I periodically report on personal productivity issues based on my experience. I’ll start with the good news - a neat expense tracking app - and the move to the bad news, cloud disappointment and Verizon FIOS.
Expense Tracking Made Easy. I started using BizXpenseTracker on my iPhone and really like how easy it makes capturing expense information, including receipt photos. It saves a lot of time by making almost-real-time expense tracking easy, which I find much better than waiting until a trip ends. To submit expenses, the app offers several options. I e-mail myself an Excel spreadsheet and PDF of receipt images. You can buy an add-on app to sync to a computer desktop but I am loathe to install yet more software so skipped that option. The iOS version of the app back-ups to Apple’s iCloud or to Dropbox. It also synchronizes between i-Devices. It’s a big time-saver and I have only one minor complaint: I find syncing between my iPhone and iPad unreliable.
Cloud Disappointment. It turns out that the cloud giveth but it also taketh. Google announced that it will soon discontinue Reader, its cloud RSS aggregation software (which collects “feeds” from multiple blogs and new sources to read in one place.) I moved to Reader some time ago when Bloglines shut down its cloud reader. Now, I am again in search of alternatives. I have tried Feedly and Netvibes. Netvibes is out because, for me, it does not seem to collect all my feeds (or it does, but too delayed, just not sure). Feedly is pretty good, especially on i-Devices, but I miss some browser keyboard shortcuts that Google offers. When cloud services come and go, it’s takes time to evaluate and learn the alternatives.
I also see other cloudiness. To Tweet, I use HootSuite, a web-based service to monitor and post to multiple social media services. Recently, a key feature - search - stopped working in the Chrome browser. HootSuites’s help acknowledges and promises a fix. So my romance with clouds is over. No longer can I assume that the only change will be more cool new features. That said, it’s not so bad if I compare it to my experience with desktop software. For example, I regularly find deficits in Microsoft products, and they have had 2+ decades to get it right in some instances.
Verizon FIOS Outages a Time Waster. In the fall I switched to Verizon FIOS for home Internet. Starting in late January, over several weeks I had three service outages (voice and internet), none of which Verizon could explain. After the second outage, I had a long-ish call with a tech on an escalation support team. As I understand the situation, Verizon does not have reliable diagnostics down to the neighborhood or household level. After the third outage, I had Verizon replace all my on-premise equipment. So far, so good, but that seemingly drastic step was necessary to eliminate one potential cause, should I experience another outage. Of course, all this is a huge waste of time: reporting the problem, waiting for callbacks, waiting for service techs to arrive, and relying on a slower mobile data connection until service is restored. The situation is also surprising given that FIOS is a relatively recently designed and deployed - and seemingly high tech - system.
I report here on several recent initiatives to improve my personal productivity, some successful, some not.
Verizon Beats AT&T for Mobile Data Access. My most successful change has been switching from AT&T to Verizon for mobile voice and data. Until September, I used an iPhone 4 on the AT&T 3G network. In the places where I spend time, AT&T data service worked very poorly for me. Pulling e-mail to my iPhone or using it as a hotspot was more often than not a big frustration. With Verizon Wireless, I find so far that data service is much more reliable and consistent. I also enjoy the faster speed of 4G (LTE).
iPhone 5 Underwhelms Except for Siri Dictation. In switching to Verizon, I upgraded to an iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is a fine device but for me, the only meaningful upgrade from the iPhone 4 is Siri (and LTE support). Siri, the Apple dictation feature, speeds composing text and e-mail messages. At a conventional keyboard, I type very fast; on a the iPhone, I struggle mightily with the virtual keyboard. So dictation saves a lot of time and aggravation. (Siri has other uses but those pale in comparison to substitute for typing.)
Task Management Remains a Challenge. Finding software for task management remains a challenge. As I noted in my 2004 post Tracking Tasks, Outlook is under-powered for task management. Today, OneNote integrates with Outlook tasks. Though I am generally a big OneNote fan, I find its Outlook integration clunky and weak. My colleagues and I tried web-based Asana for both individual and group task management. It received positive reviews but we eventually gave up. For me, the final straw was that Asana did not make comments to tasks searchable. So I am still in search of both individual and group task management tools.
Microsoft Office365 / Outlook WebApp Failed for Me. To simplify my e-mail management and improve synchronization between Outlook and my iPhone, I wanted to migrate from Outlook desktop to Microsoft Office365 / Outlook WebApp ("OWA"). OWA retrieved e-mail from my three work e-mail accounts but failed to retrieve my Yahoo! and gmail personal accounts. I spent several hours with Microsoft support on this to no avail. (Getting through to a human was surprisingly easy and all tech reps were very friendly and responsive.) MSFT offered no explanation re Yahoo!. Re gmail, tech reps suggested turning off 2-factor authentication. Never mind that this is a good security practice; I successfully use Google-generated “application specific passwords” for multiple PC and iOS services. Mentioning my troubles to a couple of friends elicited rather unkind words about OWA from those who use it.
Solid State Drive Speeds Work. I’m on thin ice here because conducting a truly controlled test is hard. But it strikes me that having a solid state drive (SSD), instead of a conventional rotating hard disk drive, dramatically improves PC performance. My 5-month old Toshiba Portege Ultrabook, with SSD, failed. While it was at the factory for warranty repair, I reverted to a back-up PC. The Intel processor in my back-up is the same generation but runs at a slightly faster clock speed. The back-up’s hard disk spins at 7200 RPM (an upgrade from the standard 5400 RPM). Nonetheless, I found the back-up PC noticeably slower for almost every operation. Anecdotal evidence from friends supports the idea that a solid state drive enhances performance.
i-Device Migration Easy - Once You Figure It Out for Yourself. I complained in a post one year ago, Does Apple Oversimplify Technology (or Under-Document)?, that Apple did not properly document how best to migrate an iPhone or iPad to a new PC. By trial and error and several migrations since then, I’ve now figured it out. It’s actually quite simple in the end but it took me a while to figure it out.
Many professionals I have seen at a keyboard seem stuck at the Beginner level – even the “power users” among us. So rather than recommending specific tools or tips for legal technology beginners, I want to encourage an overall mindset of learning and improving.
I will guess - and I suspect this is conservative - that most professionals spend at least 100 hours per month working at a computer. If you can save a few minutes here and there by working more efficiently, those savings add up. So why not take 30 minutes each month to improve your personal productivity - that’s one-half of a percent of your time.
To do so, you need to be curious and willing to experiment. You can consult many sources to learn time-saving ideas and tricks. Perhaps the best way is to ask friends and colleagues for tips. That way you get an explanation and support. Of course, you can also read (there are many blogs with tips) or take a class.
I have been “doing legal technology” for over 20 years. Even so, I find I still regularly learn new ways to be more productive. For example, over the last six months, here are four changes I have made in my computer usage:
- Space Bar Advance - Reading a blog post, I learned that the space bar advances a browser page by one screen. Some of you may roll your eyes and think, “How can Ron not have known that already?” The answer is that there are so many keyboard shortcuts, it’s hard to know or remember all of them. And some of you may think, “Why bother with that? I’ll just use the page down key.” I find the space bar is easier than page down – the former is, after all, a much bigger target for my finger.
- Skype - I now keep Skype open and use it regularly. I’ve had a Skype account for a long time but in the past used it mainly when I was outside the US. Now, with so many people on Skype, I realize it is a cheap and easy way to communicate, both for voice and video. One nice feature is that it identifies who is speaking on conference calls, which is handy if you don’t already know voices.
- Making the Task Bar Vertical on Wide Screens - For years I struggled with how best to use the Windows task bar. The task bar is the area, usually at the bottom of the screen that shows icons and/or words for all open software. You can configure, that is, specify, how it works. For example, you can group icons together or display one versus two rows of icons. The screens on newer computers are now usually in “movie aspect ratio”, meaning widescreen. When I configured my new PC recently, I suddenly realized that for the way I work, I was not using the full screen width. So I set my task bar to be vertical, on the left side of my screen. With this move, I more quickly see my open applications and can therefore switch among them faster.
- Doodle.com for Polling and Scheduling - For planning conference calls, several of my friends use doodle.com to poll participants for available times. I have now adopted that tool when I arrange multi-party calls.
Now that I’ve given you some of my tips and tricks, let’s talk about the larger issue – working smart. The real point is not what tips or tricks you use as much as it is to spend some time and energy thinking about and improving how you work. And if you revisit the changes I’ve made, you’ll see that “sources” of change are reading, friends, and my own little “ah ha” moments. Does it take time to change the way I work? Absolutely. But does the productivity I gain make it a great investment? For sure.
