April 14, 2020 Road Warrior

The Road Warrior Looks at Time Savers

Jeffrey Allen

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These technology tips will save you time whether you stay in your office or work on the road.

These technology tips will save you time whether you stay in your office or work on the road.

Courtesy of filistimlyanin/getty images plus via Getty Images

I find time-saving devices generally helpful, whether I travel or stay and work in the office. In this column I will explore with you some of the time savers that I have found particularly useful. Hopefully, you will already know about some of them; I expect you will not know about all of them. By providing this list to you, I hope to save you some time and effort.

Speak Up

Speaking instead of writing or keyboarding provides one of the first and best ways to save time. Whenever you can speak to your phone or computer or tablet and have it translate your words to text or action, that will save you time. Of course, there are some places where you will find it inappropriate to do that due to privacy and/or confidentiality concerns; but generally, you can find sufficient privacy to converse with your devices and/or virtual assistants and get them to do the heavy lifting.

First suggestion: Did you know that you can text without touching your keyboard (virtual or real)? Please do not take this as a suggestion that you text while driving. I do not recommend that. Ever. If you use Apple products, you can, however, when appropriate, instruct Siri to send a text message to someone or read aloud the text message that someone sent to you. You also have the option of sending a voice message by touching the wave signal in the lower right corner of the text box. If you use Android devices, the process works a bit differently: Click the microphone at the bottom left of the virtual keyboard and speak. The Google Assistant will insert the words as you speak them. Neither system works flawlessly; but let’s face it, most of us make lots of mistakes when we type the text out anyway. Using Siri or Google Assistant has proven pretty accurate, and it does save considerable time. One caveat: The system does not automatically insert punctuation. You actually need to tell it when and where to insert punctuation. To do so, you simply say the name of the desired punctuation mark (“period,” “comma,” “question mark,” etc.).

Another related feature in the iOS world is the ability to dictate text in the system itself. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard and enable dictation. Press the microphone button on the keyboard and then go ahead and start talking to your device. You can find more detailed instructions on the Apple website. Note that iPad models other than the Pro require an Internet connection, but the Pro allows you to use dictation offline.

Again, while this works in the car, I do not encourage you to use it there. It still serves as a distraction. Distracted drivers cause accidents.

Undoubtedly, most of you know about voice recognition (the original “VR”) software. We have had that for many years, and its quality has continued to show improvement. Dragon Naturally Speaking (https://www.nuance.com/dragon.html) won the VR wars and remains the primary player in the game. Unfortunately, after acquiring the Mac program that used the Dragon engine, support for the Mac disappeared, and so did the program. It still exists for the Windows environment and works pretty well. You can save a lot of time and effort by learning to use Dragon and by putting it to work for you.

Those of you on the Mac should not feel left out. This time Microsoft comes to the rescue. Newer iterations of Microsoft Word include VR capabilities for Mac and Windows users. To use the feature, you must have a subscription to Office 365. Open Word and look for the Dictate button (right side of the toolbar when set to “Home” on a Mac). Click the home button, and simply start talking. Amazingly, Microsoft Word will transcribe what you say with a high level of accuracy. In fact, I am using the program to write this column. So far, it has only made one mistake I have had to correct. As with using Siri, punctuation does not automatically appear. You must dictate what punctuation mark you want and where you want it. By the way, you can also use the dictation feature in the other components of Microsoft Office, but it does not run as smoothly or effectively in the other programs as it does in Microsoft Word.

Take the Shortcut

A related time saver is the ability to use a few keystrokes to call up very large passages, clauses, or pieces of information and insert them into a document. You have this feature available in Microsoft Office. You can also get third-party programs that will do it in other places than a Word document. Examples include such venerable offerings as TypeIt4Me (https://www.ettoresoftware.com; Mac, iOS, and iPad OS) and TextExpander (https://textexpander.com; Mac, Windows, iOS, iPad OS, and Android). With an iOS or iPad OS device, you can also get the same feature by going to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement and then entering an abbreviation and the text you want inserted when you type that abbreviation. Use these features to deal with commonly used phrases in texting or e-mails. Also use them to help with drafting documents such as contracts or pleadings where you can use a short abbreviation to add one or more standard paragraphs.

While lawyers live mostly by words, Road Warriors do not live by words alone. Other shortcuts can save you time and make things more convenient for you as well. Downloading and learning how to use a program called If This Then That (or “IFTTT” for short; https://ifttt.com) provides another way to save lots of time and effort. IFTTT takes a bit of learning before you can create workflow, but, fortunately, you can start to benefit from it before you even learn how to create your first workflow through it. As IFTTT is not a newcomer by any means, you can choose from a plethora of already written shortcuts, called applets in the parlance of the program. Copy them and use them as your own or learn the system and create your own, or do both. In essence, IFTTT works very simply. You download it from the appropriate location (it has iOS and Android versions). Choose some applets from the existing supply to get started. Ultimately, you will want to learn how to build your own. The process works easily enough that most people can learn it despite a lack of training in programming. IFTTT provides a platform that links services and apps together. Accordingly, it plays well with others, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, etc.

In 2019, James A. Martin and Matthew Finnegan wrote a nice piece about IFTTT for Computerworld,  “What Is IFTTT? How to Use If This, Then That Services.” Rather than repeat that information, I will refer you to it: https://tinyurl.com/y59e3m8k.

In 2017, Computerworld published another article about IFTTT by Martin entitled “41 Cool and Useful IFTTT Applets” (https://tinyurl.com/sc26bq9). You might want to check out the applets listed, even though Martin wrote the article three years ago. Some of them can help you out quite a bit.

If you go to the IFTTT website (https://ifttt.com), you can download the app (also available in Apple’s iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store) as well as check out a fairly sizable collection of applets to get you started. Many of the available applets were designed for personal use. IFTTT also has a collection of applets created for business purposes. You should check out both lists. Many applets designed for personal use can help in a business context. Check out some of the business applets at https://tinyurl.com/vrldqsc.

If you really get into the IFTTT culture, you might also want to explore Zapier and Microsoft Flow. Both do similar things as IFTTT but take a bit more effort to learn and work. You can learn about Zapier at https://zapier.com. You can learn about Microsoft Flow at https://tinyurl.com/yx5kc6f3.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker and writer on technology topics, he is coauthor (with Ashley Hallene) of Technology Tips for Lawyers and Other Business Professionals (ABA, 2016).