the one thing you can do to improve your work life. immediately.

Over and over with clients, I see one thing that can make the single biggest difference in a person’s work life. 

Sadly, it took me a little bit of time to connect the dots. The more lawyers (and other folks) I worked with, the more I saw this same issue come up. With some clients, it took a bit longer to get to. We were so busy focusing on a process or system that we failed to take our first look at the primary tool.

What is the primary work tool for most lawyers? Their computer. Of course.

Most of us spend hours on our computer daily. Drafting, reading, reviewing, composing and responding to emails <more on that to come!>, conducting research, wandering around through Facebook and Twitter feeds …

And once I started connecting the dots, I realized that the starting point for all of my clients was to assess their primary tool first. Before we considered whether a change in PM software, collaboration tools, or anything else was necessary.

What I learned? Pretty much everyone is using a slow, lethargic computer that is slowly sucking the life from them. Now, the reasons for this vary. For some, it’s a budget issue. Others? They’re tied to a system in their firm. And for many, they simply are so used to it that they didn’t realize how bad it was. Until they get a new machine and realize how good it can be.

Here’s the thing: your primary tool should be as good as it can possibly be. As fast, efficient, and powerful as you can afford.

With that said, not everyone needs a new machine. Sometimes a little maintenance can do the trick, to correct the lagging, slowness, and spinning beach balls.

And sometimes not.

While I don’t believe that we’re only as good as our tools, I firmly believe that using really, really good tools makes us better. And happier.

If you haven’t replaced your computer in a while, and especially if you’re experiencing any noticeable performance issues, then do an assessment to figure out if now is the time to replace. This handy primer offers some tips.

And if you’re anything like most of my consulting clients, don’t let you lack of time keep you from doing this. As with most aspects of your practice, you can hire someone to do the heavy lifting for you, and assess if it’s time to replace, and what you should buy. My suggestion is to hire someone who isn’t also selling the computer — you need someone who can figure out what you need, and get you that.

One consulting client of mine replaced an 8-year-old Dell PC. This was a really hard decision for her. Why? Well, moving from XP to Windows 8 didn’t excite her. At all. She, like most of us, would prefer to stick with what she knows works (even when it’s working really, really poorly) than dive into the unknown.

But dive, she did. And after tracking her time for just a couple of days? She realizes that she’s captured so much productivity. Why? Well, her machine isn’t slowing down or locking up anymore. (Yes, she had reached the point of lock-up and constant reboots. Even after de-fragging, cleaning temp files, uninstalling unused files, and the 30 other things you need to be doing to maintain a PC.)

The single best thing I did to improve my work life? Dump my old PC and go Mac. At the end of 2010, I was limping along on a slow slow slow Dell laptop. I would turn it on in the morning, go make coffee, enjoy at least one if not two cups, return to my desk, and wait 15 more minutes before the machine had fully loaded. One day, I had an epiphany. My life didn’t have to be this way. When it finally loaded, the first thing I did was go to the Apple store online and order a new laptop. Which arrived two days later. And my life has never been the same.

Perhaps it’s too big a leap for you to go from Windows to Mac, but being a Mac user myself, I must make a plug. I never felt truly comfortable with technology until I returned to Apple for all of my computing tools. Yes, there’s a learning curve. It’s different than Windows. And generally, machines with comparable stats (RAM, disc space, processing speed) are more expensive at the Apple store.

But if you view your computer as your primary work tool, and acknowledge its importance in your life, then you should give yourself permission to invest in the best. 

I shall forgo a lengthy discussion on how to select a new computer. Others have written about what kind of computer to buy — go here and here and here, for example.

I will share a few salient points, however, based on my 16 years in the practice of law:

  • Get a solid state drive. Buy the biggest one you can afford. Why? They’re more reliable and faster than standard hard drives (which have moving parts prone to breakage and wearing out more quickly.)
  • If you have a mobile practice, buy a powerful laptop and add a nice, big, hi-res monitor when you’re working at your desk. I use both the 17” screen of my laptop and a separate 24” monitor when I work at my office desk.
  • If you’ve got the cash, get a lightweight laptop like a MacBook Air for your work on the go. The 11” is not much bigger than an iPad and is much handier for doing real work.

Here’s my set-up:

17” MacBook Pro (no longer made - 15” is currently the largest screen available) with 24” external monitor at the office. With a 500 GB solid state drive and external 3 TB hard drive for extra storage and back up. (I also back up to the cloud via two different platforms.)

