Overwhelmed? Focus on Just One Thing

Between pandemics, and elections and riots and crazy ice storms, there’s a lot to be stressed about these days, and it can be hard to get in a productive mood and stay focused.

I’ve been doing a series of videos on motivation, and how to pull yourself out of a funk if you’re just not feeling motivated. But sometimes, even the tips and tricks I’ve been sharing with you don’t work. Or something very unexpected comes up that derails all of the plans you’ve made, and it feels like you’ve hit a brick wall.

I had something like that happen to me this week – I have been trying to juggle a bunch of projects with deadlines so I can go out of town at the end of this month, and one of them came crashing down last night. As a result, my entire plan went out the window.

When something like that happens to me, I take it as a signal that it’s time to slow down to speed up.

What do I mean by that? Sometimes the busier we are, the harder it is to see what is really important.

Stress can become a vicious cycle. As the work piles up, we get more stressed and overwhelmed. And the more overwhelmed we get, the more difficult it is to focus, or to get anything done.

That may be exactly the right time to take a break, take a deep breath, and focus on just one thing. Ask yourself, “What is the single most important thing I need to do right now?” It might be calling a client to let them know that the work will be late. Or it might be organizing all of the projects on your desk so that you can see what needs to be done. Or maybe it’s identifying someone who can help you get through your list and delegating some tasks to them. It might be deciding what to say “no” to.

Identifying just the one thing that is most important in the moment, it can free you from thinking about all of the other projects or tasks on your list.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try taking a step back and focusing just on the one most important thing you can do today to move toward your goals.

Want more productivity hacks? Check out these videos:

Are Free Consultations a Waste of Time?

Do You Have Problem Clients? Maybe Your Free Consultation is to blame.

Are you wasting your time offering free consultations?

I’m Allison Shields Johs, President of Legal Ease Consulting, where I help lawyers create more productive, more profitable, and more enjoyable law practices. I can’t tell you how many lawyers I’ve worked with who complain constantly about what my friend Nina calls PITA (pain in the a**) clients who won’t listen to their advice, don’t pay their bills or are otherwise a drain on their practice.

The first place I look when one of my clients complains about their clients is at their client selection process – how are they deciding which clients are right for their practice? Sometimes just a small tweak to their initial consultation and their client selection process is all it takes to weed bad clients almost entirely out of their practice.

One of the biggest culprits I’ve found is the free consultation.

Free consultations are ubiquitous in the legal world, but sometimes, they do more harm than good. By offering a free consultation, you’re telling a potential client right from the outset that your time and advice isn’t valuable. It encourages clients who are hyper-focused on price and simply looking for the cheapest solution or just want to pick your brain without paying for it.

Too often, lawyers provide great value at the initial consultation, but don’t get paid for it. Some of those who take advantage of the free consult will walk away and never hire the lawyer. Not only does the lawyer not get paid for the wisdom they’ve imparted during the meeting, but it also may prevent the lawyer from taking another client down the road because of a conflict. The hours spent in free consultations are taking you away from your paying clients and causing frustration for people who have no intention of paying or cannot pay

 That’s bad, but it isn’t the worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is the bad client who actually retains you after the free consultation and then argues about every bill you send them.

What should you do instead? Charge a fee for your initial consultation. You can charge a discounted rate or even credit the entire consultation fee back to any client who actually retains you.

Find out how I can help you improve your initial consultations and your intake process – contact me at Allison@LegalEaseConsulting.com.

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Get Motivated in 15 Minutes or Less

What do you do when you need to get something done, but you’re just not feeling it?

Hi, I’m Allison Shields Johs, President of Legal Ease Consulting, where I help lawyers create more productive, more profitable, and more enjoyable law practices.

In my last video, I suggested that you shouldn’t wait until you’re feeling motivated before tackling a task or project you need to get done. The first step is just showing up – you might be surprised at what happens. Take action first and motivation will follow. (Watch that video here)

Today I want to talk about three more ways to get things done when you’re just not feeling it.

Take a walk.

Sitting at a computer or at your desk most of the day may seem like the best way to get things done, but it’s probably not. And most of us are spending even more time sitting now that courts are shut down and in-person meetings aren’t taking place – there’s even fewer reasons to leave your office than ever.

