Time Management Does Not Work

Time ManagementAs part of a training series within his organization, a good friend recently asked me to speak to up-and-coming leaders about time management. I begin to research the issue and I keep coming across materials suggesting that teaching time management is a waste of time. The fact is –and I guess I already knew this and my research merely confirms it– that teaching time management really doesn’t work.

Some may think it peculiar that the first thing a speaker on time management says is “time management doesn’t work.” Stay with me. By the end of this, you’ll realize that time management is not the problem at all. No, the fact is that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to getting things done. And time is not the problem. Time doesn’t care–it is going to keep moving no matter what we do. Time does not stop.

A Constant State of Reaction

Anyone who cares at all about their work rises each day and, at some point, considers what their day looks like. Then they get to work, their Inbox is blowing up, the phone is ringing, and their manager is standing in the door wondering how some project did a face-plant. The plan for the day is up-ended. The tension builds as time starts slipping away and planned tasks are slowly pushed back into the day, even to the next day.

As a result, we are in a constant state of perpetual reaction, jumping from project to project, task to task, and none of them are done particularly well. Everyone knows how this plays out.

This is no way to work; no way to make a living. We’re supposed to like our job, enjoy it, and have fun. It’s not possible when there’s nagging pressure to perform and stress. Under these circumstances, mistakes are made and we compromise quality. In addition, the stress leads to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment on the job, and eventually, to burn-out.

The good news is there are a few things you can do to remedy the problem. Think of it like going to the doctor when you have the flu – there’s no cure for the flu; they simply treat the symptoms.

Today, we treat the symptoms of poor time management.

Symptom #1 – Lack of Clarity on Your Role

First, clearly understand exactly what your role is. If you don’t fully understand what your organization expects, you cannot perform. It’s like a road trip without a destination and no map. Read and understand your job description. Even on specific projects, if your responsibilities are not clear, lay it out for stakeholders.

Second, set expectations.  Let people know what you can and cannot do, and empower others to make use of alternative resources. If something is not within your role, delegate or ask for help.

Third, don’t try to take on everything. Learn to say “no.” This is tricky. When you work in a service industry, saying no is antithetical to providing good service. Do it with tact. Don’t just say “No” and walk away. Tell them “I need to get back to you on that” and figure out how to make it work. Remember, we’re all problem solvers.

Symptom #2 – Failure to Prioritize

As part of the clarity you need to do your job, management should be emphasizing what is important to the organization. With guidance from leadership you can then effectively prioritize things.

Prioritizing is not making a list of things to do; it’s making a list of IMPORTANT things to do. Each day take the first 10 minutes to schedule your day. Ten minutes of planning will save you an hour in execution—that’s what they teach in project management school. If it’s important, schedule it on your calendar. If it takes more than 30 minutes, schedule it. Use your calendar to block out time to complete the important things. In the end, it’s all about discipline. Have the discipline to set a schedule and stick to it.

A word of caution: do not underestimate how quickly you can get something done. We all do it. We think something will take 20 minutes, so it doesn’t get on the calendar. When we get to it, 20 minutes becomes 45 minutes to an hour, and now scheduled tasks are out of whack. Double the of time it will take to complete something and schedule it. Worst case, you finish early and grab a coffee.

The point is, when employees understand the most important aspects of their jobs, it’s easier to prioritize. Identifying and staying focused on the company mission and how you serve it highlights the important objectives. If your organization is not revealing what’s important, ask those questions.

Symptom #3 – Inability to Manage Distractions

Information inundates us all day long. Email, texts, social media, phone calls. We encounter distractions all day long. Consider the biggest distraction: multitasking. The research shows that while multitasking makes us seem more productive, the empirical evidence shows otherwise. Multitasking suggests you are perpetually reactive. When you multitask, you are playing defense; juggling a bunch of balls at once. Eventually, you will add one too many and drop them all. Quality work is not done this way.