11” MacBook Air - with 500 GB solid state drive. I use my iPad as a second monitor when I’m working out of the office (using this app).

27” iMac - with 2TB traditional disk drive, in my home office. It’s slower than my SSD laptops, but has lots of RAM so handles my needs well enough. When the time comes, I’ll replace with the same size screen and either a SSD or fusion drive, which combines flash and regular disk storage.

Enough about me. Stop reading this blog post on your old, slow machine. Go do some homework (or hire someone to do it for you), and upgrade your most important tool!

you’ve done your digital planning. right?

You’re a lawyer, so no doubt you’ve gotten your estate plan in order. Right? (Even if you don’t know squat about estate planning, you hired a colleague to put a plan together for you, I”m sure. Right?) 

And you’ve created a succession plan for your practice. Right?

And both your personal and practice plans handle all of your digital assets. Right?

Sadly, when polling my lawyer friends and clients, it appears that very few have planned generally. And none have done any planning for digital assets. Yep, none

I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised. Many lawyers remain in a state of tech-phobia or tech-avoidance. Even those who embrace technology seemed to have forgotten that their succession and estate plans should address all of the accounts they have living in the cloud, and not just bank accounts.

A handful of states have started addressing this issue, including Delaware, which recently enacted the Fiduciary Access to to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act. (A matrix of state laws (not including Delaware, appears at the bottom of this post.)

Whether or not your state of residence/practice has provided any guidance in this area, plan you must. If you use any kind of cloud-based platform (email, practice management, social media,  cloud backup???), do these things, now:

Read the terms of service agreements for your digital accounts. Not only are you ethically compelled to do this, it’s the only way to find out what a platform does with your account upon your death. So read and find out. If you don’t see a clear statement from the provider on this, then ask.

Take the appropriate steps for each platform, to enable access. Now knowing what Facebook does with your account, make sure that you’ve addressed how this account can be accessed when you’re gone, and provide instructions to your executor (or digital executor, if someone other than your primary executor will be in charge of your digital assets).

Figure out who will handle your digital assets. As I note above, you can have these accounts managed by your executor (appointed in your will document), or by a “digital executor.” Why have a digital executor? Given the number and nature of your digital accounts, you may want (or need) to have these handled by someone with the appropriate technical capacity. And if the accounts contain confidential client data, then this should be taken into account when appointing someone. 

Commit your digital asset plan to writing. And make sure that the right person(s) have this information, or know where to find it when the time comes. And if you live/practice in a state with a law governing digital assets, make sure that your wishes are in line. 

Review your plan annually. You should be reviewing your estate plan annually, anyway. So add digital assets to the list. Why? Accounts come and go. The backup provider you used last year may be different than the one you’re currently using. So you’ve got to update the plan accordingly. The plan is only helpful if it’s accurate.

Seriously, if you haven’t made a plan and you’re not reviewing it annually, then you’re failing at a very important part of being a responsible adult who also practices law. This stuff isn’t hard or time-consuming to accomplish. So add it to your to-do list, Kanban board, or calendar. And get it done.

image

Image source: Pew Research Center

have you taken a break lately?

image

I have. I just returned from a quite long one, actually. (See above for the view from my beach perch.) For a month (plus some), I took a break from [most] work and [most] media (including writing for this blog, Twitter, reading the 12 zillion blogs in my RSS feed, and other internet rabbit holes I frequent). 

[Admission: I did spend some time on Facebook because I have family that will pester me unless they’re receiving semi-regular updates.]

I spent time with family and friends. Being truly present. 

It was hard at times. Yep. I jonesed more than once for a feed — any kind of feed — on my iPhone.

But the mental, emotional and psychic break I got from disconnecting and truly breaking away? I’m still processing how important this was. Is.

I traveled some of the time. I think this is key to a real break. Get out of your daily routine. Get out of your comfort zone. Get away from what you know. 

Relax expectations. This is also important. If you’re like me, you spend much of your time working to fulfill expectations. Your own, your family’s, your client’s. Someone’s. Let go of this, too.

We all know that the legal profession is filled with stress, anxiety, and too much negativity. Which makes taking a real break all the more important for legal practitioners. Not a working break. A REAL break.

I know this is hard. We are taught in law school that we can never work hard enough. The programming to work insane hours (way beyond any human’s productive capacity) continues for pretty much any law firm associate. I wager it’s worse for those in bigger firms, but I can tell you that the expectations in the small firm I worked for out of law school were the same. Stay long after 5:00 (or 6:00 or 7:00) has come and gone. Come in on the weekends. Failure to do so? Then you’re deemed not worthy. You don’t want it enough. 

