One of the most valuable assets any entrepreneur has is time. It’s always ticking, slipping away with each minute of procrastination and inefficient process. There’s simply too much to be done and not enough hours in the day. Technology was supposed to free up time for you to focus on your highest and best use. Frequently, however, technology makes you more captive than ever. What business leaders and their teams need is technology that actually improves their lives, rather than becoming just another obstacle in their way.
YPO member Jessica Hoffmann is all about efficiency. Hoffmann, a lawyer, is a Managing Director and Chief Strategy Officer of Clark Hill Strasburger PLC, a large international law firm. In this role, Hoffmann tackles the challenges of large business administration, with the added complication of an industry where information management is key. Hoffmann’s husband, a family lawyer, had frequent stories of the damage caused to his clients and their families by inefficiencies in the legal system and the inadequate technologies available to alleviate them. It was these experiences that inspired Hoffmann to start Family Docket, an evidence collection and document management system designed specifically for use in family law matters. It records communication between the two parties, tracks reimbursements, and securely stores documents, all of which reduces time and expense for everyone.
Hoffmann has made it her entrepreneurial mission to help lawyers and families use time more efficiently so they can focus on more important matters. Here, Hoffmann offers advice on how you, too, can make the most of your time:
Hoffmann is wary of meetings, and recognizes the opportunity cost of all involved. She laments, “Large meetings, in particular, are rarely as useful as the collective time of all of the people in the room.” When Hoffmann conducts meetings, they are small gatherings on targeted topics. She shares, “Meetings should have a specific agendas, and participants need to come prepared. Send the agenda out in advance, and make copies of documents before the meeting begins.” The advice is simple and practical, but little things add up, and suddenly 30 minutes have been wasted.
2. Use the Right Communication Tool
In Hoffmann’s experience, email can cause a number of unintended communication problems. “Over my career, I’ve probably wasted months dealing with what someone thought was a ‘quick email,'” she says. “Usually it’s an issue of someone hiding behind a computer to either save time or avoid conflict. But 90% of communication is non-verbal, and email is the wrong method of expression,” she advises. Hoffmann has also taken a strong stance on Reply All at her law firm. She explains, “We implemented a tool at my firm that prompts the sender, ‘Are you sure you want to Reply All?’ I’m amazed how often I switch from a Reply All to just Reply. I’m equally amazed by those who plow right through the warning and still send an ill-advised email…” Before you communicate, consider the situation and the recipient, and ensure you’re expressing yourself accurately and appropriately. Don’t let your message get lost in translation, because the fix almost always takes more time than doing it right the first time.
3. Delegate Where You Don’t Excel
Hoffmann believes that successful leaders must invest time in delegation. She advises, “If you are your company’s top salesperson, you need to spend your time selling – not generating leads or scheduling meetings. Initially, it will take time to train someone to do the tasks you delegate to them. But the more you can appropriately move things off your plate, the more you are available for the things you love or for which you are best suited.” Hoffmann also has a procedure to avoid worry over missed assignments: “A trick I use with my direct reports when I ask them to do something, whether it is as simple as printing something or a larger multi-stage project, I ask them to let me know via reply email that it is ‘done’ or that they ‘got it.’ That way I don’t worry that it is lost in the ether. I call it ‘closing the loop.’ All of my reports know I am a loop closer, and now they do it reflexively.” Hoffmann even has advice on making sure you don’t miss important paperwork: “Have them put it on your chair. You can’t miss it!”
Hoffmann is faithful to her calendar. “I live and die by it!” she exclaims. But her technique is more detailed and ultimately more useful: “I put both work and personal commitments on my calendar. This ensures I am able to block time for important work commitments while also preserving time for family. Then, I make sure to block the travel or prep time needed for each event,” she says. This careful planning allows her take advantage of down time between remote events, while not getting caught off guard. She explains, “It prevents over-scheduling with back-to-back appointments I am ill-prepared for or have to cancel because I didn’t leave sufficient time. Good planning means I often find extra time in the car. There I have the flexibility for a quick update from someone at the office, and don’t feel pressured to conduct a client call where I need to reference a detailed spreadsheet while rushing to another meeting.” Clients and colleagues can tell when you’re hurrying through their needs.
To illustrate her firm belief in efficiency, Hoffmann shares an amusing story about her husband: “He would sort laundry in our bedroom, and then make multiple trips carrying each pile into the laundry room – accidentally dropping socks along the way, which our dog took as an invitation to play keepaway! Instead, he could have carried the hamper to the laundry room one time and sorted everything there, including sorting the first load directly into the washer.” Hoffmann believes there are many parallels at work. For example, an employee may send a spreadsheet that is not formatted to print with appropriate headings, font size, and page orientation. That means every recipient has to make these changes themselves in order to use the document efficiently. “Inefficiency is really something that drives me up the wall,” admits Hoffmann. There are ways you can make life easier for yourselves and your colleagues, and you should take that extra step to do so.
6. Guard Your Most Productive Time
Hoffmann says that she is an early bird, while her husband is a night owl, and each takes advantage of their most productive time. “I wake up at 5 AM, and am able to help my family get ready for the day. He stays up after I have fallen asleep, but it allows him to be home as much as possible for dinner and bed time with our young children,” she shares. Whatever your preferred time, “Structure your day to maximize efficiency. If your best time is after lunch, don’t get sucked into afternoon meetings,” she advises. But Hoffmann warns of one caveat to this advice: “If something is critical and must be completed that day, I always get it done as early in the day as possible. In the legal world, deadlines are very real, and clients can suffer severe consequences,” she explains. Another advantage to this strategy is that it relieves the stress of a looming deadline, which would otherwise serve as a distraction that makes you less efficient.
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