The notion of attention management teaches how to control distractions. It trades single-tasking for multitasking, producing higher-quality results, and encouraging sustained, focused attention on singular tasks. A work environment focusing on and valuing single-tasking is healthier and prevents bad habits from taking root in the first place.

Next, consider email management. Email and social media sites are huge distractions. They are also a tremendous time-suck. Notifications all day disrupt our train of thought. Turn off the notifications on your computer and your phone. If social media and email are that important, schedule them into your day.

Email also ruins conversations. Have you ever been talking to someone who repeatedly looks at their computer screen or at their phone. It’s not only rude, it reflects poor listening skills and eats up time. If you’re talking face to face, give the person your undivided attention. That’s what good leaders do.

A few other email management tips: First, organize email so that you are able to quickly find messages in your Inbox. Create folders according to how your organization manages business records. There is no reason not to organize important communications, regardless of the work that you do or the industry in which you work.

Second, if email is a constant distraction, choose times throughout the day to read and respond to email. Otherwise, close your email. You don’t come in every day and open Word or Excel in anticipation of working in those applications, why do it for email?

And finally, unclutter the rest of your life as well. Do you have papers, folders, notes, case files, everywhere in your office? Clutter and general disorganization are a distraction. Get organized, file things and store things where they need to be. “Everything in its place and a place for everything,” my grandma always said.

SYMPTOM #4 – Lack of Workflow

Most employees manage their workload in their head. But one can only truly manage what they see, and you cannot see inside people’s heads. To manage something it must be tangible, centralized, actionable, and trackable. Workflow management skills are not taught in school and, as a result, workers are often left to their own devices with mixed results. This leaves productivity to chance.

Few individuals will come up with an effective workflow solution on their own; it’s easier to form habits. Identify the most productive people in your organization and review with them what they are doing to succeed. You may be surprised by some responses; but turn them into a workflow. Sure, there will be outliers who defy conventional work practices, but we are trying to improve the workflow of the masses, not the unicorns.

Complex work requires a methodology that enables people to be intentional, proactive, and thorough. The basis of a useful workflow management methodology is the ability to make tasks and responsibilities easy to organize, track, and act upon. A workflow methodology allows individuals to regain control, feel less scattered, and experience less stress. In addition to individual productivity benefits, when staff use workflow management, it offers other benefits to the organization, such as resource allocation, documented experience, and the ability to project, budget and track productivity.

CONCLUSION

As can be seen, the symptoms of poor time management are overcome by being proactive in all that you do. The cure is to start by:

  • Planning your day
  • Setting expectations
  • Scheduling activities
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Adopting a sound workflow

Each of these proactive steps can treat the time management woes that ail you. They will help identify the important things, increase focus and attention to detail, and yes, even improve time management.

________________________

Michael Quartararo is the firm-wide Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of the 2016 book Project Management in Electronic Discovery, published by eDiscoveryPM.com, LLC. He is a graduate of the State University of New York and he studied law in the UK. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). Mike frequently speaks and writes on topics related to project management, e-discovery and legal support services.

Information Governance: The Foundation of E-Discovery Projects

Sound information governance practices are easily the foundation upon which successful electronic discovery projects are built. I know this because I have lived it. Without question, projects run more smoothly when the client has strong information governance practices in place.

Records Management Reinvented

Information governance involves managing the creation, use, storage, and disposition of data, records, and information maintained by an organization. It encompasses ideas, concepts, and practices involving but not exclusively relating to electronic discovery. And it involves managing not only paper and electronic records, but all information maintained by an organization. It also implicates compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to records retention, information security, and the privacy and confidentiality of information.

Thought of another way, consider that the records or any electronically stored information may potentially be evidence in a lawsuit or investigation. Information governance, then, becomes critically important because the records of an organization provide insight into the past and sometimes future activities of that organization. The information may be needed to tell a story.