But sitting too long not only isn’t good for your body – it isn’t good for your brain either. If you’re not feeling motivated to tackle a task or project, try getting some exercise.

Take a 15-minute walk or do some yoga or stretches. Some of my best ideas come when I’m taking a walk or right after a workout.

Phone a friend.

Two heads are often better than one. Seek out a friend, family member, or colleague to talk about the project you want to accomplish. Sometimes just talking about it with another person is enough to get you motivated, or to spark an idea.

Maybe you’ll realize that the task or project isn’t so daunting after all, or you’ll just grow tired of hearing yourself talk about it and just get on with it. Or maybe your friend will have a suggestion that leads to a breakthrough.

Set a 15-minute timer.

The Pomodoro Technique, which I talked about in detail in a previous video, is a great technique to use if you’re feeling stuck or un-motivated.

Set a timer for 15 minutes and work only on the task you’ve been avoiding until the timer goes off. Then you’re free to quit and work on something else – at least you’ll have gotten started on that task.

But you may be surprised to learn that once you’ve gotten started, you’re motivated to continue.

How do you motivate yourself when you’re just not feeling it? Let me know in the comments!

Again, I’m Allison Shields Johs from Legal Ease Consulting, and if you want more tips like this, subscribe to my free newsletter, or see more productivity videos and articles:

Can a Tomato Make You More Productive?

Can a tomato make you more productive?

Hi, I’m Allison Shields Johs, President of Legal Ease Consulting, where I help lawyers create more productive, more profitable, and more enjoyable law practices.

I don’t know about you, but lately I seem to be having a very difficult time focusing and accomplishing what I want to accomplish. I’ve worked from home for many years, but lately I seem to get distracted more easily. Perhaps it’s the pandemic and all of the anxieties that have gone along with it. Or perhaps it’s just Zoom fatigue. Who knows? But whatever the reason, I’m finding I have to fall back on some tips and tricks to help me get things done, and today I’d like to share one of those with you.

That’s where the tomato comes in.

The tip I’d like to talk about today is called the “Pomodoro” technique – pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. The pomodoro technique was developed by an Italian, and it was named after a timer that looks like a tomato.

Here’s how it works:

First, you decide on the task you want to get done. Then you set a timer for a specific interval of time – traditionally 25 minutes – and you work on the task without any interruption at all for that interval. Once the timer goes off, you can stop and take a 5-minute break. Each interval represents one pomodoro.

In the traditional pomodoro method, you would do four consecutive pomodoros, and then take a longer 15-30 minute break.

If you complete the task while the timer is still ticking, you can use the additional time in the pomodoro to review your work or plan tasks for your next pomodoro. Of course, there are all sorts of variations of this technique, and you might choose to make your pomodoros 60, or even 90 minutes long.

But whatever variation you choose, using this system helps you to focus on the task at hand for a long enough period of time to accomplish something significant, but it is a short enough time that you won’t allow yourself to become distracted. Since you have a break every 25 minutes, you can address anything urgent that might come up in the interim.

For lawyers billing by the hour, using the pomodoro technique is also helpful for ensuring that you are billing your time contemporaneously with the work being performed. But even if you aren’t billing by the hour, using the pomodoro technique is useful for improving your ability to estimate how long it takes you to complete certain tasks, which can help your overall time management.

For me, just the idea of blocking out a discrete segment of time with no distractions has proved useful for moving me forward toward my goals, so I hope it will be useful for you, too.

Again, I’m Allison Shields Johs, from Legal Ease Consulting, wishing you a productive day – and now, since it’s lunchtime, I think I’m going to make myself a BLT!

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3 Ways Video Can Help Your Law Practice

Are you still not using video in your law practice? Here are three easy ways to incorporate video into your law practice.

Marketing
The first one is marketing. And it’s probably the most obvious.

People do business with people they know like, and trust. But these days, we’re not getting to spend too much time with people. We can’t go to big events, and we’re not doing in-person networking. For many of us, we’re not even seeing our family and friends, so it’s that much harder to get the word out and to meet new people. It’s all virtual.

That means video is now more than ever, a really important tool for you to help people get to know you. When they watch a video. It’s like talking to you; they feel like they know you before they even pick up the phone or send you an email.

