Tag Archives: Productivity

The Beatles: A Business Model For Managing Difficult People at Work To Increase Productivity

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people,” said Steve Jobs.

Law firms are a team. Law firm success is a team effort. But–occassionally–there is a weak link: the annoying coworker. Your law firm’s ability to keep those negative tendencies of coworkers in check can become your firm’s competitive edge.

In a recent OfficeTeam survey, workers were asked, “In your opinion, which of the following is the most annoying workplace break room behavior?” Workers overwhelmingly stated, “making a mess for others to clean up.” In fact, that was 44 percent of respondents’ major complaint about colleagues’ behavior.

Neck-in-neck for second and third place come “stealing a coworker’s food” and “leaving expired/spoiled food in the refrigerator.”

But the break room is not the only source of people’s workplace pet peeves.

LinkedIn asked over 17,000 professionals “what’s your pet peeve,” and the survey found that break room faux pas, like leaving expired produce in the fridge, ranked only third.

It was the Negative Nelly’s of the world that came in second, and—drum-roll please—“people not taking ownership for their actions” came in first place among coworker pet peeves.

Interestingly, in fourth and fifth place were “starting meetings late or going long,” and “people who don’t respond to emails.” So while you may be annoyed by the constant build up of work-related emails in your inbox, you can find comfort in knowing that your counterparts are equally annoyed that you haven’t yet addressed them.

Certain employees require more “managing” than others. You know the type…the bully, gossip, whiner, slacker. And although they run the gamut from whiners and bullies to pot-stirrers and pessimists, all these irritating folks can be considered “Difficult Employees.”

Unfortunately, one of the most challenging parts of being a leader is dealing with these challenging employees. Yet tolerating these “thorns in your side” is definitely not the best solution. Because even just one difficult employee adds frustration and stress, and it can spread like wildfire attacking productivity and morale.

The biggest mistake your law firm can is not having a written, consistent policy or set of procedures for how to deal with difficult employees.

For example, create a checklist for how your prefer managers to address—first verbal, and then written warnings—difficult employees.  Make a template with objective, not emotional language for your law firm managers to use when written warnings are required.

Circulate these policies to your employees so that both sides understand the consequences for bad attitudes and behaviors in the office.

Also, don’t forget to be an advocate for your employees. Negative Nelly’s (the ones annoying your fellow coworkers) may have personal issues that are affecting their day-to-day work habits. It’s called presenteeism. Employees show up to work in body, but not spirit. It’s important to get at the root of the issue and care for, not criticize, these employees.

Presenteeism—which is defined as the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury or other distress, often resulting in reduced productivity—has been estimated to cost over $150 billion dollars per year, according to an HBR study. And a study by Statistics Canada alleges that lost productivity from presenteeism may be 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism.

What can your firm do? Discover powerful tools for dealing with difficult employees and managing conflict by utilizing the 15 cornerstones for handling constructive confrontations in The Center For Competitive Management’s webinar: “Managing the Most Difficult People at Work: 15 Cornerstones for Handling Constructive Confrontations,” online Friday, June 5, 2015 from 11:00AM to 12:15PM EST.

Loaded with practical solutions for managing challenging situations, this power-packed webinar delivers specific strategies for nipping conflict in the bud so you can get your team thinking positively and working toward results, including how to:

  • Handle the tough conversations that employees hate and managers fear
  • Trust that the employee also wants harmony and honest feedback
  • Be alert to rewards that an employee might receive for unacceptable behavior
  • Protect the self-esteem of employees regardless of how you personally feel about them
  • Confidently address employees with an “attitude” problem
  • Handle employees who lose their cool without taking their reactions personally
  • Make honesty non-threatening regardless of the nature of the problem
  • Give critical feedback without bruising egos and causing defensiveness
  • Know what to do with difficult employees when nothing works

This content-rich webinar is loaded with practical tips for providing responsible feedback. If you’ve already tried ignoring the problem with no success, or you’re determined to sharpen your communication skills before you tackle the next tough situation, this webinar is for you.

