Dealing with Data Overwhelm

In this episode, I cover the topic of dealing with data overwhelm. Many people struggle with being productive and not being overwhelmed. However, when the business starts to grow, the very first experience many law firm owners experience is a feeling of overwhelm. 


Data overwhelm feeling occurs when firm owners have to fit too many work tasks and detail in a confined schedule. The surface never goes away even when they tack on more hours and work more on their jobs. 


Tune in to today’s episode to learn more about strategies that law firm owners can employ to deal with data overwhelm. 


In this episode we discuss:


  • Strategies to manage the data that comes into your mind.
  • Reducing the number of distractions by addressing your work environment.
  • Making your mind more effective and thus making your energy, your emotions, and your success in business more effective.
  • How to organize and structure your email.
  • Training yourself to use your calendar to block scheduled work time.


Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.


Allison Williams: [00:00:25] Hi, everybody, is Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor and on this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we’re going to talk about a topic that I think a lot of people need but don’t necessarily know that they need. So I think a lot of us struggle with being productive and we try to get to a place where we’re not overwhelmed, we have enough work, we’re making enough money, We’re, we’re moving day to day through what we need to in business. But a lot of times when we start to grow, the very first experience that most of us are going to have is a feeling of overwhelm. And that overwhelm comes from having so many details and so much that has to fit within a confined space, there’s only so many hours in a day, but yet even when we tack on more hours, we still feel overwhelmed, even when we say if get just get to a little bit more activity done in the course of the day or the course of the week or the course of a month, we would be happier, but we get to that place and there still is more, and that feeling never quite goes away. So today, I want to talk to you about strategies that you can employ to deal with data overwhelmed. OK, so first we have to understand, as with everything at Law Firm Mentor, we talk about our mindset first.


Allison Williams: [00:01:40] And so you have to understand why data overwhelm is such a great risk for your business, so even if you are not currently experiencing data overwhelm at some point in time, if you reach that point where it’s getting closer, you have to be very, very, very maniacal about eliminating it from your business right away, or else it can present a real problem. So first, data is going to overwhelm your minds, right? So what happens when we take in a lot of information if we don’t have a strategic way of dealing with it, if it just kind of goes into a big pile in our minds and it just fills up the spaces of our mind that all of that data is running around in our open spaces of our minds and it starts to invade our thoughts right? So that’s how you can have experiences of you are sitting in a courtroom waiting for a calendar call and you’re thinking about the five thousand things that you have to do when you get back to the office or you’re at home with your family and your mind is stuck on, oh, my God, next week I have to draft a motion and I got to get this new client in and oh, I got to go ahead and open up the case and I have to reach out to my adversary on such and such matter. Our minds don’t turn off and that’s not because we are responsible or because we are concerned about our clients, because we’re caring.


Allison Williams: [00:03:08] We, we come up with a lot of rationalization for this type of behavior because we want to make this type of behavior valid because it is so common that the fact that something is common doesn’t make it back, I mean, let’s, let’s be real, it’s very common that people cheat in their marriages. It’s very common that, that people you know grossly exceed the speed limit and get into car accidents. These things are common behavior. The fact that they’re common doesn’t make them right, which means that it happens frequently. So when you start looking around at other lawyers and you start to express, oh, God, my mind just never turns off, I’m always thinking about client A, B, and C, and they say, Oh yeah, me too. That is not and should not be seen as validation of the fact that when you have all of those pervasive thoughts that this is normal or healthy.


Allison Williams: [00:04:05] OK, so the thing that we have to be thinking about is that when we have too much information in our mind and our mind is kind of bouncing around from thought to thought, activity to activity, plan to plan. Our mind gets tired, but also our emotions get tired. So we start to not have enough energy at the end of the day, not because we we’re out doing backbreaking work, it might have been sitting at a desk all day but if your mind was overextended and thus it was expending energy all day, every day for the purpose of getting you to a place, of working through whatever is in your mind. Then what tends to happen is there’s stress that builds up from having all of those things on your list of things to do.


