Tag Archives: Productivity

Why Multitasking Associates Are Costing Your Firm Money & How To Stop It!

Did you stay up all night working? Were you busy answering emails on your phone while trying to tuck the kids in bed? If so, you may consider asking for a proofread on that brief you’re turning in this morning, or take a quick glance at the “sent mail” folder from last night.

It turns out that multitasking is as bad as, say, staying up all night or even smoking marijuana, on your cognitive ability. Research shows that multitasking both slows you down and lowers your IQ, reports Forbes.

According to a new study by Stanford social scientists, multitaskers—people who regularly switch between several streams of electronic information—do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” said communication Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to the Stanford Report.

“Everything distracts them.”

Wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking: But I have a special gift—I’m good at multitasking!

Wrong. Students who regularly multitasked performed worse on tests of attention, organization of thoughts, and memory–despite thinking they would do otherwise.

In one experiment, the test subjects were shown images of letters and numbers at the same time and instructed what to focus on. So, for example, when they were told to pay attention to numbers, participants had to determine if the digits were even or odd. When told to concentrate on letters, participants had to say whether they were vowels or consonants.

Multitaskers performed worse at this task than people who prefer focusing on a single task. Even the so-called light multitaskers performed better than the heavy multitaskers.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology, to the Stanford Report.

“That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

Ok fine. Maybe it’s true that multitasking is bad for productivity. Even still, you’re thinking: But I don’t have a choice!

The practice of law does not require multitasking. Yes, there are multiple tasks to complete. But, you’re not obligated to think of, or work on them all at once.

Multitasking is a state of mind. Multitasking is watching your child’s theatre performance while thinking about work. Multitasking is listening in on a conference call while simultaneously proofreading a legal brief.

Multitasking is composing an email on your phone while you’re listening to an associate update you on a case matter.

If you do these things, you’re severely sacrificing quality for quantity. And the negative effects of multitasking on cognitive ability and IQ have been shown in studies to last long-term. 

So, to prevent huge losses in productivity, eliminate multitasking. That means changing the way you work and the way you think. When you have to finish up writing a motion, then turn off your phone and close your email for an hour while you do so.

When you are on a conference call, really ruminate on what is being said—take notes to keep focused.

It sounds elementary and it is! The problem is most people don’t do it.

If you’re a law firm manager, lead by example. Create electronic-free zones in the office. When somebody stops by your office, turn off your devices and turn on your attention to their question.

Consider “e-mail free” hours of the day. For example, from 6pm to 7pm (let’s face it, you’ll still be in the office) when there’s limited (or no) response to email.

If you don’t, your multitasking associates will cost you and your clients money in poor-quality work product and slower deliverables.

Take back productivity at your firm by turning off its multitasking mindset.

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Phone Calls Vs. E-mail? Why Picking Up The Phone Makes A Better Law Firm Professional

Phone calls are out, e-mails are in. At least, that’s what one business writer at Forbes would have you believe in his article, “10 Reasons Phone Calls Are A Waste of Time.”

Now, in some professions–technology, medicine, or education–perhaps this may be the new way of the world. In law, however, it’s the opposite. In many ways e-mails are ruining the good practice of law. Using the article’s same 10 reasons, here is why:

1. They demand immediate responses (which aren’t always the best responses).

This is pretty self-exlanatory. Are you a patent lawyer filing an appeal for a patent? Then you pick up a phone to call the patent examiner for advice. An e-mail will certainly get you nowhere.

Lawyers are looking for immediate responses in their deadline-driven work product.

2. You can’t go back and review phone calls later.

“Email, on the other hand, has the distinct advantage of being permanent, archivable and searchable, and allows prior conversations to be referenced and reviewed for accuracy or to refresh your memory,” writes Jayson DeMers for Forbes

Great! Lawyers deal with confidential and private information. All the better not to leave a paper trail of e-mails. 

Speak to your law firm manager about your firm’s policies regarding e-mail security before sending over any client files via cyberspace.

3. They’re an awkward dance of silence and interruptions.

It’s true that phone calls can get messy. Who is leading the call? What is the call about? If you must write an e-mail, answer these simple questions and send them about an hour before your phone call. That way there’s no confusion and less of chance for constant interruptions.