After all, we only all “get by with a little help from our friends” (and coworkers!).

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Why The Apple Watch (& Time Management At Your Law Firm) Works Best In Pairs

So it’s here: The Apple Watch. What’s the verdict?

“It’s a gorgeous piece of hardware with a clever and simple user interface and some fine built-in functions. It already has more than 4,000 third party apps. I will probably buy one,” writes Walt Mossberg after wearing a demo Apple Watch for more than one month.

“But it’s a fledgling product whose optimal utility lies mostly ahead of it as new watch software is developed. I got the strong feeling that third-party app developers taking their first swing at the thing simply hadn’t yet figured out how best to write software for it—especially since Apple, for now, is requiring that watch apps basically be adjuncts of iPhone apps.”

Because, after all, the best hardware comes with a variety of well-written, complimentary software.

It’s why, for example, in law firm management the best time savers are not thanks to Timex, rather thanks to coupling incentive pay plans with supporting innovative work practices.

Why? According to experts, the secret to project management has nothing to do with time at all. In fact, most managers speed past deadlines.

Forget the schedule. Key filing or court deadlines aside, it’s more important to be goal- and product-oriented than time-oriented.

“Why don’t more project managers sound an alarm when they’re going to blow past their deadlines?” ask Joe Knight, Roger Thomas, and Brad Angus for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Because most of them have no earthly idea when they’ll finish the job. They don’t even think it’s possible to know. Too many variables. Too much that’s out of their control.”

It’s true, law firm managers should focus more on what keeps the client informed and happy rather than exactly how long it took you to get there. Unfortunately, the billable hour and client satisfaction are inextricably linked in legal services industry.

For some companies, the Harvard Business Review advice may be sound. “If your customer doesn’t think you’re late, then you’re not late,” it states.

But, if the equity partner thinks you’re late, then you’re late. And, if the judge thinks you’re late, then you’re really, really late.

So, is time management a strategic variable that law firm managers can manipulate at all?

It turns out, a not-so-recent study from 1997 shows that innovative employment practices—incentive pay, flexible job assignments, and higher job security—increase employee productivity. Although employees may be in a time crunch to write that legal brief, those who work for firms providing non-traditional working hours or environments to do so are more efficient and effective at their job.

The study published in the American Economic Review by Ichniowski et al. investigated the productivity effects of innovative employment practices using data from a sample of 36 homogeneous steel production lines owned by 17 companies.

“The productivity regressions demonstrate that lines using a set of innovative work practices, which include incentive pay, teams, flexible job assignments, employment security, and training, achieve substantially higher levels of productivity than do lines with the more traditional approach, which includes narrow job definitions, strict work rules, and hourly pay with close supervision,” write the authors.

In addition, these innovative employment practices tend to be complements. Essentially, optimal incentive structures—like higher employment security but lower salaries, or higher training couple with incentive pay—come in pairs.

“That is, workers’ performance is substantially better under incentive pay plans that are coupled with supporting innovative work practices—such as flexible job design, employee participation in problem-solving, teams, training to provide workers with multiple skills, extensive screening and communication and employment security—than it is under more traditional work practices.”

So, if your law firm can’t pull back on its billable hours or push forward its many deadlines, at least it can manage the time of and human resource policy for its employees.

Consider implementing flexible scheduling, work-from-home policies, or other innovative management practices. Give your employees the opportunity to diversify their workload or work on a variety of departmental teams.

That doesn’t mean your attorneys won’t appreciate the Apple Watch as a firm gift during the holidays. In fact, as Mossberg continues to tout Apple’s genius: “While testing the watch, I was able to try it during a faux check-in at a W hotel in Washington, D.C. As I walked in, my room number appeared on the watch, and I was able to breeze by the front desk, go right to the room and use the watch as a key.” Undoubtedly your traveling lawyers will still benefit from quick-fix gadgets.