Allison Williams: [00:04:51] Right. It’s like a never-ending ticker tape. It just runs and runs and runs and at some point in time it runs over. So, I want you to be very cautious about when you start to feel that there’s too much in your mind and there’s anxiety that builds up around that, that you also are likely to have experiences of stress which tires out the body it also is a health risk and you start to get tired in terms of your emotions. Now, the other thing to think about is when you have that state of both having excessive information in your mind and too much running amuck of your emotions, if you will, it also tends to affect the way that you are lawyering. So that means it tends to be harder to deal with your clients and harder to deal with your adversaries and harder to deal with judges and then certainly how you are being in one area of your life. You’re experiencing internal stress that, that internal stress is localized to only one area of your life, filters over into everything so then you might have challenges dealing with your kids and difficulty communicating with your spouse and challenges in communicating with your employees.


Allison Williams: [00:06:02] So, it proliferates these problems of having too much in the container of your mind pouring over into the container of your emotions and then infecting other people. It also leads to decision fatigue and what you’ll find is that a lot of people, when they can’t make the decision, when they start, they’re in distress so they want to solve the problem of being in distress, so they say, I have too much work, I need to hire somebody. Well, who do I hire? Where do I place the ad? What do I put in the ad? What’s going to what? What happens if the person wants to interview outside of Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00, and I’ve promised my spouse I’m going to leave the office at five o’clock, how am I ever going to be able to fill this person in? And what happens if I can’t pay the person? Right. So the mind starts running amuck with all of the what-ifs and you haven’t even truly made the decision that you want to hire somebody yet. And a lot of times that happens because all of the decisions that will inherently have to come after that first decision. You’re focusing on them now before you even need to like the very first thing you need to decide is do I have enough work to? And have I made the decision to hire someone? And so we, we try to make all the decisions at once because our mind is not managed.


Allison Williams: [00:07:15] And thus we see all of these problems contemporaneously instead of one after the next, after the next. So I want to give you some, some very basic strategies that you can use to start to manage where the source of the problem is, which is having too much data in your mind at any given point in time to be effective. OK, so we’ll talk about three primaries, Ok, there’s lots of different things you could do. This is really just the start of a conversation that I really want to open up to all of you to really consider how you can make your minds more effective and thus make your energy, your emotions and your success in business more effective. So, strategy number one. This is going to sound very rudimentary. Don’t think of me as your mom when I tell you this, but you must clean your office, minimally at the end of a week and tidying up at the end of each day will also help with that. So why is a clean office so necessary? OK, and by the way, when I’m talking about clean offices, I’m not talking about that you can’t have a coffee mug sitting in your office or that you have to dust every single day, those things are nice. Some of us have a different level of cleanliness than others but what we’re talking about cleaning in this scenario, we’re really talking about distilling information down to its component parts.


Allison Williams: [00:08:35] You don’t want to have data everywhere yelling at you, screaming at you, inviting you to think about it, you want to get this out of sight and out of mind. Right? So it doesn’t mean that if you have 15 deadlines and they all are going to come at the end of the week, that you want to just shove all that paper into a desk and not think about it. You’re going to have to deal with the data that’s on your desk. But looking at the data that’s on your desk as a way of dealing with it is almost never going to be the most effective route, because when you’re seeing it all, your mind is taking it all in at once, your mind is not taking in activity number one, activity number two, activity number three. So when you start to get legal work and when it starts to come into your office and land on your desk, I want you to develop a strategy of immediately putting it on the calendar, how you’re going to deal with that data. We don’t want to have paper laying around as the reminder, almost like the punitive, I’ll keep it in front of me as that kind of wagging finger of mom or dad that says, hey, you got to do this, rather instead I’m going to create a pathway to deal with it and then I’m going to put it in its proper place.


Allison Williams: [00:09:47] So, that might mean putting it into an electronic file storage system if you’re keeping your office virtual and going paperless or limiting paper or could mean simply taking the documents and putting them into a physical file. But that physical file should not be in your line of sight for you to deal with. It should be on the calendar. When are you going to pick up this file? Where or when are you going to deal with this? Now, when I’ve made this recommendation in the past, people have said, oh my gosh, well, my calendar has my court appearances, my, my client appointments, my team meetings, if I put one more thing on my calendar, it’s just going to look overwhelming, I’m not going to be able to get to everything. So what you might want to do is block out time on your calendar, you need to deal with your legal work. So you want to have a time block out on your calendar to actually get to the work, but you don’t actually have to have what it is, you could just have one calendar that says from 9:00 a.m. to 11 a.m. legal work, Smith case, something like that, and then have a completely separate calendar that you could open for the express purpose of nothing other than planning your work, where you actually go into the details of what it’s going to have to be done. Now, for those of you that are saying, well, that sounds like a lot of data management, it really isn’t.


