If you find workplace interruptions, such as impromptu meetings with co-workers popping into your office, impact your productivity at work, you’re not alone.
Forty percent of the 2,060 professionals questioned for an Ask.com survey about workplace productivity labeled these interruptions “major distractions.” The survey’s results were released this past March, However, those interferences aren’t the only ones lawyers face each day.
Exploding e-mail inboxes, instant messages, telephone calls and personal Internet browsing also zap productivity and precious time. So what can the overstressed attorney do to reel in the chaos and reclaim their workday?
According to Paul J. Unger, founding partner of Affinity Consulting, a law and legal office technology consortium based in Columbus, Ohio, attorneys should ask themselves whether technology serves them or if they have become enslaved by it.
Tips for Taming the Interruptions
Remember the days when your law practice was supported by legal secretaries? One of their important functions was to weed through the cacophony of communications being sent your way. Today, however, communications are as close as your laptop, tablet and cell phone.
With no one acting as a buffer between you and the various interferences that mar your productivity, it’s paramount to tame those outlets so they are serving you, not vice versa. When you know your day will be busy, Unger suggests people not check their email until at least 10 am. Instead, start a project of some kind so you have accomplished something before reading your first email of the day. “
Emails easily derail us,” Unger cautions. Another tip is not only to check emails at set times each day, but to follow an established protocol when doing so. Unger espouses a four-pronged approach to attacking email and reducing e-clutter.
“Read emails proactively,” he says, urging people to do something about each email within three minutes of reviewing it. Unger’s four options of action are: “Do, Delegate, Delay or Delete.”
By “do,” he means to take positive action, such as responding to the note. Delegating entails forwarding the note to the appropriate party, thereby removing it from your inbox. By “delay,” Unger suggests storing the email in a specified place for a time in the future when attending to it is more appropriate. Deleting speaks for itself.
“Don’t use your in-box as a ‘to-do’ list,” says Unger.
To Allison C. Shields, president of Long Island-based Legal Ease Consulting, Inc., technology is a double-edged sword. “It can help, but it can also be the enemy of time management,” she says. To tame the terrors of technology, Shields suggests that lawyers use:
• Software that both tracks time spent on the telephone and then inserts it into an invoice;
• Note tracking software, like Evernote, so random thoughts are electronically stored in one place; and
• Voice recognition software that types emails, notes, and letters.
How Email Impacts Productivity
While Shields concedes emails can be a time-drain, she also suggests lawyers “look at their own practice and expectations they create with clients” as to how accessible the attorney will be to them. “If you have a practice where everything is an emergency, it’s good to have someone checking email often or you must,” she says.
Unger, who along with Shields is a licensed attorney, agrees the task of dissecting emails is a good one to delegate, but with a caveat. “Be careful [to whom you delegate the task] due to confidentiality issues,” he cautions. Both experts also agree lawyers would be wise to turn their email auto-notification off. That is, says Shields, “unless you’re waiting for a specific email.”
Research shows that emails and other interruptions not only usurp the actual time spent on them, but that it takes people time to regain their concentration after an interruption. In a December 11, 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, highlighted this reality.
According to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction, it can take upwards of 23 minutes for a person to return to their original task following a distraction. Because of that, Shields urges lawyer to develop a block of time throughout their day during which interruptions will not be tolerated.
Tami Kamin Meyer is an attorney and writer. She is licensed to practice law in Ohio, both the Southern and Northern Districts of Ohio and the US Supreme Court. She serves as Of Counsel for the Consumer Attorneys of America, a national law firm based in Florida. Her byline has appeared in several publications, including Ohio Lawyer, Ohio Lawyers Weekly, Ohio Super Lawyer, Corporate Secretary, and the ABA Small and Solo Practitioners newsletter, among others. In 2007, a study guide she wrote about filing personal bankruptcy was published by Quamut, a division of Barnes and Noble.