Answer Clients’ Frequently Asked Questions
The second way that you can use video in your law practice is by answering clients’ frequently asked questions.

I often talk to my clients about putting frequently asked questions on their website for potential clients. But the same thing is true for your existing clients.

You’ve probably answered the same questions over and over from clients – and it’s time-consuming. If you create a video library to answer clients frequently asked questions, you can send them there first and free up some more time for you to do important client work. It’s a great reference tool for them.

Onboarding and Training New Employees
The third way to use video is to onboard and train new employees.

A lot of my solo and small firm lawyers tell me that it’s really time-consuming to train. And they often don’t want to hire somebody because they don’t have the time to spend training – they need help.

If you create training videos or videos that explain what your firm does, how you do things, and who your clients are, and give them training on the specific ways that you do things differently than other firms might, you only have to create the vidoes once. That takes some of the burden of training off of you. And it also creates a place that your employees can go back to for reference if they have questions or if they’re not sure how to do something.

I’m sure you can come up with even more ways that you can use video in your practice. Video doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming to produce. For example, I’m creating this video on a Videosocials call. (I highly recommend Videosocials – if you decide to try them out, let them know I sent you!)

Want more tips about how I can help your practice? Contact me – or watch more of my videos:

Strategic Planning with the EASE Method

When I recorded this video, we were on the quick slide down to the end of the year, and now we’re already almost 3 weeks into January. Either way, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new year is a time when many of us might be thinking about planning for the year ahead. Many of the solos and small firm lawyers I know don’t do much in the way of strategic planning because they either just don’t take the time to do it, or they think it’s too complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be complicated if you use my EASE method of strategic planning.

The four steps in the EASE method of strategic planning will make your planning a breeze:

  • Envision
  • Analyze
  • Strategize, and
  • Evaluate

Envision the Result You Want

This is the first step in the EASE method – Envision what you want the end result to be. This can be as large as what your firm core values will be, or as small as a goal to increase referrals.

Analyze Where You Are Now

The next step in creating a plan is to Analyze your current situation. Take stock of where you are. This is an important part of your strategic plan – if you don’t know where you are now, you won’t know where you need to go.

So if we take our small goal of increasing referrals, you first have to take a look at your referrals now:

  • Who are your referral sources?
  • Are you getting referrals for the kind of work you want to do?
  • Where are your best clients coming from?
  • How many referrals do you receive a month?

Strategize How You’ll Get To Your Vision From Where You Are Now

After you’ve taken stock of your current position, it’s time to Strategize. Take your vision or goals and identify objectives and benchmarks that will help you reach those goals. Create action plans with specific deadlines for completion. The action plans break down your objectives into discrete steps, so that you can move toward those goals.

Getting back to our referrals example, one objective might be to improve relationships with good referral sources.

You might

  • Create a schedule for referral communications with definite dates
  • Contact three referral sources per month and schedule coffee, lunch, etc.

Evaluate and Revise

Finally, our last E in the Ease method is Evaluate and revise the plan. Planning is an ongoing process. Do your goals still make sense as time goes on? Are you meeting your objectives? Why or why not? What do you need to change about the plan?

With the EASE method: Envision, Analyze, Strategize, and Evaluate, you can develop a working strategic plan to help you reach your goals in 2020.

I’m Allison Shields from Legal EASE Consulting, wishing you happy holidays and much success in your planning for the new year!

Managing Staff Interruptions

Hi, I’m Allison Shields, President of Legal Ease Consulting, where I help lawyers attract the right clients, increase their productivity, and improve their bottom line.

As a practicing lawyer, one of the problems I observed with the lawyers around me, and still observe today with my clients and my lawyer friends is that when they finally got some time in the office to actually catch up on paperwork, or respond to phone calls or emails, they got even less done than they did when they were out of the office, whether that was in court, at a closing, a deposition o a client meeting.

And why does that happen? Well, it happens because when they were in the office, they were constantly being interrupted. There are lots of interruptions, but the one we’re going to talk about today is staff interruptions.

