Need more time? What would you do with it?

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I just upgraded my modem and my download speed has literally doubled. And yes, I can tell. Everything opens faster. Pages scroll faster. Videos are smoother.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Also, the old modem was starting to go down frequently, requiring a re-set. Lately, this had been happening almost every day.

I’m on my computer most of the day and I figure that by swapping out the modem, I’m saving several minutes a day. That got me thinking about what else I might do to save more time.

What if I could consistently “find” 15 minutes a day, by cutting things out and speeding things up? Counting weekdays only, this would give me an extra 5.5 hours of month I could use for other things.

How about you? If you had an extra 5.5 hours per month, how would you use the time?

If you bill five hours a day, or the equivalent in flat fee work, you would be getting an extra billable day per month. Let’s say that’s $1500 to you. What could you do with an additional $1500 of found money?

Hire a part time employee? Buy more ads? Pay down debt? Move to a bigger office?

Perhaps you could use the time to learn a new skill. Catch up on your reading. Or go for a walk after lunch.

How about using that 15 minutes a day for marketing and bring in some new clients each month?

Hey, there’s a thought.

The point is that a few minutes a day, every day, adds up. Over time, it could lead to dramatic results.

Think about where you might find that time, starting with upgrading your technology.

Then, look for other areas where you can cut out wasted time. A different route to work, shorter meetings, learning how to type faster, upgrading your office procedures.

You say you need more time to do what you need to do? This is an easy way to get it.

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NaturalReader Text to Speech Software for Proofreading and More

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Yesterday, I whined about how there are too many apps and not enough time to try them all. I said that we don’t need more than a few apps and tools to do our work. Sometimes, you stumble across a new category of app that is truly useful and worth examining. Sure enough, this happened to me last night.

I was reading a book about writing. The author said he uses text-to-speech software for proofreading. He says it allows him to hear what he has written the way his reader will hear it, so he can correct errors in punctuation, find doubled words, and improve the flow of his writing. He recommended the NaturalReader text to speech app, so I downloaded it and I’m giving it a spin.

I’m using the free version and so far I’m impressed. The voices are surprisingly natural sounding. The paid versions allow you to install even more natural sounding voices, we are told, and edit the pronunciation of words, which would be handy for legal and medical professionals.

You can also use Natural Reader as a productivity tool. Add articles, emails, pdfs, or anything else you need to read and listen to them while you do something else. You can convert audio files to mp3 (paid version) and listen on your smart phone or other devices. Paid versions have other features I haven’t had time to explore.

I’m proof reading a book I’ve just finished. I pasted in a passage and listened to what I wrote and adjusted the playback speed to -1. It’s allowed me to catch a number of errors. I pasted in the first draft of this post and the app let me hear that I had a doubled word.

I’ve tried several text-to-speech apps on my iPhone and found that generally, the voices aren’t natural sounding and get in the way of listening. I’ve also found them a bit clunky to use. I was expecting Natural Reader to be much the same, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I know there are many other text-to-speech options available, but this one is definitely worth a try. It’s available for PC and Mac and there’s an online version as well. I’ve found that the voices sound more natural on my PC than the online version, however, so try the free download before you make up your mind.

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Scrivener, oh how I love thee

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I’m just putting the finishing touches on a new book. I wouldn’t be able to say that had it not been for Scrivener, a writing app that has changed my entire work flow. If it hadn’t been for Scrivener, I’m sure I would still be struggling to cobble together hundreds of pages I’ve written into something anyone would want to read.

Scrivener’s genius is that it allows you to break up your writing into shorter parts (chapters, scenes, snippets), and then arrange and re-arrange those parts to your heart’s content. Compare this to MS Word where you either have to open multiple documents or have one very long document. Cumbersome, at best.

Scrivener provides a huge number of features for outlining, writing, organizing, editing, and outputting your work. You can outline with note cards on a cork board, and re-arrange the cards to suit. You can use a traditional outline if you prefer. You can organize your work in folders and text documents, add labels and meta data, and link notes and research materials (text, pdfs, web pages), internally (i.e., within the project) or externally (i.e., on the web, on your hard drive, etc.)

When you’re done, you can export the finished product (”compile” in Scrivener parlance) to just about any format—pdf, .doc(x), .rtf, .epub, .mobi, and more).

