Tag Archives: time management

Effective Time Management In The Digital Age: Guides, Strategies, Phone Apps & More!

Do you ever look at the clock and think, “where did the time go?”

You know you’ve been working, but on what? For how long? Some days you can’t help but get caught up in the minutiae, whether it’s paperwork, responding to emails, or writing to-do lists for tasks you still—at 5pm—have yet to do.

This is why you’re still billing hours at the end of the day. This is why you’re unable to go home until midnight. This is why you hate coming to work on Monday mornings.

But, those wasted work days—the ones where you lose track of time—can come to an end. At least, Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email In The Morning, would have you believe.

“There are several reasons why our days have swelled,” says Morgenstern to Forbes.

“Companies continuously are trying to hire as few people as possible. Our roles are continuously changing, the world is changing, we’re in a time of rapid change—nothing is ‘business as usual’…”

And, when it comes to law firm professionals, Morgenstern is absolutely right. There’s no such thing as the “normal” associate. There’s no more “standard” for partnership track positions. In fact, law firms are changing the way they do “business as usual” through outsourcing the document review in the discovery stages, utilizing more electronic legal assistants than in-person ones, and even adding online services.

So how do law firm professionals adapt their time management styles to accommodate today’s digital world?

Try writing a time management diary.

Morgenstern suggests employees write down how much time they’re spending on a project, including when and why their workflow was interrupted, everyday. Soon, you’ll find out exactly what’s squandering your and what’s saving you time.

Management consultants are hired to help your firm operate more efficiently. But, you can start auditing your own your own activities is through a smartphone or tablet app.

Consider one of the following apps:

1. Eternity Time Log Lite – Personal Timesheet (Free)

This time management app lets you focus on the work that matters and avoid distractions through project lists and timers. The app creates reports about your time. Just review, and adjust your work habits, accordingly.

2. Klock ($19.99)

Do you know how much time you spend in meetings? On the phone? Promoting yourself? Making sales calls? Keep track of anything with Klock’s work timer and visual display of how your days “fill up”. Klock can be synched across multiple employees. That way you can track time management across team members.

3. Frecke ($19+/month)

Says one satisfied user:

“The Pulse is my favorite feature and what sold me on Freckle. With the Pulse, I can easily see and keep track of how many hours I’ve done and for which client. This makes it really easy for me to see what I need to do for the rest of the week, and also plan for the time I can use for other projects. I can quickly see that I have already put in a certain amount of hours for one client and not yet another, so I know to dedicate some time to the other client. The Pulse really helps me manage my time better and keep track of how I’m actually using my time. It even lets me see when I’m not using my time efficiently.”

And eight more apps here!

You can also sign-up for C4CM’s information-packed guide “Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.”

This 73-page, comprehensive guide provides many strategies for tackling time management issues at your firm, from handling crises to multitasking to burnout.

You work at a law firm. Chances are you cannot leave at 5pm with everything done like Morgenstern would have you believe. However, you can make sure that each hour you bill is an efficient one, and that each hour you don’t remains productive.

The first step in managing your time? Finding out where you’re wasting it!

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Keeping Time (With The Times): Apple iWatch, Innovation & Time Management For Law Firms

Everybody’s talking about time management these days.

Well, in the case of Apple, media articles and tech-savvy blogs are just talking about time.

The iWatch is a much whispered about innovation by Apple, to be released as to be determined. But, it doesn’t keep the NY Times and Wired magazine from speculating that Apple will use curved glass as a key design feature.

Or, for the Harvard Business Review Blog to guess “A Timex is mainly chronological. What Apple could be doing is making a ‘kairologocial’ tool that tracks and monitors the data around the experiences you care about. How much you actually slept, when and how far you walked…”

Luckily, law firm managers can keep both their guesses and their watches at home. According to experts, the secret to project management isn’t time management at all. In fact, most managers speed past deadlines.

Forget the schedule. Key filing or court deadlines aside, it’s more impotant to be goal- and product-oriented than time-oriented.

“Why don’t more project managers sound an alarm when they’re going to blow past their deadlines?” ask Joe Knight, Roger Thomas, and Brad Angus for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Because most of them have no earthly idea when they’ll finish the job. They don’t even think it’s possible to know. Too many variables. Too much that’s out of their control.”