To help get you started on your personal productivity quest, here a few of my favorite tips:
- Browser Tabs Save Time - Use tabs in your browser to keep multiple web sites open at the same time. Sound obvious? Maybe to you, but I have one friend who opens multiple instances of his browser (in spite of my protestations!) Have lots of tabs open? Then put the cursor over any tab and use the mouse wheel to “scroll” or move the tabs across the page quickly (a feature I discovered by accident in Firefox.)
- Full-Text Search - Use a full-text tool to search for e-mail and documents. I am not a Mac person but I understand the built-in search for Mac is good. On the PC, I personally much prefer X1 ($50) over the built-in Windows 7 search capability. That said, Windows 7 search (Start Menu, type your key words in the box at the bottom) is not bad and is often better than the alternatives.
- Two Monitors are Better than One - If you regularly work at the same desk, make sure you have two monitors or at least a single large screen. Most modern, portable notebooks computers have, by design, small screens. Many studies have found that more screen real estate improves productivity. When I am at my desk, I plug in a 19” external monitor and “extend” to it from my notebook. That means I can have different applications open on each screen. (On most notebooks, one of the function keys lets you choose whether you “extend” your screen (making two monitors act as one) or simply “project” your screen onto the bigger monitor.)
- Back it Up - Back-up your files regularly. Nothing kills productivity like losing work product!
Even if all you ever do at a computer is e-mail, word processing, and browsing, you can find many ways to become more productive. I have long been struck by lawyers and staff who, in so many words, say, “I am too busy to learn.” The busier you are, the more eager you should be to invest 30 minutes a month - it will buy you time for the rest of your life at a keyboard.
NOTE: This post was originally published at Legal Technology Observer series at Legal IT Professionals, Legal Technology Productivity Quest - Even a Power User Can Learn New Tricks. Thanks to Christy Burke of Burke & Company for her editorial assistance and guidance.
My iPad is great but no way can I give up my PC. I long for a device that combines the benefits of both.
Last December in Tablets versus PCs I wrote that tablet computers do not replace PCs. The iPad is a great way to consume information plus its form-factor and screen paradigm create an experience different than a PC.
I create a lot of content, however, so cannot go for long without the full versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. On short trips, where I don’t have time to do more than e-mail anyway, the iPad is fine (with a Bluetooth keyboard). But on most trips, I create enough content that I must bring a PC.
Someday, I hope that compromise won’t be necessary. The Intel-promoted Ultrabook design - a thin, light-weight, fast-starting, and touch screen PC - is a promising if expensive replacement for bigger notebook PCs (see, e.g, this recent Engadget report). But even an Ultrabook running Windows 8 remains fundamentally a PC with some tablet-like features.
It’s great that both the Mac OS and Windows are moving toward touch screen interfaces but that does not make them table substitutes. My ideal machine would be like a super lightweight computer where the screen detaches from the keyboard and, when detached, behaves exactly like a tablet. I might settle for an iPad app the emulates a PC though it would have to support a pointing device other than a finger.
Evan Koblentz of Law Technology News asks today Will Tablets Replace Laptops? I think the answer is yes for some and false dichotomy for many.
I was a late tablet adopter, buying an iPad 2 in September of this year. A year earlier, at ILTA, I talked to a lot of my friends about tablets because the iPad 1 was so hot then. Based on my conversations there, I held off buying one. I realized that I create a lot of content, working frequently and intensively in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Full-featured desktop applications and a 19″ virtualized external monitor are keys to my productivity. Tablets won’t do for that.
Not everyone, however, is a content creator. Many partners in large law firms, for example, are more content consumers than creators. They, like many experienced professionals, mainly review documents, comment on those document, send relatively short e-mail messages, and reply to e-mail. If those are your primary tasks, I think you can get by with just a tablet. At minimum, a tablet will serve you just fine while traveling - you may still want a notebook at home or in the office.
So, how do I use my iPad? When I am away from the office for a day of meetings, I find the iPad _very_ useful. If I have an hour break, I can read and reply to many e-mail, read my RSS feed, and read the daily news. All this is _much_ easier on the big screen of tablet than on a smartphone. Carrying the iPad is much easier than carrying a PC.
It’s true that coming generation of PC Ultrabooks may serve this purpose. Ultrabooks are an emerging category of notebooks, designed to mimic the Mac Air in thinness, lightness, and fast boot-up. But they will be expensive to start and I’d rather not buy the first generation. Moreover, when my only task is reading documents, handling the iPad is much easier than a PC. I can be sitting, lying down, or even standing waiting for a train and use a table. I’m not persuaded that Ultrabooks will substitute for that.
So my own answer to Evan’s question, for the next two years at least, is “No, tablets will not replace PCs” for users who need to create a lot of content. Content creators will still need a full-fledged PC, at least in the office or home.
Tablets may replace PCs for users who mainly consume content. In the legal market, however, where time is money and partners at least can afford multiple devices, I think they will co-exist.
[End Note: Although I am pretty good at typing on the virtual screen, I also have a Bluetooth wireless keyboard, Apple brand. To me, the minimal extra weight and space is worthwhile for the faster typing on an iPad.]
I like my iPhone and iPod but I am no Apple fanboy. After upgrading to iOS5 and trying to use iCloud yesterday and migrating these devices to a new PC 10 days ago, I am frustrated and have lost a lot of time.
I’ll start with a condensed narrative of my woes, then draw my conclusion.
The upgrade to iOS5, Apple’s latest operating system for iPhones and iPads, was bumpy. I saw a lot of chatter on the web that many people had problems. In the end, my upgrade worked but the prompts along the way were confusing.
Even more confusing was iCloud, which allows synchronizing contacts, calendars, and other information automatically across i-devices and a PCs or Macs. A blow-by-blow explanation would bore so I point you to Outlook 2010 PC? It’s iCloud Or Google Calendar Sync, Not Both – And Outlook 2011 Mac Gets No Love, a blog post by noted techie / search engine expert Danny Sullivan.
Sadly, I was not able to find any helpful Apple documentation; I had to rely on web searches and hits like the one cited. Along the way, I noticed that in iTunes (the synchronization software), under Help, iTunes Help, I received a “Not Found - The requested URL /itunes/win/10.5/ was not found on this server” error. Huh? This was a freshly updated iTunes.
I had a similar experience 10 days. Once I lost my job, I had to migrate my two i-devices from the company computer to my own. I spent hours in advance trying to figure out how best to do so. My search of the Apple support site for what I thought must surely exist- the one-page, step-by-step guide for this task - yielded nothing very helpful. After consulting web resources, I thought I had it figured it out. I confirmed with a call to Apple support (my iPad is still in the free support period). My plan worked but I panicked initially because I thought all my apps disappeared. Then I realized iTunes had moved all the apps several i-device screens over to the right. Aside from the time to re-organize my apps, no where did I see a warning this would happen.
Running into these problems was a huge waste of time. The conclusion? Either the technology has to be so truly simple that no documentation is required. Or the developer has to acknowledge some complexity and provide adequate documentation. Documentation does not appear to be Apple’s strong suit. There is no question the iPhone and iPad are beautifully designed and wonderful machines. Yet they do entail some complexity. Complexity that Apple appears to ignore.
On and off, I consider switching from a PC to a Mac. After this experience, I am reluctant. With a Mac, I doubt it would be long before I ran into a tech glitch and struggled to find answers.
Law firm CIOs try to keep tech easy but know simplicity is not always possible. That’s why firms train and provide ample support. A BigLaw CIO who took Apple’s approach to complexity (seemingly ignore it) would likely not last long!
I just had a “Eureka” moment that touches on two of my favorite themes: things digital and change management.
For years, I have used a white noise machine as a sleep aid. At home, I actually use - gasp - an old-fashioned motor-driven, adjustable plastic cylinder device that sounds like a fan. When I travel, I use hotel A/C units. But they are not a reliable sound source and friends’ or vacation rental homes often don’t have them.
So I decided to buy a portable, electronic white noise machine - it looks like an old-fashioned transistor radio. After it arrived and I unpacked it, I started thinking how that was one more item to pack. Oh well I thought. Then, an hour later, it suddenly occurred to me that once I dispense with a motor, noise is just code plus a speaker. Well, a smartphone runs code and has a speaker built in.
So I went to the App Store (yes, I do have an iPhone). Moments later my downloaded white noise app was offering me 40 sounds, alarms, a big digital clock, and other handy features.
So the white noise machine goes back to the store. And I sit here humbled that buying an app did not come to mind immediately.
I draw three lessons. First, the longer I own a smart phone, the more uses I discover for it. Second, anything that can become digital will and it will, if not today, eventually be available on a smart phone. Third, even though I consider myself forward thinking, I had locked myself into an old paradigm of dedicated, function-specific devices.