4. They cause existential overhead.

“Existential overhead is the mental cost in distraction and stress of uncompleted tasks. Unfinished work (or in this case, looming scheduled phone calls) can hang over your head, whether consciously or not. According to Jim Benson, genius behind the concept of existential overhead, looming tasks are never really “out of sight, out of mind”: ‘When you have a workload, you are always thinking about the individual elements of that workload. In the back of your mind, you know what you haven’t done,” (via Forbes).

So that means a phone call on Tuesday may (or may not) hang over your head on Wednesday. However, for lawyers, e-mails can also pile up. So 10 e-mails received on Monday become 20 by Tuesday. So, instead of scheduling a phone call, you now have a dozen or more e-mails that take an hour to respond to instead of ten minutes over the phone.

5. They kill productivity and work flow.

“According to research cited by The Wall Street Journal, frequent interruptions can have dire physical consequences among office workers, including 9% higher rates of exhaustion, and a 4% increase in migraines and backaches,” writes DeMers for Forbes.

“Think there’s no harm in just quickly answering a call? According to a study conducted by researchers atMichigan State University, workers participating in a series of tasks who experienced a 2.8 second interruption made twice as many errors following the interruption.”

How many times do you check your phone for new e-mails? E-mail is far more disruptive than phone calls. They’re more frequent and seeminly “quick” to respond to. It’s just one click. Unfortunately, after writing five to six e-mails, you will soon realize you’ve lost an entire billable hour to unnecessary correspondance.

6. They necessitate small talk, the biggest time waster known to man.

Part of your job as a law firm professional is to speak to clients or potential clients. Phone calls are personal. Chatting about a person’s kids, their business, and other minutiae is helpful in generating a rapport and positive client reviews or referrals for the future. People love to chat on the phone, that’s true. And 30 minutes of conversation that could have taken 30 seconds of e-mail may–in the end–lead to 30 years of loyal business.

E-mail is lazy. When you don’t want to research the answer yourself, it’s easy to compose a 1-line e-mail. Imagine how many phone calls you’d have to make if each e-mail was equivalent to one phone call… and then, reconsider your use of cyberspace.

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Increase Your Friday Afternoon Productivity In 5 Different Ways

Spring weather is upon us. Now there’s one more hour of beautiful daylight to remind law firm professionals of their tortuous billable hours indoors.

But, here are five ways you can make those last few workweek tasks go by quickly and efficiently.

#1: Change your seating position.

It’s amazing how the monotony of sitting at the same desk in the same chair can slow down your thinking speed. At first you didn’t realize it. Between the occasional stretching and bathroom breaks, you didn’t think you were any less productive.

Unfortunately, what you don’t realize is that while your body fights the aches and agony of your uncomfortable sitting position, you brain is shifting focus, too. It’s needing more and more coffee breaks or other excuses to get up and about.

Humans are no meant to be sedentary. But, if we have to, take a moment to adjust your working arrangement.

Instead of sitting at your desk, throw a pillow on the floor and lean back on your office wall. Try to work like that for one hour.

If that’s not possible. Stand up. You’ll be amazed at what a little bit of blood flow can do to reanimate your voice on a conference call, or rejuvenate your energy levels to read (and eventually respond to) that brief.

#2: Go outside.

Most associates realize that going outside the office during your 9 to 5 work window is taboo. But, if your productivity is waning, why not work outdoors.

Sit on a park bench for thirty minutes while you read emails or go through your to-do list. If you’re waiting to talk a colleague, forward your calls to your cell phone. A breath of fresh air will literally breathe life back into your stagnating work.

#3: Separate your afternoon in 15-minute intervals.

When you’re short of focus, start separating your tasks into quarters of an hour. Fifteen minutes to read discover. Fifteen minutes to start writing that brief. Fifteen minutes to respond to email. And, finally, you’ll find that it’s suddenly just fifteen minutes until your can go home.

#4: Give yourself rewards.

It’s Friday afternoon and you can’t wait to coordinate your dinner plans or evening activity. Maybe you’ve been meaning to call home. Or, make a grocery list for dinner.

At the same time, you feel guilty that your mind is already wandering away from work and the day isn’t quite over.

