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Jan Copley
Certified Practice Advisor
Atticus, Inc.

530 South Lake Avenue, Suite 250
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 696-3145
(626) 421-6747 (fax)

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Don’t Let the Important Things Slip

October 26, 2012

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — @ 8:00 am

I co-taught a presentation about time management to a group of successful attorneys last week. All practice management coaches talk about time management (and I’ve written about it), so what’s the big deal?

Well, I’ve found that every time I teach something, I learn something new about the topic. This experience was no different: I began to consider how planning your time on a monthly — rather than a daily or weekly — basis can help you move your practice forward.

Think about it — there are some crucial aspects to running your business that you don’t have to do every day or every week. For example, you probably don’t send out your newsletter more than once a month; the problem might be that it doesn’t go out at all because there isn’t structure in your schedule for writing the content. Similarly, some attorneys don’t get their bills out regularly because they don’t have the time for billing written into their routine.

So, if you find you let these kinds of things slide, you might want to consider planning your time on a monthly basis. Get out your calendar for the month and create designated times for:

  • Marketing
  • Meeting with clients
  • Production
  • Meeting with your team members
  • Billing
  • Monthly newsletter
  • Email and phone calls
  • Strategic planning

And, don’t forget the truly important stuff:

  • Fun
  • Date night
  • Sleep
  • Weekend away

Please let me know how this helps you!

Just Say No

July 11, 2012

Filed under: Focus/Time Management,Practice Management — @ 1:38 pm

My job as a law practice management coach is really about helping my clients create the businesses and the lives they want. So, I talk to my clients about making time for themselves and turning down the “D” clients.

I think all practice management gurus say the same thing, in one way or another. But, I recently ran across a posting on the HBR Blog Network, “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will,” that says it more eloquently than most. The idea behind the article is to take control of your life and your business, rather than letting unreasonable people put you in situations where you shouldn’t be/don’t want to be.

In other words, saying yes just to please someone — or because it’s easier than saying no — is not a good business practice!

I also like the article because it gives three rules to determine if you are saying yes for the right reason:

    1. Don’t let your relationship with a person cause you to say yes unless yes is the right answer. No matter how well you know someone, don’t let that person take advantage of you.

    2. Don’t do something just because you “have” to. Unless it’s something such as court-order mediation, you probably don’t “have” to do it. Instead, choose to do something or to work with someone.

    3. Don’t work with people who don’t respect your priorities. If someone pressures you to do something you don’t want to do — such as schedule an appointment at an inconvenient time or cut your prices — that’s probably not someone you want to work with.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Having Trouble with Productivity? Get Away From Your Desk!

June 27, 2012

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — @ 1:21 pm

One of my jobs as a practice management coach is to help my clients get their work done. Many, many of the people I work with complain they can’t seem to finish projects because there are too many distractions or they just can’t concentrate. I suggest that they turn off the email reminders and have someone else pick up the phone or even just turn off the ringer.

However, that won’t work for at least one of my clients. He’s a solo. He has changed the settings on his computer to make email less distracting, but the only way he can ignore his telephone — even with the ringer off — is to throw a towel over it so he can’t see the phone light up.

So, for this client, I suggested he spend one morning a week at Starbucks, using the time to work on projects that require extended periods of concentration. He’s tried it, and he says it works pretty well — his only distraction is getting up to ask the barista for another cup of tea. Of course, my client doesn’t log on to the wireless Internet access while he’s there.

What I didn’t realize is that, according a recent online article in The Atlantic, “Why Crowded Coffee Shops Fire Up Your Creativity,” my client may be experiencing increased creativity, as well as productivity, during his Starbucks mornings. And it’s not only the caffeine. According to the article, “modest” background noise may create “enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.”

