Regardless of all the lip service paid to better work-life balance, Americans still work more than anyone in the industrialized world. For in-house attorneys, 45- and 50-hour workweeks are still the norm — and 16 percent report working more than 60 hours a week.
Long hours have always been a part of the job, but today, an inordinate amount of time is wasted on travel, meetings, talking on the phone and answering emails.
In fact, many of the same tools that promised to make things easier around the office actually provide distractions that prolong the workday. A 2012 survey revealed that working professionals spend more than a quarter of their workweek reading and answering email.
These time-consuming diversions affect the quality of attorneys’ work and eat up precious hours they could spend relaxing with family or getting away for the weekend.
If this sounds familiar, isn’t it time you regained control of your workday and put technology to better use? Here are six tech hacks you can use to supercharge your productivity and get back to the things you enjoy:
1. Interrupt interruption by turning off notifications. According to a recent study, the typical office worker is distracted once every three minutes. Unfortunately, it takes about 23 minutes to get back on track after being pulled away by a chatty colleague or a new email.
When I used to keep my email tab open in my browser, I would check my inbox every time I saw a message come through. Even worse, the red notification bubbles appearing on my iPhone were an automatic cue to pick it up and check social media.
To combat these disturbances, try adopting Tim Ferriss’ principle of “interrupting interruption” by finding methods to bypass or delay the constant demands on your attention that come from email, texts and social media. Turn off your desktop and smartphone notifications and schedule specific times to check your inbox. Most importantly, once you’re done with email, close your browser window or Outlook until your next email “appointment.”
After I turned off notifications, I went from checking Facebook 10 times a day to only looking at it once in the morning and once in the evening. I don’t have a specific rule against checking Facebook, but when I don’t receive alerts, I don’t think about doing it until my day is over.
2. Forward calls with a VoIP phone system. The office phone is another source of distraction that is without a doubt more difficult — but not impossible — to avoid. How much time do you spend each day checking messages and returning phone calls? How often do phone calls pull you out of other work?
Rather than let calls disrupt you, use a cloud-hosted VoIP phone system to set times of the day when you don’t want to receive calls. A VoIP phone system allows you to reroute calls to voicemail or a secretary — even to a virtual receptionist or assistant. You can also transfer calls from your desk to your mobile phone to take calls on the go.
3. Use video conferencing to cut down on travel time. Ten years ago, any face-to-face meeting had to be just that — face-to-face. But with the advent of video conferencing, you can now meet with anyone just by logging on to Skype or FaceTime. Faster Internet speeds and rapid adoption of this technology has allowed many law firms to disperse geographically, and some jurisdictions even allow attorneys to take depositions or attend in-court hearings via video conferencing. The next time you need to schedule an appointment outside the office, consider whether a video call might be an acceptable alternative.
4. Automate data transfer. Services such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer often get a bad rap for oversimplifying law and cheapening the industry, but in reality, attorneys waste a lot of time moving data from one place to another and manipulating documents.
At the end of the day, the real value of an in-house attorney is the ability to advocate for and counsel your client — not recreate documents that can easily be customized and generated by a computer. Take advantage of automation whenever possible so you can spend more time advising your clients and less time copying and pasting.
5. Stop typing. Using speech recognition software, such as Dragon Dictate, can save an unbelievable amount of time when producing long-form content and emails. I type 130 words per minute, and dictating is still faster. Alternatively, learning to use keyboard macros can be a lifesaver for those who prefer to type. Keyboard Maestro is another powerful tool that allows you to easily automate repetitive actions and create keyboard shortcuts for lengthy chunks of legalese that you write over and over again.
6. Hire a virtual assistant to offload repetitive tasks. Many in-house attorneys think they need to do everything themselves, but there are simply too many demands on your time to waste hours on simple, repetitive tasks.
For this type of work, consider hiring a virtual assistant (or multiple VAs) for a few hours each week. The advantage of a virtual staff is that VAs are flexible with their hours and you can get the manpower of a large firm without the high cost, human resources headaches, or interoffice squabbling that come with managing a full-time staff.
While you may not be a slave to billable hours the way you’d be at a firm, that doesn’t mean you’re achieving the work-life balance you deserve. If anything, the pressure to do it all and prove your value can be even more intense as a company’s in-house counsel.
If all the travel, meetings, phone calls, and busywork are eating into hours you would otherwise be spending at home or on a much-needed vacation, use these tools to get work under control and make more room in your life for living.