Legal Billing Rule #10: Beat The Procrastination Monster
The following post is an excerpt from our free e-book, Ridiculously Remarkable Legal Billing. Better billing practices improve your law firm and your life. Here’s the tenth one from the book.
Realize that procrastination costs you money. The Pomodoro Technique, checklists, and time blocking can help you get the bills out on time.
“Hard work can pay off in the future, but laziness pays off now.” –Homer Simpson
Unfortunately, procrastination usually comes with brutal consequences. The problem of procrastination is particularly evident when it comes to billing, because of course billing isn’t “real work,” and it can always wait. Plus, unlike clients, an unprepared bill cannot talk. It cannot call five times an hour (and send three emails during that same hour) to remind you that “the response is due tomorrow!” The unprepared invoice is completely silent.
All that unbilled time that’s sitting in your records won’t call. It won’t email. It’ll just sit there, never complaining.
In a lot of cases, those of us who have a penchant for procrastination are “helped out” by the existence of objective, third-party deadlines. We have “X” days to respond to the complaint, the Form 10QSB must be filed with the SEC within “X” days of the close of the quarter, and so forth. These deadlines simply must be met.
However, in most cases with billing there are no such deadlines. We’re not going to get our bill automatically voided if it’s sent out on the 31st instead of the 30th. We’re not going to have to put our malpractice carrier on notice if in May we realize that we totally forgot to send out the March invoice. In the absence of this, when there’s a choice between working on something with a scary deadline and working on billing, billing waits. And waits. And waits.
So how do we fix that? Several options exist.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
One simple way is to find an established workflow method and adopt it. Our founder Larry Port has written about some he likes. Larry finds the Pomodoro Technique particularly helpful, as do a number of our subscribers. That technique involves getting some type of timer, such as a little windup tomato timer, an app on your phone, or a timer that’s embedded in your practice management application (e-mail me, and I’ll hook you up). Next, set it for 25 minutes, and then work on only a single task for that time. No interruptions, no coffee breaks, no checking email, no pit stops. Just complete focus on a single task.
When the timer runs out, give yourself five minutes to take a break, and then start up another timer. Simple, yet highly effective.
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Try Time Blocking
If picking an overall workflow technique isn’t really your thing, you can try something even easier: Employ a technique known as “time blocking.” Time blocking is when you reserve a recurring, scheduled event on your calendar for a given activity. Many of our subscribers use this as well. They pick a day (or a portion of a day) each month to be “billing day.” They use recurring event technology in our software to block it out for them.
Then, come hell or high water, on that designated day of the month, the firm gets its bills out. Period. Sure, some kind of dire emergency could interfere with the plans, but that’ll be extremely rare. Pick the day, mark it as a recurring event, and respect it by calendaring around it and – if applicable – making your staff calendar around it.
Another useful tactic, similar to the recurring date commitment, is to develop a standardized process for getting your bills out. In other words, come up with a formal checklist and abide by it. In the best case, you commit to a recurring event date on which you deploy the checklist. The checklist will detail the exact way you handle your billing day, the precise order in which you do things (e.g., Step 1: Check for unbilled time, Step 2: Run pre-bills, Step 3: Put together transmittal letters, and so forth). Checklists are used every day by pilots, for good reason.
By listing a specific, ordered procedure, you are more likely to (a) follow it and (b) make fewer errors while you’re executing. There is psychological “safety” in checklists, and they also serve as a memorialization of the idea that this task isn’t huge, amorphous, and scary; rather, it’s doable, specific, ordered, and accomplishable.
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