By Kristina Schneider, Practice Success Coach
A recurring theme that I continually see coming up for estate planning attorneys that I speak with is this overwhelming stress that they’re feeling like every single day feels like they’re just constantly putting out fires and everything is in chaos and disarray. When you are so busy in this reactive mode, it can be extremely difficult to know how to get out of it. You become too consumed with being in the deep trenches of working in your business to have enough time, let alone a breath of fresh air, to even begin thinking about working on your business.
Why The Fire Drills Keep Happening
So, why do all of the fire drills keep happening every day at the office? Some say that it’s because they don’t have enough help, but then argue they don’t have enough time or cash flow to justify hiring more help. My question back to those is…is it wise to hire someone amidst chaos, confusion and fire drills? The answer I hope you come to is that no, it would not be a smart business decision to hire during that time. I’ve seen many add more personnel to their team and the result is greater confusion and chaos, plus now with more risk of mistakes and another person that requires time, attention and hand-holding to help out.
The fundamental reason why the fire drills keep happening is a lack of time and calendar management.
Many of the attorneys that we work with and come across lack a dedicated executive assistant. Someone that is responsible for being the boss of you, the attorney business owner. Some of the attorneys will say that they don’t think they need one or they cannot justify the expense for one, but the silly thing is that the result is either the attorney business owner is then responsible for managing his or her own calendar and time (which, no offense, many are not very good at doing!) or there’s a few people in the office who all have access to the calendar. The problem with that is they also have other priorities, deadlines and duties and nobody is really ensuring that the attorney business owner is doing what he or she should be doing, has everything they need to be able to work efficiently, or there’s simply not enough time for them to adequately support that attorney business owner in a way that is as impactful as it could (and should) be.
You may have heard about what we call the “U&I Rule”. It’s basically the only exception we make to how and when interruptions are allowed and that’s when things are both urgent AND important. These are the fire drills that you’re having to put out every day. Things have become so critical that there’s urgency and now, you’re having to drop everything and do that specific task. The concept of the U&I Rule and the next tip that I will share about how to eliminate the fire drills (and interruptions) is best seen with the following diagram.
One Simple Tip to Help Stop the Fire Drills
Fire drills often happen because there is nobody there to monitor the big picture and oversee the things coming down the pipeline. The attorneys have inboxes, bins, or perhaps even their desk that serves as a landing space for people to add things that they need the attorney to review and look at, but with no system for how he or she is supposed to work on those items. It becomes a “get to it when you get to it”, but with busy calendars filled with client meetings and flooding e-mail inboxes, who has time to do all this?
Well, I’m here to boldly say that for many of the attorneys that tell me that they’re “too busy” and “don’t have time”, I have asked them to pull up their calendar and what I end up seeing is a relatively open calendar scattered with a handful of appointments. I respectfully have to point out to them that my calendar is entirely filled up from 8:30am to 5pm with various reminders, tasks, appointments, breaks, etc. When I check in with Roxana, who manages my calendar, she reviews my calendar with me (what I did that day, what’s coming up the next day) and we go over anything that may have come up that I need to be scheduled to work on. I will let her know how much time I will need (and if there is anything I will need for that task) and also the importance, so that she doesn’t schedule non-urgent or less important meetings on my calendar in a week where I am already starting to get jammed.
If you go back to my matrix above, this is the upper right-hand side of the four quadrants—Important and Non-Urgent. My guess would be that most of the things that you are doing in your practice are important, but not always urgent (at least at the time that the task is initiated). It’s at that point, there should be a specific time blocked on your calendar to work on that item.
Some attorneys will say, “But Kristina, I cannot have my calendar filled up with a bunch of tasks and then I don’t have any client meetings on the calendar to bring in revenue for the week!” You are absolutely right! This is why you should have a calendar template where you would dictate when you would take client meetings, so that dedicated time on your calendar is already set aside in order to ensure that you have time to meet with clients and bring in revenue to the firm. But, also having work time for you to get to the things you need to work on as a part of your calendar template is just as important. If you don’t, this is how you will ensure that you will be working evenings and weekends or possibly guaranteeing you that every day is a fire drill work environment.