Scrivener isn’t only for books. In fact, I’m writing this post in Scrivener, using Full Screen Mode that allows for distraction free writing—just me and a blank piece of digital paper.

I bought Scrivener more than two years ago. The first time I opened it, I was overwhelmed. There is so much to see, and so many ways to use it, and I told myself I didn’t have time to learn everything. At the time, I didn’t realize I didn’t need to learn everything to start using it. For two years, it sat on my hard drive, unused. I opened it a couple of times, and updated it when prompted, but nothing more.

Last fall, I decided to give it another try, and I’m glad I did. Today, I’m fully on board with Scrivener as my primary writing tool.

You can use Scrivener for any kind of writing. Books, articles, papers, reports, or blog posts. You can write legal documents in it, (but you’ll need to expert them to a word processor for formatting).

The bottom line is that Scrivener allows you to write more, write faster, and write better. I know, that’s a big claim, but I’ve found this to be true. I encourage you to give it a try and see for yourself.

Download Scrivener for a thirty-day free trial. Note, this is thirty days of use, not thirty calendar days, so there’s plenty of time to give it a whirl.

The Windows and Mac versions are marginally different. The Windows version, which has just been updated, lags behind the Mac version, but I have not found it to be lacking. By the end of this year, the company says they hope to achieve feature parity between the two versions. They also hope to release an iOS version.

Once you have download the program and opened a new project, you will be prompted to go through the tutorial and read the detailed user guide. I found these to be only somewhat helpful for a first time user. Instead, I would recommend watching some of the youtube videos provided by the company and by users.

I also suggest that you dive in and use the program. Write something, import something, and play around with it. Take the thing for a test drive. I learned how to use Scrivener by using it, and it was a lot easier than I imagined.

True, I’m still learning. I use only a fraction of the features that are available. But I haven’t needed more.

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Evernote vs OneNote for Lawyers

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Several years ago, I used OneNote for note taking and organizing information. I loved the digital notebook concept. I loved having nested notebooks and pages and sub-pages where I could organize everything.

Ironically, one thing I wasn’t crazy about was something OneNote is known for: the ability to place notes and graphics anywhere on the page. I was used to a more linear approach to organizing things. I tried to get used to this free-form method of displaying content, but never did.

Another thing I didn’t like is that each page was itself a big graphic (I think) and each element on it was a graphic. I may have the tech wrong but it always felt a bit weird. Maybe I’m just a plain text kinda guy.

As my notes grew, I found that keeping them organized wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had so many notebooks and pages and sub-pages, things got confusing. Tags and search weren’t terribly reliable in the version I was using and I started looking at what others were doing to organize their notes.

I read lots of blogs about OneNote and kept hearing it compared to Evernote. I had Evernote on my hard drive, but used it only on occasion. I saw that many OneNote users had switched to EverNote because of some of the same frustrations I had experienced, so I started using Evernote more and liked it. I made the switch and haven’t looked back.

Evernote is my virtual filing cabinet, my GTD platform, and my universal note taking system. I use it all day, every day, on all my devices and in every part of my work flow. If you’re a lawyer, you can see how I use it in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

Microsoft just made OneNote free for PC and Mac users so I thought I would give it another look. I read an excellent article comparing OneNote vs Evernote. It concluded that Evernote takes the gold, but it also showed how far OneNote has come since I last used it.

I just downloaded OneNote and will take it for a test drive. At first blush, I can see how I might use it for certain projects, but I can’t see making my primary note taking system.

How about you? How do you weigh in on the Evernote vs OneNote for lawyers debate?

Evernote for Lawyers: A Guide to Getting Organized and Increasing Productivity is available here

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Draft: a simpler way to write, edit, collaborate, and share documents

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After yesterday’s post about a new cloud-based document sharing service, SavvyDox, I remembered that I was a subscriber to an even easier to use service: Draft.

No downloads, a very simple interface, and the ability to see your editor’s draft or comments side-by-side with your original. And, it’s accessible from any browser, so no problems for tablet users. And, you can export documents in a variety of formats, including Word, PDF, and ePub.

One limitation, at present, is that you can only import documents in text or Markdown. So you probably wouldn’t use this to show clients a work in progress. But this a natural for sharing drafts with editors, partners, and administrative staff, who can edit or add comments without modifying your original.

