For lawyers, time is money and productivity is key. Some lawyers spend as much as three hours a day on non-billable activities including tasks related to practice management and marketing.
One major productivity killer for attorneys is our tendency to be slaves to our email inboxes. When the Law Practice Management & Technology Section Council was looking for a speaker to help attorneys with this topic at our upcoming Law Tech Expo, I knew just who to call.
Tracey Gritz is a productivity expert, keynote speaker, and owner of The Efficient Office. I recently sat down with Tracey to ask her a few questions about email and productivity, and to get a sneak peek at what we can expect from her presentation at the Law Tech Expo.
Question 1: What is the most problematic email issue that hinders productivity?
The number one hindrance is constantly checking email. The average working professional spends roughly 23% of the workday on email, and glances at the inbox about 36 times an hour! Rarely do we stay focused on a project. Focused work is a key component of productivity and we are constantly interrupted by notifications for email. You hear the little “ding-ting” of a notification, take a break from your case or project, and when you come back to it, you’ve forgotten what you’re doing. It takes precious time to regroup and get back to focusing on the project.
Even outside the office, we’re constantly looking at our cell phones and we’re disconnecting from the people around us. It hurts our relationships, our effectiveness, and the quality of our work.
Over the long term, constantly checking email negatively affects our ability to achieve our goals. When we stay focused on the task at hand, we can actually work less, accomplish more, and spend more time for our goal-related work.
Question 2: How can lawyers make email work better for them instead of it being an annoyance?
1. The first step is to stop checking email constantly.
You wouldn’t go to your mailbox and only take out the important things and leave all the rest of the mail in there. When you’re constantly checking your email, that is exactly what you are doing. You’re just checking it to see what is either super urgent or easy. That leaves a whole bunch of other email in your inbox that you keep opening and reopening, opening and reopening.
2. Schedule three blocks of time, for 30 to 45 minutes each, on your calendar to process your email.
During those designated times, focus on deciding on every email.
3. Turn off your notifications.
Turn off the little chime for your email on your computer, and the chime on your cell phone.
4. Don’t check email first thing in the morning.
This is really important. When you check your email first thing in the morning is you’re handling everybody else’s emergencies or their priorities. You’re giving away your priority time. You’re constantly allowing other people’s priorities to trump your priorities.
In the morning, block off time on your calendar to tackle your MIT, or most important task. This task moves the needle. Some lawyers out there might say, “But Tracey, I need to check my email because I’m working on x, y, and z case and there might be something really important that comes up.” Don’t work on something first thing in the morning that you need your email for. There are other things you can do that will move the needle, that will get you closer to your dreams, your visions, and your goals that are not that email dependent.
Question 3: How can a lawyer manage client expectations if they’re only checking email three times a day?
This is a great question and I have a super simple answer for you. Right below your signature, before or after your disclaimer language, write something like:
“Please note, due to the dedicated, focused manner in which I work on cases, I am only checking and responding to emails three times a day. If you require urgent assistance, please call [insert phone number.] Thank you for understanding this move to greater efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me to accomplish more so I can serve you better.”
Put something like this underneath the signature so now all clients know you will only be checking email three times a day.
Question 4: What’s the #1 biggest thing that impacts the productivity of professionals that you work with?
It’s actually two related things: distractions and interruptions, and email is just one of these. Often we are responsible for our interruptions. We leave notifications on for our cellphones and our emails. We don’t turn on do not disturb. So the first thing to do is to identify where we are allowing those interruptions where you don’t need to. Notice where you allow distractions and then take steps to combat those distractions.
Again, now you can really focus on the cases and on the work that matters. You’ll notice that you work less and achieve more. During focused, uninterrupted time, we can plow through high-quality work in half the time.
Question 5: For those looking to increase their productivity, where should they start?
Everybody is different. I recommend that you get out a piece of paper and write down all the areas where you notice you’re wasting your time. Email is a waste … Are you wasting time on email? Are you wasting time looking for lost or misplaced documents, paper documents, computer documents? Do you have inefficient systems where you’re doing the same thing over and over but you don’t really have a clear and efficient system for that? It takes a long time. Things get bottlenecked in certain places. Notice where your bottlenecks are.
After you’ve made your list, ask yourself, “What of these, if I fixed it, would have the greatest impact in my work and in my life?” That’s the first one you want to address because that one will make the greatest impact. The key is to address one thing at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.
In full disclosure, I’ve worked with Tracey in the past when I needed help with my productivity. One of my “a-ha moments” in working with Tracey involved color-coding my calendar. Tracey told me to categorize everything on my calendar, and then assign one color for the time blocks that were activities and work focused on my 3 biggest goals. I was spending time on everything but my goals. After a few weeks of working with Tracey, I was prioritizing the tasks related to moving important projects at work forward, not just reacting to everyone else’s “urgent” requests.
If you are interested in learning more about “Mastering Your Email Inbox” from Tracey Gritz, plan to attend the 2016 Law Tech Expo on Friday, April 1 at the NCBA Center in Cary. The day will also include presentations on:
- Using Video to Create a More Ethical, Efficient and Effective Law Practice
- Practical Online Marketing
- Cybersecurity: Protecting Personal and Client Data
- Ethics of Digital Marketing
- 60 Tech Tips in 60 Minutes
Hope to see you there!