Stopping the Telephone Time Bandit!
As I said in another post on time management, time is finite, so you have to make the most of what you have during the work day. You must guard it jealously! It is yours, and never let anyone take it from you without your consent — and grant that consent judiciously. Be tough; be ruthless. It is your time, it is you life, and no one has the right to take it from you or force you to use it in a particular way. So in this post I wanted to discuss how you can defeat another Time Bandit – the telephone!
Take Control of the Telephone!
One of the toughest things you are going to have to do in order to regain, and maintain, control of your time is to manage the client and potential client time bandit. This means do not make or take ANY unscheduled calls! If you take inbound calls as they come, you are constantly stopping work on a task of known priority in favor of something or someone of unknown priority. You are turning control of your day over to the unknown.
Clients and potential clients do not have the right to call at their convenience and disrupt your day!
I know, I know, this is easier said than done, but it must be done. Every time you take an unscheduled call, no matter who it’s from, you are disrupting your focus on the work you are doing. You lose time not only due to the phone call, but also in the time it will take you to regain focus after you hang up!
Many of my colleagues have the fear that if they don’t take a call from a potential client and talk to them right away, that person will then just call someone else. If they don’t take that call from the client will get angry and fire them. Business and marketing maven Dan Kennedy’s response to this is, “if you are that interchangeable, that mundane and ordinary a commodity, you’ve got big, big problems, far bigger than you can solve by answering your phone immediately.”
How It Can Be Done
There are things you can do to make this possible. Regarding clients, you need to manage their expectations from the very start. Explain to them that in order to give them the best representation possible, you want to be able to work on their matters uninterrupted. Say that you’re sure that they wouldn’t want you to drop what you are doing on their file in order to take a call from another client, so the reverse would have to be true in order to prevent that from happening.
At the same time, assure them that you are always happy to discuss their case with them if they have any questions or want a status update. They just have to schedule a call. Put it in your engagement letter and discuss it with them at the retention meeting, so that they know from the very start. Programs like Fantastical, Calendly, and Microsoft Bookings allows people to book a call or an appointment with you at a time that works for both of you. My clients have this bookmarked.
Then there’s the potential clients. When a lead calls, you may be tempted to stop what you’re doing and take the call. After all, this could be the next big case! But again, this is a time bandit. You can’t risk the loss of focus or time that answering would cause. You therefore need a dedicated intake person to talk with them initially. Have them take the initial information, and then, if it is worth your time to meet with them, according to criteria you provide to your intake person, then he or she can schedule an appointment for them to come in to meet with you. This will again keep you focused and eliminate another type of interruption. The added bonus will be to set expectations with that person at the very beginning that they just can’t call and expect to be put through to you.
But There Are Exceptions
I am not saying that there aren’t any exceptions to this, however. If a judge’s chamber is calling, you take the call! If it is a client calling with a (true) emergency, you take the call! If it is your spouse to tell you your child was injured, you take the call! However, your secretary/assistant should always be the gatekeeper. If it is something he or she can easily handle (or handle with some quick input from you) then great. You don’t have to take the call and lose your focus; you have people for that!
If you are worried about missing the truly important call, provide your secretary or receptionist with a “VIP list” of people from whom you will almost always take an incoming call, regardless of what else you may be doing. This will prevent you for missing calls that you really want, and allows your assistant to screen all the other calls with greater confidence.
Control the time on VIP list calls, though. When you get on the phone with the VIP, always set up an exit time right away. For example, “I have another call starting in 15 minutes, but I wanted to take your call. I hope that will be enough time for our discussion. Do you agree, or should we set up another telephone appointment?”
This can be done as well with people that drop in to your office, assuming you even tolerate walk-ins. Say something like, “It’s difficult these days for me to see drop in visitors, but it’s good to see you. I will only have (set time frame here), but no longer, as I have an important conference call set for (set time here). That’s OK, isn’t it?”
This not only helps you to assert control over your time, it also helps train people to set up a phone appointment or a time to meet with you personally that fits into your calendar.
Gain Control of Your Practice
You are never going to gain control of your practice, be more effective, and more profitable, if you don’t have dominion over your time. You control it; no one else. Get more information on how to regain control of your time by downloading my free book, The Ulitimate Guide to Taking Back Your Time.
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