Time Management

General

How to go from being busy to being productive

Have you had a productive day so far? I don’t mean busy, but productive. Being busy is not the same as being productive. How many times have you gone home at night to be asked, “what did you do at work today?” only to draw a blank. Yes, you were busy, but what did you really DO? This article will pass along a few tips I have learned to be more productive during the day.

Eliminate Personal Phone Calls

A major distraction in my office has been personal calls. We all have families we love and want to hear from, but personal calls at work are a major distraction. Everyone in the office sees the Caller ID come up and knows whose wife/husband/child/girlfriend/mother etc. is calling. Although you may feel this is a harsh rule, we have a policy in the office that there are to be no personal calls. I am sure there was resentment at the beginning, but everyone came to understand that work time is not the time for personal calls. The policy is enforced evenly, even with the attorneys. Elimination of personal calls has lead to an increase in productivity.

No Unscheduled Clients by the Office

The next policy we have implemented which reduces distraction is that we do not meet with clients without an appointment. We all have clients, current and past, who stop by the office wanting to speak with you. This results in a bigger loss of productivity than the personal calls. We have a firm policy that clients who stop by the office unannounced do not speak with the attorney. They can drop off papers, leave a message or make an appointment, but no communication with the lawyer. So how do you keep clients happy? You must explain to them that you will be happy to meet with them, but on a date and time when you are available. Explain to clients that they must make an appointment to meet with you. This policy does not make you unavailable to your clients, it makes you more productive on their case and other cases. Clients stopping by the office are a major distraction and can be easily avoided.

No Unscheduled Phone Calls

Now for the big one. You need to develop a system of client communication, and no, a system does not include taking all calls as they come in. Taking unscheduled calls, especially from clients, is the biggest source of distraction for a lawyer. A call comes in and it interrupts you from being productive on another client’s matter. You then have to change your focus to the unscheduled caller, look up their matter and in the best scenario, answer their question, in the worst scenario, tell them you have to call them back after you look it up. Then, you go back to the original matter. Multiply this scenario many times each day and you get an idea why you are being busy and not being productive.

Let’s face it, a lot of client calls are not important or can be dealt with by other staff members. Your staff should be able to answer elementary questions for your clients who call. “Did you get the papers I sent you?” “What is the status of my case?” “Have you spoken to the other side?” are typical examples of calls I get which do not need to be answered immediately.

If you continue to take unscheduled calls from clients, or anyone else for that matter, you will lose the battle for your time. You must educate your clients as to your availability for consultation. As stated before, your staff should be able to answer many questions for clients. If they cannot, it is important for your staff to find out exactly what the client wants to discuss and set a time where the lawyer will call the client.

Three Keys to Make This Work

There are three keys to successfully implementing this routine. First, clients need to be informed of no unscheduled calls at the outset. We have a paper which we give to clients when we meet with them explaining this procedure. Contact me if you want a copy. Explain it like this: you don’t call your doctor with a question, expect him to interrupt what he is doing and take your call? Most clients understand this, and if they don’t, you should consider if this is the kind of client you want because these types of clients tend to cause more problems. The second key is training your staff to find our exactly what the client wants. Your staff can explain, “I need to know what you need so I can explain it to the attorney so he can be prepared when he calls you.” This question serves two purposes: first, your staff may be able to deflect the call and help the clients; and second, it will help you prepare for when you speak with the client. The third key is calling the client back at the time you set. I generally make phone calls between 4-5 PM each day. However, if you tell a client you will call them for a scheduled appointment, you MUST call the client as promised.

I know this seems ruthless. I know your clients are “different” and this wouldn’t work with them. The point is instituting these policies at the outset of the client relationship. If you have allowed a client unfettered access to you in the past, it will be difficult to change that client’s behavior. But for lawyers who have implemented the above policies, including myself, I have never heard a lawyer say, “It didn’t work; I’ve returned to giving everyone instant access to me at any time.”

As most of you know, we are a HIGH VOLUME practice. These policies have been borne of necessity. The attorneys were fielding calls all day long and unable to be productive. Since implementing these time management techniques, everyone in the office is more productive