I like being able to see my editor’s changes, in a different color, side-by-side with my original. I can respond with my comments about their suggested edits. In fact, we can go back and forth with multiple versions of the document, until it’s right. This makes Draft a great tool for collaborators.

Draft also has many additional features for writers, including Hemingway mode, which prevents you from deleting anything, forcing you to bang out a first draft without stopping to edit. And, if you want to hire a professional editor, you can do that through the Draft interface at very reasonable cost.

Draft is “donate-ware” (I think that’s the term). You can use it without cost, but you are asked to support the service by paying $4 a month.

I can see a place for both SavvyDox and Draft in a lawyer’s writing arsenal. SavvyDox is probably more appropriate for business clients with whom you can share formatted documents. Draft is useful for writing and editing the document, which you can then export and email to the client.

Check them out and let me know what you think.

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SavvyDox: Sharing documents with clients and partners made easy

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I’m finishing a book and getting ready for my wife to do her editing magic. I’ve been looking at alternatives to printing it, or messing with Word’s “track changes”. I found SavvyDox, a cloud based document sharing service that allows you to share documents with others who can edit or annotate by highlighting passages and adding notes or suggested edits.

You can share documents with multiple readers, and see each one’s comments or suggestions. You could share a draft with several clients or board members, for example, and avoid the email merry-go-round.

There are apps for Windows, Mac, and iPad. A free account allows you to manage 15 documents. Unlimited documents is just $15 a month.

SavvyDox bills itself as the first commercial cloud-based, mobile document management solution, “a product that transforms tablet document interaction.” From it’s press release: [It] “provides the tablet device user with a new level of intelligent interaction with documents including highlighting revisions at the word and paragraph level, version sensitivity, changed content navigation, shared annotations, and active and dynamic content.”

So there.

SavvyDox may be overkill for sharing with my wife. I could probably use Google Docs (Drive). But I thought this was a great tool for the mobile lawyer and wanted to pass it along. Let me know what you think.

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Miscellany Friday (no, it doesn’t rhyme)

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Today, I thought I’d share a few miscellaneous items with you and let you choose what interests you. If you like “round-up” posts like this one, let me know.

1. Find Out How Much You Are Overbilling Your Clients

A discussion about how lawyers who delay recording of their billable hours, usually until the last two days of the month, routinely overbill clients by an average of 23%.

Don’t forget to check out my ebook on the subject: Get the Check: Stress-Free Legal Billing and Collection

2. Longer is Better for Blog Content: Truth or Myth?

Do longer blog posts draw more search engine traffic? Apparently so. But do most people read 2000 word posts, and do you have time to write them?

I’ve written before about this subject and have concluded that you need a mix of longer, authoritative posts, to draw traffic, and shorter posts to engage browsing visitors.

3. Legal ethics: Are blogs governed by advertising rules?

Is writing a blog advertising? I don’t think so, and neither does Kevin O’Keefe, the author of this post. And yet various jurisdictions seek to regulate blogs as advertising. Frankly, I don’t think we need specific rules for lawyer advertising at all. General rules (don’t misrepresent, full disclosure, et. al.) do quite nicely.

4. OneTab extension for Chrome saves up to 95% of memory

I always thought I was pretty good about staying focused on whatever I was doing. Throughout my day, I’ll keep a couple of browser windows open, each with six or seven tabs. No problem for a stud like me, right? Boy was I wrong.

I just installed OneTab, an extension for Chrome. It’s a simple thing that collapses all of your open tabs (or whichever ones you designate) into a single tab with links you can click to re-open those tabs. I’ve found that not only does this reduce the drain on memory, up to 95% we are told, so everything works faster, videos don’t stall, and so on, it’s also making me way more productive.

For example, instead of checking email every 15 minutes, I check it when I’m done with whatever I’m working on. Stupidly simple, but it works.

I’m sure there are equivalent extensions for different browsers and platforms.

So, there you go.

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Email best practices for small business and professionals

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I’m an email bigot. I judge you by your email. Unfortunately, so do your clients. And other professionals. If your email practices are anything but professional, it is hurting you.

