Image [cc] The Marmot

It is so easy to get yourself into a rut. We find comfort in establishing a routine, and then, after a while, we forget to ask ourselves if the routine is still effective. Those email alerts, those saved search results, news feeds, email lists, internal reports, company monitors, and many other things that we’ve become accustomed to seeing (usually entering by way of the email inbox), all add up to a routine that has become irrelevant, but one that is easier to continue than to either modify or stop completely. Routines that become irrelevant but cannot be changed are wasting your time, your co-worker’s time, your firm’s resources and money.

About eight years ago, I worked at a Library Consortium that required all of its employees to take a minimum of five consecutive business days off each year. There were a number of reasons for that, but one of the primary reasons was to determine if we were relying too heavily on one person to complete certain tasks. One result of this requirement was that someone else had to come in and pick up your routine for that week. That meant that you had to create a manual of the tasks you were performing and get someone up to speed before you went on vacation to handle those tasks. That, in and of itself, made you evaluate the routine tasks you were performing and helped determine if it still had the same effect it had when you started the task. Many times at the end of the forced vacation the person that took on your routine would follow up with you and ask, “why are you doing this task this way??” The results of reevaluating your routine tasks, having someone do those tasks for a short period, and then having a conversation at the end, allowed you to make an informed decision on if you needed to change that task, stop doing the task, or reaffirm that the task had value.

Think about the number of tasks you perform, or your staff performs each month. How long has it been since you’ve sat down and outlined what the tasks are, how they are performed, who performs them, who gets the results, and what the overall effect is of performing the task? If you don’t have some type of mechanism that forces you and your staff to evaluate these tasks, you could have processes that people are performing that haven’t been effective for years… yet no one thinks about it because it has just become a comfortable part of their overall routine. In reality, they’ve found themselves in a rut, but just haven’t figured it out yet.

For the law firm library, the easiest rut to find yourself in is the “monitoring” rut. It is also one of the easiest to evaluate if it is still effective. Take a percentage of those canned searches you perform through your news aggregator, docket searches, or company searches and talk with the people that are the recipients of these results. Ask a very direct question: “Do you actually read these reports?” or “Do you have a filter in your email that automatically sends these reports to a folder? Is it the ‘Deleted Items’ folder?” or “When was the last time that you actually were able to use information in these reports that ended up with a positive effect on your practice?” Most of the time you may end up continue along on your happy way with this routine. However, I bet that there are a number of these processes that you do that are completely ignored by the person that asked for them in the first place, it is that they have simply forgot to tell you that they no longer need them.

Routines are easy to get into and hard to get out of. If you never stop and ask yourself “Now, why am I still doing this?” You’ll end up doing it for far longer than is really needed.