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Great ways to fritter away time

Time is a precious commodity and one we’re all guilty of wasting. The occasional glance at Facebook or conversation with a friend doesn’t indicate a problem, but certain habits could. Here are some of the best ways to waste time:

Make several trips.

Jim S. Green, a Sikeston attorney, says it’s important to do what you can to cut travel time. “My experience tells me that scheduling is where we waste most of the time,” he says. “You’ve got to try and schedule things where you take two or three at a time rather than one today, one tomorrow. Particularly that’s true for country lawyers who may be traveling 30 or 40 miles to each courthouse.”

Surf the Internet.

W. Edward Reeves

The Internet has provided an impressive number of ways to lower productivity, and its accessibility makes it hard to ignore, says W. Edward Reeves, a principal in general practice at Caruthersville-based Ward & Reeves. “I have a computer at my desk, as most lawyers do,” he says. “It’s very tempting to be diverted from something you need to be doing — particularly if it’s not an enthralling project—  to spend time cruising on the World Wide Web.”

Take long breaks.

Running into friends at the local Starbucks can provide a welcome break from work. Such socializing might present benefits for your career, as well. Still, as valuable as networking is, it has to be seen as a potential time waster. “I think, particularly with new lawyers, it starts out as the possibility of being able to build a practice, but it gets to be habit-forming and you just spend more time than you need to in the coffee shop,” Green says.

Spend much of your time on one client.

Mark Powers, president of Atticus, a legal management and training organization in a Mount Dora, Fla., talks about the Pareto Principal, named for turn-of-the 20th century economist Vilfredo Pareto who discovered that four-fifths of the land in Italy belonged to one-fifth of the population. Likewise, some clients are more time-consuming and less profitable than others. Powers recommends weeding out time hogs and checking records to identify the more profitable clients. “Twenty to 40 percent of our clients in almost every law firm generate 60 to 80 percent of the revenue,” Powers says. “The opposite is also true. Twenty to 40 percent of clients take up 60 to 80 percent of resources.”

Play phone tag.

Who hasn’t volleyed messages back and forth with a client or service provider? Reeves says he prefers e-mail, not the phone, where messages tend to be less complete and more off-the-cuff. “It’s much handier and much more efficient to read an e-mail message and reflect on what your response is before you send it back, rather than waste time on a telephone conversation,” he says. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said to someone on the phone, ‘I’ve got to go look that up and call you back.’”

Treat travel time as dead time.

You may not be able to reduce your travel or always choose when and where you have to go, but you can decide how to use that time. Listening to audio CLEs or other material is a good way to fill “dead” stretches productively. “If you’ve got a four- or five-hour drive someplace, you can listen to a lot of CLEs,” Reeves says. “If you’ve got the software that converts print into audio, you could listen to the pleadings or brief while going someplace.”

Switch gears constantly.

Interruptions by phone calls, e-mails or other matters can cause you to lose sight of the project you’re working on. Trying to do two things at once or shifting back and forth affects work quality and significantly reduces efficiency. Teach your staff what’s truly important enough for them to interrupt you. “Each interruption may seem like only a minute or two, but it actually takes much longer,” Powers says. How long? About seven to 10 minutes to get your mind back into highly focused work, he says.

Arrange the furniture badly.

It doesn’t have to be feng shui, but the setup of an office can affect the amount of time wasted. The office should only feel conducive to conversation when a client is expected. “Most attorneys have a nice comfortable chair sitting on the other side of their desk,” Powers says. “What happens is someone comes into their office and says, ‘Let me tell you about the day I had.’ Just when they think they’re going to get down to production, someone sits down and starts talking to them.”