It’s true, law firm managers should focus more on what keeps the client informed and happy rather than exactly how long it took you to get there. Unfortunately, the billable hour and client satisfaction are inextricably linked in legal services industry.

For some companies, the Harvard Business Review advice may be sound. “If your customer doesn’t think you’re late, then you’re not late,” it states.

But, if the equity partner thinks you’re late, then you’re late. And, if the judge thinks you’re late, then you’re really, really late.

So, is time management a strategic variable that law firm managers can manipulate at all?

It turns out, a not-so-recent study from 1997 shows that innovative employment practices—incentive pay, flexible job assignments, and higher job security—increase employee productivity. Although employees may be in a time crunch to write that legal brief, those who work for firms providing non-traditional working hours or environments to do so are more efficient and effective at their job.

The study published in the American Economic Review by Ichniowski et al. investigated the productivity effects of innovative employment practices using data from a sample of 36 homogeneous steel production lines owned by 17 companies.

“The productivity regressions demonstrate that lines using a set of innovative work practices, which include incentive pay, teams, flexible job assignments, employment security, and training, achieve substantially higher levels of productivity than do lines with the more traditional approach, which includes narrow job definitions, strict work rules, and hourly pay with close supervision,” write the authors.

In addition, these innovative employment practices tend to be complements. Essentially, optimal incentive structures—like higher employment security but lower salaries, or higher training couple with incentive pay—come in pairs.

“That is, workers’ performance is substantially better under incentive pay plans that are coupled with supporting innovative work practices—such as flexible job design, employee participation in problem-solving, teams, training to provide workers with multiple skills, extensive screening and communication and employment security—than it is under more traditional work practices.”

So, if your law firm can’t pull back on its billable hours or push forward its many deadlines, at least it can manage the time of and human resource policy for its employees.

Consider implementing flexible scheduling, work-from-home policies, or other innovative management practices. Give your employees the opportunity to diversify their workload or work on a variety of departmental teams.

The more choices you offer your employees, the more hours they will bill—and happily—for your firm.

Not sure where to start? Check out ideas for innovative managment practices for law firms here.

-WB

 

Reference: Ichniowski, C., Shaw, K., & Prennushi, G. 1997. The effects of human resource management practices on productivity: A study of steel finishing lines. American Economic Review, 87: 291-313.

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5 Ways Your Firm Is Unknowingly Wasting Money

It’s true. The crystal vase in every senior partner’s office is a waste of money. And, nobody ate the catered food provided for today’s client meeting.

But, forget about the little extravagancies. Think, instead, about the everyday behavior and continual misspending at your firm.

You might be surprised to discover your law firm is wasting money in the most unsuspecting of ways. Find out why the following five money gluts are bound to catch up to your bottom-line.

1. Overstaffing projects

When firms are concerned with revenue, they look to increase billable hours. So, managers assign multiple associates to a single project, which not only boosts billables, it also seemingly increases the benefits to clients.

But, more hands on deck may not lead to more dollars in the bank.

Overstaffing a project leads to inefficiencies. Instead of making progress on a case, attorneys are duplicating work and then spending more time to filter out the redundancies.

And, instead of seeking out new clients or business streams, law firm partners are wasting valuable hours figuring out who did what and when for their cases.

Overstaffing projects can actually reduce your firm’s efficiency and profitability. Clients may become dissatisfied with results, employees disgruntled over long hours, and the opportunity to explore other revenue streams will certainly be missed.

There’s no added value to redundancy.

2. Using paper

Ok, enough with the photocopies.

Law firm professionals are inundated with documentation, from internal memos to official filings. But, there’s no longer a need to print out every single document—and definitely no need to create binders of discovery.

If discovery was collected and sent to your firm electronically, discourage employees from printing it out.

Not only does your firm run an added security risk should these binders of confidential information get lost or leaked, but going paperless makes more sense financially and environmentally.

Between laptop computers, smartphones, easy-to-view tablets, and cloud storage, there’s no excuse for turning digital age of legal documentation into the dark age.

3. Providing no training to employees

When employees are first hired by a firm, they need to be trained on a firm’s resources. Assistants, paralegals, and attorneys alike need training. There is no exception.

Showing employees where the MS Office templates are located, how to properly fill out a timesheet, and where to find the conference room is simple. Knowing that every employee is confortable with your legal software or specific computer packages, however, is not.