But, in the end, the more choices you offer your employees, the more hours they will bill—and happily—for your firm.

Not sure where to start? Check out ideas for innovative management practices for law firms here.

Reference: Ichniowski, C., Shaw, K., & Prennushi, G. 1997. The effects of human resource management practices on productivity: A study of steel finishing lines. American Economic Review, 87: 291-313.

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Drug Testing In The Workplace? The Tradeoff Between Employee Productivity, Firm Cost & Future Lawsuits

It’s been a quarter of a century since the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act was passed, which created requirements for federal government workers and contractors. Today, more than a third of private employers have drug-testing policies, reports NPR. However, with marijuana now legal in two states and approved for medical use in nearly half, what is the future for U.S. drug policies?

Lara Makinen, legislative affairs director in Colorado for the Society for Human Resource Management, says employers are getting a very mixed message.

“We’re being told, ‘Keep your policy as it is, but proceed with caution, because if people are fired…” said Makinen to NPR.

“We probably will see lawsuits.'”

But lawsuits aren’t new to the drug-testing industry.

In 2011, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the enforcement of a divisive Florida law that requires “suspicionless drug testing” for all welfare applicants before distributing benefits.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed on behalf of a single father in Orlando a lawsuit that alleges Florida’s law violates Fourth Amendment rights for safeguard against unreasonable search and seizure.

Enacted in May 2011, the new law applies to any adult applying to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Those who qualify for assistance are reimbursed for the test in their welfare benefits.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott was one of the law’s biggest advocates, claiming the law would evoke “personal accountability.” Scott also said it would be “unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” quotes John Couwels in an article for CNN.

Governments are not alone in believing individuals should be held personally accountable for abusing illicit drugs, which is why polls show over half of employers in America (57%) still conduct drug tests. Some agencies report this number is on the rise.

Obviously, law firms, like all businesses, aspire for a drug-free workplace. But they also aspire for a productive one. And, it turns out, whether because they represent a level of distrust on the part of the firm or because employees dislike the violation of their privacy, drug testing decreases productivity in the workplace.

A recent study investigated 63 “hightech” firms in the computer equipment and data processing and found that drug testing had “reduced rather than enhanced productivity,” reports the ACLU. Firms with pre-employment testing, versus those with no drug testing at all, scored 16 percent lower on productivity measures. Firms with both pre-employment and random testing were 29 percent less productive than those companies without drug tests.

In addition, drug testing is expensive.

In 1990, the federal government spent $11.7 million to test selected workers in 38 federal agencies. However, of the roughly 29,000 tests taken, only 153 (.5%) were positive for illicit substances. The cost of finding a single drug user—and in this case, over half were moderate, occasional users of marijuana—amounted to $77,000, according to the ACLU. Not to mention, among these employees, there’s always a risk of a false positive.

These reasons might explain why the percentage of employers with testing programs has dropped steadily over time, from 81 percent in 1996 to 62 percent in 2004, according to the American Management Association, cited by TIME. The trend is expected to continue.

Drug testing is no guarantee that you’ll actually catch a drug user.

In Colorado, for example, which has legalized pot, the standard urine test most commonly used in employer drug testing measures the presence of THC—a psychoactive compound in marijuana. But this compound stays in the body for days, weeks, and sometimes longer. So a positive marijuana test may not, necessarily, mean the person taking the test is high on the job. It may not even mean the user has taken the drug recently. Read more about this type of situation on NPR’s story, “Colorado Case Puts Workplace Drug Policies To The Test.”

In the end, if your firm has concerns, there are myriad other more effective and less invasive means to encourage a drug-free workplace:

Substance Abuse Programs And Counseling. Make sure substance abuse, mental health, and counseling programs programs are covered by employer-paid medical insurance. When an employee requests a mental health holiday, accept it.

