What steps can you take to better manage your time so you’re truly more productive and less overwhelmed? For this month’s Friday 5+ Tech Tips, we asked the practice management experts for their best time management tip: a teensy tweak or trick that has made a difference — or their best advice for overhauling an entire process, if that’s what it takes.
For the most recent tech tips from the pros, click here.
Heidi Alexander: Declutter Your Brain with GTD
Like many other attorneys, I’m a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) strategy for time and task management. This technique provides a way to capture, organize and review what I need to do so that my brain is not constantly cluttered with my to-do items.
While Allen’s method was initially based on paper and pen, now task management technology helps simplify the system. Three programs that work well with GTD are Wunderlist, Evernote and OmniFocus. (I’ve outlined how to use Wunderlist with GTD in this article.) Evernote’s features, including quick note capture via mobile device, notebooks and tags for organization, and reminders for upcoming tasks and weekly review, make it an ideal candidate for use with GTD.
Make sure to tailor your time management strategy to your own work and processes. There is no one-size-fits-all method.
Heidi S. Alexander (@heidialexander) is a law practice management advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (MassLOMAP), where she advises lawyers on practice management matters and in implementing new technologies.
Carole Levitt: Search Documents More Quickly
One time-saving trick is to use the Control-F key combination to quickly find a word, name or phrase in a long document. You can use this when viewing a web page, or a PowerPoint presentation, a Word document, an Excel spreadsheet or a PDF (unless it is a scan — then you have to download the PDF and OCR it for Ctrl-F to work). The tip also works with Corel documents.
To invoke the Find feature, strike the Ctrl key together with the letter F on a PC (on a Mac, use the Apple key and the letter F). When the Find box appears, enter your word or phrase into it and you will be taken to the first place where the word or phrase appears, with it highlighted. You can find every place the word appears by clicking Find Next (or there might just be an arrow). You can even do this on your smartphone by using the Chrome browser, clicking the menu icon on the top right, and selecting “Find in Page.”
Carole Levitt (@CaroleLevitt) is President of Internet For Lawyers, and a frequent speaker on topics such as investigative and legal research, Google search, social media research and legal ethics. She is co-author of several books, including “The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet” and “Internet Legal Research on a Budget.”
Lee Rosen: What’s the Root of the Problem?
It’s not about time. If we charge higher fees we’ve got plenty of time. We can employ help, buy gadgets and build systems. But we don’t charge more because we believe our clients will go elsewhere. So it’s about price?
No, it’s not about price. We can’t raise the price until we get better clients who’ll pay the price. We need to attract those clients. We need better marketing.
So it’s about marketing, right? Nope. We know all about marketing. We need a bigger network. We need a better website. We need to be willing to stand out and be different. We need to do and say and be something special. Marketing would solve the problem, but we don’t do what needs doing.
We’re afraid to stand out. We’re afraid to take a risk. We’re afraid to be different. We’re afraid to experiment and fail. We’re afraid to alienate our peers, the judges, the regulators and others. What will people think? So we conform. We do what everyone else is doing. We play by the same rules as our competitors and we get results that make us wish we had more time, higher prices and better marketing.
Yes, it’s about fear. It’s about everything that paralyzes us, keeps us where we are and makes us hesitate to act. No app, gadget or software will fix the fear. Fixing the fear is up to us. It’s about getting comfortable with our uncertainty. It’s about taking a small risk and then taking a bigger risk. It’s about being willing to experiment and, sometimes, fail.
There’s not an app for fixing fear. Until we stop being afraid we’ll be searching for time management tips that won’t make things any better. Fix the fear. That will solve all of the other problems.
Lee Rosen (@LeeRosen) practices family law in North Carolina. His blog, Divorce Discourse, is a three-time ABA Blawg 100 popular vote winner. He is a recipient of the ABA James Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering.
Nora Regis: Do Small Bites Pomodoro-Style
They say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Starting a task is often the hardest part of time management for me, especially if it’s something I don’t want to do. Whether it’s cleaning up around the house or beginning an ambitious project at work, I’ve discovered the best way to get going is to set a timer for 25 minutes. I can bear almost anything if it’s only for 25 minutes, and once the timer starts running I’m motivated to get moving. When 25 minutes are up, I can take a stretch or get a glass of water. Usually I’ve gained enough momentum that when I come back to my task after the little break, I have no problem starting back up.
