Three Inexpensive Productivity Boosters

Three Inexpensive Productivity Boosters

Happy December.

Yesterday I wrote about multiple monitors, calling them the third-least-expensive productivity tool you can get for your team.

I suspect that raises an obvious question. If multiple monitors are #3, what are #2 and #1?

3. Multiple Monitors (Under $150)

Two weeks ago, I picked up a 22″ monitor for $110. It's probably not the best-made piece of electronica in the known universe, but it works well. It's bright and clear, viewable from a wide angle, reasonably color-accurate, etc. My laptop has a 17″ screen, which is a pain on an airline tray table but a boon otherwise. In other words, I have some serious visual real estate in which to work... for about $550 all up, laptop plus monitor.

As I write this, I have yesterday's article on one monitor for reference, while my editing window for this article occupies the other. Both are full-screen.

2. Better Timekeeping Software (Under $100)

(This item applies only to legal workers who track their time in detail.)

One of the biggest law-firm "leaks" is the double-barrel cost of poor timekeeping. The larger leak is time not recorded properly. Studies have shown a direct correlation between time accuracy and the gap (between the work and its recording). In other words, the more time between doing the work and recording the time, the less accurate your billing will be. Neither underbilling nor overbilling accrues to the benefit of the firm, at least over time.

Thus there's a huge advantage to recording all billable (or trackable) time no later than end of day. Even better is to record it immediately.

Of course, contemporaneous recording is a royal pain if you have to open up some other piece of software. (It's a royal pain anyway, but it's more of a pain if you have to jump through hoops to do it.)

One possibility is to keep your TK software up on that additional monitor you just received. That way, it's easily available; indeed, it'll often be staring you in the face.

Another is to license a "one-click" system that pops up with a single click, often tied to EMail, Word documents, the telephone, etc. Sometimes this can be intrusive, so it's worth playing with the settings to find a balance that best fits the way you work.

1. Shut Down or Hide EMail (Free)

And the #1 productivity item is also the cheapest.

Turn off EMail.

Multitasking doesn't work, despite what our kids tell us. (Or maybe they're becoming a separate species. I've often wondered that about my own kids. At any rate, whether or not they can multitask, we cannot.)

If you have any doubts about multitasking, consider driving on the Interstate next to a driver who's texting. Is that a wonderful experience? Didn't think so. And driving's easy compared to working on legal matters.

Set an agreement with colleagues and clients as to your EMail availability. For me, that's three or four times a day. For you, that might be every hour. For the rest of that time, shut your EMail down. Put the BlackBerry in silent mode. Give clients your phone number.

The world won't end.

But your productivity will go up.

If you can't make the break from EMail entirely, if cold turkey is too threatening, then at least hide it. Put it behind your other windows. Turn off all of its interruptive tricks. In Outlook, that means turning off the blue popups (called "toasts," for some reason), turn off the cursor-shape-change, and turn off the audio alert. In Options -> Mail -> Message Arrival, uncheck all of the options. (In Outlook 2010 it's on the File menu; it older versions, it's on the Tools menu and may have slightly different wording.)

Then set aside time to do EMail. It's a task, like any other task. You don't randomly jump between documents, I trust, or do 30 seconds of research on one case while in the middle of working on another. Why do that with EMail?

Even those distractions - toasts, dings, cursors - are productivity killers. Distraction is dramatic - and insidious - in its effects.

And it's free. It's even better than free, because you get time back.

Now get back to work. Write an EMail to your IT folks asking for a 22″  monitor and (if applicable) better timekeeper software. Then turn off EMail and get back to work.

Get more tips on Legal Project Management on the Lexician Blog.