The Difference Between Being Responsive and Being Reactive

If the past few months are any sign, there is no “down time” any more!  The fact that the economy has picked up and all the law firm professionals we know are swamped, is good – but the feeling of being overwhelmed is not.  So I thought this would be a good time to focus on the difference between responding to our internal and external clients and reacting to them.

When time is limited and we feel like we have to get everything done at once, our default is often to react and put the fire out or send the email ASAP, without really reflecting on what we are doing.  I know this is what I do!  Afterwards, I realize that I did not include all the information or answer the questions as clearly as I could have, if I had taken the time to really focus and be present.  So, realistically speaking, how can we be more responsive and less reactive?

  1. Identify, at the beginning of each day, the 2 or 3 (not 10!) most important things you need to do that day.  The more focused you are, the more likely you are to get the results you want to achieve.
  2. Turn off your computer screen when you are on the phone with a “client.”  Whether it’s the Partner in charge of your department or your colleague across the country, we cannot listen and respond to emails – either the person on the phone will hear you “not listening” or you are likely to make a mistake in your email.
  3. Stop constant multi-tasking! It’s important to be able to shift gears and reprioritize as things come at you, but keep in mind that excessive multi-tasking gives us multiple opportunities to make multiple mistakes – not be more efficient! Don’t spread yourself so thin that nothing gets “done right the first time.”
  4. Re-read your email before hitting send.  I am embarrassed to admit how often I find a typo when I read and then re-read my emails!  I would like to blame it on my spell check, but the truth is, I am rushing to clear out yet another email in my inbox and don’t see my errors.
  5. Think it through.  Yes, we need to deliver information to those who are waiting as soon as possible, but if we don’t reflect and anticipate how they will receive it and what questions they may have, we are not being as helpful as we would like to think we are.

I know that what I am saying is common sense, but in this “get it done as fast as possible” world we live in, it is very easy to fall into the trap of reacting – instead of responding with the thoughtfulness and professionalism we all aspire to.  I here vow to take time to read the entire email and spend an extra minute putting my response together and actually re-reading it before hitting send! Deep down, in the long-run, I know this will be the best investment of my limited time. 

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