I’m not the only one who thinks that this is anathema to being a good lawyer. Or a healthy, sane, happy person. But it seems to be a perpetuated model. 

Well, I for one don’t want to have a heart attack, develop a serious addiction, contemplate or attempt suicide, or alienate my friends and family.

So I take breaks. Long breaks. Doing things that have nothing to do with work. With people I love.

Breaks make us happier. Even in jobs that we don’t love. And especially in jobs we do. They make us more resilient

How long has it been since you took a real break? If you’re reading this and thinking that there’s no way you can leave your work and truly disconnect, then I’ve got news for you. 

You’re doing it wrong. Really, really wrong. There is no work, no legal practice, that stops you from taking a break. Create the right way to work, and the breaks happen. Because you build them into how you work.

I know this because it’s how I operate. And I’m not alone. But there are far too few of us in this club.

Come join the club. And send me a postcard when you get there.

links i like. July 11, 2014 edition.

Louis CK and the downside of hype in how we promote ourselves.

Can you relate to this at all? Why we get angry. I see glimpses of most (all?) of these triggers in the anxiety-ridden, stressed-out professionals around me. Or the clients they deal with. Or both.

"Unless you are extremely well capitalized, you should not attempt to offer the lowest prices in your market. Bragging that you are competitive on price does not gain more customers." Pretty much everyone I know should read this: 3 strategies for raising your pricing

Need to know something about any Microsoft product/platform? Check out this huge list of free e-books spanning the Microsoft universe.

Mammoth: Evernote meets Tumblr? 

Going paperless on a Mac with Eaglefiler.

Google, take down requests, and “searching for the right balance.

So true. To solve big [and small] problems, change your process. [video]

For a quick shot of happiness, spend just a few moments doing one (or more!) of these easy things.

Think beyond the next five minutes. Consider the foundations for flourishing.

links i like. July 4, 2014 edition.

The cost of continuously checking email? Your productivity, and quite possibly your sanity. Often one of the first issues I address with consulting clients.

Good, clean failure has many virtues.

I know many lawyers (and other business folks) who should follow this advice: raise prices without losing clients.

For a creative, socially-minded lawyer (or anyone else, for that matter), here are some thoughts on adding social impact to your business model.

"Superb service is not limited to out of the ordinary circumstances. It can be incorporated into the very fabric of your business, showing up in even the most common of instances." 10 stories of unforgettable customer service.

I’ve never been a fan of early morning meetings, myself. Why you should rethink them.

Good design solves real problems. This is about much more than the value of an effective logo, but it’s about that, too. [video].

Are you a high performer? Or a workaholic? 7 subtle differences.

I’ve been helping business clients with succession planning for years. I’ve started asking my consulting clients (lawyers) if they’ve planned. Like most small business owners, many haven’t.

"I believe that for changes to take long-lasting effect, they have to influence your identity, your core picture of yourself." This is as much about how to change as it is about how to be a writer.

hard lesson learned. or, what to do to prevent Tumblr [or any other platform] from screwing up your hard work.

The moral of yesterday’s lesson: when you create a process for ensuring the safety and sanctity of your work, do not vary from said process.

Perhaps it’s a reminder we all need every so often, given how so much of our knowledge work is created and lives in the cloud these days. I just wish it weren’t such a painful reminder.

So yesterday I drafted a quite nifty little post for this blog. I think it was titled “lawyers should study copywriting.” (I was so frustrated when I realized the posted post contained only the title and one sentence that I deleted it yesterday.)

I’m working out of another office, in another state, this week. I was pressed for time when I wrote the post. I didn’t follow my typical process for making sure I had a back-up before posting the draft. 

I’ve gotten so used to writing directly in the Tumblr editing window that I created a process for saving a copy of the content in another platform to make sure that a random event (browser or network crash or Tumblr screw up, etc.) didn’t destroy my work. 

The back-up process: I view the draft post in “Preview on blog” mode within Tumblr and save to Evernote periodically. If Tumblr screws it up, I can simply pull it up in Evernote and copy/paste into a new Tumblr window. I’ve had to do this more times than I can count on all of my fingers so far.

Sadly, I failed to do it yesterday. The post was flowing, I was pushing myself to finish. And when I opened the draft to edit and hit “post,” the new post contained exactly a headline and one sentence. The other 700+ or so words I wrote? POOF. Gone.

