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PRODUCTIVITY

How simple technology solutions can make your job astonishingly easier

As a law office manager, there likely are many days when you are frantically running around trying to make plays, getting blindsided by distractions, and sometimes even losing track of the plays you should be making.

However, with the proper application of technology and processes in your day, you can feel as though you are confidently running the ball, are in control, focused on executing your plays and setting yourself up for success, according to Michelle Spencer, founder of the Legal Learning Development Network in Buda, TX.

“As the quarterback, your team looks to you for leadership and guidance, so if you’re not organized and on top of your game, then they won’t be either,” she says.

Your first and biggest challenge in managing information and tasks is going to be getting out of reactive mode long enough to put a system in place.

Take time to plan

“To get the kind of focus that you need, you need to prepare before you even get on the field,” says Spencer, adding that law office managers need to develop a strategy to avoid running around in non-productive circles.

“Slow things down long enough to get a good look at how your day rolls along. You have to stop working in the business long enough to work on the business and your processes.”

By doing so, you will move out of a reactive mode and into an inquisitive mindset in order to identify your greatest needs and the best technology solutions that can make your workdays astonishingly easier, according to Spencer, a leading expert on law firm training, efficiency improvement and staff development.

“You’ll need to observe your day-to-day work and look for those annoying repetitive tasks and areas where you’re still working on paper. Next, compile a list of concerns and potential action items. This can be a big list, so don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed,” she cautions. “Use an Excel spreadsheet to filter and prioritize which items to tackle. It’s really easy once you know which items to focus on. Finally, decide what actions to take and in what order.”

There are four areas of your day-to-day law firm management that technology can help you to tackle, including:

  • People,
  • Tasks,
  • Projects, and
  • Information

“Take a moment to reflect on each of these areas,” says Spencer. “Which of these four keeps you up at night? Which one feels like it is hit-or-miss or out of control? Focus on one area to start. Is it day-to-day tasks or bigger projects? Perhaps it’s the sheer amount of incoming information coming in and how to organize that information.”

When managing people, technology can help you with delegation, setting deadlines, and your workers’ accountability in meeting those deadlines.

A huge benefit of using technology is that you will no longer be dependent on paper documents, meaning that you can work from anywhere.

Start with basic incoming items such as faxes/letters, filings, calls and emails and work on your own or with your staff to develop processes, focusing on each item to decide what actions need to be taken.

Before diving into technology, you will need to take a strategic approach to information and task management.

“As a quarterback, one of your biggest tasks is deciding whether to throw the ball to someone (delegate) or run with it yourself,” says Spencer. “I’m a huge fan of the getting-things-done approach where you do batch processing at set times and touch things once, deciding whether it needs to be handled now, delegated or delayed.”

If the item you are dealing with is information, you need to decide whether it needs to be kept or trashed. If it needs to be kept, then file it.

If the item is a task, you need to decide whether to delegate it or handle it yourself. You may decide to handle pressing tasks immediately, or place them on your calendar as appointments and block off times to devote to clearing tasks. Less urgent tasks should be flagged for follow-up.

If you are delegating a task, it should contain specific details on what needs to be done, its level of urgency and a deadline. You then need to track each worker’s progress on meeting those deadlines.

5 helpful tools

So, how can technology help you keep on top of your job? Here are some tips from Spencer:

  1. Outlook Tasks allows you to flag items for follow-up, set reminders and assign tasks to coworkers. Using Gmail Tasks is an option.
  2. If you have Microsoft Office 365, use Microsoft Planner, which provides a visual status dashboard for your projects. It includes a daily tasks plan and shows which team member is responsible for which task. Workers’ progress can be tracked and tasks can be reassigned to others if one worker’s plate becomes too full.
  3. To manage information, Spencer suggests using Microsoft OneNote, which has a great search function. If your organization doesn’t use Microsoft products, Evernote (evernote.com) is a good option.
  4. For appointment scheduling, Outlook has an email calendar button showing times when you are available and times when you don’t want to be disturbed. If you don’t use Outlook, you can use Doodle.com.
  5. Projects have lots of moving targets, so it is important to have tools to manage the diagrams, lists, and communications associated with them. Spencer suggests using MindManager mind mapping software, or alternatively, free mind mapping tools from Google.

Conclusion

Spencer stresses that there are no one-size-fits-all technology solutions. You will need to find and become comfortable with a system that works for your office’s particular needs.


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