Preventative and remedial measures to permanently eliminate addiction is far better for the firm and its associate than just identifying such a person, and putting them out on the street.

Comprehensive Reference Checks. In-depth reference checks of potential future employees are equally effective as drug testing. It’s more than likely that a previous employer has noticed patterns of abuse, or has an opinion regarding that employee’s professional conduct. Ask to speak with the employee’s former supervisor, as opposed to the Human Resources representative. Don’t be afraid to ask blunt (but not discriminatory) questions.

Workplace Training and Employee Investment. Enroll your law firm partners and administrators in programs geared toward the identification of drug users in the workplace. These programs also teach remedial actions to confront and appropriately advise these users.

In addition, instead of corporate retreats or costly drug tests, spend money on employee wellness programs—including fitness programs, healthy meals, or in-house massages.

Reducing stress in the office will keep your employees from self-medicating during those long work hours and client meetings. Plus, it sends the opposite message, from mistrust, as with drug tests, to one of support and advocacy.

Learn how to transform your tired, disengaged workforce into a motivated team of top-notch employees — in any economic climate. By participating in C4CM’s in-depth audio conference “10 Critical Methods to Increase Employee Engagement and Improve Job Satisfaction.”

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For The Love Of Basketball & Benefits: How March Madness Can Boost Productivity At Your Law Firm

What links the years: 2001, 2006, and 2012? Maybe a lot of things. But, one of them is a massive underdog upset during March Madness.

Basketball brackets are underway as Thursday starts the early round of the college NCAA Tournament, fondly referred to as March Madness. And, it wasn’t that long ago that spectators were shocked and awed when a Number 15 seed knocked out a Number 2 seed team. Norfolk State beat Missouri 86-84 in 2012, which meant only two of 6.45 million participants in ESPN.com’s bracket challenge had perfect records, according to ABC News.

Now that’s upsetting.

If that score of 86-84 sounds familiar, it’s because in 2006, the same score lit up the basketball billboard for an Elite Eight match-up between George Mason and UConn. George Mason won and leapt unexpectedly into the Final Four.

Nobody saw that coming.

Finally, way before the 2012 upset, there was something similarly motivating about being a Number 15 seed versus a Number 2 seed. In 2001, the Pirates showed impressive defense as they guarrrrrded against Iowa State in a 58-57 nail-biter.

It’s too early to say whether 2015 has anything in common with these three years. But, for law firm professionals, look no further than Above The Law (ATL) for your own annual March Madness bracket.

Instead of basketball, this bracket measures up 8 perks provided by law firms from around the country. On the opposite side of the bracket, there are the top perks offered in corporate America.

“If you’re working in-house, maybe you enjoy a few of these,” writes Joe Patrice for ATL.

“But most lawyers only gaze longingly at the bounty available to corporate drones.”

And here they are:

1. Frozen Eggs — We gave O’Melveny some props for its forward-thinking fertility coverage. But corporate America takes it a bit further. Apple and Facebook pay to freeze eggs. On the one hand, this would be a tremendous fringe benefit for female associates hoping to raise a family at their convenience. On the other hand, wouldn’t this just broadcast that associates aren’t going to enjoy any free time until they’re living with the rest of the Golden Girls?

2. Private Concierge Service — S.C. Johnson has a wing of folks devoted to the personal chores of its employees. This may not sound like much, but imagine the implications for an associate. Pick up dry cleaning? Check. Make dinner reservations? Check. Hide the body? Check.

3. Sit Anywhere You Want — In addition to making some top-notch cereal that you don’t have time to eat before heading to work, General Mills allows employees (in many departments) to sit wherever they want in the office. That’s antithetical to everything law firms stand for, but there’s no good reason you have to be saddled with the officemate of the firm’s choosing. Maybe instead of gutting that beautiful library for more office space, we can let more folks work in a nice space.

