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Start Page: Tips for catching up after snow days

February 12, 2014
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WilsonWe’re already over a month in to 2014. So far, the weather has wreaked havoc on school and work schedules. If you are like me, the list of things to accomplish has only gotten longer as a result. The solution? Use your technology tools more efficiently. Here are three concepts and related tips to help you (and me) dig out and catch up.

Rearrange your home screens to match your workflow

During one of delays the past few weeks, I took a serious look at all the apps on my smartphone’s home screen. All of the notifications of new emails, calendar invites and the like were distracting me from getting work done. As I looked at my main computer’s home screen, it was the same. There was no logic to how things were arranged. I decided it was time to arrange my shortcuts to better match my workflow.

On my smartphone’s main screen, I now have my four most used apps on its “dock” (the area of the phone that is available no matter what screen I’m on): the phone, texts, tasks and my calendar. I used to store my email application there, but found the notifications just took my focus away from actually accomplishing anything.

I also made a “daily” folder to hold the apps I want to use on a daily basis (e.g., alarm clock, Web browser, and weather app). Now, I open that folder and go through those apps more systematically. Finally, I moved the non-essential apps off the main screen to allow for better focus during the work day.

On my desktop at the office, I have a dual monitor arrangement. I moved the main menu bar (called the Taskbar in Windows and the Dock on a Mac) vertically in between my monitors. That way, I don’t have to move my mouse as much to switch between the open programs.

I also created a folder on the desktop called “daily,” placing the shortcuts to the applications I use every day in that folder (e.g., Outlook, case management and billing software). This arrangement helps me not open programs that could distract me from the most important things I want to accomplish.

Learn keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts allow you to get more done in less time. Every time you take your hand off the keyboard to reach for the mouse, you lose focus and momentum. Granted, it takes some time to learn the keyboard, but the time saved will pay big dividends in the long run. To start, make a list of three things you do the most during the day (e.g., copy, paste or switching between programs) and find shortcuts for those actions. Once you see how much time you save, you’ll start finding and using other keyboard shortcuts in your workflow. The key is to build the habit of using the shortcut key instead of reaching for the mouse.

Most programs have a list of keyboard shortcuts provided either in the menus of the program itself or in its “Help” file. An Internet search for “keyboard shortcut for [the action you are trying to accomplish]” will often yield the result.

Limit distractions

Distractions and interruptions have a serious impact on your ability to get work done. Some studies suggest that we can train ourselves to deal with interruptions and not lose too much brainpower. Other studies suggest that every interruption requires several minutes to refocus on whatever you were working on in the first place. While it is impossible to eliminate all distractions, you can control some technology-related ones using these tips.

1. Plan your week. Mark off time on your calendar for larger projects and time for daily tasks (e.g., reviewing mail, making and returning phone calls). That way, you will know when it is safe to follow the other tips below and not miss an important meeting or hearing. If you use an electronic calendar, some phone systems will automatically switch on the “do not disturb” feature during the time the appointment is scheduled.

2. Turn off your email while working on a big project. Don’t forget to turn it back on when you are done or on a break so you won’t miss that all-important client email.

3. Close all programs but the one(s) needed to perform the task at hand. Internet-based legal research makes this harder, but discipline yourself to open only the legal research tab.

4. Give yourself a break. Use the “do not disturb” feature on your smartphone for a set period every day. I turn off my notifications from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., except for emergency notifications. Let yourself off the leash for a little while, if possible.

I hope these tips help you get and stay caught up. I need to go, I just got a text.•

Seth Wilson is an attorney with Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP in Indianapolis. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm, and frequently speaks and advises on legal technology issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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