That kind of work environment eventually begins to take a toll. It takes a toll on you, the attorney business owner, but it’s also just as equally exhausting for your staff and potentially just as frustrating for your clients (if you’re not getting back to them, they’re always having to follow-up on their requests, or if there are mistakes being made).
Small Change, BIG Results
While I stand by the recommendation that every attorney business owner needs a dedicated assistant, I know that may not be a reasonable solution for the near future for some. But, if you have someone that is responsible for your calendar or can add things to your calendar, instead of having them give you things to do (or throw things in your inbox or, worse yet, your desk), ask them to schedule you a specific time for you to work on those items. Sounds insignificant, but this simple shift in how you get assigned things to do can have a major impact.
I recently had a coaching call with an attorney client who was very overwhelmed and stressed out. She told me that she had almost 10 probate matters that were about to close, but simply did not see how she had the time to be able to do what was needed. With just a small shift, I asked her what was needed to complete this task and it was her review of a final closing letter that would then trigger her paralegal to take care of the rest. I suggested that, rather than feel so overwhelmed by all 10 probate matters, let’s just have her paralegal hold onto everything and take the stacks of items out of her inbox and block her calendar so that she can review these letters. It doesn’t have to be all 10 matters, just because there are 10 matters to be completed. We chunked it down into much smaller, more manageable tasks. Guess what? I just had a coaching call with her paralegal earlier this week and confirmed that this has helped tremendously and they are both now moving forward with a lot less stress.
Again, it is not rocket science, but these small shifts in how we approach our work and the things on our plate can have a massive impact on our productivity and our overall attitudes and moods.
NO. MORE. FIRE. DRILLS.
If you’ve been feeling like you’ve been running on a hamster wheel and you’re not sure when it’s going to end, I have a challenge for you.
Take the next couple of months to really put together a plan to start scheduling tasks that require your time and clear the bubble for the current mountain of responsibilities that are on your plate. Put up a note inside your office somewhere that says, “NO MORE FIRE DRILLS!” and let that become your mantra and motto for the coming year. When we get used to working in chaos, it can be challenging to figure out if there’s any other possible way to work. I am here to reassure you that there is and it can be done. It takes some time, intentionality, and a willingness to try something different.
HOW WE CAN HELP
We have been assisting estate planning attorneys in a number of areas with respect to how to run their practice. All the things that law school did not teach attorneys how to do. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Setting up efficient and effective processes for client engagement and getting the work completed
- Putting the proper infrastructure in place so everyone is doing tasks at their best and highest uses
- How to hire, train, supervise and manage support staff (and associate attorneys)
- How to resolve conflicts and disconnects
- Developing and implementing strategies for work-life balance (while still maintaining a profitable practice!)
- Eliminating time-wasters and interruptions
- And much more!
If you could benefit from any (or all) of the above, consider joining us at our next 2-day event called, “The Ultimate Level”. LEARN MORE
This event is just for estate planning attorneys and it will help you change your practice and change your life!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristina Schneider is a Practice Success Coach here at The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University in 2004 and was hired right out of college to work for the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, coordinating and facilitating Philip Kavesh’s “Missing Link” Boot Camps while also providing administrative support to Mr. Kavesh as his Executive Assistant for over seven years. Through her direct hands-on experience in Mr. Kavesh’s law firm, Kristina has been able to assist numerous estate planning professionals through The Ultimate Estate Planner and, equally as important, many of their staff members, in the successful implementation of Ultimate Estate Planner’s products and systems. She is currently pursuing her MBA degree from Pepperdine University Grazadio Business School. You can reach Kristina at (424) 247-9495 or by e-mail at email@example.com.