4. Adoption — If you didn’t freeze your eggs, maybe you can adopt. Mattel helps out with your adoption costs.

5. Dog-Sitting — Continuing on the theme, if you failed to freeze your eggs and didn’t adopt, maybe you can dress a dog up in sweaters and desperately wish it was a little person that could give your pitiful existence meaning. Cleaning up another being’s feces is the same no matter what, right? Genentech respects its employees who are doomed to living a lie.

6. Acupuncture — Facebook offers on-site acupuncture. What better way to forget that you’re figuratively being killed by a thousand pin pricks every day than to literally receive a thousand pin pricks.

7. $50,000 Car Voucher — This was the offer of Hilcorp Energy. There was a catch: the company needed to make its ambitious annual goal before employees could get their dream cars, but imagine if a firm handed something like this out if, say, a firm achieved a substantial PPP bump? Instead of firing a bunch of people… like some firms.

8. House Cleaning — Forget concierge services, Evernote will clean your house. This may be the ultimate service for the man or woman working 100 hours a week.

Vote for your favorite here.

In the meantime, consider creating your own “in-house perk” bracket by polling your lawyers and staff. Find out what matters most to them and think about funding this year’s winner.

For perk Number 7, the Car Voucher, this was incentivized by the firm, which required a certain amount of productivity in terms of new clients and profits. Take a page from their brief by offering perks to your employees contingent on performance.

The reason economists study incentives so much is that they work. As long as you pin-point the true desires of your associates through a poll or voting scheme, there’s no reason these benefits have to be dolled out for free.

March Madness is a time for play, preparation, and hard work. As a law firm, you work all year toward winning cases for your clients or increasing billables for the firm partners.

At the same time, March Madness is about the underdog. With the right incentives and perks to competition, your employees could surprise you with an unexpectedly high bottom line.

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Employees–Just Rats In A Maze? What Really Motivates Your Law Firm Professionals

When evaluating patterns of human behavior, scientists often turn to rats that—it turns out—behave quite rationally.

However, even if the daily grind might make you feel like a hamster on a wheel, it turns out that people, while predictable, don’t respond quite as rationally as scientists expect.

“When we think about how people work, the naïve intuition we have is that people are like rats in a maze,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariely in a talk at TEDxRiodelaPlata, reports Jessica Gross for the TED Blog.

“We really have this incredibly simplistic view of why people work and what the labor market looks like.”

Humans don’t obey all the same rational, cognitive cues of rats. Instead, they are motivated by less obvious but equally measurable activities. As a manager, tap into any one of these things and you’ll find employees work harder, longer, and more passionately than before.

Here are a few experiments presented by Ariely that explain what motivates law firm professionals to become more productive:

1. Seeing the final product of hard work may make employees more productive

Set-up: This study, conducted by Airely at Harvard University, asked participants to build characters from Lego’s Bionicles series. Participants were divided in two groups, and each group was paid decreasing amounts for each subsequent Bionicles: $3 for the first character, $2.70 for the next, and so on. The first group’s figures were stored under the table and disassembled at the end of the experiment. The second group’s Bionicles, however, were disassembled as soon as they’d been built. “This was an endless cycle of them building and we destroying in front of their eyes,” explained Ariely.

Outcome: The first group made 11 Bionicles on average. The second group averaged only seven before they decided to quit the game.

Take-away: At law firms, associates often spend time on research or due diligence that doesn’t end up in the case. Employees may even know that their work will eventually be destroyed. However, as the study shows, watching your work be belittled or trashed before your eyes is de-motivating. Seeing the “fruits of your labor”—even momentarily—increases productivity. So, save those trial prep binders a few weeks longer. Ask your employees to take out and save documents that could be useful or reused in future cases.