There are also some practical applications for setting up and using email effectively. Here is a short list of email best practices for small business and professionals:

  1. Work email (your fiirm). Use your work email only for official firm business, where you are required to do so. Use your own (professional) email for everything else, i.e., marketing. If you leave the firm, you lose your email address and all the contacts that go with it. The same goes for your email subscriptions.
  2. AOL/Gmail/Hotmail/Outlook, et. al. These aren’t appropriate for business or professionals. Don’t use your ISP, either. I have an email through my cable provider but I never use it. Not only does it sound unprofessional, if I ever change cable companies, I have to notify everyone of the change. Get your own domain name, you@yourname.com. You can still use gmail, et. al, as I do, and simply forward your professional email to your gmail or hotmail or outlook.com account.
  3. Your name. Use your name, either first or first and last, @ yourdomain.com. Don’t use anything cutesy (i.e., bighunklawyer@domain.com). That’s fine for personal email, but not for work.
  4. “From”. Set up your email so that your name appears in the “From” portion. There’s nothing worse than getting an email from someone who doesn’t identify themselves. And use your name, not your firm’s name. Firms don’t write emails, people do.
  5. Email signature. Make sure you put your name and contact information at the bottom of every email. Include your website. You don’t need anything fancy, but do show people how to connect with you and find out more about what you do.
  6. Disclaimers and disclosures. Keep these to a minimum. In fact, if you aren’t required to use them, don’t. They are off-putting and annoying. They make you look distrustful and boring. Nobody actually reads them. They probably don’t protect you. You’re killing electronic trees.
  7. Formatting. Don’t write emails that extend across the entire “page”. They are harder to read. Put a return after approximately 72 characters (mono). DON’T WRITE IN ALL CAPS. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. In fact, keep your emails short.
  8. Subject. The most important part of the email because if you don’t get people to open your email, it doesn’t matter what you say. Say something that lets the recipient know that there is something of value or interest inside.

I write about this subject periodically because I continue to see emails from professionals who don’t follow these simple basic principles. If you write to me, don’t tell me your name, and your email is booboo2785@aol.com, you can’t expect me to treat you seriously. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Here’s a good article on how to change your email address without messing things up.

Here’s a great way to get referrals quickly.

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163 Getting Things Done Software Options

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I admit it. Even though I am committed to Evernote as my getting things done software application, I still like looking at other apps. It’s fun. I get ideas. And yes, I get tempted. But I stay with Evernote, even though it is not a GTD app and does have limitations, because it is simple, powerful, and I can make it do what I want it to do. (I also like having all my tasks and projects in the same place as my notes.)

I chose Evernote because everything else I tried was too complicated to learn and/or use, or didn’t “feel” right for me. I found myself spending too much time managing lists instead of getting things done.

Anyway, if you’re still looking for the perfect app, or like me, you enjoy seeing what else is available, you might want to take a look at this directory of 163 Getting Things Done Software options. I found it by reading a post that summarizes ten popular GTD apps. Of the ten, I have the most experience with Toodledo and Nirvana. They’re both worth a look.

Careful, though. No matter what productivity system you use, trying out new apps can become addicting. You can spend hundreds of hours reading reviews, trying features, and moving information. Been there. Done that.

Of course in the end, the best system is the one that works for you. My wife uses pen and paper and gets way more done than I ever have. It took her about ten seconds to set up her system and she spends zero time looking at other apps.

Check out my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

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The wave of the future for attorney marketing

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In the 1967 film, The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character was at a party, wondering about his future career, when he was taken aside and offered some advice. “Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics,” he was told.

Plastics were the next big thing in 1967. Today? Who knows.

The thing is, when it comes to attorney marketing, there is no next big thing. It’s still all about information and people. Always was. Always will be.

Technology changes. Fundamentals don’t.

Educate your market place about the law, about problems and solutions, and about the process. Stay in touch with your clients and prospects. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. That’s all attorneys have ever had to do to build a successful practice and it still is.

Don’t get hung up on what “everyone” else is doing or feel left behind if you aren’t following the latest trend. But don’t stick your head in the sand, either. Technology does make things easier, quicker, and cheaper.

Put content on a website or blog because it makes it easier to educate your market and communicate with clients and prospects, not because someone said you must. Use social media to find and engage people because it expands your reach (and you enjoy it), not because all the cool lawyers do it.

The wave of the future for attorney marketing is information and people, same as always. Slicker and more fun with an iPad, but still the same.

Starting or expanding your website or blog? Start here.

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