So. From now on, no matter the circumstances, I shall not vary from my process. A somewhat excruciating reminder of the importance of a process, but one I will take to heart. Choosing to believe that such things aren’t unintentional in a karmic sense is often what keeps me from going over the edge.

So, if you’re working on important stuff that relies solely on the smooth functioning of one app or one platform or one machine, ask yourself these questions: How can I not rely solely on the ONE? How can I create another copy or another way to access, in case the ONE fails?

The time to create and use a process that backs up your important work is NOW, and not after tragedy strikes. 

And it bears highlighting that I’m focusing here specifically on work you may be doing that is ephemeral if the ONE fails. This isn’t solely an issue of backing up your Word files via a server/external HDD/online service. This is also about backing up the work you do on any platforms that “live” other than on the hard drive you’re backing up, e.g. Tumblr, Wordpress.com, Blogger, and a plethora of others.

Spend a few minutes to create a thoughtful back up process. And then follow it. Each and every time.

And now I shall go follow my own advice.

Google Apps ups the ante in cloud storage and email services for business. Vault is a nice extra.

Google Apps ups the ante in cloud storage and email services for business. Vault is a nice extra.

links i like. june 27, 2014 edition.

A method for beating procrastination. (It shares many attributes with my agile process.)

Here’s another way to kick procrastination’s ass.

A must-read for anyone who feels constantly behind: escaping the time scarcity trap.

Use Evernote? Have an iPhone? Check out these apps for getting content into Evernote even faster.

Want Google to forget you in search results? Visit forget.me.

I rely on Alfred (app for Mac) to get things done, more easily and more quickly, every day. Go here for a beginner’s guide on how you can, too.

How to go from working 60 hours a week to 40 by sending two emails a week. Why not try?

How to make hard choices. [TED talk. Lawyers, especially unhappy ones, should watch this.]

Take fewer photos. Make more memories.

The most important rule about productivity.

Loving what you get paid for.

tech tip thursday: a nifty (free) PDF app for mac.

I spend a lot of time dealing with PDFs. And solving PDF-related problems.

For instance, I’ve written before about how to unlock a PDF when you don’t have the password.

Yesterday’s challenge: insert a signature (JPG file) into a locked PDF.

Preview doesn’t like to add JPG files to PDFs. (Preview, the Mac PDF app, is my default viewer/editor, by the way.)

I have Acrobat Pro and while it does a lot of neat things, it’s too much trouble to use for simple things … like quickly adding a JPG signature to a locked PDF file.

A few seconds (literally) on Google and I found the perfect solution.

FormulatePro. An open-source project hosted on Google Project Hosting (source on GitHub).

FormulatePro is a simple PDF editor that lets you easily add JPG files to any PDF. Even locked ones. Simply open the PDF in FormulatePro, go to File —> Place Image, and drop the image into the PDF. You can resize the dropped image and move it around the PDF, to achieve perfect placement.

(You also can easily add text to a PDF with FormulatePro, which makes it a super-quick way to fill out forms.)

Simply export the edited file as a new PDF or print to PDF.

FormulatePro is a handy, lightweight PDF tool that you should have in your Mac Toolbox.

links i like. june 20, 2014 edition.

image

I highly recommend adding TED talks to your self-development routine. (You do have one, don’t you? A routine for developing yourself?) TED playlists make it easy to find the ones you’ll most enjoy.

Looking for a way to organize all of your favorite online rabbit holes? Try start.me to organize social and other sites, as well as RSS feeds. Organize with different pages (e.g., one for work, one for play). The neat freak in me is enjoying.

The Internet is deep and wide. Everything you need to know? It’s out there. You just have to know how to find it. Become a master information excavator with these courses: Power Searching with Google and Advanced Power Searching with Google.

On the other handle, Google is not the only game online: some other “search engines” you shouldn’t ignore.

Do two or three of the things on this list and you will find yourself with more time for things other than work.

In the spirit of life-long learning, I’ve started using lingua.ly to brush up on my Spanish. I like the word monsters.

Are you a replication creator or a skilled creator? Which one do you want to be? How to let your brain do the work. And create, instead of replicating.

Some practical tips on using codes and naming conventions for digital files.

A little inspiration for today: how to be lucky.

*YOU* should be your biggest cheerleader: read this and find out how to be your own PR person.

Does empathy play a role in how you practice? In how you market your practice? It should.