Don’t skip out on training. Your firm will pay for it later with lost productivity and poor time management. The last thing you need is a filing deadline missed by an attorney who has never seen an e-filing before.

4. Keeping the morale killer

You know that one person in the office who is always spreading gossip? Or that individual who always has a complaint on hand but never a positive thing to say?

Office morale declines when managers let it. Law firm managers are responsible for setting the right attitudes and incentives to keep employees motivated and productive. When there’s a person poisoning the atmosphere, it’s time to make a change.

Talk to that person. Come to a resolution. If necessary, create a morale-boosting event for your team. Whatever the problem, find a solution sooner rather than later. If you’re keeping the morale killer—unknowingly—you’re killing the productivity of others, too.

5. Catering to your weakest link

Law firm partners of a certain generation tend to be resistant to change. But, are you letting your weakest link dictate your firm’s direction?

Sometimes the weakest link in a work force is also the most outspoken one. As a result, policy for all tends to conform to the wishes of one.

Let everybody in your firm have a voice. Whether it’s to refine firm strategy or create new policies, make sure you’re not holding back your firm’s best interests (and revenue) to appease one obstinate partner.

-WB

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Stop Calling Every Task “Urgent” (Or Face Consequences To Crying Wolf)

Today, everything in the office is urgent. Deadlines have disappeared. Instead of creating a schedule of tasks, professionals mark every project, ASAP, and deem every work product, urgent.

Perhaps this stressful habit begins at school, where there’s not much delineation between the weekday and weekend, where homework exists at all hours, regardless of federal holidays or extracurricular plans.

Recently the blog Above The Law covered an incident involving an over-zealous teaching assistant (TA) at Columbia Law School that could have easily occurred in a law firm.

Apparently, the TA circulated an email with the subject line (in all-CAPS) “MUST READ TONIGHT.” Within the communication, the message began, “Thank you to everyone who submitted papers on time. Special thanks to those of you who submitted the paper according to the requirements (1pg, 12 pt font, single spaced)…”

The blog post emphasized the unnecessary nit-picking and uptightness of the message. However, the real problem with the TA’s e-mail is its sense of urgency for a relatively innocuous request: to be sure to submit assignments in a certain format.

In fact, the author of the blog admits, “Partners can get away with [this] because they sign the checks. Judges can get away with [this] because they’re…judges.” In reality, nobody should get away with this type of Type-A behavior.

It’s time to restore urgency back to the items that are truly urgent.

As a law firm manager, you are responsible for managing people, in addition to time. This means organizing casework and distributing deadlines evenly across the workweek for associates.

If you consider all tasks to be “urgent,” you are likely in urgent need of time-management skills.

Furthermore, only in rare (if any) cases should a subject line be written in all caps or begin, “URGENT: insert message here.” When employees are inundated with such messages from their superiors, they start to become desensitized, and may even start to ignore them.

A false sense of urgency in communication at your law firm will create an environment of “the boy who cried wolf.”

Especially in this tough economic environment—and when clients and partners put on the pressure—it’s easy to cry “Run! Jump! Leap!” in a room full of your eager-eyed associates. Nevertheless, reserve the word “urgent” for those matters that deserve it.

The next time you consider a matter to be urgent, ask yourself:

  1. Should all other work be dropped for this task?
  2. If other deadlines are missed for this work product, is it worth it?
  3. Do I need all-hands-on-deck?
  4. Is this situation exceptional, as opposed to habitual?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, then yes, the assignment may be urgent. However, if your firm is seeing an increasing number of urgent tasks, it may be that your management skills are in a state of emergency.

Prioritize casework. Assign tasks accordingly. Create tangible deadlines. If this seems impossible in your profession, well, it’s time to seek professional help.

-WB

Need an expert to explain specific methods to help you better manage your day and get your work done with less stress and unnecessary emergencies? Check out C4CM’s audio course “Planning and Prioritizing” where you’ll learn how to:

  • Act not react
  • Make the most of the time you have and free up time for mission critical tasks
  • Set realistic goals and ‘time to complete’ estimates
  • Rid your schedule of time-wasters for a  etter balanced schedule
  • Recognize the difference between important and urgent priorities and tasks
  • Keep track of and meet short and long term projects and deadlines
  • Better cope with game changing shifts in priorities
  • Manage social media time stealers

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Overemphasizing Innovation & Underestimating Common Sense: Law Firm Management Dos & Don’ts

Academics keep throwing around the word “innovation.” Innovation is often used synonymously with “new technology”, “creativity”, and even “best business practice”.