2. The less appreciated employees feel their work is, the more money they may want to do it

Set-up: In another experiment by Ariely, this time at MIT, student participants were asked to take a piece of paper filled with random letters and find pairs of identical letters. After each round, participants were offered less money than the previous round. Participants in the first group wrote their names on their sheets of paper and handed them to the experimenter, who looked it over and said “Uh huh” before placing it in a pile. Participants in the second group didn’t write down their names on the paper, and the experimenter placed their sheets in a pile without looking at it. Participants in the third group watched their work shredded immediately upon completion.

Outcome: Participants whose work was shredded needed twice as much money to be motivated to complete the task than those whose work was acknowledged. Participants in the second group, whose work was saved but ignored, needed almost as much money as participants whose work was shredded immediately.

Take-away: “Ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort before their eyes,” Ariely explained. “The good news is that adding motivation doesn’t seem to be so difficult. The bad news is that eliminating motivation seems to be incredibly easy, and if we don’t think about it carefully, we might overdo it.” Lawyers are often in the “tough love” camp of mentorship. But, there is value to acknowledging hard work. It can be measured by the subsequent motivation of those employees you have rewarded.

3. Employees may derive more pride from projects that were difficult to compete

Set-up: In yet another experiment, Ariely gave participants (with no prior origami experience) origami paper and instructions about how to build a (pretty ugly) product. At the end, those who did the origami project, as well as bystanders, were asked how much they’d pay for the final origami piece. In a second round, Ariely hid the instructions from some participants, resulting in a more difficult process, as well as an uglier product.

Outcome: In the first experiment, the builders of origami paid five times as much as those who simply evaluated the origami product. In the second experiment, the lack of instructions amplified this difference: builders or origami valued the “ugly-but-difficult” products more highly than the easier, prettier ones, while observers valued them much less.

Take-away: Employees value their work based on the effort and work it required. In addition, employees (erroneously) think that others will attribute the same value to it. As a law firm manager, don’t forget to ask your employees about how much effort tasks took. It may help you understand what type of feedback to give them. For example, employees may be exceptionally proud of a project that required a lot of time and effort. As a result, they may expect a reward or acknowledgement by their superiors, who—for their part—may not have, previously, valued the work so highly.

4. Positive reinforcement about employee skills or ability may increase their real performance

Set-up: At Harvard University, undergraduate students gave speeches and participated in mock interviews with experimenters who either (1) nodded and smiled; or (2) shook their heads, furrowed their eyebrows, and crossed their arms.

Outcome: After their speech and mock interview, participants answered a series of numerical questions. Those who were positively encouraged with nods and smiles answered the questions more accurately than those in the second group, who were met with negative body language.

Take-away: Stressful situations are manageable—they depend on how employees are made to feel. As a law firm manager, if you provide positive reinforcement to associates, confidence in their abilities will lead to future success in performance. When you provide too much negative feedback, employees become discouraged and may fail at subsequent tasks.

Rats and mice may follow the cheese. But men and women respond to feelings of satisfaction, positive reinforcement for their efforts, and other non-monetary motivations.

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Productivity On Planes? Ideas For Law Firm Professionals To Pass The Travel Time

Traveling these days has become a nightmare. But, it could always get worse. At least, that’s what two lawyers would have a federal judge believe when they appealed for an upgrade of their horrifying—dare I say it—coach seat.

Two defense lawyers for alleged terrorists requested an upgrade to business class from economy for their trip to an undisclosed country in Africa to attend a deposition, according to legal papers as reported by John Marzulli in the New York Daily News.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors also making the trip, say traveling in economy is just fine. In fact, prosecutors aren’t buying at all what the defense lawyers are selling. The feds think just one defense attorney—and in coach class at that—should suffice.

Why all the flight fuss?

Accused militants Ali Yasin Ahmed, Madhi Hashi and Mohammed Yusuf are charged with providing material support to the Somalia-based terror organization al-Shabaab, which merged with Al Qaeda in 2012 and has carried out numerous attacks in Africa against the United Nations and U.S. interests in the region, reports Marzulli.

To depose them, the feds are picking up the bill.