You know what I’m talking about – you’re in your office, finally trying to get some work done, and there’s a line of people outside your door waiting to speak to you, or your assistant is constantly bombarding you with questions all day long. This happens because your staff feels insecure – they have no idea when they’re going to see you again or when you’ll be available to speak with them, and so when they see you, they just grab you.

One way to avoid this is by setting regular meetings with the staff and people in your office that you work most closely with. But the key to this is to be consistent, because the point is to reduce their insecurity. You’ll want to give them a definite time when they know that they’ll be able to get their questions answered, or to speak with you.

I recommend that you set a regular schedule of meetings with those people. So for example, maybe that’s meeting with your assistant every day at 4 pm, and the associate that you work most closely with once a week on Tuesday morning, and maybe your billing person once a month to talk about billing and collections issues on the first Monday of the month. This way, they know when they can get to you, and they’ll collect all of their questions to ask you at once.

My clients who have implemented this have found not only that it has drastically reduced interruptions during the day, but it has also increased the productivity of their entire team, and it has allowed them to anticipate problems before they arise.

What are your challenges with staff or other interruptions? Leave me a comment below.

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Overwhelmed? Try This Calendar Hack

If you feel overwhelmed from the moment you arrive at work until the moment you leave, perhaps you’re not using one of the best – and easiest to use – tools effectively. And that tool is your calendar.

In this video, I talk about how you can use your calendar not just to record when work is due, but also to find the time to do the work.

Want more productivity tips? Check these out:

How NOT to Use Email

Email is a fantastic tool – but it isn’t the right tool for every job. Email is especially poor for scheduling meetings, particularly meetings for more than two people. Use a dedicated scheduling tool instead. Learn more in the video below.

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Use QuickParts to Streamline Your Workload

My latest video talks about how you can use Quick Parts in Word or Outlook to help streamline your workload. Instead of reinventing the wheel all of the time, create a Quick Part for frequently asked questions, email responses, or other repetitive copy.

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Automate Your Email Inbox

Why waste time sorting through your email inbox to find the most relevant messages when you can set up your email program to do it for you?

This is the latest in our series of tips about handling your email more effectively. In the previous two videos, we talked about eliminating email as a source of distraction throughout your day and using the triage method to handle email when you do look at your inbox.

In this next installment in the series, I discuss ways you can set up your inbox to automate the process of sorting your email so you can concentrate on the emails that are the most important to your practice.

Triage Your Email Inbox

Email is a HUGE time-waster, as we can see from this short video on how to prevent email from becoming a distraction.

But when you do choose to look at your email inbox, what’s the best approach? The video below outlines the triage approach.

What happens when it is time for you to check your email? How do you manage your email inbox efficiently and effectively?

First, try to touch every email only once. That may not be possible with everything, but for the majority of your email, you should be able to go through only one time touching it.

Many of us default to use in our email inbox as our to-do list or as a reminder of something that needs to be done or an appointment that we have. Here are a few strategies to keep you from doing that.

Delete liberally. I love my delete button on my computer. I delete anything that’s junk right away to clear out so that I can really focus on the email communications that are important to me and to my clients.

Next, look at your email and see if there’s anything that you can delegate. Is there something that you’re assistant can handle, or that you need an answer from somebody else, either in your office or outside of your office that you can delegate that email to or that response to and get it out of your inbox?

Can you handle an email in under two minutes? I recommend that if it’s an under two-minute activity that you respond or handle that email right away during the period of time that you’ve scheduled to through your email.

What happens if an email represents something that will take you longer to do – longer than two minutes? In that case, either create an “Action” folder and move that email to the Action folder to handle when you have time to handle it, or – even better – move it to your calendar or designate a time and block it out to handle that email response or take the action that you need to take.

Your email inbox likely includes things that are not communications or tasks but something else, for example, an email about a meeting or an appointment. Get that email out of your email inbox and move it where it belongs on your calendar. If you use Outlook, I recommend you use the drag and drop method to drag and drop that email right into that slot on your calendar, and you’ll retain all of the information in the appointment.

See more productivity and email tips:

Email Tips: Don’t Let Email Be A Distraction!

Email can be a great productivity tool or it can be a huge distraction that puts others’ priorities ahead of your own and prevents you from getting important work done. This short video includes a few quick tips for keeping email from being a distraction.