In theory, innovation is meant to be radical change or ideas. In the real world, however, investing in innovative ideas is both costly and risky, and the returns uncertain.

So while firms are constant in search of the next big idea in business, occasionally the best way to create fresh ideas is to affirm tried-and-true old ones.

In an article titled, “Nine Rules for Stifling Innovation,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter laments, “For all the talk about innovation, I see many leaders in numerous organizations in every sector who actively stifle it.”

“They say they want more innovation. But at the same time, they seem to operate by a set of hidden principles designed to prevent innovations from surfacing or succeeding.”

For law firms, forget designing an environment around innovation. Kanter’s nine rules are easily applied to the legal industry’s biggest flaws in everyday management.

Remember a few of these “don’ts” so that you “do” retain employees, impress your clients, turn a profit, and successfully manage your firm in this year.

“1. Be suspicious of any new idea from below — because it’s new, and because it’s from below. After all, if the idea were any good, we at the top would have thought of it already.”

Sure there’s a law firm hierarchy, but that doesn’t mean the best case strategy can’t come from a hardworking first-year. In fact, with so many billable hours spent in the office trying to impress senior attorneys, junior associates may even have a leg up.

“2. Invoke history. If a new idea comes up for discussion, find a precedent in an earlier idea that didn’t work, remind everyone of that bad past experience. Those who have been around a long time know that we tried it before, so it won’t work this time either.”

Certainly senior attorneys and law firm partners have the most trial and transactional experience. But, sometimes the line between objectively-perceived experience and personal bias is fine.

In the courtroom, use past precedent to help you argue the merits of your case, but in management, don’t treat it like it’s the law.

“3. Keep people really busy. If people seem to have free time, load them with more work. In the name of excellence, encourage cut-throat competition. Get groups to critique and challenge each other’s proposals, preferably in public forums, and then declare winners and losers.”

Healthy competition—especially among first-years—can be beneficial. However, so is collaboration and training.

In law firms, having free time is usually a faux-pas. But, associate free time can be weel spent networking around the office, collaborating and learning from peers, and pertinent but not billable research.

Stop treating billable hours like a competition for who is the best. Sometimes high billable hours simply represent the person who manages their time the worst.

“4. Confine discussion of strategies and plans to a small circle of trusted advisors. Then announce big decisions in full-blown form. This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new orders will be coming down from the top.”

Law firms should consider constructing a youth board composed of up-and-comers.

Firm partners should be given one nomination each, and the reign of these young attorneys (or legal professionals) should last at least a year.

A representative for this youth board can then report directly to managing partners on a regular basis. This board should be official, transparent, and meaningful. It should be perceived as an honor.

Give your youth board concrete powers and abilities to impact firm policy and strategy—don’t make it an honorary position. For more information about how and why your firm should start a “youth board,” see this article.

“5. Act as though punishing failure motivates success. Practice public humiliation, making object lessons out of those who fail to meet expectations. Everyone will know that risk-taking is bad.”

Sometimes placing blame—like in the world of torts—is necessary. But, on a micro-level, within the law office, accepting responsibility is better.

When individuals accept responsibility for their actions, a plan for reparation can be made more quickly and efficiently (at least, that’s surely what Lance Armstrong’s lawyers are telling him).

With this in mind, law firms should remember to be lenient and reward open communication. Forgiveness will not encourage mistake making—that’s just a fact of life. It will, on the other hand, keep your firm from being sidetracked by the blame game instead of strategies for recovery.

“6. Above all, never forget that we got to the top because we already know everything there is to know about this business.”

If you didn’t laugh (and understand the sarcasm of) this last one, why don’t you start again from the top…

So, law firm mangers: Do make plans for installing innovative technology, implementing innovative strategy, or incentivizing innovative idea generation at your firm. But, for all the other days, don’t forget to use your common (and good business) sense.

-WB

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Doping In Professional Cycling? No Kidding. What Lawyers Can Learn From Lance.

“I never saw any doping practice from Lance Armstrong,” claims Italian doctor, reports Cycling News last month.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of all seven Tour de France titles after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation found him guilty of doping. The USADA has also banned Dr. Michele Ferrari from the competition for life.