And fourth, I am now pondering if there are any hidden lessons. Does my aha moment suggest anything that would facilitate change management when working with lawyers. I wish I could say that simply answering “what’s in the change for me” question would sway people. It often does not. So I will sit here and ponder some more.
Yesterday in My Month with Microsoft I wrote about my frustrations with Microsoft software. Legal project management expert Steven Levy of Lexician, who spent about 20 years working at MS, wrote a great and thoughtful comment on MS software, which I re-publish here.
Steve reminds me that
- The bug versus feature discussion persists. Reasonable people can and do dis-agree about how software should work. As Steve points out, for example, with how text boxes work in PowerPoint, what I consider a bug is a valuable feature for others. And be careful what you ask for…. being able to configure how features work is not a good solution generally.
- Microsoft applications operate in a complex environment. Even though MS provides the operating system for the vast majority of PCs, it does not entirely control the environment. I I like to forget this when I am frustrated.
- The company continues to invest to make its software better.
Here is Steve’s comment:
Ron, as someone who worked at Microsoft from the early 90s until a couple of years ago, I’d like to respond. (Of course, I do not speak for Microsoft!)
First, “do we think MS cares about… bugs?” I know MS cares about bugs. There are committed, passionate people on all of the product teams I know who care deeply about creating the best possible user experience.
Indeed, OneNote has been one of the most committed such teams. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen this particular bug… which reflects the nature of bugs. Software is incredibly complex, and its interactions with millions of different computer setups and whatever else is also running are mind-boggling. These interactions are rarely reproducible in the lab; who knows what anti-virus software and other apps and Flash version and iTunes updater and viruses and so on are running at the same time. (Open the Task Manager and look at the number of processes your computer is running that aren’t from Microsoft.)
The teams are under great pressure to deliver useful value now, on one hand, and near-perfect software on the other. It’s a compromise, and it’s a compromise that every software company makes. Few systems have similar complexity, and those that do, such as airplanes, have huge restrictions on what you can add. Delta can’t simply add its own app to a 747’s system… let alone some individual flight attendant doing so!
Let me comment on some of the specific items:
- Win7 restart: Probably Windows Update, as you note. Each app has its own way of dealing with shutdown/restart. Some, such as Google Chrome, are better than others at handling this.
- PPT text box: This is by design so that you can click on visible elements underneath without worrying about where the invisible text box is. As someone who creates graphics-intensive decks, I am very grateful it works this way.
- Word table text: Paragraph menu is right on the Home tab even in a table.
- Word Insert key: I noticed this too and thought it was weird.
- Word Find and Autonumber: I agree. I know technically why it works this way, but I think it’s counter-intuitive.
I get frustrated with Microsoft software a lot – now and back when I worked there. Most MS employees do… and they use a lot of MS software all the time. Everybody wants it to work better, and everybody has an opinion on exactly how it should work. (E.g., I suspect the one-cell table copy is by design, and there’s probably a reason for it, but I don’t know what it is.) However, whenever I was feeling truly frustrated, I’d go run something by Adobe or Apple or numerous other vendors. Most of what’s out there is considerably worse – flukier, more crash-prone, slower to load (Adobe, are you listening?), slower to run, more processor-intensive (Adobe again…).
That said, keep letting MS know what you find deficient. They are listening. They’re not very good at letting people know they’re listening, but listen they do.
There are 100K people there. I don’t know all of them (when I started, there were less than 10% of that number, and I sometimes felt I did know them all). I know some who aren’t committed, who are just doing a job, who are in it only for the salary, and I know them at all levels of the company. But I know many, many more who are deeply committed to creating the best possible software for a broad spectrum of users, who are truly trying to change the world through software.
And if they’re not perfect, they’ve made a pretty good start. It’s a very different (software) world than that of, say, 1981, the year the IBM PC was introduced. They shouldn’t skate on what they’ve gotten wrong, but they should get credit for the amazing amount they’ve done well to get us users as far as we have in 30 years.
Periodically I write about technology that increases or decreases my personal productivity. Over the last month I have documented how the Microsoft Office suite and Windows 7 detracts from my personal productivity.
I regularly use Microsoft Office 2010 products: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I still use Outlook 2003. For about the last month, I have been documenting what I consider Office bugs and “deficits”. By deficit I mean a confusing or less-than-than-helpful feature design. I acknowledge that some bugs may be deficits and vice versa.
As I encountered problems, I Tweeted them in real-time. Each Tweet starts “Microsoft Bug Watch” or “Microsoft Deficit Watch.” I reproduce these Tweets below (minus “Microsoft” and “Watch” so the Tweets are more readable). Click here to view my Tweets or follow me.
In my view, the number of problems I encountered is unacceptable. The Office products are 10 to 20 years old; Windows 7 is supposed to be a mature operating system. How can it be that in a month of use, I find so many issues. Even if some of these are “user error” or “training” issues, so what? I’m a pretty experienced and techie user. If I encounter these, what does that mean for those who are less techie?
The conclusion I draw is that companies with too large a market share just do not care enough to create truly polished products. And we all pay a steep price for this.
I don’t see a solution. Some readers will think, switch to Mac. No thanks. I got an iPhone last September and found Apple’s MobileMe is worse than most Micrsoft products and iTunes is at least as confusing as mediocre MS products. Others will think, switch to the cloud. No thanks. I have tried cloud applications but they are not yet feature-rich enough to support my requirements.
So all I can do is write this post and hope that someday we will have more polished software.
My Month of Microsoft Bugs and Deficits, Reported at Twitter
[Note that Tweets are limited to 140 characters so necessarily these are not detailed.]
- Bug : Print selected text in OneNote prints more than just the selection. (Do we think MS cares about this or other bugs?) 15 Dec 2010
- Bug : Win 7 shut down by itself while suspended; on re-start, 1/2 of apps re-opened. Seems related to Win update. 16 Dec 2010
- Bug : an Outlook 2003 e-mail initiated by a file send (from File Explorer) does not save to drafts folder. Just lost work 16 Dec 2010
- RT @ronfriedmann Microsoft Bug Watch: correction: Outlook 2003 e-mail initiated by a file send saves to Inbox instead of Drafts. Go figure 16 Dec 2010
- Bug : Word 2010 - To ‘Customize Quick Access Toolbar’ you have to click on pull-down menu choice ‘More Commands’. Uh? 19 Dec 2010
- Deficit - Word 2010 - clicking on commented text does not highlight the comment in the review pane 27 Dec 2010
- Deficit - PowerPoint 2010 - cannot edit text box by clicking anywhere in it; must click on text within it 28 Dec 2010
- Deficit : Keystroke shortcut CTRL-W does not close document in Office 2010 apps if doc is open to the “File” tab 3 Jan 2010
- Deficit : Word 2010 - text in tables - hard to find Paragraph option. Only way I found was to add icon to Quick Access bar 4 Jan 2010
- Deficit - Word 2010 - Default function of Insert key has changed. I thought all key stroke commands preserved 5 Jan 2010
- Deficit / Bug - I will collect all my Tweets for a future blog post 5 Jan F 2010
- Deficit - Excel 2010 - ~20 years later, still no native feature to label automatically scatter points or bubble charts 5 Jan 2010
- Deficit - Word 2010 - Find feature does not find auto-numbered paragraphs, e.g, cannot search for “4.6″ to find par 4.6 5 Jan 2010
- Bug - Outlook closes in stand-by. Re-boot Win 7 PC: Outlook profile + other files ‘missing’. On 2nd re-boot, seems ok 9 Jan F 2010
- Deficit - Word 2010 - Text in tables: Ribbon Bar v Pop Up Menu options, eg, text direction. Not obvious. 2010 easier how? 10 Jan 2010
- Bug - Word 2010 - CTRL-V of 1-cell table only copies text, not cell. Use a paste option to fix. Not true for 2+ cells. 11 Jan 2010
- Bug - Word 2010 - mouse over text with Tracked Changes does not consistently display pop-up formatting tool 13 Jan 2010
About two weeks ago I got a new Dell notebook PC from my company. Ordering an extra battery for it on my own from Dell.com turned into a personal productivity nightmare. Dell’s famed model business model feels creaky, which may hold lessons for BigLaw.
After getting my new PC, I went to Dell.com to order a docking station and battery. The docking station was easy to identify Not so the battery. I could not find the exact model of my PC, Latitude E4310, at dell.com. Hmm. I found batteries listed for Latitude E but the web descriptions did not include compatibility listings by PC model numbers. I lost quite a bit of time trying to figure out which battery was right yet ended up ordering an incompatible unit. As a veteran web shopper and ex-CIO, I found this rather frustrating.