Email can be a real productivity tool or a productivity killer. So, let’s talk about four ways that  you can combat email as a productivity killer.

The first way is by turning off all of your email notifications. That includes the little pop-up on your desktop or laptop, as well as the alert sound that you get from your email, and also turning off those notifications on your smartphone, especially during the work day.

Second, I recommend for most people that you don’t check your email first thing in the morning. What that does, again, is put others’ priorities ahead of your own. So what I recommend you do instead is work on the item or task that you have identified to be your highest priority for the day and do that first, before checking your email. That might mean that you work on it only for an hour, and at least make some progress, and then take a break and check your email. But at least you’ll feel at the end of the day that you’ve accomplished something on your own priority list before putting those priorities of others ahead of your own.

And then schedule some time throughout the day to check your email again periodically instead of constantly checking it,  maybe check it at 10 a.m. after you’ve worked for an hour, and then before lunch, maybe at 3 in the afternoon, and again before you leave for the day. This makes sure that you’re checking your email and responding to things appropriately, but also not getting distracted throughout your day.

And then finally, you want to set expectations with those who you communicate regularly, and clients. So, for example, when you first meet with a client, you might tell them that you communicate by email with clients, but you’ll get back to them within the day or within a few hours – whatever works for you – so that they know in advance that you’re not going to be always available and that they can’t expect as soon as they send you an email that you’re going to send them a response.

To recap:

  • Turn off those email notifications
  • Don’t check email first thing in the morning
  • Make sure you’re scheduling time throughout the day to check your email
  • Set expectations with clients and others

More productivity videos and articles:

Decluttering Your Law Office: Getting Started

Neat desk

While I wouldn’t define myself as a neat freak, I have learned over the years that my environment has a significant effect on my mood, my productivity, and my overall effectiveness. Whether at home or at work, I don’t like to have a lot of clutter around, and I like things to be neat.

Whether you think you are bothered by clutter or not, studies show that in fact, clutter can have a significant psychological effect on all of us – in short, clutter produces stress and anxiety – something lawyers certainly don’t need any more of.

I’ve been interested in organizing and de-cluttering ideas for quite a while and have bought and read a number of books on those topics over the years, and some of what I’ve learned I have incorporated into my work with clients. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always perfectly organized. In fact, one of my own personal challenges is that I’m good at making things neat and finding places to stash things, but not always quite as good at letting go of what should be purged.

One of my most popular all-time posts over on the Legal Ease blog is this post on organizing your law office. As I discuss in that post, one of the first steps in decluttering and organizing is to purge – or get rid of – the unnecessary. Since I am admittedly better at the organizing part, over the past couple of weeks I’ve started doing some purging both in my home and in my office.

For some reason, this seems to be a February topic for me – the aforementioned blog post was also written in February. I’m not quite sure why. It could be because February is usually when I start gathering paperwork for my taxes, or because my birthday falls at the end of January and that sparks a need to get rid of the old and focus on a more promising future, or because it’s cold outside in February which means I’m spending more time indoors and I feel the need to work that much harder on my environment.

Should you Kon-Mari your office?

This year, all of this coincides with a sudden appearance of Marie Kondo everywhere.  Not a day goes by that I don’t see some reference to Marie Kondo in my Facebook feed or see another article or comment about her decluttering style. That could be because in the early part of the year people are focused on their New Year’s resolutions and making their lives better, or because of the recent Netflix series depicting Kondo helping clients to “tidy up.”

I was first introduced to Marie Kondo and her “Kon-Mari” method several years ago, and at that time, I purchased a (digital) copy of her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” For those who are not familiar with her, Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizational consultant who helps her clients declutter and organize by category, rather than by room or location. In other words, she has her clients focus on all of their clothing at once (and I mean ALL of it – taking all of the clothing wherever it is located throughout the house and putting it in one big pile), then all of their books and papers, and so on, rather than tackling a specific room or drawer or cabinet.

The criteria Kondo uses for deciding what stays and what goes focuses – believe it or not – on what to keep, rather than what to throw away. This is a subtle, but important, distinction from much of the decluttering advice out there.

When making the decision about whether to keep an item or get rid of it (donate, recycle, give away or trash) Kondo counsels her clients to physically handle the item and ask themselves whether the item “sparks joy” for them. If it does, it stays.

