The nice thing about a new year is that it offers a second chance. An opportunity to step back and take a fresh look at how to run your practice. As someone who likes the idea of starting over and trying something new I am here to encourage you. Please read on.
Are you in a rut?
Let’s face it: we all get stuck in a routine now and again. Day after day we trudge on without question. Depending on the routine, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, following set procedures for responding to client email, docketing deadlines, or checking conflicts are helpful time management and malpractice avoidance techniques. The problem arises when we form work habits that are self-defeating or even life-threatening.
Working long hours can kill you
Six years ago I reported on a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine that found people “who work an average of 11 or more hours per day have a 67 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease than people who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day. Those who work between 10 and 11 hours per day have a 45 percent higher risk.”
For those of you who champion working hard and putting in long hours, these numbers are a sobering wakeup call.
Sitting is the new smoking
In 2016 came the admonition: get off your duff to improve your health.
While deadlines may sometimes dictate longer hours, sitting in your chair for 10 or 11 hours a day shouldn’t be the norm. Long hours translate to physical stress, little or no time to exercise, and eating habits that are often less than stellar (like grabbing fast food on the way home.)
The truth is that none of us can maintain a “7-7-7 schedule” (7:00 am to 7:00 pm seven days a week) without suffering the consequences. Even if you buy a treadmill or standing desk.
Time for a do-over
If I am describing you, stop. You can do better, and you’ll be happier for it. Here’s how to cut back the amount of time spent in the office and still accomplish what you need to get done.
Learn to say “goodbye” and “no.”
Two of my favorite words. And they should be yours too.
Find it hard to turn people away? I understand how you feel. Lawyers face economic pressure: I don’t really have a choice. I need the money. And emotional pressure: Family, friends, or former clients are depending on me.
Next time you want to say “no,” but are struggling, follow this simple advice.
Overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate?
This is a good news/bad news scenario.
Let’s start with the “bad news” first. You have too much to do and can’t get it done. You may be paralyzed or depressed. You don’t know where to start. Call the attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP). They provide free and confidential help with issues just like this. They can also connect you to resources that can help relieve the pressure.
On the “good news” side, having too much to do means you can afford to be more picky about clients and cases. Time to cull the herd:
- Review your current client list for matters you regret taking. If feasible, say goodbye to those clients.
- Use your newfound insight and apply it to future matters by screening out cases that aren’t a good match for you.
What are your priorities?
Yes, I’m talking to you.
What do you want to make a priority? Create time that is sacrosanct to tackle what you want to get done by blocking out time on your calendar. Treat this time as if it were a client appointment – take no calls, do not read email. Stay off the Internet unless the task at hand involves being on the Internet. Give the matter your undivided attention.
Multi-tasking is for the birds
Or rather, the bird brains. Literally. It’s just about the worst thing you can try to do.
The idea that we can juggle ten things at once is a myth – we simply can’t do it. Here is one of the better explanations I’ve read about why multi-tasking doesn’t work. It was the inspiration for this post. If you want to do something well, not start over ten times, remember it afterward, and get finished sooner, then single task!
You can control client expectations
Learn to shape and manage client expectations – from the very simple (availability by phone, ability to accommodate unscheduled appointments) to the more complex (meeting client deadlines). The Professional Liability Fund (PLF) offers sample client brochures that explain office and billing practices.
Give yourself a break with this easy time management technique
Form a new habit for 2017. Check your calendar first before making a time-related promise to a client. If there is no “deadline” per se, determine when you can reasonably fit the project into your schedule. You gain nothing by promising a quick turnaround if you can’t keep your word.
In a pickle? Triage!
If you’re in a pickle – a deadline is approaching and you know you can’t meet it – start triaging. Call your client. Call opposing counsel if necessary. Negotiate a new due date.
I know facing up to deadlines is hard. I also know many lawyers hesitate to call their clients or the other side because they fear being yelled at. Know this: your clients and the other side are far more understanding than you give them credit for. Everyone has been there. They get it. It turns out that waiting is not really that big of a problem ninety-nine percent of the time. And if you need support making these kind of calls, just give a ring to the nice folks at the OAAP.
Get back in control
Getting help may be just the ticket to get your workflow back in control. Consider temporary staff or a contract attorney. Questions? Call your friendly practice management advisor at the PLF for help.
Leaving early? Good for you!
Last but not least, ditch the guilt of leaving early – it is your well-deserved reward for good planning and efficient work habits.
All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017
Have I given this advice before? Absolutely. But a reminder never hurts. Especially if you know, as I do, that we all feel discouraged from time to time. Never forget: you can start over and you can make a change. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.