Fixing this was a time sink, which I attribute to Dell’s, in my opinion, inadequate e-commerce capabilities. In getting the return merchandise authorization (RMA), the agent was unable to pull up my correct e-mail address, even though she had my order number. So I had to provide it orally. So much for back-end systems integration. The e-mail confirming my return lists the battery as ‘CUS BTRY 12C SONY’, which bears no resemblance to the ‘9-Cell/85 Watt-Hour Primary Battery for Dell Latitude E/Precision Mobile WorkStations M2400/ M4400’ that I ordered. This does not inspire confidence.
To compound frustration, I could not order the correct battery with the same person who takes care of returns. Transfer and hold. The sales person then tells me a part number to buy. I inspect it on the website but do not see a definitive listing that it is compatible. I ask for other choices. The second part number he gives me is not on the website at all. I ask about this and the agent tells me that not all batteries appear on the wesbsite. I find this baffling because I have no way to compare specs and prices.
So I ask to speak to a supervisor. After a long pause, I am connected with customer care. The agent immediately says “Our systems are down for updating, can you call back.” That is not what I call ‘customer care:’ I am amazed that Dell would take systems down at 9:30am Eastern. Further, one might expect customer care to offer to call back when the system is available.
At this point, I went to plan B: Twitter. My Tweet to @MichaelDell put me in touch with with someone in Dell Global Social Media. It turns out that since my company, a business customer ordered the computer, accessories for it are not listed at dell.com, which I was told was for consumers. That is not clear on the website. Moreover, I cannot be the only person with a company-provided computer who wants to order accessories and expense them.
Once I was in touch with a person, Dell did make the situation right and I got the battery I needed quickly. It is hard for me to understand though how or why anyone might consider Dell an e-commerce leader.
Dell was the PC king for years. They now lag HP and Acer in market share. Dell stock price is way down from its all-time high. A business model that worked magic for many years stopped working as well as it had. Beyond any IT and e-commerce lessons, law firms might take this as a cautionary tale about their own business models. How many ‘tried and true” law firm models will work in new economic circumstances. For an example of pressure on law firm models, see Adam Smith, Esq.’s post Innovators at the Barricades, in which he discusses the impact of legal outsourcing on BigLaw.
Legal Tech begins tomorrow and I am in position at the NY Hilton. With the show’s emphasis on e-discovery and enterprise systems, we can easily forget that personal productivity is still an important legal technology goal . So, before the din of reports on enterprise systems from Legal Tech coming this week, I report here on three personal productivity tools I’ve been using since the December holiday season, to excellent benefit.
Desktop Search with X1. In 2009, I had to uninstall Google Desktop Search because it seemed to crash Outlook. (Well, that’s what my IT advisors told me and after uninstalling, the crashes stopped.) For some time, I lived without desktop search, which was painful. I’ve now been using X1 ® Professional Client Version 6.2.4 for about 5 weeks. I find it very useful and better than Google for the most part. It’s intuitive interface allows _fast_ searching of e-mail or files (a tabbed interface allows selecting other categories such as Inbox or music). Fields allow searching by meta data such as sender, subject, or date for e-mail and document type or path for files. X1 provides a viewer for most file types, though I personally don’t use it that much. Working from the search result list, it’s very easy to open files or the file directory in which the file sits. Personally, I like it better than Google Desktop. The only thing I can think of that it does not do that Google does is index web pages visited. (One tech note for install: I had some clutter in my Outlook profiles, meaning some old ones. X1 found these and wanted to index files that no longer existed. This forced me to clean-up old profiles, which is probably a good idea anyway.)
E-mail Autofiling with Xiant. I have long been impressed by Decisiv by Recommind, a product for automatically filing e-mail. That has not been available to me but late last year I read about Xiant Filer for automatically filing e-mail messages. Xiant is a company started by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen. Xiant integrated easily with Outlook and saves me a lot of time filing messages (individual messages and threads, including replies, which means I now rarely need to file sent messages - a huge savings in time). I know some people think filing is a waste of time, that with products like X1, you can find messages. But I personally still find it useful to be able to scan a folder of related messages so that I can see the history of a project. I’ve used Xiant a few weeks and its recommended folders are typically good picks and seem to improve over time as it “reads” more of my e-mail and “sees” my filing choices. Though not billed as a feature, Xiant has the benefit of allowing me to find where in my extensive list of nested folders a particular folder sits. Can you tell I am splitter and not a lumper? [Tech note: At least for my install, the buttons Xiant adds to each messages for auto-filing do not work; I can only file from my inbox. Also, though I have three views / windows of Outlook open, the Xiant buttons appear only on one of them. I have not sought tech support to resolve these issues.)
Ease Tweeting with HootSuite. HootSuite is a web site that simplifies writing and reading Tweets across multiple Twitter accounts (and other social media though I only use it for Twitter). I like it’s multi-column interface better than the native Twitter interface, though I continue to use the latter in some instances (e.g., searching Twitter).
[As usual, the above are my opinions and I have received no consideration from any of the vendors / products reviewed here.]
I recently wrote about my My Current Personal Productivity Favorites. Now I turn to my technology productivity blackholes.
For 18 months I felt like Comcast was my best friend based on how often I talked with them. Long story short: I suffered intermittent connectivity lapses that were only resolved when I persuaded Comcast to build another “node” to serve my home. That said, they always were courteous and tried to help and over the years, their customer service and QoS has improved.
I am also pals with Sprint Nextel, which has been my wireless carrier for 10+ years. Through various models of Palm Treos and now a Blackberry, I have had problems big and small. Again, customer service is generally pretty good though I occasionally get reps who are unfriendly or demonstrably don’t follow their training.
Yet one more connectivity sinkhole: flakiness in my 8x8 VOIP phone line. Moments of silence during calls, dial and other end never rings, cut-off in middle of calls.
Then there is Microsoft. Need I say more? With MS, I have to separate chronic and acute problems and separate errors of commission and omission. Examples, in text not as a graphic, from the consultant’s two-by-two matrix:
- Chronic / Omission: Crashing apps, too many examples to enumerate. Boot time. Inconsistency within and across apps (Software example: keystroke combo required “tab” among open files for Excel is “CTRL-TAB” but for Word is CTRL-F6. Hardware example: scroll wheel does not work in Windows File Explorer). Likely combination example: auto-dialer in Outlook sends pulses instead of tones to my phone with some regularity
- Chronic/Commission: intrusive updates
- Acute/Omission: time it takes to get a new PC up and running
- Acute/Commission: the ~40 hours I lost with MS phone support and on my own fixing a faulty update.
For all its fame and good reviews, I find that Mozilla Firefox crashes way too often. For me, at least 2x / week.
One ought to be able to use connectivity and software and rarely experience a problem. I hope that in my life time, I can look back to this moment and think “how quaint", just like I do about all the cars on the side of road in my childhood with flat tires, overheating, or other breakdowns.
Today I re-visit my favorite personal productivity technology tools. I’ll do another post about “technology productivity blackholes", tech issues that suck time out of my day.
Screen Real Estate and Multiple Instances of Application Windows. For me, ample screen space is the most important productivity tool. I’ve previously blogged about the benefits of dual monitors. I suspect you can achieve the same two benefits with a sufficiently large monitor:
- “Random access” to any open application with the click of a mouse.
- Ability to drag items between two open applications
The second point is key. I regularly work with two open windows of MS OneNote and three of MS Outlook. Especially in Outlook, I find that I save much time being able to drag messages from my sent or inbox folder into a folder list in another open window.
Telecommunications. Telecom has changed dramatically in a decade.
- My business phone is a VOIP line; I receive voice mail messages as WAV files attached to an e-mail. It is hugely convenient to listen to v-mail on my PC rather than having to dial in by phone. I can delete the v-mail with the click of a link in the e-mail message. This works from my PC or my BlackBerry smartphone.
- I auto-dial from my contact list via the PC’s built-in modem. Old but effective technology.
- What good is talking on the phone if you have to hold a handset? I use a high quality wireless handset that keeps my hands-free to type. It also lets me roam anywhere in my house and even outside.
- When I’m overseas, I use Skype to make phone calls. If I were truly high tech, I might rely entirely on Skype for all calls.
- High speed mobile broadband keeps me productive during the hours I spend on Amtrak and at airports. I use my BlackBerry in “phone as modem” mode; it’s slower than than a dedicated wireless card but cheaper and one less device to carry (and lose).
Favorite Free or Low Cost Utilities.