Allison Williams: [00:10:59] You’re going to have a primary calendar, your primary calendar could be in G suite or it could be in Outlook. You know, where you store information is your choice, but you can very easily and at no additional cost create an account in Gmail. So instead of, you can now have and then create a whole separate calendar where you do nothing other than organize when you are going to do your legal work so that the paper is not sitting in your mind. There’s a time and a place to deal with it. The other thing to consider is that when you stack information in the form of papers, files, documents, reports, things like that, when they are laying about in your office, they actually are comprised with energy, all things, people, physical items, all things comprise energy, and so the more energy you have laying around, the more likely you are to have difficulty in calming down, right, because there’s, there’s extra energy in the atmosphere. And I don’t want to go into too much of a metaphysical conversation about that now, for those of you that are interested in that, I have a lot of different tools I can direct you to about that. But I just want you to be thinking about it from the perspective of the more things you put into your space, the less space you have.


Allison Williams: [00:12:30] Right. So your goal in cleaning your office is to clutter or rather de-clutter the space around you so that there is space for your thoughts to go out and not reverberate right back to you as they run into the wall of all the activity that is the paperwork laying around your office. All right, strategy number two, is you need to organize your email. OK, so I know for a lot of people, organizing email is one of those things that I’ll get around to it when I get around to it. There’s, there’s kind of two schools of thought, we all have seen these names around on social media, I’m sure you’ve got the one in the box that is like one or two emails, maybe three on the high end, as soon as an email comes in, we deal with it, we delete it, we get it out. And then you have those inboxes that are like seventy-five thousand eight hundred and seventy-one and Oh, and a person who is in the category of one or two emails looks at that seventy-five thousand plus email inbox, and they think, oh my God, that’s so overwhelming, How on earth do you function with that many emails? Now, of course, if you weren’t dealing with those emails at some point in time, that could create a real problem. Right. You get a bar complaint for not doing emails, you could have an issue with not having to address the client or a court or what have you as a result of something in your inbox not being addressed.


Allison Williams: [00:13:59] But for the most part, the people that I know that have those massively overloaded inboxes are not completely neglectful of their work. They just haven’t removed the email once it has come into the inbox. So they deal with it and leave it there or they don’t deal with it because they see it as something that doesn’t need to be dealt with, like, for instance, a sale at Macy’s or a promotional email from an art dealer or something like that, something that you signed up for, something with your work email and you don’t need those communications anymore, but they’re not harming you, so you just let them sit there. Right. So, however, whichever category you fall into, the value of organizing email is that it helps you to maintain structure around your time. So even for those of you that are anti-structure and there are a lot of us that are anti-structure, right. There are a lot of us that look at structure as a way of deprivation. Deprivation of freedom, deprivation of creativity, a limitation. We see it as a negative thing that we have these very distinct ways that we have to function that are circumscribed by rules. And for lawyers in particular, if you’re in the legal profession and you have resistance around structure, you’re already forced into somewhat of a structure just by virtue of what the legal system is.


Allison Williams: [00:15:22] Right. We’ve got a lot of deadlines, a lot of requirements, rules, etc. A lot of us will then live kind of moment to moment in our law offices because we don’t like that feeling of structure, we feel like we’re losing something by that structure. So if you’re in that category, I want you to do a little refrain here. Right. Organizing and putting structure around your email actually creates freedom. It allows you to not have all of those racing thoughts of all the people that are communicating with you in your mind and in your line of sight at the same time. Right, so it’s like it’s easier to compartmentalize, to put, like, little file cabinets in your mind, to organize information when what you see in front of you has little file cabinets to organize information. So I actually have a YouTube video that I recorded on how to create an email filtration system, but without, you know kind of reiterating that now, I’ll just say that it’s very easy to create some automatic rules that you can install on your email when you take in a new client. Doesn’t even have to be like after the case is ongoing. Take it in from the time you start a new matter. And then ultimately those communications come into a filtered system. Now, there are some lawyers that have client models, and clients are only authorized to communicate with you through a portal. Also kind of a built-in way of filtering your e-mail, right? It’s not coming into your email inbox. It’s coming into your client portal.


Allison Williams: [00:17:00] Same general idea. The goal is to get information going to its rightful place put away before you get it and allow it to stay kind of in the general open population of your e-mail. So I want you to think about installing those, those rules onto email. And for those of you that have some challenge with something that if you’re getting a lot of emails from, from sources that are not necessarily required communications, they’re not emails that you’re going to have to deal with from a judge or an adversary or a client, then you might want to consider installing something on your inbox called the sanebox. So if you got the sane, it’s a really, really cool tool that I found years ago now, where you’re actually able to take your emails and they go into kind of a segregated location until you go in and manually tell the sanebox that you want those emails in your inbox. So if nothing else, it can limit what comes into your inbox until you either unsubscribe from the emails that you don’t want to receive or if there are emails that you do want to receive, you can put them into a category. Categories around marketing, around legal tech, around conferences and create some rules around those as well so that you can have some automatic sorting and filtering that comes into your inbox.


Allison Williams: [00:18:26] Again, this does not have to be a weekend project, this does not have to be done overnight. Sometimes filtering happens over the course of time, so you can really figure out what are the categories of information that I want to have stored so that I can actually deal with them when I need to deal with them. Now, this is another strategy that deals with Gmail related, so we’re still on strategy number two, but this is going to jar you. I know you’re going to resist it when you hear it, but just hear me out. I want you to remove your e-mail from your phone. I know, I had to let that lead balloon land so that you could have your moment of shock and awe and resistance and now come back to the conversation. So this actually came up. The strategy actually came up in conversations with some of our clients here at Law Firm Mentor. So all of our programs have monthly group coaching as a component of their programs, there’s some private time, there’s a little group time and then in one of the group coaching calls, someone was complaining about having this feeling of overwhelm with emails. So we talked about specific strategies for filtering systems and we kind of created a filtering system with that person on the fly. But that person then said, OK, well, what happens when I get the emails on my phone and, and I, you know, turn over at 6:00 in the morning and the first thing I do is grab my phone and start dealing with the emails and yada, yada, yada.


Allison Williams: [00:19:53] And I told her simply stop doing that, and she looks at me like I had two heads. She said, well, I cannot respond to my clients. I said, Oh, I agree, you cannot respond to your clients. Your clients are entitled to that response. However, your clients are not entitled to a response at 6:00 in the morning. So, I want you to remove your work e-mail from your phone. Now, for some people, that was really, really triggering and it took a lot of conversation for us to wrap our minds around this, but the reality is that there are very few things that are true emergencies that are going to be addressed by email. If somebody is in the type of distress that they need an immediate response, they’re probably going to call your office or they’re going to get to your after-hours line or your text line. They’re probably not going to be sending an email and if they are sending an email, whatever they’re emailing about at 6:00 in the morning can wait until 8:00 in the morning or 9:00 in the morning when you get into the office. But the other side of this is that there are people that have separate phones for work versus personal, and part of the reason why is because they don’t want to remove the email from the phone, they want to have it like when they’re sitting around in court, when they’re at downtime between meetings, when they’re having transported themselves somewhere perhaps waiting at the doctor’s office, middle of the day, that sort of thing. That’s fine as long as you have a device, if you’re going to have it on your, on your phone, as long as you have a device where that’s not your primary mode of communication. So in other words, you just pick up that device when it’s time to deal with your email versus picking up that device for Facebook and calling your friends and messages from your kids and your favorite apps. If you have it all together, you’re going to be inclined to look at it, which means your mind is never going to turn off from work.


Allison Williams: [00:21:42] All right, strategy number three now, just as a quick review, we have talked about cleaning our office to reduce the energy that is in the office and reduce the number of distractions that our eyes go to, that are going to have us thinking about work chronically. And then second, organizing our email, you know, categorizing what comes into our inbox, as well as removing it from our personal devices. Now, the third strategy I want to give you, for dealing with data overwhelm is your calendar. You need to learn how to manage your calendar. Now, the best way of doing this is block scheduling and that just means pulling out chunks of time when you’re going to engage in a certain activity instead of bouncing haphazardly between activity from activity to activity. Right.


Allison Williams: [00:22:30] So if you sit down and write a letter to an adversary and in the middle of writing that letter, you get buzzed by your phone service and you pick up the phone, it’s a call from a client, you decide to take that client call, you take that client call, you’re emailing another client while you’re on the phone with this client because you realize this client doesn’t have anything of major import to talk about. So you’re emailing one client while talking to another client while in the middle of a letter. And then at some point, you finish the email to client number two, you get off the phone with client number one, you return to the letter, you finish the letter. And before you can print out the letter to sign it or electronically sign it, you get a call from your secretary who has a question about something, she comes into your office, you engage in a conversation with her that reminds you of something that you need to do on another case, you open up a second letter to a second adversary in a completely different case, you realize you didn’t sign and transmit the first letter. So while you’re in the middle of the second letter, you’ve hopped back over to the first letter and on and on and on and on and on.


