Time Is Money: Subtle Shifts Toward Efficiency

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Many attorneys track time on a daily basis. Piling up hours is like watching the mercury on a fundraising thermometer. It feels great until you realize you’re billing 8 hours a day but are spending 11-12 at work and working weekends. Where are those other hours going? Lunch, internal meetings, CLE? It doesn’t add up.

Efficiency leakage. It happens to the best of us. We fall victim to time sucks and wheel spinning. Three insipid efficiency gremlins lead the charge, but some subtle behavioral shift s can help you escape the office a few minutes earlier.

Multi-Tasking and Pick-up/Put-Down Syndrome.

Humans are not designed to multitask. When we change tasks, the brain undergoes a two-step process, according to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 27, No 4). First, it chooses to switch to the new task (goal shifting); then it switches off the first task’s rules and fires up the new ones (rule activation). These steps can take several tenths of a second for the brain to process. We see the effects in meetings: a participant is taking notes but has been asked a question. Their delayed response is the brain switching from processing the written word to the aural word.

Multitasking can reduce productivity by up to 40%. These same leaks happen when we work on a project, set it down to take a call, check email, entertain a visitor, and pick it up again several minutes or days later — “pick up / put down syndrome.” The ramp up time to get back to where we were when we left off, intellectually, is energy, productivity and time expensive.

Shifts to Improve Efficiency

Time block your calendar. Scheduling meetings reserves time and ensures we’re not interrupted. The theory holds true for work we do on clients’ behalf at our desk. Calendar 90 minutes to work on Mr. Smith’s file as if it were a meeting. The work has your undivided attention with only one “goal shift” and one “rule activation.”

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“Do Not Disturb.” Culture dictates whether you can close your door or hang a sign that “now” isn’t a good time to talk. If you can’t hibernate, perhaps you can manage the “when.” Ask visitors if you can call when you’re at a stopping point. Your minor break to future-schedule them is better than the major break to manage their issue right then.

Email. Ninety, the number of daily emails an average office worker received between 2014-18 according to the Radicati Group. It gets our full attention 15 times a day or every 32 minutes.

Turn off Notifications. Between our official email time, we get 10 distracting banners and chimes per hour that “you’ve got mail.” If you can’t turn sounds and visual notifications off all day, try to when you’ve time blocked your calendar.

10/2/4. “Dr. Pepper time” — when the body craves a snack. A study from the University of British Columbia indicates “snacking” on emails three times daily (vs. 15) reduced stress, allowed people to complete more work, and yielded greater satisfaction.

Turn on Rules. Usually found in email Preferences, Rules tell the system what to do with emails that meet certain criteria. Emails from Trinity go to my Trinity folder vs my inbox; emails from my favorite vendors, to my Shopping folder. I skim these two folders weekly vs daily, and my inbox efficiency is much higher.

Self-care. We cannot operate on high for extended periods without sacrifice. Long hours lead to sedentary lifestyles, suboptimal food choices, and sleep challenges. Sluggish thinking, errors, and rework are the thanks we get in return.

Eat, Move, Sleep. Tom Rath penned a book by this same name; it’s sheer genius. These components are the building blocks for our bodies. We must take care of our physical being for the mental and intellectual ones to function efficiently.

Take vacation. It’s not for sissies. Disconnecting resets your energy levels, enthusiasm, interest, and intensity. It’s like rebooting your computer. Debbie Roos

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