This is a problem easily solved. Identify a task—it can be small—that must be completed before you leave. Maybe you need to read at least 10 more pages. Perhaps you’ve put off writing a one-page memo.

Make a manageable task more enjoyable by creating a reward for completing it. Say, five minutes of facebook time per thirty minutes of uninterrupted reading? If you create two or three reward-based tasks, you’ll be surprised at how much your work pace picks up so you can take personal calls guilt-free.

#5: Delegate!

The hidden truth to productivity is allocating resources where they’re best fit to serve your firm. So, if you’ve been juggling to work done, evaluate who in the office has a more open schedule. Identify which associates have the skill sets to best complete your assignment.

The problem with most managers is they don’t understand how to effectively delegate. Therefore, they don’t do it. This is just adding more paper to the pile. Delegation can be hard work, but pays off in productivity in the end.

So, this Friday afternoon, maybe you should be reading The Center For Competitive Management’s guide: Effective Delegation: Strategies to Improve Performance and Productivity.

This essential tool provides process-driven delegation techniques, skills, and ideas that will give you more time to dedicate to strategic goals, and expand your achievements beyond what you personally can accomplish.

The only culprit keeping you in the office this afternoon is you.

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How To Increase Revenue Per Lawyer At Your Firm

Is your firm struggling to increase revenue per lawyer?

Revenue per lawyer can be an indicator of a firm’s overall financial well-being. By developing an internal culture of business development, your firm can begin to generate more revenue. Nevertheless, not all employees find it easy to build client loyalty, manage expectations, and generate client referrals.

Client satisfaction alone does not translate into future business.

Lawyers must be proactive in at least two areas: (1) explaining legal services of the firm; and (2) providing value where other legal services have failed.

First, clients, in order to make referrals, need to know the breadth of services available at a law firm.

For example, a firm may have provided a client with labor and employment legal services to a technology start-up. This start-up may have a business partner in need of intellectual property legal aid, but not realize the same firm also offers this service.

Prep your lawyers on how to identify and maximize cross-selling opportunities. This may require a script prepared in advance for your lawyers to read to clients about the range of your legal aid. It should also include background research into the business needs of your clients and their industry.

Second, clients, in order to remain loyal, need to know the breadth of customization of services available at a law firm. So, for example, your firm may be willing to offer alternative fee arrangements, such as a fee deferral system.

Fee deferral systems or contingency arrangements are especially important today amid the growth of technology start-ups.

“Think about it. You’re basically saying you’re going to stand behind your client and you’re going to hope that they can succeed and if they don’t succeed, you’re not going to get paid,” explained lawyer Debbie Weinstein of her client-focused business strategy at LaBarge Weinstein LLP to Law Times.

“That builds a lot of trust, a lot of integrity, and it also builds a common bond. The client says, ‘You know what, these professionals actually think I can make it and they’re not looking to get paid before anyone else.’ That builds long-standing, great relationships, and we have multiple entrepreneurs who come back to us every time they start a new business.”

Not all firms are willing to take such risks. But, if your firm is among the few, it may carve out a niche of competitive advantage that is desperately needed to get ahead in the legal services industry.

Finally, don’t let your clients out-tech your firm. Learn how to utilize technology to support and accelerate key client development activities.

For some specific ideas and resources, listen to C4CM’s audio guide “Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.”

Time to target better business practices, in addition to better legal ones. Innovation is the first step in increasing revenue per lawyer.

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Why Your Employees Plan To Quit in 2014 (& How To Stop Them!)

Roughly 21 percent of full-time employees plan to change jobs this year, reports Yahoo News about new research from CareerBuilder. Can your firm afford a one-quarter employee turnover?

Citing over dissatisfaction with their job, chances to be promoted, and work-life balance, this is the largest expected turnover since the recession, post 2008. Last year, just 17 percent of full-time employees planed to change jobs.

According to the CareerBuilder, among those who were unhappy with their job, 58 percent plan to leave in 2014, citing concerns over salary and feeling unvalued.

“Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, said offering frequent recognition, merit bonuses, training programs and clearly defined career paths are important ways to show workers what they mean to the company,” writes Chad Brooks, a BusinessNewsDaily contributor.

