"Discover a framework for differentiating between busy work, beneficial work and work that truly has a high impact on your firm. Each attendee will learn how to move their focus to high-impact projects." Hashtag #AFT5.
Mary Abraham suggests that the exercise of investigating your and your group's impact should be at least an annual investigation, perhaps even quarterly.
The first part of the card-sorting exercise saw everyone in the room write down the "three activities you spend the most time on" on 3x5 cards. At our table we then formed these into rough groups covering strategic, operational, and tactical types. Strategic activities generally address choices about what work to do, working with organizational leadership, and comparable items; operational activities directly address a process or organizational issues such as personnel; and tactical activities directly get work done. Strategic activities are most often high-value and force-multiplying, with some operational activities also being high value, and tactical activities may be necessary but are rarely high-value.
The next part of the exercise was to sort the activities into high, medium, and low value buckets.
Finally we discussed strategies and approaches for spending more of our time on high value activities. Mary Abraham challenged us to try to spend 80% of time on high value activities.
I have grouped the resulting tips and approaches, most of which came from the people at my table, into a few categories. I feel I was lucky to have such a great collection of talent at my table; others at the session may have had very different experiences, for better or worse.
1) Timekeeper Discipline
Lawyers already have to track their time in excruciating detail. While non-legal staff may not need to record their time in that level of detail, they may find it very useful to keep track of what they spend time on each day. Reporting on time-spent metrics is a good basis for lobbying management to change the balance of work.
One HBR professor sets a chime to go off every hour. He then asks himself two questions: "Am I doing the best work I could be doing?" and "Am I being the best person I could be?" Often he finds that one or both of the answers is "No."
Looking ahead, write down what you're going to do each day, on paper. If you've forgotten until task completion, you can still write down the task and give yourself the reward of crossing it off the list. If you don't write down what you're going to do you'll end up "chasing the shiniest object in the room" or browsing the internet.
Balance time spent talking and listening to others and "alone" time for reflection.
Also balance brainstorming, seeking leadership or peer approval, and making sure your staff is doing the work is it should be done.
Set aside time for strategic thinking.
Think about your time as a glass jar you're trying to fill with big rocks, smaller rocks, and sand, where the big rocks are the bigger, more urgent projects and the smaller rocks and sand more numerous and less high priority activities. You have to deal with the big rocks every day, and you should also pay attention to the smaller rocks, and if you have any time left over you can let the sand fill up the jar.
2) "Urgent" Requests
How much of your work must be done in "crisis" mode? We all have some projects that have to get done right away; working too long in crisis mode can get away us from high-value projects.
Urgency is in the eye of the beholder / requestor, and can be tracked and assessed for validity. Urgent requests may not improve anything other than the requestor's situation, and often waste time. Some techniques for addressing that situation include:
- Delegate as much as you can
- Figure out who are the "screamers that matter" and the "screamers that don't"
- Identify in advance who the appropriate people are to do specific types of requests and who can be ready to handle urgent requests that anyone on your team can do
- Identify appropriate level of service for the request. You don't have to bring your "A" game to every request.
- Establish technical workflow systems (e.g., ticket systems), being mindful however that the most urgent and high priority requests may not be appropriate for such a system (my firm has at least three such systems in the areas of User Support, eDiscovery, and Court Procedures)
- Get comfortable saying "No"
- Conduct reviews of tasks completed, identifying urgency requested and "actual" urgency as perceived later (sufficient to break down by A, B, or C requests)
- Track your team's request turnaround time
3) Managing Up
Repeated unduly urgent requests should be addressed as a personnel and organizational issue
Talk about your activity metrics and analysis with your superiors or key stakeholders and convince them they should support delegation or other systems to better manage time-wasting requests, and that they should protect you, if necessary, from attempts to avoid those systems.
Conduct internal marketing around moving yourself to higher benefit work. It might help if you explain the force multiplier effect.
Periodically step away from email.
At an organizational level, try to break out some types of communications into systems that don't demand our attention in the way that email does. Enterprise social networks for RFIs is one such system. Email remains a good way to privately ask someone to do something.
Ron Friedmann suggested having meetings go no more than an hour; have them standing up; and try to make sure no one is having more than five meetings a week.