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“And by the end, it would be a couple weeks out of date.”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