Back on August 12, 2019, I posted this on my personal Facebook feed:
I realized that while it’s important to talk about ways others can help us avoid burnout, it’s really up to us to set healthy and strong boundaries. It’s up to US to prevent burnout for ourselves.
The post got some great comments- and then I kinda moved on. And interestingly, people kept asking me about the post. Just today I got this note via Instagram DM:
And so, I realized, this was just the nudge I needed (Wanted??) to expand on my original post and to actually provide specific tips and tricks about how to prevent the burnout that inevitably occurs when people think they can reach us at all hours of the day and night, and expect instant response.
It is up to us to “retrain” those who have the misguided belief that they deserve special treatment, that they don’t have to flow through our normal business processes and procedures (and staff), and who think they get to come straight at us with their wants.
THE “SOCIAL MEDIA BACKDOOR” SCENARIO
We have a business website. We have a brick-and-mortar business office, with a business phone line, and a wonderful office manager who handles intakes based on a refined process. And yet, people will attempt to use the old DM backdoor method. I cannot tell you how many messages we get via DM on Instagram, Twitter and FB, from people asking for free legal advice, immediate assistance (also, assumed for free), questions answered, references provided, and responses- from me.
It is wildly inappropriate to ask for legal advice via this forum, but given the relative ease and assumed immediate and direct contact, many many people try to avail themselves of this approach. And for years, I fell for it. Not only does it expose me to malpractice claims giving off-the-cuff legal tips here and there, and not only is it exhausting trying to respond to these messages (and thanks FB business for punishing us with a too-long-to-respond metric), but I consistently felt unable to unplug and detach from business during off-hours. Even when I was away from the office, even when I stopped checking emails - The steady stream just kept coming at me via the DM on these social apps - and when combined with an ever-growing email inbox and a non-stop stream of calls and voicemails to return at the office, it simply became too much.
Here are the actions I took to combat this:
First- I removed the Facebook app from my iPhone. Seriously, do it. Now, I only check FB once or twice a week, I glance at notifications on my desktop, quickly review messages in my personal and business inboxes, and then I close the website and move on. GAME CHANGER. There is no need to have this app with you on the go, I promise, you will be better off focusing on the people in your presence, or exercising, or sleeping, or just zoning out in your own thoughts.
Second - AUTO RESPONDER on Facebook Business messenger: there is now an option to set up auto-reply!!! See ours- at right.
No more of those “demerits” from FB for waiting too long to respond to a message there. This auto-reply simply (and predictably) asks the sender to reach us via our website “contact us” page or our phone number or email. Mind-blowing, right? So, problem solved on that forum. No more checking the inbox and even better, it allows people to self-select out. If their inquiry is important enough to them, they’ll take the next step to reach us. If not, they were simply looking for the easy, free (?) way to reach a law firm and they won’t take the next step to connect with us.
** Note: as people tried to reach us via our law firm FB page messenger, and they got this auto-reply, if they have access to me as a FB friend on my personal page, they’ve now been trying to message me via my personal page instead. As stated above, I now only look at FB a couple times a week for a few minutes each. People who are true friends have my cell # or my personal email and they can (and will) contact me that way if their need is urgent. If it’s a law office matter, and it’s urgent for them, they eventually WILL call the office. Again -we are simply retraining people.
Twitter and Instagram -there is no auto-reply option for DM or comments, unfortunately. So, another intervention was needed.
Insert: the professionals.
As much as I love posting, (especially to IG), and love reading the (positive) comments, I needed to distance myself from my IG-addiction, the negative comments and DM that sometimes appeared there, and also to distance myself from the ease that people perceived in their ability to reach me quickly and directly.
I hired a PR firm to start taking over. It doesn’t mean I can’t still post and read comments and respond and look at DM… but I don’t HAVE to. The firm will not only handle the scheduling of posts and posting for me, they’ll respond to the comments and DMs. We created an “if-then” formula to follow. If it’s regarding legal advice or someone who wants to hire us -they direct them to our office manager. If it’s someone asking us to sponsor an event, or inviting me to speak at something, or content or communications related, it goes from the firm directly to that member of our staff. As well, we created an FAQ page for the firm to use and refer these folks online to review as it pertains and hopefully answers their questions.
A wonderful and very - much - intended side effect of delegating this out to a team of professionals, is that for those off-color comments and DMs, the ones making lewd comments, offering inappropriate, snarky or downright mean (the ones I hate to admit derail my day but yes, definitely do) comments, I don’t have to put my eyes on them anymore. They can be reviewed by a professional and I can be separated from it -which preserves my energies and positivity for other more productive feats and tasks. That is a win. A big big win.
“REAL QUICK I JUST NEED….”
First, acknowledge the hustle and what it makes us do: We trick ourselves into believing that we lose business if we don’t respond right away to someone and if we don’t respond to them directly -rather than letting our well-trained staff handle it. This can often happen with a “quick call” from our personal cell phone if we’re away from our office.
The pace of life anymore coaxes us into this frenetic pace and pattern of knee-jerk reactions which don’t serve us, or the person trying to reach us. We must put our foot down on this. If the response is “how high” when people ask us to jump, we’re doing it wrong. The better and more thoughtful and intentional response to someone asking us to jump should be, “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can on that, once I’ve consulted with my team and I am in a physical location where I can provide you and your inquiry my undivided attention.”
Whether it involves a cell phone or other means of asking — convert those automatic YESes to “I’ll get back to you on this.”
And if people who are not close friends or family are abusing your cell #, feel free to:
1) ask them to stop texting you or calling you on that line. If they persist,
2) block them on your cell #.
Or 3) using the keyboard shortcuts, create something like this “OOT” automatically types/sends: “Sorry I can’t respond, I’m out of the office and offline this week. Please call our office for immediate assistance.” I type three letters on my phone, the recipient believes it’s an auto-response and follows the prompts suggested.
The objective is always to re-route people back into the office, back into normal business hours, back into the office protocols and processes, and back into the work team abilities, where they can be tended to using the normal procedures. This allows for consistency, gets them off your cell phone, allows you peace of mind knowing your team is handling them (and therefore appropriate notes and records will be made of the interactions, removing your need to keep it all stored in your over-worked brain), and facilitates a more professional handling of the entire situation. Doing things in one-off fashion never works. In my experience, it almost always back-fires.
Someone else’s chaos or crisis is NOT your crisis. 99% of the time, these things are urgent only to the asker, and not in the normal scheme of life. “Real Quick” means “I’d like to get your free advice or your expertise free of charge.”
This type of request, unless it’s coming from a close friend or family member (and even then, that can be inappropriate), is disrespectful to you.
How do I ask for legal advice from my lawyer friends? “I have this issue… here is the time sensitivity or time frame. I am happy and willing to pay you for your time. Can you help me with this or if not do you know someone who could?”
Lessons learned: let the “my hair is on fire” type requests, especially those coming via social media backdoor channels or texting or off-line methods, sit. For at least a few days. Often, the issue resolves itself. I’ve seen this happen often with people who message me via FB messenger. I see the message but don’t open it, I leave it sit for a few days, and often when I check back a week later, the person has resolved the situation on their own.
Ask yourself: do you want to be intentional with your time, energy and talents or do you want to exist in this reactionary, knee-jerk environment? Answer: you decide. Then make the rules and follow them for your own sanity’s sake. You are not, and cannot be, on call 24-7.