Of course, Kondo also recognizes that some items are necessary even if they do not “spark joy” per se – and a lot of the clutter in your office probably falls into this category – but certainly not all of it.

Since clutter and organization is top of mind for me right now, and is a frequent issue for my clients, I thought I would do a series of posts tackling these issues and discussing my own experiences, along with the experiences of some of my clients.

Even with all of the advancement in technology that has occurred over the past several years, we are far from being a paperless society, and the practice of law is certainly not paper-free. Since paper remains one of the biggest clutter culprits in law offices, whether they are home offices or in large office buildings, it’s the first one I’m tackling.

De-cluttering office paperwork: What to do first

When dealing with your office, I’m not sure I can fully get on board with Kondo’s recommendation to take all of your paper and put it into one big pile to go through all at once (also keeping in mind that Kondo’s recommendation for almost all paper is just to toss it). I just don’t think that is realistic or that it could be accomplished within a reasonable amount of time, and it would be impossible to work while having all of your paperwork piled up in one spot waiting to be sorted.

For this reason, at least when dealing with paperwork in the office, I’ll stick with my original position for now, which is to tackle a small piece at a time. Modifying Kondo’s method, instead of doing one drawer or area of the office, I decided to see if I could tackle one category of paper at a time.

I started with my “reference” files, but you might prefer to start with your hard-copy caselaw or motion bank (have them scanned if you really need to save them), marketing or promotional materials, or your periodicals. This might work well for you if you can easily put your hands on all of the paperwork that belongs in a specific category at once. Otherwise, you may need to start one drawer or pile at a time – pick the oldest one, since it will typically be the easiest.

Right now I’m focusing on non-case or client-related materials, and paperwork not related to your practice financials, because I think they are easier to deal with, and you don’t have to worry about what your ethical rules or the IRS requires. In addition, working with these categories first means you can spend a few minutes at a time working on them and not interrupt the rest of your workflow. You can even take these categories of materials out of your office to a conference room or offsite to do your sorting and purging, if necessary.

How to decide what stays and what goes

My reference files consisted of a whole file drawer full of articles and reference materials sub-divided into categories. Many of these articles had been painstakingly saved from CLE programs and seminars or ripped out of magazines over many years. Some of them were my own articles or materials from CLE programs I presented.

Often, the articles I had collected had been filed without ever having been read – I’d dealt with periodical clutter at some time in the past by pulling out articles of interest and discarding the rest of the periodical. But I still didn’t have time to read the article, so I just filed it. Others were saved with the idea that when I had a question or wanted to write about one of these subjects, I could pull out the file folder for that category to do some research or get some inspiration.

Thinking about how much time I already spent pulling out, categorizing, and filing these articles and reference materials – and the fact that I very rarely ever pull open that file drawer when I’m planning my editorial calendar, getting ready to write, doing research to write a piece or plan a presentation, or even when I’m working with a client on an issue corresponding to one of my reference files – was a little mind-boggling. But it really drove home the point for me that saving all of that material wasn’t serving me at all.

Realistically, when I’m planning or writing now, I’m much more likely to hop over to Google to do research or look for inspiration, or to go to Evernote and see what articles I’ve got saved relating to the topic I’m writing on. I also have a tag in Evernote for “blog post ideas” when I come across a topic that might be of interest to my readers, so if I don’t know what to write about, I’ll search Evernote for that tag. What I don’t do is search through my paper folders.

Given all of the above, I purged about 85% of my paper reference files in relatively short order. Most of what I kept will be scanned, tagged and saved in Evernote for the purposes I mentioned above. Most of the rest I will go through again quickly and just add to my list of ideas for presentations or articles – the reference materials themselves will go.

One thing I always knew, but confirmed again by going through my reference files is that most periodicals recycle the same topics over and over, so there is little need to save them if you don’t have time to read them when they come out – it’s far better to search the internet (and many of these periodicals have digital versions now anyway) to find the most updated version of the article or topic.

