If there’s one thing that I have learned to master over the years, it’s to control the number of interruptions when I am in the office – – not just others interrupting me, but my interruptions of others.
The main reason why interruptions happen is because there are no rules or protocols for how people will interact. The result is not only a loss of productivity, but the loss of money. If you just look up the statistics online about the amount of money lost to businesses because of interruptions in the workplace, it’s in the billions!
The question is, how do you implement the proper structure for interaction between firm members?
Set Up Regularly Scheduled Meetings
First, you need to set up regularly calendared staff meetings with your key staff people. As the boss, take a look at the people interrupting you the most or that you interrupt. Chances are, they probably include an assistant, office manager, or even a paralegal. Once you have identified the key staff members you interact with on a daily basis, decide if each staff member needs a meeting or check-in once or twice a day, or they may only need a meeting once a week. (If you have a lot of other staff members, you should not need to meet regularly with all of them; they should be instructed to go to your assistant, office manager, paralegal or someone that does have regular meetings with you to get any questions or issues resolved.)
Once you’ve determined the frequency of meetings you may need with a particular key staff person, then block your calendar to accommodate this meeting. Once this time has been blocked on the calendar, it must become inviolable. As the boss, make it the responsibility of the staff member to come to the meeting at the scheduled time and be prepared with any items to discuss (you should do the same by setting them aside in a file or list). If the staff person doesn’t have anything, then that’s okay too. It should still be his or her responsibility to initiate the meeting; if you repeatedly find meetings are not needed, then you may schedule fewer meetings (or none at all).
Implement the “U & I” Rule
Having a regularly scheduled meeting blocked on the calendar should bring a certain level of comfort and reassurance to you and your staff members and, hopefully, reduce the number of interruptions experienced each day. However, it’s not enough. There has to also be a protocol about what does warrant an interruption between scheduled meetings and what can otherwise be saved and left for the next meeting. That’s where the “U & I” Rule comes in.
I have discussed the concept behind the “U & I” Rule in previous articles, but the concept of the U & I Rule is simple. Is this interruption both URGENT and IMPORTANT? Not just urgent. Not just important. But, both urgent and important.
It may take some training and clarification, during the first few interruptions, about what is actually urgent and important. A great practice, for you and all of your staff to develop (whether they are the person being interrupted or are interrupting another firm member), is to ask, “Is this U&I?” If so, then both persons may proceed with the interruption.
A Few Other Tips to Discourage Interruptions
Regular staff meetings and implementing and following the U&I Rule are great starts to reducing the amount of interruptions in the workplace. Here are some other tips that may be helpful for discouraging interruptions (and encouraging productivity):
- Close the Door. It seems like in today’s day and age, a lot more companies have moved to a much more open, shared space type of work environment. This environment certainly encourages teamwork and collegiality, but it’s also a highly disruptive work environment with interruption opportunities lurking everywhere. If you have an office, close the door. It’s not intended to be cold or unfriendly. It’s merely intended to discourage interruptions and give you quiet, uninterrupted time to work.
- Do Not Disturb. Many telephones have a “Do Not Disturb” function on them. Block off times where you can have uninterrupted time where you will not take any phone calls. (Obviously, there are certain positions and job duties where this cannot be done, such as a receptionist or customer service person, but it can be a great practice for many others!)
- Disconnect. Another common interruption in the workplace is the connection to technology (and people), whether it’s e-mail, texting, smart phones, or surfing the internet. It’s important to know how these impact your productivity and be willing to disconnect from them and keep them from interrupting you! Deal with these electronic interruptions only at designated breaks or later in the day.
In conclusion, while some may argue that meetings seem inconvenient and unproductive, when done properly, you will see a decrease in your unscheduled and unplanned “meetings” that happen every time someone interrupts you. It will help convert a work environment that’s otherwise chaotic, stressful, and disorderly to one that is organized, calm and structured. This only results in a greater level of productivity, efficiency, and therefore a smoother, more profitable business.
RELATED TRAINING & EDUCATION
If you would like more information about how to properly conduct these regular meetings with key staff members and associate attorneys (including their scheduling, timing and even detailed agendas), please join me for a special presentation entitled, “The Proven System for Holding Efficient and Productive Meetings with Associates and Staff”. For more information and to register, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Attorney Philip J. Kavesh is the principal of one of the largest estate planning firms in California – – Kavesh, Minor and Otis – – with over 40+ years in business. He is also the President of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc., which provides a variety of training, marketing and practice-building products and services for estate planning professionals. If you would like more information or have a question for him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-866-754-6477.
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