In fact, of the 79 percent of employees who do not plan to leave their jobs in 2014, many cite work-life balance satisfaction—also a contributor to job unhappiness—as the source.

So if positive work-life balance leads employees to stay with their firm, and negative work-life balance motivates employees to leave it, isn’t it time your law firm reevaluate its policies and perks?

Many companies, including law firms, have accepted the advantages (and disadvantages) of offering Flex scheduling.

This may mean working one day per week, or every two weeks, remotely.

“I work a four-day week which is incredibly valuable, and I’ve been really encouraged to see that some of my male colleagues have switched to working flexibly so that they can meet the demands of a young family,” says Lauma Skruzmane about her city law job to The Telegraph.

“For me, this also underlines the fact that balancing work and family is not to be branded a ‘women’s’ issue, but it is a challenge that all parents, or other careers, face.”

But parents aren’t the only demographic looking for flexible hours.

Working from home can be a relief for anyone. Perhaps your law office is experiencing temporary negativity in its corporate culture. Maybe the office has become of hub for gossip or distraction.

Whatever the reason, traditional workspaces may not be the most productive environment for all your associates. Allow them to take advantage of new media and technology, which often means anybody can be digitally anywhere at any time.

A healthy work-life balance also means adequate exercise.

Sign your firm up with a local gym. Give your employees incentive to work out at lunch or after dinner. Exercise will help improve efficiency and productivity among your staff by relaxing the brain and increase endorphins in the body.

Finally, lead by example. Take coffee breaks. Make time for face-to-face visits with your employees. And, don’t miss your child’s first student bake-sale because you felt obligated to stay an extra hour at the office.

Let you employees take five every once in awhile or risk taking their two-weeks notice.

While for many companies’ increases remain conservative for the coming year, employers still need to keep their organizations competitive. The strategy going forward is to wring every last drop of positivity out of the raises for their people, and turn to alternate methods, like enhanced reward programs, to increase engagement, boost productivity, and improve overall work-life balance.

If you’re an HR or compensation professional, the salary information in this comprehensive webinar will provide you with the tools you need to prepare your budgets for 2014 and keep pay competitive.

Our compensation experts will also provide you with an in-depth look at 2013 compensation spending and anticipated 2014 compensation trends, projections, challenges, and alternatives, including:

  • Trends and statistics: Base pay data for a variety of industries, regions and employee groups
  • Competitive intelligence: Insight into how other companies make pay decisions and best practices
  • Future state: Outline of what companies are planning for 2014 and beyond

Take the course here today!

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Is E-mail Outdated? A Law Firm’s 2014 Guide To Best E-Mail (& Productivity) Practices

Remember study hall in school? Wouldn’t it be nice to have one hour every day in the workweek to devote to “homework”—that is, to complete all those deliverables and other documents you couldn’t quite finish between case status meetings and conference calls.

Reading and answering e-mail takes up approximately 28 percent of the average workweek for employees, reports a 2012 study by McKinsey & Company. Communicating and collaborating internally takes up 14 percent of the workweek, and searching and gathering information just 19 percent.

That means, the time that’s left for role-specific tasks—the tasks your employees were actually hired to perform, for which your employees were trained—take up only about a third (39 percent) of the average workweek.

So why does coordinating effort between employees and communication take up so much time and dry up so much productivity?

In many ways, e-mail has transformed menial labor into a performance-eating monster.

E-mail, once a more efficient way of communicating from your law firm in New York to its client in Shanghai, has now become the most abused way of communicating from your law office on Floor 1 to its counterparts on Floor 2.

What’s the solution for this time-sucking glut of a technology? Some experts are calling for a total elimination of the culprit.

Is e-mail over?

Recently in an article with Wired Magazine’s Marcus Wohlsen, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz admitted he had trouble keeping up with the 180 employees he oversaw.

“I would spend weeks collecting information about the state of the world,” explained Moskovitz.

“And by the end, it would be a couple weeks out of date.”

The world has come a long way in terms of digital communication—Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, Instagram photo posts. Moskovitz left Facebook to establish a single application to combine project management with a communications system. He co-founded such a technology with Justin Rosenstein in their San Francisco start-up company Asana.