- Google Picassa for pictures (hard drive and web)
- SugarSync for backing up files except PSTs
- SmartSync to synchronize files between any two disk locations
- Norton Internet Security 2009 - as MSM reviews point out, this edition of NIS does not monopolize the processor and kill PC performance. I list here because it is a huge improvement over prior versions that were productivity blackholes.
Three years ago I blogged about the productivity benefits of dual monitors. Today, the New York Times published a long article extolling the virtues of bigger or dual monitors.
Boss, I Need a Bigger Screen. For Work Efficiency, of Course by Farhood Manjoo (15 Dec 2008) reports that
“host of studies by specialists in human-computer interaction suggest that combining two displays, or using a single huge monitor, can significantly enhance your productivity. The theory is simply that the bigger your monitor, the more of your work you’ll be able to see and the more you’ll be moved to do.”
I’ve found this is true. In my office, I dock my notebook and make my external 19″ monitor an extension of the notebook screen. This “virtualization” of screens, a standard Windows XP features, is not the same as merely viewing your notebook screen on a larger monitor. You can literally move the cursor and applications across the 2 screens.
GCs paying for lawyers by the hour should insist timekeepers have sufficient screen real estate. That’s how big a difference I think it makes. When I travel, working from just the screen of my notebook PC really slows me down.
Mr. Manjoo either does not like to remove his hands from the keyboard or misses a useful Windows feature. He reports “as I’m writing this story in Word, I’m switching back to my text editor to search for pertinent data. When I find that information, I select it, copy it and switch back to Word to paste it.” Mouse users can simply drag highlighted text from one application into another, across open applications or across two screens.
One caution is in order. If you use a set up like I do, when you undock, all the applications revert to the notebook screen. When you re-dock, you have to move all apps manually back to the second screen. I have not found a utility to do this.
File names and document titles turn out to be a big deal. Without proper file names, it’s hard to find the right document.
Where document management systems prevail, lawyers and staff often fail to provide meaningful titles. So much so that you have to wonder how authors will identify their own documents in the future.
Those of us not on a DMS have to name files. I am constantly surprised - and irritated - that so few people name files descriptively. I regularly receive documents from colleagues, vendors, job seekers and others where the file name bears little relation to contents or where someone has saved over a document in spite of very substantial edits. Perhaps others don’t mind living in chaos but when sending documents, it makes sense to use file names that clearly identify the content, author, and date. That certainly helps the recipient - it might even help you.
Microsoft ran a two-page-spread yesterday in the Wall Street Journal as part of its big new advertising campaign. In my view, consumers would be better off if MS spent money on developing better products than advertising.
The ad offers two tag lines: “Windows vs Walls” and “Life without Walls”. In my experience, MS products are a huge drain on my personal productivity. Some examples and expansion:
- Windows XP locks up entirely with some regularity so that my screen freezes and I have to hit the power button to re-boot
- Outlook 2003 crashes regularly on my current PC; Word crashed regularly on my prior PC
- Feature sets of the Office suite have barely improved in a decade
- I often have to wait for my PC to perform an action, for example, switching from Outlook to OneNote (I have 2 gig of RAM and am not anywhere near using all of it)
- No way would I buy a PDA with Windows Mobile. A friend has one and I find the menus un-intuitive and that too many clicks are required for common tasks
- I have avoided MS Vista because of the many bad reviews I have read
- I have avoided Office 2007 because reviews suggest that for experienced users, it is more pain than benefit and looking over the shoulder of users with it, I have to concur
So, in my experience, Windows are Walls that detract from my personal productivity. At least for this user, no amount of MS advertising about airy goals and connecting one billion users can make up for unfixed bugs and what seems a complete absence of innovation in the consumer market for PCs and notebook computers.
[I know that large law firms are excited about SharePoint and that does seem to be a good product. But in the consumer market, the last new product I can remember from MS is OneNote, and that came out several years ago.]
I am not a gadget guy but I do depend on my wireless PDA (smart phone) for phone calls, e-mail, web access, and web connectivity (phone as modem). With some trepidation, I decided to switch from my Palm Treo 700p to a Sprint Blackberry 8830. My trepidation was justifed. For the first time outside a conference, I am doing a real-time blog post.
While I am so far impressed with many features of the Blackberry device, the jury is still out, largely because of huge problems dealing with Sprint and possibly Blackbery - it’s hard to tell where the problem lies. Talk about a drain on personal productivity! I’ve spent hours this week on this.
[Updated 8/1/08: Below is a detailed log of my tech woes with Sprint Nextel last week. All the hours I spent were for naught. Sprint called back earlier this week (albeit not at the scheduled time) and could not advise me on (1) how to install AIM IM on my Blackberry or (2) how to synchronize so that all my calendar entries appear on the BB. Worse yet, since last week, after each sync, the Blackberry Device Manager software crashes. I’ve given hope, however, on getting tech support from Sprint Nextel on these issues. There are only so many hours one can invest. I should have thought harder about getting an iPhone.]
Here are the problems I encountered with Sprint Nextel while ordering the phone and then trying to get it set up ("provisioned” in geek-speak):
Sprint’s own home page for the Blackberry instructs users to “push the wheel key”. Very useful considering my unit has no wheel key.
When I ordered the phone, the Sprint sales rep was wrong about two important facts: (1) a rebate form does not come by e-mail and (2) I cannot simply transfer the voice and data plans from my Treo. The rebate form is on the web and the BB requires a different data plan. It turns out to cost almost the same, so it’s not a big deal, but just more aggravation and lack of clear information, a problem I chronically experience with Sprint.
The set up process started very poorly. The “Getting Started” guide booklet that Sprint provides is very clearly written - but very wrong. Long story short: a tech support person immediately acknowledged that the printed documentation is wrong about e-mail set up. She was as frustrated as I that she has to handle many calls similar to mine.
Set up continued poorly. After 45 minutes on the phone with a very nice and knowledgeable tech rep, my phone still did not have the “service books” it needs. Not clear if this was a Sprint or Blackberry RIM issue.
I found Sprint’s documentation of how to install AOL instant messaging when logged into my account (which “knows” I have a BB 8830). The specific page I found is called “How do I access instant messaging on my phone?” It’s explanation for how to do IM on BB is just wrong. Moreover, during provisioning, was told I would get a “service book” for AIM but that did not happen. This morning I called tech support and the rep instructed me to go to several web sites on BB. After being instructed to several dead ends, got to a page with a download link. I was told to click that link - received “file to big” to download. Meanwhile, the tech rep was replicating the process on a handheld but she had only one bar of signal. Excellent decision by Sprint to locate a service center where there is bad coverage. After much discussion, I asked the rep to send an e-mail with instructions tested by Sprint and was promised delivery within 10 minutes. Another Sprint promise broken.
I installed the Blackberry software to synchronize to Outlook via the USB cable. Initially, it appeared the sync worked properly. That was 2 days ago. Now I am trying to perform a sync. The system wants to delete most of my 6,000 calendar entries (I like having my history on my handheld). As I inspect this, I see that the initial sync only captured appointments from the end of May forward, even though the on-screen messages suggested all had been synced. I am currently on hold with a Sprint tech rep trying to sort this out. I’ve just been promised, at 1225pm EDT that a supervisor will call back within 20 minutes to resolve the sync issue. I asked that the supervisor also check into the missing e-mail about AOL IM software.
Now waiting… to hear back re sync
Just see (1238pm EDT) that I received an e-mail from sprint asking “Do you have aim icon now?” Answer: no. So maybe there was supposed to be an AOL AIM or AIMpro “service book” after all???
More than 20 minutes has elapsed (now 1235pm) since promised call re sync issue. Another broken Sprint promise.
So it’s now 205pm EDT… no further word on above. So I’m hold with “Executive Services Department", waiting for a rep there to try to resolve the above. Are we having fun yet?
229pm EDT: Exec Services is friendly but tells me I should call a different number, advanced Blackberry support, to resolve this. Not exactly one-stop shopping. The rep tells me that the service level (SLA) agreement he has with other departments is three days. Wow, Executive Service Team gets worse service than ordinary customers? Not sure what Robert Johnson, Sprint’s Chief Service Office, appointed in 2007 (see Sprint 10-k) was thinking.
232pm EDT: On hold at advanced tech support.
237pm EDT: Talking to a tech rep. On AOL Instant Messaging (AIM), he points to me a Blackberry web site where I can down load the AOL IM servlet. It downloads fine. But then when I try to use it, the app says go back the same URL to activate my phone for IM. Of course, when I go back to that URL, the only option is to download the software. Looks like an infinite loop at this point. [It’s now 3:06pm - how’s that for productive use of time?]