Yet Ferrari told Al Jazeera in a television interview in December 2012, “I can say I never saw or heard something about that. He never asked me for information about doping. There are six riders that accused me but these riders, I didn’t have any relationship or any consulting with these guys.”

Give me a break, many are thinking about these allegations.

And, actually, that’s exactly what you should be doing.

We hear information reported everyday that is hardly news or newsworthy. For example, doping in professional sports? No surprise there.

Or, employees should take more breaks at work? The adult attention span is just 14-15 minutes, a fact that American television has been exploiting for decades. Again, this just seems like common sense.

And yet, people still insist on holding hour-long meetings, multiple hour conference calls, and other long, excruciating, non-productive workplace events.

Dr. James Levine, Endocrinology, Mayo Clinic, explains why people should take more breaks at work to with David Gillen, Deputy Business Editor at the New York Times.

“It’s like you are a beautiful Ferrari idling away. The more you idle, the more you rot,” Dr. Levine says of the car and our health.

“The body isn’t made to be sitting around hours and hours on end.”

Lance Armstrong and Dr. Ferrari would certainly agree. The human body is healthiest when it’s active.

“Blood sugar levels start to creep up, blood fat levels start to creep up. Even the receptors in the leg muscles are starting to change in short periods of time,” continues Dr. Levine.

“If you break that up in short bursts of activity, like the body is meant to do, you can reverse that.”

Small bursts of energy can make all the difference in a big bike race or a regular workday.

So, how can legal professionals become gold medalists of the office place?

First, keep meetings less than 15 minutes.

Circulate an agenda with no more than three talking points. Keep each talking point to five minutes or less. Focus on the main ideas and don’t dally on circular arguments.

If the meeting runs long, you have either too many participants (too many conflicting opinions becomes counter-productive) or you have too many discussion topics to address in a single meeting.

Once opinions are heard, summarize the conversation and dismiss the group. If you must reconvene, do so after every meeting participant has had time alone to ruminate on the talking points.

Second, when you realize that your mind is starting to wander, take a break.

When the brain is shutting down, so is your productivity. Take a walk around the office or the building. Get a coffee or tea. Switch gears and make that phone call you’ve been putting off.

Sometimes refocusing on work means digressing on personal errands for a bit.

Third, don’t force it.

Just because employees are generally in need of more breaks during the workday, it doesn’t mean you should take advantage of the idea. Each individual must listen to his or her body, which will have diverse needs.

But, whether it’s a long gym break during lunch, 2 minutes spent walking around the office every hour, or just switching from standing on the phone to sitting at your desk, be active.

Take a break. And when others ask for one, as a manger, relent. 

Legal work may not be as physically grueling as the Tour de France, but some days, mentally, it may feel like it.

-WB

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Employees Aren’t Honest With You. Why It’s Your Own Fault.

Whether it’s as a boss or as a colleague, you know that people in the office don’t tell you the truth.

At first, it started with sudden silence around the water cooler. Then, whispers turned into a hush as you passed in the hall. Finally, you noticed your subordinate employees giving you nothing but fake smiles with their positive feedback and blind “yes” responses to each assignment—even when you yourself thought the task seemed foolish.

Now you need advice and professional help, but you don’t know who to turn to. When consulting on a case, did your team truly agree with your big idea? When assigning a task to a first-year, did he really understand what to do and what’s at stake? During performance evaluations, do your employees actually appreciate your leadership or are they afraid of negative repercussions?

In the end, you’re forced to worry and wonder, why are your employees uncomfortable being honest with you?

Well, it’s likely your associates are picking up on some verbal and nonverbal cues that you’re sending across space like microwaves. Luckily, these mixed signals are all within your control to change so that the office can resume as a conduit for communication, not combustion.

The following are a few reasons why you may be driving the dishonesty at your firm.

1. You name names

Your idea of productive management is to know exactly which associate is responsible for which task. As a result, you find yourself frequently asking your teams, “Who wrote this?” And, “Who was in charge of that?”

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer to these seemingly innocuous questions. Because, if the job was done well, employees won’t claim individual credit when most success, in truth, belongs to a group effort (and credit-hogs just look like jerks).

Also, in the event the job was done poorly, employees are especially hesitant to absorb total accountability when—once again—more than one person is typically involved in dropping the ball.

