self-management” as Covey calls it) won’t get you anywhere if you are spending your time on the wrong cases.
How can we help you become more awesome?
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