320pm EDT: Still on with tech rep. Can’t get AOL IM to work. He suggests I download to my computer and then sync it to handheld. I run into error messages on attempted download. App shows in BB sync manager but not clear if that’s the download to BB handheld or my desktop. I abandon this for now… moving on to synchronization issue.
338pm EDT: We are unable to resolve the synchronization problem. Even sending e-mail to Sprint is a big challenge. My message with three screen shots takes multiple tries to get through. We schedule a call back for Monday… I ask that Sprint escalate, analyze, and propose a course of action that does not require hours more of my time. I did get an e-mail address from the rep but it’s a Hotmail account. What does this say about customer service that customer service reps reps don’t have corporate e-mail accounts? What does it mean for Sprint Nextel’s records retention and potential future e-discovery challenges?
612pm EDT: Self-help department: I changed configuration options on sync software so that only future calendar appointments sync. I don’t have all my past entries, but at least now I can sync without deleting data in Outlook. Separately, RIM Blackberry web site on AOL AIM for Blackberry says I can download IM software onto the BB phone at http://www.blackberry.com/instantmessaging. Not true. That page has no available links.
658pm EDT: Cleaning up e-mail. Found an e-mail from Sprint on how to install AIM. Go to bookmarks on handheld and click on “Install AOL Instant Messenger”. Nice, but “page could not be found.” Sprint Nextel or RIM Blackberry at fault?
It’s very hard to understand why setting up a smart phone should be so hard and time-consuming. With 85% of Americans owning cell phones, many upgrading with some regularity, one might think it would be in the provders’ own interest to simplify to provisioning process. Apparently not.
It’s surprising, but computers seem less predictable and more moody than people.
Who would have thought that the seeming black and white of the binary world would lead to the moral equivalent of moodiness. And I don’t mean dystopian visions such as HAL in 2001. I mean here and now, on each of our desktops or laps.
Recent personal examples… (1) A fresh MS Outlook 2003 install on a new computer crashed regularly on opening; re-building the Outlook profile did not fix the problem. Four months later, the problem seems to have, by and large, fixed itself. (2) A new Dell computer would not connect to a WiFi access point in the line of sight. Six months later, miraculously, it just connected, with no user intervention. (3) The status bar in MS Word hides itself once a week for no apparent reason. (4) Sprint’s newly installed (and re-installed several times) Mobile Broadband Connect software refuses to work on my PC, the trouble shooting efforts of the highest level tech support notwithstanding.
Mainframes, IBM punch cards, and timesharing were frustrating to use but consistent. Likewise, early PCs. Then came local area networks. Then came the Internet. Then came patches, automatic software updates, and a host of other behind-the-scenes operating system and application activity. With every re-boot creating, in essence, an altered ecosystem, PCs behave more moodily than most people. Applications stop working, then they start. Systems freeze for no apparent reason (or, worse, display the dreaded blue screen of death).
Of course, all this takes a big toll on personal productivity. And it’s led me to say, with a straight face, “My computer is in a bad mood so I’m in a bad mood.” Maybe I need to start saying “I hope my PC’s mood is better tomorrow.”
[Yes, I do use MS Windows. Yes, I know with a Mac or Linux it would be better. And no, those are not viable solutions in most businesses.]
Flaky hotel internet access drains my personal productivity. Aside from whining, hotel connectivity illustrates interesting economic issues for law firms.
In one of about every four hotel stays, I have to call tech support to get the net connection working properly. I waste a lot of time doing this. I can’t be the only one. Instead of going into gory detail, let’s look at some potentially interesting lessons for law firms:
- If you outsource a customer or client facing service, do NOT disown responsibility for it. I am a big outsourcing fan. Done right, it means improving service, not making it worse. To me, it feels hotels have outsourced AND disowned. This hurts their brand and repeat business.
- Both hotels and law firms provide a complex set of services. How do you decide what to bundle in the basic rate? Low-end hotels often bundle net access in the room rate; I’m not sure why high-end ones don’t. I occasionally choose a hotel based on free net access. Are law firms losing clients or prospects because they have unbundled too many services? I really don’t know, but it’s worth making a conscious choice.
- Metering a service is generally a prerequisite to charge for it. The fact that it’s possible to meter a service does not mean you should. Let’s not forget Skaddenomics (a famous 1991 American Lawyer cover story on Skadden Arps charging clients for coffee service).
- Everything I just wrote notwithstanding, the purchase decision is complex. With net connection problems pretty universal, loyalty programs and location still drives my hotel decisions. Since the core service offering drives decisions, improvements to extras may not be good investments.
All this leaves me concerned that in both hospitality and law, service problems will persist for a long time.
Almost four years ago to the day, I started this “Personal Productivity” category. with a post extolling Microsoft OneNote.
Four year later, I continue to depend on OneNote (now the improved 2007 version). The surprise is that more people have not heard of it, much less adopted it. So I was glad to see Product Watch by Nerino J Petro, Jr in the March 2008 issue of Law Practice. His one-page glowing review is well-deserved and closes with “The capabilities found within OneNote are truly amazing. But none are quite so amazing as the fact that this product can be purchased stand-alone for under $100. It also comes standard in many Microsoft Office 2007 versions.”
When I consider pure software products over the last 4 years, OneNote has few rivals for best personal productivity booster. I like Mozy for back-up, that’s probably the next best. VOIP and smart phones are great but more hardware and infrastructure than software. I’ll poke the proverbial hornet’s nest and say that social networking software is over-rated and perhaps a productivity drain. What are other nominees for best personal productivity booster in the last four years?
I give Steve Jobs and Apple huge credit for great design and new business models. But not all is perfect in Mac land.
Ok, I admit it, I use a PC with Windows. But I do use iTunes and QuickTime. Apple, along with countless other software providers, commits the moral equivalent of trespass on my PC. To wit, here I am working in an application when suddenly my keyboard seems to go dead. But no…. it’s just the Apple Software Update pop-up invading my screen, grabbing control of my system. The dialog box offers to download more than 60 megs of new code for features that I don’t need and seem marginal to me. Even with a fast cable connection, it takes time to download and install. This happens often enough that it is a noticeable drag on productivity.
I’m all for updating software, but developers need to learn how to respect property lines. How about configuration options that let the owner choose how often to be notified and allow setting a threshold for types of updates. With all the energy that created the sleek iPod and iPhone, I would think the designers at Apple could come up with a better way to update software.
Apple is by no means the only developer that commits moral trespass. Here’s a case where politeness and personal productivity go hand-in-hand: developers, please create less intrusive means of updating your applications and give me more control over the process.
Ocasionally I post about personal productivity tools. I used web-based back-up system Mozy for months and find it fantastic.
Mozy is a web-based service, accompanied by desktop software, that back-ups selected directories on your hard drive. Up to two gigabytes of storage is free; unlimited storage costs about $55/year. Every few hours (you can specify this), Mozy automatically backs up to a remote server any files that have changed. It even backs-up open files, including Word documents and Outlook (PST) files. I started using it after reading very positive reviews in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
For the majority of people who do not regularly back-up home PC(s), Mozy is an excellent solution. Previously, I regularly backed-up to an external USB or hard drive using software called SmartSync. That is excellent software, but it requires regularly remembering to take action. With Mozy, once you install and configure it, the back-up is automatic. Plus the back-up is offsite, which means your data is safe even if your house were to burn down. I’m a belt and suspenders man when it comes to my data, so I still do sync files to external media, but much less frequently. So Mozy saves me time and gives me peace of mind.
Six weeks ago I gushed about the personal productivity benefits of Sunrocket VOIP. This week, Sunrocket, suddenly and unexpectedly ceased operations, leaving me without a business “land line” though for now the forward to my cell phone works at least intermittently.
I called the FCC to ask about phone number portability. I was reminded that the FCC does not have regulatory authority over VOIP but they are investigating if they can do anything. So my business number of 10 years may be history. Any change in technology takes time - evaluating, installing, and learning. The switch to Sunrocket was a good decision with a bad outcome. Now I’m back to evaluating, ordering, etc.
Comcast digital looks ok but costs more than Sunrocket and lacks several features that I liked and used. Skype is intriguing and, with a Netgear box, allows calls even if my PC is off. Unfortunately, with Skype, I would not be able to use my analog phone with its high-quality cordless headset. The ATT CallVantage web site does not explain if there is a web interface; when I called, I could not get a live rep. Verizon’s VOIP looks reasonable, costs less than Comcast, and the web site has more info than ATT’s. Anyone with experience and opinions on solutions can e-mail me at ron at prismlegal dot com.