As the boss naming names, you may think you’re gathering specifics for management purposes only. In reality, your employees believe you’re asking them to betray peers and place friends in front of a firing squad (perhaps literally).

This would drive any loyal employee to bite his tongue.

2. You punish mistake-making

Whether knowingly or unknowingly, you’re the type who can’t forget mistakes.

So, when an employee finds an error in his work, he’s reticent to fess up.

Naturally, mistake making leads a boss to trust an associate less. Unfortunately, this can destroy—especially in young attorneys—a person’s confidence in their own work.

As a leader, it’s important to encourage employees to take risks, assume responsibility, and admit to failure. Then, good leaders help employees recover from mistakes and learn from them. Bad leaders stop assigning important work to that same employee in the future.

Don’t penalize people for inexperience. Cultivate their skills and help develop their career.

If you earn a reputation as an understanding mentor, you’ll see increased enthusiasm and productivity on the part of your associates, which will lead to higher performance at the firm in a more organic way.

3. You’re too busy

When it comes down to listening to employees, your schedule is just too tight to spend quality time discussing issues.

Usually a nod in consent or the shake of a head is enough to brush off the majority of requests. And, when somebody disagrees with your casework strategy? Well, you just don’t have the time to discuss alternatives.

As a senior attorney or law firm professional in a supervisory position, you must be an ace at time management. If you find yourself impatient during brainstorming sessions or client meetings, it’s time to reevaluate your caseload and priorities.

4. You aren’t social

Whether as a first-year associate or law firm partner, the quickest way to alienate peers is through anti-social behavior.

You abstain from happy hours. You shut your office door all day. You don’t learn the names of other employees—certainly not those in outside departments.

Law is a social industry that depends on personal interaction and charisma. Whether it’s to practice winning juries or to learn this week’s gossip, attend social functions organized by employees.

When you aren’t friendly, you won’t win friends. And, we all know that only true friends tell you the truth.

5. You can’t keep a secret

Finally, if employees aren’t honest with you, maybe it’s simply due to your inability to keep a secret.

Honesty and integrity go together. When a person gives you one, he expects the other.

Like with case information, confidentiality is vital to your reputation and success as a professional.

Since honesty in communication is key to running a successful law firm, be the kind of person that employees run to with juicy rumors, out-of-the-box ideas, and—because it’s bound to happen—casework mistakes (so you can fix them in a timely manner!).

Remember, what you don’t know actually can hurt you…

-WB

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Bad Employee Behavior That Results When Managers Reward Busyness

Every law firm associate knows it’s unacceptable to have free time. If your first-year isn’t stressful, full of all-nighters, and fraught with anxiety over busyness, then you risk not returning the next day.

Especially in the current competitive environment, employees need to look invaluable—an irreplaceable cog that if removed would topple the firm’s steady churning revenue and positive returns for its clients.

But work, realistically, comes in waves. And, like it or not, there is always some idle time. The question is, how do your employees react to these instances?

More often than not, employees understand that firms encourage full-time engagement, late nights, long hours.

Unfortunately, this behavior hurts the efficiency and profits of your firm. When managers encourage busyness—as opposed to high quality work product—your employees will behave in the following unproductive manner:

1. Pretend to be busy (all the time)

If it’s unacceptable to be idle in the office—to spare one single billable hour—then your employees will fill the void. Not with actual work product. No, instead, they’ll pretend to be busy by reading, then rereading filings (for professional development, of course) and learn to familiarize themselves at a snail’s pace with cases.

The reality is, time passes more quickly when a person is busy. As a result, most legal professionals never fear being busy. They welcome it.

What professionals do fear, however, is looking incapable or lazy whenever their manager enters the office with the loaded question, “are you busy?” on the tip of his tongue.

Unfortunately, instead of rewarding high quality and even quantity of work product, managers, these days, seem to be rewarding those associates who have mastered the appearance of busyness the best.

2. Rebudget time to spread out work

Time management skills suffer in offices where busyness is rewarded.

For example, a young lawyer realizes he must linger in the office until 8pm to appear busy. But, high quality work only demands staying until 7pm. The solution? Budget work pace around the time, as opposed to the reverse.

Suddenly, a client emergency arises at 7pm. Now, employees truly are preoccupied, without any free time to contribute to the crisis. Instead of letting the type of work decide the hours, your employees are slowing their hours to the work.