This method is an element of the time management system The Pomodoro Technique developed by Francesco Cirillo. It is an especially great tool to have in your arsenal if you bill by the hour because you can track your time when the 25 minutes are up.
Nora Regis (@NoraRegisCBA) is Trainer & Coordinator, Law Practice Management and Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. Nora is a former paralegal, specializing in litigation and bankruptcy. Prior to working in legal, she was a technology help desk agent at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Catherine Sanders Reach: Turn Off the Tech and Focus
Technology can help us get our work done and is an essential part of our daily communications. However, technology can also lead to stress and poor time management when we are reacting to communications or information brought to us by a visual or audio cue hundreds of times a day.
I’ve long suggested turning off email notification alerts, but like the cobbler’s child I didn’t actually do it myself. In fact, I always respond a little too quickly to email, which then creates an assumption that I will always respond to email immediately whether it is during the workday, late at night or on the weekend. What this does, however, is make you check and respond to email all the time and lose focus — over and over again — on other daily work that needs serious concentration.
So, I turned off email notifications. No pop-up, no ding, nothing. I also turn off my phone notifications so I don’t get reminded of incoming email that way. And you know what? I can focus on one task far better than before. Plus, I’m starting to not have a near panic attack when I see 10 new emails in my inbox that I haven’t read or responded to or flagged for follow-up. And, it goes without saying that the other disruptions from social media notifications are all turned off.
Which brings me to other ways information may assault you. You can control this and make it work for you. For example, I do my professional development and “current awareness” reading and personal/professional social media interactions twice a day. I am lucky because I ride the train to and from work, thus these times are carved out for these kinds of to-dos. I can scan my Flipboard and Netvibes headlines, send or schedule interesting content through Hootsuite to my social channels, and catch up on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. All on my phone.
If I look at these again during the day I’m taking a break, but for the “work” portion I’ve been able to segment time and use a few tools to create a workflow.
Figure out ways to reduce distracting noise and alerts, and carve out “downtime” for the activities that are important but not essential to get your job done. That may mean controlling your technology a little better.
Catherine Sanders Reach (@CatherineReach) is Director, Law Practice Management and Technology, for the Chicago Bar Association. She was Director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center for over 10 years. Catherine currently serves on the ABA TECHSHOW board.
Mark Rosch: Try to Automate or Outsource Time-Intensive Tasks
My time management tip is to outsource or automate administrative-type tasks to free up your own time for more interesting, creative or profitable activities. At Internet For Lawyers, we’ve used sites like Guru.com and Elance.com to find freelancers with the skills to make that happen. While bids to complete work via these sites range from the very high to the absurdly low, we have found competent individuals to complete the work with reasonable fees in the middle range.
For example, since 1999, we have offered text-based MCLE exercises on our website. The exercises use a series of forms to collect the user’s answers to questions and identify information. In the beginning, we graded the assessment tests and created certificates of completion by hand. At deadline times, this generated additional work answering inquiries from attorneys anxious to get their certifications as the deadline loomed.
A number of years ago, we were able to automate the “grading” process in a way that immediately emailed the users that they had successfully completed the exercise. More recently, we worked with a developer to automate the entire process. Now, a server-side process grades submissions and extracts the user-input form data to generate responsive documents sent to the user via email. Those with a “passing” percentage of correct answers automatically generate a congratulatory email indicating the percentage of questions the user answered correctly, and then a second email containing a customized certificate of completion with information drawn from the form the user submitted. Those with less than a passing percentage receive an email with their score and directions to return to the exercise and try again. These emails are generated almost instantly.
Over time, we have turned a time-intensive process that required a lot of individual attention into a completely automated process that takes care of itself 99 percent of the time.
Mark Rosch (@MarkRosch) is Vice President of Internet For Lawyers. He is co-author of “Google Gmail and Calendar in One Hour for Lawyers,” “Find Info Like a Pro,” “The Cybersleuth’s Guide to the Internet” and “Google For Lawyers.”