Experts Share Personal Productivity Tips

The LTRC Expert Roundtable continues. This month we asked our experts to share some of their personal productivity tips.

Our Panelists:

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Greg Siskind (GS), Natalie Kelly (NK), Sofia Lingos (SL), Steve Embry (SE) and Allison Shields (AS).

What’s the best productivity tip anyone ever gave you?

DK: To be willing to invest in productivity tools that make sense to you. The return on investment can be extremely high. The $99 I spent on Omnifocus to implement my “Getting Things Done” (GTD) system has paid for itself many times over. A great notebook, planner, writing instrument, or other tool can make a world of difference if it actually enables you to implement a productivity system.

GS: Do the most complicated, brain intensive tasks first thing in the day. Things tend to fall apart as the day goes along and it can be difficult to get to those tasks if they’re scheduled for later.

NK: Take a vacation no matter what! At one point, I worked for about nine years straight and only took breathers on weekends. Big mistake! Someone told me I should always take a vacation. So I did. I could clearly see I was much more productive and centered when I took time away from everything and disconnected from work for just a few days! So, see my answer to the next question!

SL: Power hour. Everyone has a period of time during which they are most efficient. For some it is first thing in the morning, and for others right after lunch or before heading home. Identify what’s your most productive time and the best environment to make use of that time (in your office, at home, the library…). Reserve one hour, have a set task (or tasks) and unplug (no phone, e-mail, social media, etc.). Let colleagues and family know when that time is so they can avoid trying to interrupt and hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door (I am sure the next hotel you visit won’t miss one). For that one hour pay sole and complete attention to the task(s) at hand. It is amazing how much you can get done in just an hour when you put your mind to it.

SE: Don’t put off the hard jobs. If you tackle the hard job the first thing in the morning, then you are working downhill the rest of the day. Unfortunately, this often takes more discipline than I have!

AS: Write everything down, and develop systems for storing the information you write down so that you always know how and where to retrieve it. It’s difficult to focus and get things done if you’re trying to hold a lot of extraneous information in your head, or if you’re worried about not remembering something else that needs to get done.

What one or two productivity tips do you always give people?

DK: I always tell people to read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. You may not decide to implement the system, but nothing will make you think carefully about your approach to productivity and challenge your basic assumptions more than this book. I also recommend finding an app that you can use on your smartphone, computer and tablet devices, so you can access the same information anytime from anywhere..

GS: Never use your inbox as your to do list and file off and/or delete messages from your inbox rather than making it a repository for your communications.

NK: Always take vacation. Even if it’s a staycation or some short getaway. Turning it all off to realize there is more to life than just work is vitally important to all human beings! Another tip is to take time to pay attention to what time(s) are most productive to you and then leverage your workload and “lifeload” to those times. If you have tasks which require dedicated amounts of time, then schedule completing those during times you are most productive. Menial tasks not requiring your full attention can be set for times when you are not as productive. You still must pay attention, but you won’t have to be laser focused most likely.

SL: Set a schedule and stick to it. In our younger years of pre-collegiate education we were incredibly flexible in our ability to pop from one subject to the next. The bell would ring and we would start our day with math, an hour later gym class, followed by science and lunch. Think of your day like periods. Identify what you must accomplish and determine how long you expect each task to take (even include your non-billable time like going to the gym or taking lunch). Assign the tasks in order of priority. Yes, do the hardest thing first while you have the most motivation. Set times, and when the bell rings, move on to the next subject. At the end of the day reserve some time to review your schedule for the following day and finish up any outstanding tasks requiring completion that day. Do permit some flexibility and don’t get overwhelmed if you do not get everything done. You are without a doubt getting more done than you did before. After following the set schedule for a few weeks it will become second nature.

Create workflow checklists. Every time I have a new matter that requires a series of steps, I list them as I take them. I then identify who and what else can be part of the work flow and use my practice management assignment smart lists to create a set of to-dos for the specific matters. The next time one arises I can select the list and everyone gets their assignment and can hit the ground running. Bonus being nothing is overlooked!

SE: See above. Really procrastination is a real enemy of productivity. If you get the hard jobs done first and early it reduces so much stress and lets you work more productively all the way around.

AS: There’s no such thing as multi-tasking! Trying to do two things that require brainpower at once is a recipe for disaster. It ends up costing much more time and results in far more mistakes. Focus on one thing at a time.

Use your calendar to schedule not only deadlines, but work to be done. Getting into the habit of looking at your calendar for opportunities to get work done not only ensures that you don’t miss those deadlines, but also can help you schedule more effectively.

What productivity tip do you want to implement next, and why haven’t you done it yet?

DK: I want to experiment with the Pomodoro technique. In simplest terms, that means using a timer to concentrate fully on one task for 25 minutes and then take a five minute break. Then you repeat that process over and over during your day. It’s intriguing and some people have had good success. I see how this technique might work when someone studies for exams or has projects with distinct components. I haven’t started because I feel that my current projects require longer blocks of time. I also might be wrong about that and starting this method might teach me something.