In the post I referenced above from the Legal Ease blog, I recommended that when sorting/purging, you ask yourself some questions in the “organizing” phase, after you’ve already purged, but upon further reflection, they are useful for the purging process as well. Here they are with some modifications and additions:

  • How long have I had this, and when was the last time I used or referred to it?
  • What is the realistic likelihood that I will use or refer to this in the future? Under what specific circumstance might I need to reference this information or document in the future?
  • Is the information contained in it still relevant and up to date?
  • Is this something I need to use or access frequently?
  • Is this something I need to retain for legal or financial purposes?
  • Is this information I can easily find elsewhere if I need it?
  • Do I have the time and energy to deal with this again in the future, or would it be better to get rid of it now?
  • Does it fit my current practice and my goals for myself and my firm?

Are you ready to take on the clutter in your office? Accept the challenge!

If you’re sick of the clutter in your office, or just want to make some more space to focus on what is really important, I challenge you to go on this journey with me and start de-cluttering your law office.

Leave a comment on this post or come on over to the Legal Ease Consulting, Inc Facebook page and join the discussion. Tell me what your biggest clutter and organization challenges are and what steps you’re taking to tackle them. And let me know if you have questions or topic ideas for future clutter/organization posts!

Tuesday Tip: Working with Support Staff

Every working relationship is different, and it can be frustrating when the work you delegate to others doesn’t get done as well or as quickly as you’d like. Often, whether you’re a law firm partner, a mid-level associate or a brand-new attorney, it’s easy to blame problems on the staff or how they are working. But consider that the solution isn’t to change what your staff is doing – maybe the solution is to make a change in how you approach working with your staff.

Here are three tips for working more effectively with your support staff:

1. Stand in their shoes

Take a step back and look at the task or issue from the perspective of your staff, rather than focusing on just getting work off of your plate. Staff are people, too! Treat them the way you would like to be treated.

When something goes wrong, don’t be quick to point the finger at your staff – instead, think about how you might have contributed to the problem. Did you give them work at the last minute? Set an unrealistic expectation about how long it would take to complete a task or project? Fail to provide them with the information or resources they needed to perform the task as expected?

Do better next time by asking yourself questions like:

  • How are the circumstances different for your staff than they are for you?
  • What do you know that they don’t know?
  • What education do you have that your support staff doesn’t?
  • What resources might your staff need to make it easier to get the job done?
  • Who else is that staff person working for and what other obligations do they have?
  • What time constraints or other outside factors may be getting in their way or influencing their ability to get things done? How can you help minimize or eliminate the effect of those other factors?
  • How much time will it really take (recognizing that it may take them longer to do a task than it would take you, or it may be their first time completing this task)?
  • What does their day look like?

Doing this exercise can be eye-opening. It can reveal hidden obstacles to getting work done. When you take into account your staff’s entire day and the other demands on their time, you may realize that you need to alter your expectations, get additional help, or give your staff better instructions or resources. But don’t just leave it there – take the conversation to your staff to get their perspective.

2. Be a team player

You and your staff are a team. Instead of just passing work off or treating them like a dumping ground, approach tasks and projects with a collaborative mindset. Sit down and talk to your staff about how you can help to make them more successful. Do they need better equipment? More training? More opportunity to ask questions? How do they prefer to receive their information – do they respond better to written instructions or lists as opposed to oral explanations?

What part of the project might you undertake so that they can do the rest? How can you provide them with the resources they need? If you are asking them rearranging their priorities to get something done for you, what can you do to help them meet their other obligations? For example, if they will be skipping lunch to get your work out the door, offer to buy them lunch or let them leave an hour early. Take another task off of their plate so they can focus on the task you think is most important.

3.  Show your appreciation

You can’t be successful without your support staff, so show them that you appreciate what they do for you. As one of my clients said to me recently, “A simple thank-you goes a long way.” Applaud their efforts, even when they are imperfect (remember – you aren’t perfect either, and everyone makes mistakes). Not only will this make your staff feel good, but they’re likely to want to do an even better job for you.

Don’t limit all of your conversations to work-related issues – show that you care about them as a person. Inquire about their families, their vacations, their weekends, and their hobbies. It doesn’t take much time or money to show someone that you care about them. Give a handwritten thank-you. Send them flowers. Give a favorite book or a gift certificate for a night out with their spouse.

These are three easy steps that any attorney can do to improve their relationship with their support staff.