By most definitions, this is poor performance and poor productivity. For clients, it even borders on fraud.

3. Become intimidated at the thought of actual busyness

When you’re accustomed to pretending to be busy, you start to fear the day you’ll actually find yourself so.

Not to mention, as employees start to become conditioned to a drawn-out pace of work—for the sake of appearing busy—they’ll be ill equipped to handle key assignments in a crunch.

4. Stop answering your questions honestly

Knowing that managers reward busyness, associates will always claim that they’re engaged with important projects. This will eventually snowball into a dishonest boss-employee relationship that will ruin professional trust and cooperation.

Employees should feel free to answer your questions honestly. Perhaps they do have the time for extra work—not because they’re lazy and unmotivated, but because they happen to have completed a previous assignment quickly.

Or, perhaps employees don’t have the time. They should feel comfortable saying no to their boss once in awhile. There shouldn’t be negative repercussions to free time; otherwise firms may start billing excessively for pencil sharpening.

5. Question your managerial skills

When teams leave early because their work is done, counter-intuitively, it’s a sign of successful management.

Managers who overvalue busyness start to assign menial and pointless tasks to employees who have (quite efficiency) finished all other work product.

In addition, only the most unproductive of managers will hold meetings during a lull, rather than letting employees ride it out in their own way.

Idle time doesn’t have to be wasted if you encourage employees to fill it creatively. Push them to be proactive about their own careers or cases during these times.

It turns out, busyness is only productive when the work is also meaningful. Take, for example, a 2008 MIT study where researchers asked participants to build a series of Lego models.

“Finished models were either kept, or they were disassembled in front of the participant and handed back for rebuilding. (This was called the “Sisyphus condition”, after the mythical figure condemned to repeatedly push a boulder up a mountain only to watch it roll back down again). Even though the two conditions involved exactly the same type of work, participants in the ‘meaningful’ condition were willing to produce more models (and built them more efficiently, for a lower median wage) than those who mimicked Sisyphus,” explains Susan David for the HBR Blog in her article, “Is Busyness Bad for Business?”

“Surely Michael, who attends one meeting only to have another scheduled, and completes one spreadsheet only to be presented with new figures, is starting to feel like he’s pushing that boulder.”

Statistically, employees will respond more enthusiastically and productively to work with meaning, as opposed to work that simply replaces potential idle time.

One hour spent with friends and family to improve the work-life balance will have infinite more meaning than waiting longer at the office because it’s unacceptable to leave before a certain time. As a manager, don’t be afraid to send employees home when the work is done.

In the end, free time is an asset to your firm—like a contingency fund. You never know its true worth until it’s gone.

-WB

To take control, tackle work flow chaos and overcome productivity challenges, read The Center For Competitive Management’s 73-page guide Effective Time Management, available online here.

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Delegation: It’s Not Just So You Can Go Home Early…

Delegating is one of the hardest leadership skills to master.

It involves a measure of trust in your subordinates, as well as a lack of control. To compound this problem, managing a law firm—though ultimately a business—is rife with personal risk.

Cases are predominately about people. Thus, what’s a stake is also personal.

This is why it’s so hard to let go. Law firm managers and senior attorneys “want to get it right” the first time, and it’s with hesitance that they cede work to others. Unfortunately, this makes for poor business practice.

When a professional refuses to delegate, it often leads to late nights, procrastination, missed deadlines, lack of full attention to the task at hand, and other inefficiencies. This is why great leaders understand how to delegate work and who to delegate it to.

Not to mention, as a manager, you can’t be everywhere all the time.

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” said Jeffrey Pfeffer to Amy Gallo of the Harvard Business Review Blog. Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

A 2007 study on time management found that nearly half of the 332 companies surveyed worried about their employees’ ability to delegate. So, what did these companies do about their concerns?

Nothing. Only 28 percent of the surveyed companies offered training on the topic, according to the HBR Blog. Luckily, there’s still time for your firm.

There are two tiers of delegation within a law firm: Delegating to legal staff and delegating to associates.

Delegation To Legal Staff

Don’t overlook legal assistants and paralegals in the office.

Frequently legal staff are as equipped as junior attorneys to proofread briefs, research legal forms, or conduct other more menial tasks. And, that’s exactly what your support staff is there for.

“Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate—that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” said Carol Walker to Gallo for the HBR Blog. Gallo is the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders.