Update 7/19/07: I found a press release saying Packet8 has an agreement with Sunrocket to port numbers and provide discounts. I couldn’t figure out if it was exclusive, but rather than wait and risk losing my number, I signed up. Pricing and features seem about the same as SunRocket. During the sign-up, the agent took my info for number porting. But I called back today, at agent’s suggestion “to accelerate to number transfer,” and found out the porting order had not been placed. I was able to do that on the web. When technology (or providers fail) it really kills productivity.!
One of my new productivity tools for 2007 is a VOIP business phone. This post will interest readers in small offices or in their personal capacity more than those working in large organizations.
[To learn more about VOIP, click the more link below.]
I recently converted my business phone line from a traditional copper phone line to Sunrocket brand VOIP. The two big benefits are easier management of voice communication and lower cost.
Sunrocket offers a very simple web interface to manage the phone. Examples:
- Forward with one mouse click. (With my local phone service, forwarding is very clunky.)
- Receive a text message and/or e-mail alert of new voice mail messages.
- Listen to voice mail on my PC, in a web interface. This is easier than listening by phone because all the controls (pause, replay, save, delete) are obvious - no arbitrary numbers to remember. Separately, I recently traveled to Europe where listening on the web was much easier than finding an easy and inexpensive way to call my business line.
- Review call logs (missed, incoming, and outgoing).
- Control the number of rings before callers get voice mail.
- Pick up messages by phone from a pre-determined phone number (in my case, my mobile) without having to punch in codes.
These and other great features are typically unavailable on traditional phones. Plus, Sunrocket costs a fraction of what I had been paying. (I pay about $200/year, including domestic and Canada long distance. Overseas calls are less than one-half the cost I had been paying.)
As a legal technology consultant, I work in a small office but serve big organizations. So I see consumer, small business, and enterprise systems. The typical large LED display on an enterprise VOIP handset does not, in my opinion, effectively inform users how to use the phone. Granted I’ve not had training on these systems. Learning Sunrocket took about five minutes – no training required. It seems clear to me that the future of managing the phone is on the computer screen, not the handset.
Update 7/19/07: Sunrocket as ceased operation. See my latest Sunrocket blog post of 7/19/07. I’m still a fan of VOIP and have signed up for Packet8 service.
What is VOIP? (more…)
I’ve recently found 3 new tools to improve my personal productivity.
Today I discuss a cell phone with high speed net access. Future posts will cover new back-up software and a VOIP phone. Large law firms have different options but some readers may find info here useful in their personal capacity.
In January I upgraded from a Treo 600p to Treo 700p on Sprint. Two 700p features boost productivity. A small but noticeable gain is much easier-to-use key-board.
The “killer app” is high-speed connectivity to the net (via “EV-DO"). With it, I retrieve e-mail faster. Moreover, the phone is a high speed modem for my notebook PC. So I can web surf and do e-mail via my notebook, at high speed, wherever Sprint has coverage. (So far, DC, Dulles, Denver, and NYC work well.)
Beyond avoiding the expense and frequent tech glitches of hotel and other wifi connections, I can now easily work while waiting for planes and on the train between NYC to DC (I stayed connected the whole way). You don’t need a cell phone for this benefit - the same high speed wireless connection works via a PC card.
Unfortunately, however, the old adage “no pain, no gain” was true here. I wasted many hours getting the phone to work as a modem. As best as I can tell, Sprint had a problem provisioning the phone on its end. Customer service was friendly but not always helpful.
PCs are great productivity tools - except when unexplained problems become time sinks, many of which in my personal experience arise from Microsoft.
After reading recently in e-week and elsewhere about security problems in Office applications, I decided it was time to update my Office suite with Microsoft’s latest patches. (I last updated Office about 3 months ago; I have updates to my operating system set to run automatically but not for Office.) I ran the Office update from the Microsoft Update site. After re-starting Outlook, retrieving e-mail generated an error, as did trying to view my e-mail accounts. The pop-up box suggested there was a registry problem I should fix or do a re-install.
I ran a registry clean-up tool to no avail so I had to uninstall Office and re-install from disk. Things seem ok for now, but of course I face the quandry that if I try to upgrade with all the MS patches, will I end up with the same problem?
I’ve mentioned several productivity tips here before, but this is the dark underbelly of working with PCs. Being my own IT department, I sometimes spend way too much time fixing problems that should just not occur. I don’t do anything unusual with my PC; I keep it current and follow “good PC hygience” rules. Too bad I can’t bill Microsoft for the wasted time!
“You can never be too rich or too thin.” Or have too much computer screen real estate.
In the office, my Vaio notebook sits in a docking station and connects to a 19″ external LCD monitor. I “virtualize” the notebook and external monitor, so that I can use both screens. This means I can move the mouse cursor across both screens as if they were one (a standard Windows XP feature).
Two screens are a huge productivity booster. I tile my open applications so that I can access each with a single mouse click. I tend to keep my calendar open on the small screen because I reference it constantly. For Webinars, I view on one screen and take notes on the other (or sneak looks at my inbox). Two screens mean I can view more information and easily cut and paste across apps (and screens). On the road, I miss my acres of screen (and my external full-size keyboard.)
Anecdotally, I do not recall seeing many large firm lawyers who virtualize their displays. The physical set up and training for this is an issue, but I think the payback is worthwhile. Alternatively, a 21″ monitor would provide similar benefits.
Query to Readers: After I undock and then re-dock, I have to move all apps back to the external monitor manually. Anyone know a way to automate this, specifically to cause Windows to “remember” the position and size of each app??
I am reminded by a laudatory post on inter alia about Google Maps.
Until now, I have frequently found maps on the web a frustrating experience because I could not easily shift the view to see adjacent pieces of the map. (Somewhat along the lines of when using a book of maps, why does it seem that the route I need is always obscured by the binding of the book!)
With Google maps, it is very easy to move the view by clicking on the map and dragging. With amazing response time (based on Ajax), you can drag the map to see “beyond the edge,” just where you want to look.
I am impressed enough by this and other features that I rate this as an important personal productivity tool. Until Google maps, I often had to pull the atlas off my shelf or dig through drawers for a fold-out map. There are still times when printed maps are great, but Google Maps has made navigating both known and unknown parts much easier.
Periodically, I share findings about how technology improves my own productivity. In this post, I have some quick comments about back-ups and full-text search.
Last August, I wrote about using small external hard drives to facilitate back-ups. I realize that for users in corporate settings, including law firms, where back-up is often automatic, this is not a big issue. But anyone concerned about backing up a home machine might consider using SmartSync software. This software makes it very easy to copy only changed files from selected directories form your hard drive to an external device such as an extra hard drive or USB device. It’s always a good idea to consider a quick back-up after a day of work.
Separately, I have uninstalled the Google desktop search (see my prior post on this). After using for a bit, I found that I liked 80-20 better because it indexes more file types. Also, I had the sense that my machine performed more sluggishly after I installed Google Desktop, though I can’t really document that. I have no doubt that improved versions will soon appear, but for now I opted to reduce my desktop clutter and rely on a tool that I’ve used for some time.
And, for whatever it’s worth, I continue to be very happy with my Treo 600. It’s great for staying in touch with e-mail and integrating contacts, calendars, and my cell phone. My only complaint is that it’s way too hard for me to type on it relative to a Blackberry. If there are really good deals on upgrading to the 650 later this year, I would consider that.
It’s unusual for me to focus on hardware, but I’ve found a relatively inexpensive device - the SmartDisk Firefly, an external hard drive - that I think is a productivity booster for work on the road and for back ups.
PCs typically no longer come with floppy drives. A common way to move files among machines now is with a “USB memory stick.” These are key-chain size devices that plug into a USB drive and typically hold 128meg or 256 meg of data. They work on almost any reasonably current and standard PC. The Firefly, in contrast, is about the size of a deck of cards and weighs only a few ounces. But it holds 20 gigabytes of data and also plugs into a USB port. It does not require a separate power supply.
I bought one about four weeks ago and find that is is very helpful for two reasons. First, I just returned from vacation. I was able to travel with all of my data files. This meant I could access any file I needed from any computer with a USB port. I found this handy, especially since I traveled with a friend who was carrying a computer that I could use. Also, when I checked e-mail at an Internet cafe, I could download files and then review on my friend’s computer at leisure. Second, when at home, I will back-up to the Firefly. I’m already a bit of a nut about making back-ups. I use a web service for nightly back-ups and periodically burn files to CD (and rotate a CD to off-site storage). With the Firefly, I will probably burn CDs less frequently, which saves time since copying to it is much faster than burning a CD.
For lawyers at large firms, I suspect the benefits are not that great. Most firms offer good remote access so the need to travel with large quantities of data is not great. Also, most large firms store files in a document management system, which means they are backed-up centrally. But a lawyer who does not want to carry a notebook and who s travels to a location with a computer but limited net connectivity might use a Firefly to have large quantities of files available.