Yet, “Yusuf’s lawyer David Stern asked Federal Judge Sandra Townes to rule in favor of his upgrade request on the grounds that the depositions ‘are of critical importance… and the attorneys should be alert and rested to conduct them,'” reports Marzulli.

“Travel by coach will make it impossible for the attorneys to work and or sleep effectively upon our arrival.”

It remains unclear why the deposition couldn’t be conducted remotely (or why the attorneys plan to prepare a mere 17 hours in advance of the questioning).

What is clear, however, is that frequent travel for work—especially in law—has myriad downsides.

So, here are a few tips on how you can make better use of those hours for your client and your practice.

1. Don’t use the plane for work

This is pretty self-explanatory, and something the aforementioned defense attorneys should realize. Don’t use flying time for work. Travel is already stressful, and the last thing you want is to feel pressure in that pressurized cabin. Jet engine noise can throw off your concentration and make you make mistakes.

For long flights, if you must work, limit it to reading or listening. Download a few documents on your Kindle or e-reader, or a few audio books. Create a manageable list of work-related activities. If the flight is rocky or you get drowsy, you don’t want to count on completing that doc-review before landing.

Don’t forget to drink lots of water. The dry air of airplanes can cause dehydration and thus tiredness and lightheadedness.

The best plan is to sit back and relax (just like they tell you to) because it’ll help you hit the ground running once you touch down. In the end, your client won’t benefit from the inconsistent work you bill on-the-go.

2. Write a to-do list

Save your to-do list for the plane. If you’re attending a meeting, make a list of the documents you must bring. Organize your day’s itinerary. Write down the gifts you don’t want to forget to bring home for your family.

The to-do list will help you feel organized and excited for what’s in store.

3. Read a novel

Even as you’re preparing for a work meeting, it’s important to be refreshed with a clear mind. The best way to take an active rest is to read for pleasure.

Get out that John Grisham classic and you’ll find the flight flies by and your productivity post-deplaning soars.

4. Keep up on correspondence

Remember that holiday letter you wanted to write? Well, it’s too late for New Years, but consider drafting a Valentine’s Day letter for your nearest and dearest. Write your clients thank-you notes or just personalized correspondence. It’s a value-add to your practice, as well as your personal life.

5. Meditate

Meditation has been shown to improve focus and memory. Meditation is also a stress reliever. Meditation is very simple. Just concentrate on your breathing. Sit up straight, close your eyes, and focus on breathing in and out. If you lose concentration, bring your attention back to the sound of inhaling and exhaling. Keeping your mind cool in flight will help keep your head calm and collected in court after you land.

6. Pay to upgrade

Finally, pay to upgrade your layover to a business lounge.

So even when that federal judge denies your request for an upgraded seat (as they should on federal dollars), you still have the luxury of a lounge for on-the-ground productivity.

For the savvy legal professional, travel doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Plan ahead and don’t work on the plane.

Instead, prioritize working during a stopover. It will lead to more efficient and error-free product for your client, and better business practice for your firm.

Worried about your employees’ productivity? Learn time management tips and tricks with C4CM’s audio course, “Smart Manager’s Guide to Building a Productive Workplace: 10 Proven Strategies to Boost Personal and Employee Productivity.”

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Throw-back Thursday: Sumerian Syria & Serious Uses For Excel (For Lawyers)

How about another throw-back Thursday history lesson (and then some law). It’s about Syria—but long before the country was known for ISIS, it was valued for ideas.

Today, two days after news came out that ISIS had burned a captive Jordanian pilot to death, the small Middle Eastern nation hit back big. Jordanian fighter jets flew over the home of the slain 27-year-old pilot, Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh, in the village of Ay in Karak governorate after participating in air strikes over ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani told CNNThursday that Jordan’s response to the killing “will be strong and will be decisive.”

“We will not let this crime of killing our pilots with the horrific way it was done pass without punishment,” al-Momani said to CNN. “These people will be punished.”