Long before we had e-discovery, we had records management. ARMA International, the largest records and information management organization in the world, has been around for 60+ years. Now we have this more holistic view of the value and the efficient, collaborative use of records and information, particularly as it relates to legal matters. Information governance is not a technology or a tool; it is not just policies and practices; or managing risks or costs; it is an enterprise-wide undertaking designed to organize information for the benefit of the organization. It’s the new records management – on steroids.

What’s a project manager to do?

Many people ask “what are the information governance responsibilities of a project manager in e-discovery?” For starters, it is essential for the PM to understand information governance, records and information management generally. A PM needs to have basic knowledge of information technology infrastructure and data management systems. And although it is ultimately the client’s responsibility to implement effective IG policies, there may be situations in which an organization does not have IG policies. A PM may need to guide the client or at least refer the client to resources that may help to structure sound IG policies.

One objective of information governance is for organizations to prepare for litigation. Being “litigation ready” means that an organization knows (or can easily determine) what information it has, where that information resides, and what needs to be done to preserve it for discovery when necessary. So, at the outset of a discovery project, the PM and attorneys should consider the client’s information governance maturity. If formal policies exist, what is the nature and substance of the policies? What is the extent of compliance with the policies? If no policies exist, how does that impact the preservation of information in discovery? Project managers need to help attorneys and their clients understand information governance and its importance to the discovery process.

Regardless of whether the client has policies in place, as a PM, it is important to understand how the client creates, stores, and disposes of ESI. It is necessary to learn the types of hardware, software, data processing and storage devices the client uses. This includes the client’s network configuration, operating systems, workstations, laptops, file and email servers, and backup systems. A data map or even a simple network diagram is helpful in learning about an organization’s systems and helps to visualize and identify the locations of the different types of electronic records maintained.

Figure 1:  Simple Network Diagram

Information Governance Server Diagram

Ask Questions (lots of them)!

Ideally, attorneys and the PM should confer with the client’s in-house counsel and IT and records personnel. A good practice is to use a questionnaire or checklist to ask about the client’s systems and identify assets that may contain potentially relevant information. Doing so not only provides a record of the conversation, but also enables attorneys to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for preserving and later collecting the documents. A good questionnaire or checklist might make inquiry about the following:

  • Network configuration, storage, and operating systems in use
  • Types and number of file servers in use and the contents of each
  • Email applications, number of servers, mail store size and retention
  • Software applications, databases, or proprietary applications in use
  • Types of workstations and/or laptops in use
  • Remote access, home use, and personal and smartphone device polices
  • Backup systems in use; backup policies, frequency, and retention
  • Legacy or retired systems no longer in use
  • Policies on former employees, retention and disposition
  • External media, hard drives, CDs or DVDs, and flash drives
  • Internal or external websites, intranets, shared drives, and social media pages
  • Text messaging programs and unified voicemail systems

A client’s adoption of and consistent adherence to sound IG policies can demonstrate reasonable and good faith compliance with discovery obligations. If, for instance, documents or ESI are no longer available because they were disposed of pursuant to a formal policy before any obligation arose to retain them, then an organization should in theory be freed of the obligation to preserve and collect or produce that information. Defensible deletion like this will ultimately reduce the volume of ESI collected and can result in huge savings on e-discovery projects. It is not improper to dispose of ESI if there is no legal or other obligation to retain it.

Good IG policies can result in more efficient and cost-effective discovery projects. When an organization knows the information it has, where it is, and how best to preserve or collect it, the early stages of the e-discovery process will be more efficient. Likewise, an organization with sound IG practices is less likely to over-collect ESI in discovery, which further reduces cost.

Conclusion

The information governance stage of a discovery project—learning how a client creates, stores and manages its documents and ESI—provides the foundational underpinnings for many decisions that will be made later in the case. While the responsibilities associated with information governance rest for the most part with the client organization, it is important that the project manager and attorneys who advocate for the client know and understand the client’s IG policies and practices.


Links to additional resources on Information Governance: