Playing ‘hot potato’ with your client files


There’s a productivity maxim that says we should only touch a piece of paper or file one time. If you pick it up, you do something with it. Get it off of your plate and onto someone else’s.

It’s like the kids’ game, ‘hot potato’. You have to hand it off quickly, lest you get stuck with it when the buzzer sounds. (No extra charge, there, for using “lest” in a sentence.)

Fortunately, most of what you have to do on most of your files can be done quickly. Take a look, make a decision, scribble a note, done. Give it to your secretary or assistant to carry out your instructions.

When I was practicing, I would come into the office in the morning to a big pile of files and papers on my desk. My mission was to get through that pile as quickly as possible and put those files on my secretary’s desk.

I’d write a note, review an incoming letter, dictate something, sign a letter, and so on, and in a minute or two, each file was done and off my desk.

It was a game and I played it well. I delegated like a boss, because, well, I was the boss.

Of course there were plenty of files that required more than a few minutes of attention. No problem. As I chopped the wood pile down to size and got rid of the kindling (the easy files), I started a new pile of bigger logs. This didn’t violate the “touch once” rule because I did something with the bigger files–I looked at them, decided they needed more time, and put them in another pile.

An overwhelming pile of twenty-five files would thus (no charge there, either) be reduced to a much more manageable five or six. While my staff was working on the pile I had given them, I would dig into the bigger projects.

Yes it’s all a mental game. But if you’re like me, it’s a game you enjoy playing. You keep your staff busy, you keep your desk clear, and you get more balls into the opposition’s court so they can do what they have to do and get back to you with offers.

That’s how you keep the cash flowing and go home early.