Of course, the advent of inexpensive devices like this will have an impact on e-discovery. Litigators will need to consider yet one more place to seek out files in discovery.
Separately, if anyone can recommend good synchronization software, please comment.
Blogs Help You Cope With Data Overload – If You Manage Them in the Wall Street Journal (7/8/04, p. B1) Personal Technology column focuses on using a newsreader to aggregate content from multiple blogs.
The columnist explains that to “juggle all those blogs” one should use a newsreader to “bring together the latest postings from your favorite blogs in a single place.” In my prior post, Reading Multiple Blogs with a News Aggregator, I explained why I use Bloglines. The columnist reports that he tested several aggregators but had “the best experience with a service called Bloglines.” I was happy to see my choice seconded. The column also addresses a concern I’ve had, which is how Bloglines will make money. It reports the service will “use unobtrusive Google-style ads to bring in revenue.”
Now, here’s a question: how often does a new technology have to be reported in the general or business press before it is safe to assume that the typical partner has heard of it? The answer matters for those who manage law firm technology. In my experience, many partners do not internalize that a new technology exists until it is virtually ubiquitous. That means technology managers or advocates in law firms should not presume the typical partner is aware of much new technology (numerous news reports notwithstanding) and therefore should be prepared to explain it in simple terms, focusing on the benefits and utility.
A key element of personal productivity is tracking one’s tasks. I use Microsoft Outlook and it strikes me that doing so is harder than it should be. And from dealing with this apparent limitation, we may be able to draw a lesson about personal productivity more generally.
Lawyers are busy and typically need to keep track of a myriad of tasks. For those who are organized, it can be handy to track task by a priority, client, date, degree of completion, who requested it, and so forth. Some tasks may be linked to one another or sub-tasks of others. In techie terms, this means one can view tasks as either a database or a hierarchically nested outline.
A product - now defunct - called Ecco Pro allowed organizing tasks both as a database and as an outline. That was in 1994! Today, Outlook provides what are, in my opinion, primitive features for managing long task lists. Last year I spend a fair bit of time pushing Outlook features. The best I could come up with was to re-name some native fields for projects (matters), importance, and comments. Then, using the “Group by Box” feature and different views, I can see tasks arranged by my fields. Confusing? Of course it is. It took me a while to figure out these features.
I found investing the time to do so had paid off, but this raises questions. First, have I missed something basic about using Outlook? Second, am I crazy to want to organize my tasks along these multiple dimensions? Third, should I have looked for a different software package? And fourth and most importantly, what does this say about personal productivity?
That last question really subsumes the first three, so let me take a crack at answering it. Sometimes improving personal productivity means making a reasonable investment of time. But sometimes the better approach is to accept inefficient ways because the software is too hard to learn. The key is to know when the problem is the software and when the problem is user inertia. Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to know which is which. I have argued previously and still believe that users need to do more to improve their own know-how. But there are clearly areas where software developers can do better.
By the way, I welcome any feedback on the question of how to manage tasks better.
A recent article by KM guru Tom Davenport focuses on the importance of personal productivity, a theme I’ve recently started to develop in this blog. There have also been a lot of reviews of a product called X1 for personal full-text searching - an example of a personal time saver.
In Decoding Information-Worker Productivity (Optimize Magazine, April 2004), Davenport writes that
“Management of personal information and knowledge at work is at the core of personal productivity, but has only recently become the focus of many businesses. Our hypothesis is that companies—and CIOs in particular—will increasingly have to address how employees manage their personal information at work. When they do, we expect that they’ll achieve substantial benefits in productivity and effectiveness.”
I agree and that is the conclusion I reached in adding a Personal Productivity category to my blog recently. One of my favorite personal productivity tools is a search engine called 80-20 Retriever. It indexes Outlook and whatever directories on my hard drive that I select. While this product appears not be available for individuals any longer, a personal full-text search product called X1 has recently received quite a bit of good press (see, for example, Business Week, April 26th, “Search-Boosters for Your PC,” by Stephen Wildstrom). With these and other similar products, you can instantly search your mail and file directories using full-text techniques.
My challenge now is to figure out if I should give up on foldering e-mail messages. I am in the category of users that create extensive and fairly deeply nested folders for both my files on the drive and my e-mail messages in Outlook. Arguably, with 80-20 or its equivalent, I don’t need to spend the time filing messages, I could just rely on full-text searches. I find, however, that I frequently want to review related messages in chronological order and so still find folders valuable. But I have a nagging suspicion that this may just be an addiction and that I could save time by skipping foldering.
On balance, I think I will continue foldering. My experience over the years with work product retrieval, litigation support, and other information management strongly suggests that it’s best to combine full-text with browsing topics (that is folders) and/or links. Bottom line: whether you have the folder discipline or not, full-text search is a real time saver.
Ten days ago I bought a Treo 600 - a combined cell phone and Palm OS personal digital assistant. SprintPCS is my carrier. Though configuration and learning the device took some time, I am very happy so far.
Some seemingly random factoids: This year I am traveling more. My cell phone was close to 3 years old and beginning to feel clunky. Even when I carry my notebook, I find that I cannot always find or connect to a WiFi spot. Sometimes I am at client and can connect to their network but am limited to web surfing - the firewall sometimes even blocks Yahoo or other web mail to prevent viruses.
So I broke down and bought a Treo 600, which has been widely reviewed and praised as one of the better combination cell phone and PDA devices. Configuring and loading it took some time and I was not particularly satisfied with Sprint’s support (for example, when I arrived in NYC from DC this week, the wireless web access did not work and I spent about an hour on the phone with Sprint resolving it).
But now that it works, it’s great. First, I have one device instead of two. Second, I don’t have to dial numbers of anyone in my contact list. Third, I can get all my e-mail (I use SnapperMail). And fourth, the device even acts as a modem for my PC, so if I can connect my notebook to the web to download e-mail or web surf. Though Snappermail is great, it’s still much easier to deal with e-mail using a full screen and full keyboard.
Wireless e-mail is perhaps the best feature because I can quickly see if I have any urgent issues without booting up a PC or finding a web connection.
The device is not cheap but Sprint’s wireless web service costs only $15/month above the voice plan. For those who operate on their own, I highly recommend the Treo 600. Of course, lawyers in large firms need to go through central IS departments because of the need to connect to enterprise mail servers. I’ve had a Blackberry in the past and am now reminded of why they are wildly popular - now even more so that these types of devices are also cell phones.
Ernie the Attorney also has some interesting comments on the Treo and Sprint at Sprint is my wireless provider — for now…
A decade ago I thought that the age of personal productivity growth using technology was over and that future gains would be in group productivity. I was wrong.
Group productivity can be improved but that’s a discussion for another day and another post. Observing my own work, my clients, and my friends, I realize that there is plenty of room to improve personal productivity. The investment in time and effort required to learn new software or learn more about existing software generates ample rewards.
In my view, personal productivity should be a strategic issue for law firms and law departments. Ensuring that lawyers are productive affects professional development, client service, and lawyer retention. If nothing else, professionals should gain a sense of personal satisfaction if they are able to do their work more effectively and efficiently.
As for the economics, I reject the shibboleth that lawyers don’t want to be more productive because then they bill fewer hours. Inhouse lawyers are not compensated based on hours billed and so have an incentive to be more productive. Outside lawyers typically have enough work to fill the day and are eager to get more done. Moreover, I believe that there is a growing problem with write-offs, especially “self-imposed write-offs” by lawyers who realize they’ve been unproductive and do not bill all the time they spend on a client matter. Improving productivity should, on balance, reduce these write-offs, “hidden,” unbilled, and billed.
So, with this post, I am starting a new blog category, Personal Productivity. To start with the concrete, here’s an example of how learning new software can pay off….
During the holidays at the end of 2003 I downloaded and learned Microsoft OneNote. (See my prior post on OneNote.) Since then, I have integrated OneNote into my daily working. I use it regularly, both when working by myself and with clients. Working on my own, I use OneNote to track all types of information and to take notes during phone calls. I have also used it to draft an extensive outline for a white paper.
At meetings, it’s a great place to take notes: outlining features make it easy to enter and modify notes; the ability to add text blocks anywhere on the page helps keep track of thoughts off the main path; and the ability quickly to find content previously generated for the project helps me add to the discussion. For more information, see Mark Voorhees’ article, Worth Noting (in which I am quoted) in the March 2004 issue of AmLaw Tech.
Let me close this first post in a new category by saying that I know at least one person who makes a living helping lawyers be more productive. My friend and professional colleague, Jared Goralnick, is the founder and principal of SET Consulting.