So, if you find that you sometimes have a creativity lag, or if the type of law you practice requires you to spend blocks of time on putting together creative solutions, you might consider going someplace where there is a modest level of background noise. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Starbucks (another one of my clients complains that nearly everything on the Starbucks menu has too many calories); just choose a place with an atmosphere that helps you get your work done.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Managing Your Email

May 11, 2012

Filed under: Email,Focus/Time Management — @ 8:00 am

My very first blog article was about managing email. Since then, I’ve read D. Rock, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long (HarperCollins 2009), which says, among other things, that if the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning is check your email, you’ll be stupid for the rest of the day.

So, what do you do about this form of communication that’s too easy, too burdensome, and too time-consuming? Nora Bergman, my friend and fellow Atticus practice advisor, recently alerted me to a wonderful post on Videojug about Business E-Mail Efficiency. In the video, Tim Burress, co-author of M. Song, V. Halsey and T. Burress, The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You (Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2008), gives the following tips:

  • Make sure your email message is clear, concise and complete so the recipient understands what you’re talking about and doesn’t have to email you back to ask for clarification
  • Try to limit the number of emails you send to any one person to three a day or less
  • Sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone
  • Set parameters for when you need a reply (i.e., “I’d appreciate it if you would get back to me by tomorrow afternoon”)

Please let me know how this helps you!

Is Email Ruining Your Life?

February 29, 2012

Filed under: Email,Focus/Time Management — @ 6:23 pm

Ranting about email. I have previously written about the dangers of email controlling your life and made some suggestions about how to control email. But I thought it was interesting when, this week, not one but two articles popped up about how email can ruin our lives. I think both articles have something valuable to say, so I pass along the observations here.

Control email expectations. The first article, “Tune Out Technology” from the Lawyerist blog, makes a good point about the importance of setting boundaries with email. I really like the observation that if your practice doesn’t require you to be constantly in touch with your clients, “don’t be available all the time.”

Think about it: how damaged will somebody really be if you don’t respond to that person’s email until tomorrow morning (or, if on the weekend, until Monday)? If your answer is that you don’t have to answer now, set expectations: tell clients you’ll respond to an email within twenty-four hours, but not necessarily immediately.

Email management tips. The second article, Amy Gallo’s “Stop Email Overload” from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, contains some tips about controlling email. I like the following ones:

  • If you have too much email in your inbox, it’s really a sign that you don’t have effective protocols for making decisions — for you and for your firm.
  • Tell people to limit the “fyi” emails and don’t send out the one-word “thanks.” Both types of correspondence are burdensome for the receiver and don’t add to the conversation.
  • Keep your inbox clean. Just because something shows up, that doesn’t mean you have to open it. If the title reveals the email is something that probably doesn’t concern you, delete it.
  • Take a break from email. Don’t check it on weekends. If you work on a Smartphone, change your settings so that you only receive email when you ask for it, rather than having it pushed to you automatically.

Please let me know how this helps you!

What Should You Do First?

February 1, 2012

Filed under: Billing,Focus/Time Management,Practice Management,Processes — @ 6:20 pm

When I talk to my coaching clients, many of them express the sense of feeling overwhelmed — they have too much to do and they’re not sure what they should work on first. Thinking you might occasionally feel the same way, I thought I would write about an easy way to decide which projects you should tackle: work first on the cases that will bring you the most money.

You probably have a spreadsheet or some other tracking system listing the open matters in your practice (and if you don’t, you should). You may list the client name, the work to be done, and any deadlines — filing dates or client meetings, perhaps. Why not add another column, listing the amount of money you expect the case to bring in? It will help you really prioritize what you need to do.

Here are two other benefits to keeping this kind of list:

    1. You will have an idea of the amount of money you have in your pipeline. It’s probably more than you think, and that will give you confidence about your practice.

    2. Second, you can watch the amount of work you have coming in and see when your pipeline is not full enough before cash gets tight. You’ll know when it’s time to ramp up your marketing to get more work in the door.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Another Technique for Managing Email

December 23, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — @ 2:45 pm

I’ve previously written about effective techniques for managing your email. However, courtesy of Software Analysis Corporation, I’ve just learned about another way to do it:

I think this will be especially useful for my readers who have home offices — don’t you?