Not true. In fact, legal assistants have a profound expertise. Furthermore, legal staff have another secret weapon and value add to your firm: lower billables.

As a result, your legal staff can devote the time and energy necessary to complete a job more comprehensively, meticulously, and quickly than their busy junior associate counterpart.

Why ask an associate to perform these duties (i.e., pleadings, research, or deposition summaries) when your legal assistant is more than capable to do the same, for less?

If you don’t yet know the breadth of skill or ability of your assistant, go ahead and test it now. Task him or her a deposition to summarize, PowerPoint to format, or trial prep work to complete that you’d typically assign a first-year. You’ll be glad you did when there’s a crunch time in the future.

Delegating To Associates

As mentioned above, law firms should teach and practice the art of delegation in order to maintain a cost-effective billing structure for its clients.

Typically, lower-paid associates take on the bulk of casework so that higher-paid associates—more senior ones—spend less time on busy work and more productive time approving, modifying, or signing off on the final product. Think about where partner time is best spent.

If your leaders are not delegating work properly, it’s likely that you’re overbilling clients.

As a law firm manager, keep track of each associate’s assignments. Ensure that the responsibilities delegated to them are commensurate with their position at the firm and their career path.

Monitor the hours of your more senior associates. When necessary, force them to delegate more high-profile work to junior associates—so young attorneys gain experience and more practiced attorneys learn to trust the team.

Like word processing, writing, or the practice of law, delegation is a skill to be acquired.

So, sign up your managers today for a course on time management (like this one by C4CM) to ensure your firm boosts its efficiency, regains control of its productive time, conquers clutter, and ends procrastination caused by poor delegation.

-WB

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When It’s OK (And How) To Say “No” To Your Boss

Remember Thanksgiving dinner? Your friends and family asked you to host, even though you worked a 60-hour week.

Do you recall how the following week your neighbor asked you to dog-sit while they were out of town, and the only thing their Golden Retriever ever retrieved was your shredded morning newspaper?

Finally, over the December holidays, you were asked to be a guest lecturer at your son’s school, to bake cookies for its fundraiser, and (in your spare time) to drive the school bus for a field trip to a meteor crater. Remember how–after all this–last week you politely declined your neighbor’s invitation to the second of their three holiday parties, and the world did not, in fact, end?

Sometimes, saying “no” is the right course of action. Unsurprisingly, saying “no” will not topple your house of cards.In the law firm, to spare your sanity and continue a high level of productivity, occasionally you must tell a partner “no”. But, here’s how to do it.

1. Have a valid reason to say “no”

Although white lies and fake excuses may get you out of drinking your aunt’s eggnog, it’s unacceptable in the workplace. If you must say no to an assignment given by a law partner, have a valid reason why.

For example, provide detail regarding the number of hours of work you’ve already earmarked for Senior Partner A’s project. If that’s not good enough, have a more senior attorney step in on your behalf to defend your hefty caseload.

Always use the “yes, but let me get back to you” formula.

So, “yes, I’d love to help you on this task, but I don’t know if I will be able to get to it until next week due to my involvement in Case X.” Then, follow up with a succinct e-mail that politely declines the project. More than likely the partner won’t think twice about your refusal, and just choose another lawyer on his or her short list.

2. Be firm

When declining a project, be firm in your answer. If you waffle about whether or not you have the time, the assigning attorney will think you’re unable to manage your casework.Being firm will also earn you more respect. It’s difficult to tell a law partner “no”.

So when you do, the partner will be less likely to abuse your willingness to take on projects (and work until 4am on holidays). They will respect your honesty and professionalism if you are polite, but firm.

By taking the assignment and overloading your schedule, most likely, all of your cases, the client, and your image at the firm will suffer.Being a pushover will not lead to a promotion.

3. Become a valuable resource, nonetheless

Even if you, personally, cannot handle a new assignment, perhaps your cube neighbor can. If you know of an associate who is willing to and available for work, tell the assigning attorney.

Or, if you know of a tool or online resource that can help facilitate the work at hand, write a quick note with the information. Pass it along to the attorney who eventually takes the case.

Although you may not be able to complete the task, there’s no reason why you can’t contribute.The unsolicited offer of help will show firm partners that you’re still a team player, as well as a valuable asset to the firm–even if you must, on occasion, say “no”.

-WB

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