The Firm: Be more productive, less distracted in 2011

By Jane Pribek
The Daily Record Newswire

I’ve got distractibility, which means that even small things can derail my thought process.

Not surprisingly, I’ve got mixed emotions.

On one hand, it’s harder to get tasks accomplished. On the other, I just read an article on Wired.com entitled, “Are Distractible People More Creative?” It cites a Harvard/University of Toronto study suggesting the answer is yes.

I don’t think I’m alone. Lawyers tend to be extremely creative. It’s a trade-off and mostly an asset, because their creativity gets positive results for clients.

But, it can have a negative impact on the bottom line for hourly billers, like so many lawyers still are. But there are options to help you focus.

Try a productivity tool
CaseTIME is a download created by Cedarburg attorney/software architect Ron Phillips.

Phillips’ law practice is devoted largely to pro bono. That requires him to be a cheapie, and he said he created CaseTIME because he was dissatisfied with a similar tool, RescueTime. It’s more expensive and stores confidential data on the cloud. He said he’ll take any opportunity to play with code - he’s distractible too.

The end result was CaseTIME, available for free for 30 days. (RescueTime also offers a free 14-day trial, and even a “Solo Lite” plan that’s free forever — but “kind of wimpy,” according to the website. Give them points for honesty.)

CaseTIME took about a minute to download and install.

You just click on the little clock-face icon on the task bar to launch it when getting started with your workday. Then click on “Start Tracking,” and it runs in the background, in conjunction with any existing time-and-billing software you may or may not already use.

As you work, CaseTIME keeps track of your time in each document, website and other applications.

For a typical hour’s time, it can tell you, for example, you spent 20 minutes on the Jones brief in Word, then spent a minute checking e-mail, followed by nine minutes responding to one of them on the Smith matter, then went to a legal research website for Jones for 10 minutes, then 10 more minutes on the Jones brief, but then WLJ Today arrived in your inbox, you checked that for a minute and clicked on a link and spent nine minutes at the WLJ website (Thanks for that).

Then you click on the “Work Items” tab, and CaseTIME has added up both of the times you worked on the Jones brief itself, plus how long it took to write the Smith e-mail, and the length of time you were at the legal research website for Jones.

You can add those 40 minutes for Jones, nine for Smith, and then 11 nonbillable minutes yourself; or, you can click on “File/Export” from the main menu and highlight the Jones activities, applications or work items, and then save them in tab delimited format, so you can open them directly in Excel. Viola!

Excel then totals the time you’ve worked on Jones. Repeat for Smith.

Or, perhaps you take a call - you’re not touching the computer. Afterward, go to “Tracking” and “Add activity,” so you can account for that time.
If it was a really long call, or maybe you went to court, the “Whatcha Been Doing?” prompt will appear once you awaken your sleeping computer. You then choose among “Call,” “Meeting,” “Other,” “Out,” or “Go Away.”

I found the CaseTIME learning curve to be very short, although its website could benefit from a FAQ section for the technologically challenged like me.
Because CaseTIME is an At-Bar product, and At-Bar is just Phillips, he’s everything including the Helpdesk, so don’t expect 24/7 live product support. Give him a little time to do pro bono, OK? Besides, for a one-time expenditure of $24 (compared to $6-$9 per month for RescueTime), did you really expect that? He does promise to respond to help-related e-mails promptly.

Other productivity enhancers
I imagine some people won’t like the Big Brother aspect of CaseTIME, RescueTime or any similar product. OK — there are other ways to reign in the distractions.

Disable your desktop new e-mail alerts.

Change the e-mail notification settings for all social networking sites, a/k/a “social NOT-working.” My Facebook e-mail notices now to go to a Gmail account, instead of my primary work e-mail. I check Gmail at prescribed times only, not while I’m in the middle of a project, so I don’t take any unplanned Facebook detours.

Change your e-mail address for all list serves, for the same reason.

Unsubscribe from as many e-mail lists as possible. That   was easy for me with vendors where I’d made a one-time, online purchase. As for Amazon, well, I moved it to Gmail, too. I can’t help but click on the hyperlink in the e-mail announcing a sale on boots — but at least I’ll do it once the workday is done.

Make yourself accountable. Share your plans to increase your productivity with staff, the attorney with whom you share space, your spouse, etc. At a minimum, write them down, keep track of how well you stick to them, and then reward yourself for a job well done.

Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and former editor of the Wisconsin Law Journal. Since moving to Nashville, she has been our editor-at-large. She can be reached at janepribek@bellsouth.net.

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