Extracting value from the first hour

 

I think I’m OK at the whole productivity/behaviour game. But just recently a client spoke to me so passionately about value lost at early morning log-on that I thought I’d pass the story on.

It goes like this…

The lawyer arrives, logs on and opens Outlook. He starts scanning his email inbox. In the process he makes running judgments – what’s new, what’s interesting, what’s a problem child, what’s urgent, and so on.

He might start a list of the day’s priorities (although doing this just on the strength of your inbox isn’t a great idea). Having an inquiring mind, he may well open an attachment/document here and there for a preliminary read. But because it is all part of a kind of early morning overview, no matters are opened and no time is charged.

Depending on whether coffee is involved, this can take a half to 1½ hours. This represents straight up lost value for the firm. And let’s be clinical, capturing value is what pays the bills…

So why should the time be charged (excluding getting the coffee)? Firstly, because the reading and thinking processes are legitimately chargeable. Secondly, because with all practices constantly trying to boost/hold their returns by driving productivity up, most people can’t afford to unconsciously drop a lazy hour at the start of the day. And thirdly, by just working a bit smarter, the extra value can be captured without doing any extra work. That’s right, you’re doing the work anyway, so why not charge for it?

So what can you do? Well, at the start of the day, you should already have a general priority list that you brought forward from yesterday. But within that, allow an initial hour (or more) of clear-the-decks time, when you just get an array of productive work done like a machine.

Glance at your inbox. Don’t over-plan. Open time-recording in your practice system. Open one of the emails. Enter the matter number. Attend to such reading, thinking, drafting, corresponding, telephoning, file noting as required. Finish the attendance. Close the time entry. Open the next email. Start again.

You see that by following this approach, you omit the uncharged initial overview. You don’t burn an hour of time – only to have to revisit the matters and actually do the work later on. Not only that, but most experienced practitioners will tell you that if you go hard on basic attendances on five or six matters in this first hour, you will in all likelihood realise 10 to 15 units based on typical charging scales.

Sure – have an initial glance at your incoming mail overall – but take less than a couple of minutes. And if you had planned on working on particular matters later on, then do just that… resist the urge to trawl around in them just because they are in the inbox.

How we manage time around our inboxes and other extraneous distractions is probably the biggest ongoing issue in productivity. So if you supervise others, have a think about the above and perhaps raise it in a discussion guided by the principles in an earlier article from this series (Proctor October 2013, page 47, also available at dcilyncon.com.au/performance-coaching-recent-and-concrete-examples).

I hope this helps. It’s all based around the goal of getting more value out the door without working any longer hours.

Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor – June, 2017

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