Happy Holidays!

Tips for a Productive Day

November 18, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management,Processes — @ 2:09 pm

I’ve previously written about managing your day so you get more done. Among other things, you can take charge of your email, the telephone, and interruptions from your team.

John Thompson, a mortgage specialist here in Southern California and one of the most entrepreneurial people I know, recently sent me a short article containing additional tips for controlling your time. John advises:

  • Get there early
  • Be careful about the commitments you make
  • Delegate as much as you can to someone else

I think all of these are great suggestions! I suspect if you follow them, your day will be less hectic, more enjoyable, and you’ll get more done.

I would add one more piece of advice: limit the commitments you make to yourself. According to David Rock in Your Brain at Work (Harper Collins 2009), the thinking part of your brain only has limited capacity. I found it tremendously liberating when someone told me that a person can only handle three projects in a day. So, when you plan your day, don’t over commit yourself — you won’t do a good job and you’ll wind up feeling frustrated and disappointed in yourself. If you are realistic about what you can accomplish and do what you set out to do, you will reduce your sense of overwhelm and increase your satisfaction.

Please let me know how this helps you!

How Do You Reset?

August 19, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management — @ 5:22 pm

In my previous blog posting, I wrote about our growing addiction to cell phones. Today, I want to talk about an even more serious illness — lawyers’ addiction to work!

Can you see beyond your nose? Some of my clients have been so tired and stressed lately, to the point that they are losing focus. They can’t seem to work as efficiently as they would like. And, can they take the time to think about their future or the future of their practice? Forget it! Yet they think they can’t leave the office because there’s just too much to do. They continue to slog away, feeling miserable about it.

What’s the cure? My advice for this may sound counterintuitive, but I’ve been recommending that my busy, stressed-out clients take some time off! Read something trashy; get outside and do something fun; reconnect with your loved ones; eat junk food (in moderation). Consider the time away from your office to be your personal Ctrl+Alt+Del. Trust me — you’ll feel better and, when you return to the office, you’ll be much better at your job.

Think about it. I remember when I was practicing that by Friday afternoon, emails would come in that I just couldn’t muster the energy to answer. But, after a weekend of not working, it was easy to write the answers on Monday. Just think what a week — or even a long weekend — away from work will do for you!

Please let me know how this helps you!

Going on Lockdown

June 1, 2011

Filed under: Book Review,Focus/Time Management — @ 1:51 pm

I saw The Lincoln Lawyer when it was released this March. I enjoyed it (and not just for the Matthew McConaughey eye candy). In fact, I liked the movie enough to buy the book. And, I liked the book enough to go on to read Michael Connelly’s three other Mickey Haller courtroom thrillers.

I didn’t expect to find law practice management advice in the books, but I did. At Atticus, we teach time management and how, if lawyers better control their time, they can get more — and better quality — work done. We talk about having scheduled “Power Hours” during your workweek: time in which you have no interruptions and accomplish a lot.

Well, in The Brass Verdict, Mickey Haller does the same thing, except he calls it “going on lockdown:” “Lockdown was when I closed all the doors and windows, drew the curtains, and killed the phones and went to work on a file and a case with total concentration and absorption. Lockdown for me was the ultimate do not disturb sign hanging on the door.” And, lockdown pays off for Mickey: in The Brass Verdict, lockdown enables him to figure out his winning case strategy.

So, if it works for Mickey Haller, shouldn’t it work for you? Try your own lockdown plan. Schedule a couple hours sometime this week during which you do not take phone calls, you do not check your email, and you do not allow interruptions from your team. Work on the hard stuff. See what happens. You’ll probably find that regularly scheduled lockdowns help you effectively manage your time, your focus and your practice.

Please let me know how this strategy works for you!

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