As of today, the government certainly lived up to that promise.

If we go back in time, however, we can look to a small city—Mari—located on the border of Iraq and Syria, not far from Jordan, where civilizations used to come together, rather than clash.

Mari (modern-day Tell Hariri, Syria) was an ancient Semitic city located on the Euphrates river western bank. Thousands of years ago it flourished as a trade center and hegemonic state from 2900 BC until 1759 BC. The city was built expressly for the purpose of trade, based on its relative position in the middle of the Euphrates trade routes—a position that made it an intermediary between Sumer in the south and the Levant in the west.

Sumer is a civilization that existed slightly before that of Ancient Egypt and located in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). By the late fourth millennium B.C., Sumer (or Ki-en-gir, ‘Land of the Sumerian tongue’) was divided into approximately a dozen city-states which were independent of one another and which used local canals and boundary stones to mark their borders, according to historians (read more about Sumer here).

Far before Iraq was coveted for its oil, it was celebrated for its inventions. There are at least four different translations (although they sometimes conflict) on the names of Sumerian rulers and their illustrious lengths of rule. It’s on one such document that an early Sumerian invention is described: the wheel, dating to circa 3500 BC.

You could perhaps claim that Iraq was forever—since as far as Sumer—destined to be a place highly influential in the creation of the car.

Besides the wheel, however, law firm professionals—people, in general—should be thankful for Sumer’s many crucial contributions to modern technology and language. For example, the civilization reminds us even today why there is no point, thousands of years later, in reinventing the wheel (although many people throughout history have tried).

Now, going back to the practice of law, think about how many new computer programs, tablet and mobile apps that organize case matter material, new-fangled software to organize all the details of your case.

Do we need it all?

When it comes to timesheets, timelines, case status updates, “to do” lists, and other casework assignments, Microsoft Excel has become a tried and true tool for lawyers and law firm managers.

And, its many features are available on the iPad, a favorite among attorneys.

Recently, when Microsoft Excel rolled out a bunch of new features for Excel for iPad, we were paying attention. This is a run-down of Excel for iPad’s new design additions (thanks to AccountingWeb):

  • Pivot table functionality. In the first incarnation, pivot tables were literally trapped under glass, meaning you could only scroll the data around on the screen. Now, although the workbook must already contain a pivot table before opening it using the app, you have the capability to expand, collapse, filter, and even refresh pivot tables, as shown in Figure 1.The caveat on refreshing is that the source data must be within the same workbook as the pivot table.
  • Email documents as PDF. Previously, Excel spreadsheets could only be emailed in their native format, but you can now email spreadsheets in PDF form. Figure 2 walks you through the steps.External keyboard support. Using an external keyboard allows you to use the same navigation and data entry techniques that you do in the desktop-based versions of Excel..
  • Flick to select. You’ll quickly wish for this innovative feature in the desktop versions of Excel. Flick a cell’s selection handle in any direction to automatically select all data in that row or column for a contiguous area of the spreadsheet. It’s a huge advance in using Excel on a touch-enabled device.
  • Third-party fonts. You can now access third-party fonts installed on your iPad in the Excel app.
  • Picture tools. Excel for iPad now supports in-app picture editing so your firm can, for example, update its very attractive blog site.

Not yet convinced of Excel’s application to your law practice? Here‘s a detailed account of how lawyers can use Excel.

Lawyers can use Excel to track (1) timesheets; (2) timelines; (3) case status updates; (4) casework assignments; and (5) financial reporting. These uses, and more, can be easily configured to sync with e-mail in Outlook and all your mobile devices (like the iPad, see above). More than that, Excel is a tried-and-true program that has been used for centuries decades throughout history to save time and money.

Instead of the ghastly air strikes, remember the history of Syria for Sumer. And, don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to (also, don’t add unnecessary conflict in your professional life over it, either).

Learn more about how your law firm can use Excel with The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s guides and webinars:

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