Allison Williams: [00:23:36] Right, and so a lot of us think we’re doing a lot of activity, we got a lot done, we’re actually being very productive. The problem is that when your mind is bouncing back and forth between activities, you are tiring out your mind, you are also distracting and distorting information in your mind. So a lot of things have to be remembered that otherwise would not have to be remembered if you had simply allowed yourself one straight linear pathway from start of the activity to end of the activity, rather than bouncing back and forth. The other thing to remember is that it takes more time. And what you’ll do is if you ever have done an audit of your time, if you ever have just said for the next forty-eight hours, I’m going to keep my cell phone on, I’m going to dictate every single time I engage in an activity, stop, start, stop, start, stop, start in sequential order and you track how long it actually takes you to do things. What you’ll find is that it actually is going to take you longer over the course of a day, if you bounce back and forth, than if you have dedicated time for activity one after the other. So it is highly advisable that you block schedules so that you can have a chunk of time to answer emails, a chunk of time for scheduled phone calls, a chunk of time for drafting documents, a chunk of time for client meetings, a chunk of time for new client prospecting and selling, a chunk of time for administrative work with your team.


Allison Williams: [00:25:03] And if you plan your schedule out consistently, i.e. Every day, I’m going to check my email from twelve to one, every day I’m going to return phone calls from three to four. Every day I’m going to have schedule calls, or maybe even twice a week. I have scheduled calls with my clients that are only able to speak to me if they schedule an appointment. What you start to do is you start to train yourself into the habits of your schedule, so in other words, it’s not just getting where you fit in all day, every day. I’m available until I’m not available anymore. Instead, what you find is that you actually start to create space around your schedule and your mind starts to think in the way of your schedule. So if somebody were to ask you, you know, hey, are you open for lunch on Thursday, your mind would immediately say I return phone calls between 12:00 to 1:00 on Thursday, I would have to either change that schedule to allow this thing to come in or I would have to decline until is there’s space on my schedule. We’d have to either do it earlier in the day, later in the day, but that time is allocated and allows you to have a lot more freedom of thought around your schedule, which allows you to have more freedom of thought in general.


Allison Williams: [00:26:20] All right. So ultimately, what we have talked about today are strategies that you can use to start to manage the data that comes into your mind. Now, of course, we know that the way that we think about information in our mind is about work, and the healthier our thoughts are regarding the work that’s in our mind, the ideas that are in our mind, the better we’re going to be overall. But whether you have five thousand things in your mind that are healthily managed or you have one thousand things in your mind that are kind of chaos running around unfiltered, either way, you still need to have a process for limiting what comes into your mind so that ultimately you can be more effective at dealing with what you have to deal with. You ultimately will experience less stress, you’ll be less energized, frustrated, tired, overwhelmed, and you’ll be a better version of yourself so that you can actually enjoy the owning of a law business. All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. You’ve listen to this episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. So, if you are somebody who wants to get some help and running a highly systematized law firm, the same way that you can have a highly systematized mind by employing some of the strategies that we talked about on today’s episode of the podcast, I highly recommend that you reach out. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor and you’re listening to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast.

Allison Williams: [00:27:58] Thank you for tuning in to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast to learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement Free Facebook group. There you can access our free trainings on improving collections and law firms, meeting billable hours, enjoying the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firms and make more money. I’m Allison Williams. Your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day!

Allison Bio:

Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law. 

Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.  In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.

In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers.  She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.  Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms. 


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00: 04:05 (45 Seconds) 

OK, so the thing that we have to be thinking about is that when we have too much information in our mind and our mind is kind of bouncing around from thought to thought, activity to activity, plan to plan. Our mind gets tired, but also our emotions get tired. So we start to not have enough energy at the end of the day, not because we were out doing backbreaking work, it might have been sitting at a desk all day but if your mind was overextended and thus it was expending energy all day, every day for the purpose of getting you to a place, of working through whatever is in your mind. Then what tends to happen is there’s stress that builds up from having all of those things on your list of things to do.