Free and Low-Cost Technology Tips for Solos
In this economic environment we’re all looking for ways to get the most for our buck. In this article I’ll point out a few of my favorite ways to increase productivity, cut costs, and get more for less.
Podcasts are like recorded radio shows. You can download them to your favorite MP3 player (doesn’t have to be an iPod) or even just to your computer and listen whenever you like. There are podcasts on just about every subject, including politics, government, law, law practice management, technology, science—you name it there’s probably a podcast on it. They can be great sources of information, handy to listen to at the gym, on your morning commute, or even while working at your desk. Best of all, most of them are absolutely free.
Check iTunes for a good list or even just Google for your keyword and “podcast.” For instance Googling “immigration law podcast” returned more than 380,000 hits.
There are a lot of tasks we do in our systems that could be done more efficiently with a little automation or better interface. Here are a couple of tricks to help you with that.
Got a phrase you use a lot but hate to have to type over and over? AutoHotKey can automate it for you. Got a program you use a lot but hate having to navigate the start menu to find it? AutoHotKey can launch it for you. Got a series of steps you have to do repetitively? AutoHotKey can automate that, too. Better still, it works across multiple programs, so your magic phrase is available to you in Word and Outlook and Firefox. Oh, and it’s free. Download at http://www.autohotkey.com.
If you’re using a mouse with a wheel button and maybe some side buttons on it did you know you can usually program those buttons to do stuff other than the default? I have the wheel button on my mouse programmed for “delete.” Now when I’m scrolling through my list of messages in Outlook and I see messages I want to delete I just press the wheel button and voila—easy as can be. In many cases the buttons can actually be programmed to do different things in different programs! My wheel button does “delete” in Outlook, but it does “refresh” in Firefox and “paste” in Word. My mouse side buttons do forward/back in Firefox, but they do cut/copy in Word. If you don’t have a mouse with these capabilities there are a number of them readily available from popular computer retailers. Among the ones I recommend are the Microsoft Intellimouse and the Logitech M500.
Like to record audio notes to yourself but don’t want to spend the money on a digital recorder? Chances are decent that your mobile phone has that capability already built-in, or available in a free or inexpensive application—especially if it’s a smartphone like a Treo or Blackberry.
Practice Safe Computing
Antivirus and antispyware software is essential in today’s computing climate—but which to use? Do you fork out the big bucks for Symantec or try to get an open source solution like ClamAV installed and working? Now you have another choice: Microsoft Security Essentials is free for home users and home-based small businesses. Google it (or “Bing” it if you prefer), download and install it.
Careful in the Cloud
Cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) is all the rage these days and there are some exciting offerings in the law technology space. But before you sign up for any service that promises to manage your mission-critical data—whether it’s Clio, Google Apps, or something else—very carefully review the terms of service for the provider. I’d be reluctant to sign up with any SaaS provider that doesn’t let you have a local copy of your data whenever you want it and that won’t guarantee that your data is going to be stored in the United States. I know the service seems cheap, but it won’t seem so cheap if you get locked out of your data with no way to get back in or if your data gets swept up in some sort of cross-border jurisdictional issue.
When things are slow and quiet, that’s a great time to upgrade yourself and your staff. Training can take on many forms, from in-person tutoring by an expert to podcasts, Webcasts, or even just books. If you have a little extra time in your day dig into the manuals (or online forums) for the software products you use in your practice. One good Outlook, Word, Excel, Time Matters, or TABS3 trick that you didn’t know before could improve the way you practice and make you a little more effective and profitable.
When was the last time you looked around your workspace to see what you could do to make it more comfortable and productive? Clean off your desk, adjust your workspace lighting, raise or lower your chair. How’s your keyboard? Mouse? Monitor? I work best when my workspace is relatively clean and organized, so for me 10 minutes spent getting my workspace organized almost always pays dividends and rarely costs me anything (except for 10 minutes of time.) Getting more productive doesn’t have to have a high price tag and it can pay off big with increased productivity and enjoyment. Make your workspace work for you!
Ben Schorr is CEO of Roland/Schorr, an IT management and support consulting firm with offices in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Woodland Hills, California. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his Web site at www.rolandschorr.com/.
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