YourABA: December 2013
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4 quick productivity tips for your practice

By Joshua Poje
ABA Legal Technology Resource Center

We’re all looking for ways to save a little bit of time in our busy schedules. Whether you use that free time to do extra work, catch up on sleep or spend time with the family is up to you. 

Here are four popular productivity tips we’ve been using recently:

Bookmark Your PDFs

Long documents can become unwieldy and difficult to digest. A thorough table of contents or index can help, but those traditional resources are geared toward print rather than on-screen reading. How can you make your digital documents a little bit more digestible?  For PDFs, one answer is to use bookmarks. Located in the bookmarks tab on the left side of the screen, bookmarks allow you to create a digital table of contents that’ll jump readers to particular pages or sections of a document with a simple click.  Ready to give it a try? A few tips:
  • If you select text and click the “create bookmark” button, the bookmark will take the selected text as its name and will jump the reader directly to that text — even if it falls partway down the page. Otherwise, the bookmark will match the location you’re currently viewing.
  • You can rename, reorder and nest bookmarks in the bookmark pane. Just drag and drop them within the list. This can be a handy way of creating subsections.
  • Your bookmarks won’t be very useful if nobody knows they’re in there. To make them obvious, set an initial view.  Just navigate to File > Properties > Initial View and choose to have the bookmarks panel open when the PDF is opened.

Use Office Templates

When we have a document we reuse frequently — a letterhead, a basic agreement — our habit tends to be to find an earlier version, duplicate it and update it to reflect the current matter. While this works, it’s tedious and presents numerous opportunities for mistakes. Perhaps you forget to remove the name of an old client on a letter, or perhaps you accidentally save over an older (but still important) document with the new copy you’re trying to produce. 

An easy solution is included in Microsoft Office: template files. Rather than creating a finished document and then modifying that each time you need it, you instead create a mostly finished template. It could be a letter with names and addresses left blank or an agreement with certain clauses left blank. In any event, by saving the document (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) as a template rather than a typical document (e.g., as a .dotx rather than a .docx), you’ll be able to double click it in the future to generate an entirely new, clean document that includes the language or content you pre-set in the template.

Have Better Meetings

Meetings should be an opportunity to solve problems and push forward projects. In reality, they tend to be wasteful time sinks that eat up your calendar and keep you away from more important work. To make matters worse, the effort invested in planning meetings can be equally time consuming and fruitless. How can you make your meetings better?
  • Have a specific purpose for each meeting. Ideally, you should exit each meeting able to point to a specific accomplishment — a document that’s been outlined, a plan of action prepared, an angry client soothed.
  • If you’re using Outlook, use Outlook. Make sure your own time commitments are accurately reflected in your calendar and those of your colleagues. That’ll make scheduling meeting considerably easier, as others within the firm or organization can easily identify common free times.
  • For meetings involving external individuals, especially multiple unrelated individuals, consider using a meeting planning tool like Doodle. Doodle allows you to offer an array of possible meeting times for invitees to choose from, so that you can more easily identify the times when everyone is free.

Be Your Own Teacher

Courses and books can be tremendously helpful and necessary when you’re first learning about a new topic and need to build foundational knowledge. But when it comes to learning the day-to-day use of a piece of technology, self-education is generally the most effective approach. Keep a running list of the technology you’d like to learn to use a little bit more effectively, whether it’s your firm’s specialized case management software, your iPad or a common app like Microsoft Word. 

When you have a few spare minutes, experiment with the technology. Open an old Word document and try to convert the formatting to use styles. Open a PDF and add bookmarks. Create a fake matter in your case management system and try using features you may have been ignoring up until now.

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