Although both Asana founders still use e-mail, “Rosenstein says that, with Asana, he needs just 15 minutes a day to get through the email that needs his attention. The rest of his time, he says, he can devote to real work,” writes Wohlsen in his article for Wired.

“All the email and meetings, all that work about work, all this soul-sucking effort, is not real work. It’s a distraction,” Rosenstein says.

“If we can get rid of that distraction so we can actually get some work done, that just totally opens the doors.”

It may be a couple of years before Asana’s product reaches law firm doors. And, who knows if a new communications platform will ever—in our lifetime—replace the golden standard of e-mail.

Nevertheless, it’s time to stop wasting billable hours on inefficient e-mail habits. Come up with a friendly and effective e-mail guidance policy. One with rules such as:

  • E-mail across U.S. states or national borders, not walls
  • Never use “reply-all”
  • Face time with firm partners goes farther than Facebooking
  • Monday mornings are a firm-wide e-mail blackout. Whatever needs to be said should be conducted in-person or on the phone

Perhaps it’s time law firms and businesses reinstate the school study hall. Choose an hour, an afternoon, or a day to black-out technology and write-in work. A meeting-less morning, a conference-call free afternoon, or e-mail-less day goes a long way in productivity for the firm and project deliverables for your clients.

E-mail is not dead yet, but innovative time-management ideas for your employees might be the next best thing.

Still got a lot on your plate? Read C4CM’s guide: Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.

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Five Ways To Be Your Firm’s Next Rising Star

A hot new article on Forbes today is “Five Ways To Be Amazing At Work,” by Steve Siebold, a corporate consultant and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class.

It’s hard to resist a title like that!

First, we’re told to be obsessed with productivity. Well, on a Friday, it’s easy to be obsessed with productivity. Every wasted minute at work is one less for leisure during the weekend.

But, what can we do specifically at law firms to improve productivity? Set the mood. Shut the door. Play calming music. Set a timer and work in 15-minute increments to keep totally focused.

Productivity is often about time management. Allocate a certain amount of time to a task and then disconnect. Unplug the phone and put “do not disturb” on your office door. The fewer interruptions the better the creative flow.

The second step to being amazing at work is to solve problems says Siehold.

This is an easy one. At work, keep a running tally of problems at the firm and within case matters. Create a two-column page with one side “problems” and the other “solutions.” It’s amazing how such a short exercise can go a long way in solving problems with law firm management practices or with cases in particular.

Third, take risks. For law firms, this isn’t necessarily the best advice. Of course, risk taking can pay off. But, it can also backfire. Luckily, there’s a simple adjective that can solve this problem. Take calculated risks.

And, take calculated risks on people. Give young associates a chance to shine.

“The great ones never play it safe when it comes to leading their teams through change, knowing their job is to serve as a guide and coach,” writes Siehold.

Fourth, have a strong work ethic.

For lawyers, it’s important to have a strong ethic in general. Don’t forget the right and wrong of cases you’re trying to win. Dedication to your work and believing in its ethic will go a long way to increasing your passion and productivity.

Finally, find a coach. For law firms, a coach should be a mentor, whether it’s a senior associate or law firm partner. Mentorship is an important part of the law.

“If a person works hard and gets a pay check he has a job. But if a person works hard, gets a pay check, and learns a new skill, she has a career,” writes Joseph Folkman for the HBR Blog in the article, “Are You Creating Disgruntled Employees?

In any business, it pays to let people make mistakes. And, if you establish a mentorship program, it’s likely your firm will gradually see less and less of them.

With proper training, your employees can learn to communicate and cope–with confidence–during moments of both success and failure. Not to mention that, in the future, your firm will gain good leaders and good lawyers.

For more ideas about how to increase productivity at your firm, read C4CM’s 69-page guide Creating a Flexible Workplace,” a powerful how-to resource on developing a workforce flexibility initiative that not only helps your employees manage their work and personal responsibilities effectively, but also boosts productivity and your company’s performance.

Some of its guidance includes how to:

  • Lower costs associated with employee absenteeism
  • Improve staff retention and recruitment efforts
  • Maximize employee productivity and performance
  • Improve quality and effectiveness of employee work and personal lives
  • Decrease health care utilization costs
  • Reduce organizational facilities’ costs
  • Enhance reputation as an employer of choice

-WB

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