Trying to be productive, when balancing client work with everything else (like going home at a sensible hour), can be a real challenge for fee-earners!
Let’s look at at some practical tips first. Here are 10 Tips to help.
- Do The Challenging Thing First
Every fee earner, at one time or another, has ‘that’ file, task or client, they keep putting off. Swapping files with another fee earner can be a great way to get fresh eyes on it. And, they won’t feel the same emotional pain! If that is not possible, plan to tackle the call, or 10 minutes of the task, before you do anything else. If you decide to continue after 10 minutes, you can do so. You will feel better for having taken action, and can get on with the rest of your day without it hanging over you. Yes, it is sometimes easier said than done. We all know it is better once started. So do this first.
- Prioritise Profit
Deal with the money-making (fee earning) work as a priority. Admin, management and marketing comes second. However, if you aren’t getting around to those other tasks, you will need to look at your workload, or the other areas in which you can improve your efficiency. You may also want to explore what impact your mindset is having on your productivity (see here for a short case study as an example) and complete a Time-Sheet of your day if you want to know what your time-stealers are.
- Use Your Team
With good training and clarity, your secretary (or junior staff) can protect you from unnecessary interruptions, and deal with routine tasks and correspondence. The best secretaries are very good at being ‘firm’, when working with you to help keep you on track! They will also give you feedback on how to work more efficiently with them. Delegation to all of your team is a skill worth learning.
Not all fee earning work can follow a full workflow. However, most have basic enquiries which fee earners respond to over and over. Create an appropriate (non-advisory) script for your support staff to follow, and have a selection of draft emails/letters ready to be tweaked and sent out. Keep an eye out for how many times you repeat the same points over the next few weeks.
From magazines or emails you don’t find useful or enjoy. They waste your time, are a distraction, and lead to you having more unnecessary to-do’s. Feeling you really ‘should’ read that article? Does it take you one step close to your profit goal or development goal? No? Unsubscribe. (My articles are, of course, excellent and well worth reading.)
- Email Economy
With emails, set some guidelines in your firm. Ensure understanding of the difference between ‘To’ (this usually means action or an expectation of a response) and ‘CC’ (this usually means FYI only). Think twice about who is included in the email. Another recommendation it setting up a delay in Outlook to prevent emails being sent instantly. This can stop that ‘oops’ moment when you hit send only to realise it was too soon, either creating panic or generating a second email.
- Divert and switch off
Be honest about how often you check your emails, or take calls when you are in the middle of a task. Be equally honest about how often you need to check them. Consider switching off notifications or stopping emails from pulling through automatically. Otherwise you can switch the screen and sound off, or go into another room, if you need to concentrate. Set an alarm if needs be.
Excellent client service may not involve immediate or same day action (although it usually requires prompt acknowledgment). Sometimes clients would actually quite like a few days without having to deal with a task they have just got off their to-do list! Either way, do you allow enough breathing space in your time estimate for something else (even if minor) to crop up?
When agreeing to a piece of work, so to better manage your workload, and expectations, have a conversation with the client about when they want it completed. How many times have you turned something around quickly, only to receive an out-of-office response? Talking to a client can also help you understand why a deadline was set. It could be there is a misunderstanding of the process.
One other point. If a client consistently contacts you at the end of the day, after working hours, or with short notice of urgent work (even though they have had ‘it’ for a while), then most likely they know you regularly work late, or will somehow fit them in. This can cause a great deal of stress for you, as it makes more of your work unnecessarily urgent. You therefore need to gently re-establish boundaries with them, which is achievable.
- Plan your day
Whilst the last of the tips, it really is the top tip. Depending on the work you do, you may be able to plan most of your day. For others it is more reactive. The best tip to share is to set your (genuine) Three Most Important Tasks, at the start of each day. Doing this every day will make you more efficient and productive. If the task doesn’t take you closer to your fee-earning, life-balance, or career goals, double check it is really a most important task.
The reality is that lack of productivity can be caused by many different thoughts, traits, and behaviours. It would be a long blog if I covered all aspects of mindset and productivity.
So to give you an example of the impact on your mindset, let’s focus on one aspect. Working to your contracted hours.
There are many mindset and behavioural reasons for people to work late (or go in very early). These can include:
- using it to avoid being at home (loneliness, unhappy relationships)
- it has become habit (if your working hours are until 5pm, yet you always work until 6pm, this is probably habit)
- lack of confidence or assertiveness, or wanting to avoid conflict, (this could be related to a boss, or team member)
- to fit in with a ‘culture’
- wanting to be in control, perfectionism, unwilling to delegate, fear of saying ‘no’ or asking for help
- it feels good to be able to ‘boast’ about the long hours worked, or to feel ‘needed’
Did any of these, or other aspect of this blog, cause you to have a strong emotional reaction? Was there any fear, overwhelm, sadness or anger? If so, then you might want to take part of the Time Challenge or take advantage of the VIP Discovery Session.
Time for you
Managing your time effectively is crucial to provide excellent service to clients, be productive, avoid time rushing by, or working all hours. Being busy and being productive are very different.
Whilst time management tips will help you become more efficient, if you are consistently working long hours or everything is always urgent, (yet you do not have an excessive workload), or are unhappy, further exploration of why is useful. A lot of time and energy can be lost due to lack of motivation, and procrastination, as a result of lack of exploration about what else might be the cause.
Your mindset can get in the way of leading a profitable, enjoyable, and balanced working life. A great coach will help you get to explore and create new positive permanent habits.
Ready to make a big change? Enjoy work and life again? Find time to breathe? Book your free VIP Discovery Session.
Simona is a professional coach, mentor, speaker, and has over 15 years experience as qualified solicitor and partner.
She takes her professional coaching skills and law firm expertise, into other firms, to drive profitability, communication and performance, to the next level.
Motivated individuals work with Simona on mindset and strategy to become more successful as a partner or fee earner, whilst leading a balanced life.
To find out more about coaching or to book her for your organisation, please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her here.