GS: I’d like to be disciplined enough to work off of a daily to-do list. I’ve just started using Wunderlist and think that’s going to meet my needs. Just need to use it daily.

NK: I want to fight harder for my “paperless” office. I haven’t gotten to this because I have not committed to managing every piece of paper that comes into my work space. Breaking into the habit of drafting on my multiple monitors and making sure everything is scanned can help me get to where I want to be on my quest towards “paperless.”

SL: Scheduling checking e-mails and only doing so at the assigned time. It is incredibly easy to get off track with the overabundance of information that hits your inbox. As a rule you should deal with matters that will take less than five minutes to respond to when you read them, and then table the rest for a later time when they can receive the necessary attention. However, if you permit the ongoing stream of e-mail alerts pinging every time someone wants you, then they are interrupting the flow of matters requiring your full attention and resulting in repetitive restarts of addressing such issues. I have turned off my automatic notifications, and I do plan to only check my e-mail at certain times (I built in five checks during the work day, though many experts recommend only three times a day). However, I find my fingers mindlessly opening my mail app on my phone or iPad outside of the assigned times, sucking me down the dangerous path of relentless connectivity and unproductivity.

SE: I would really like to learn and use the various automation tools both in outlook and with iOS. There are plenty there but I keep putting off setting aside the time to really get to know these.

AS: I want to get better at implementing an editorial calendar for all of my writing projects. I’ve been able to stick with one sporadically, but not consistently. I have had a lot of unanticipated obstacles within the last year that accounts for some of why I haven’t done it yet, but I think I would also be more successful with it if I had an accountability partner or someone to bounce ideas off of; I’m usually too focused on helping my clients implement their projects and editorial calendars, and sometimes mine falls through the cracks!

When are you willing to spend money to improve your productivity? Give some examples.

DK: As I mentioned, my investment in Omnifocus has really paid off. I will invest when something might give me a little enjoyment—great notebooks, a great mechanical pencil, and the like. Having good tools prompts you to want to use them.

GS:I bought an iPad and an Apple Pencil solely to get better at note taking in meetings and consultations. That was pretty pricey, but think it will pay off with better records of my meetings.

NK: Investing in trackers for time spent on personal exercise will be the next space where I’d spend money. The fitness trackers are fine, but I realize doing more by spending money might help me feel more committed to taking better care of myself. I think feeling better leads to increased productivity. I might even throw in some soothing sounds and space enhancements, too! Alexa, anyone?

SL: I am definitely willing to invest in productivity. In fact, it probably provides the best return. There is an educational component which can be accomplished by purchasing publications and tech tools. Probably the biggest ticket item is additional manpower (not excluding AI options). It is seemingly easier (and often feels safer) to complete all of your work on your own, but if you can break each matter into tasks and include other people and products in the workflow, you can ensure that you are most productive during your work time. Delegation is the key to efficiency which equals effectiveness resulting in success!

SE: Always! But the higher the price tag the more cautious I become. Productivity apps are great because they rarely cost a lot yet can improve productivity on some many levels. The real investment for most is not the money but the time that I need to spend getting to the point where I can user the productivity tools productively (so to speak). Since I bill by the hour, its hard to discipline myself to do this.

One particular app I am trying to use more is If This Then That. It’s a great tool to reduce the time spend on recurring tasks that can be automated.

AS: In the past, I’ve spent money to improve my productivity by investing in learning, including  books, webinars, and courses, or by investing in technology or people to help me streamline my work, for example, investing in a cloud accounting program or hiring a virtual assistant.

What are your current favorite resources for productivity improvement?

DK: The Lifehacker blog. Especially for lawyers, Allison Shield’s Legal Ease blog and her book with Dan Siegel, How to Do More in Less Time. David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” podcast. “The Productivityist” podcast. Greg McKeown’s book, Existentialism, has recently been quite influential on my thinking. Sampling some of the many productivity podcasts. Lots of great info out there—try to find something that matches your approach and style.

GS: I like the Attorney at Law daily email alerts. The articles are great.

NK: I am always enamored with using voice-enhanced systems. From Dragon Naturally Speaking on my desktop to Siri in the car via Bluetooth to be on calls, using my voice to dictate, search and communicate is a daily part of me getting things done. I advise others to take advantage of the enhancements that modern technology have afforded us with our just speaking and making things happen!

SLHow to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line by Allison Shields and Daniel Siegel is a must read for all.

SE: There are lots of sources, sometimes to many. On the iOS side, I really like iPhone JD for a source. Its always spot on and you can rely on the posts. I keep up with a number of blogs and periodically check iTunes as well.

AS: I don’t have one “go to” productivity resource; I find productivity articles through blogs associated with some of the apps I use, such as Evernote, through following others who are experts or are interested in productivity and reading their articles and posts on social media. I love David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and often return to his podcast, website, and blog for a refresher or for productivity info.

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