Our 7 Best Workflow tips: Nothing is more annoying than spending a day unmotivated, dragging your feet. Or realizing you have spent the past two hours on Facebook instead of getting anything done. Or, seeing half of your to-do list left for tomorrow. Here are our seven best workflow tips to combat unproductivity and inefficiency. Whether you are a law student, a lawyer, or something else entirely, we hope our seven best workflow tips can help you!
Our 7 Best Workflow Tips
1. Time yourself!
One of the things that I do when I feel as though I am wasting too much time is time myself. I got this idea from one of my students who was studying for the bar exam. She would start the timer on her phone whenever she started studying and she would stop it whenever she stopped – even if it was to answer a quick personal phone call or run to the bathroom. Then she would continue it when she got back to studying. That way, she could see how much she “truly” studied (which she discovered was way less than she thought!).
2. Use a time-tracking device, like Toggl.
This is related to the above tip. Toggl is a free time-tracking device. You assign a name and a color to certain tasks and then time how long you spent doing them.
This is something I was hesitant to use. I track enough. I track my steps. The amount of time I run in the morning. I track the hours I spend working a day. Why go crazy? But I decided to try it for a full workweek just to see where I was spending the most time.
Even though I thought I wouldn’t be too surprised by the amount of time I spent on certain tasks, I was actually shocked. I realized I spent a lot more time on some tasks (i.e. talking to clients on the phone) than others (real work!). This can be invaluable if you are trying to figure out what to delegate, eliminate, or change. Or if you are just trying to take an honest inventory of where you spend most of your time. You can find the Toggl website here. (Also note, I am not affiliated with Toggl in any way!)
3. Use TextExpander.
TextExpander is a GREAT tool for anyone who retypes a lot of the same things over and over. It basically allows you to use a code so that when you type your code, the text “expands.” For example, when I type :PN (which — for me — stands for phone number) it automatically changes to 248-228-5547. When I type :tye, it automatically changes to “Thank you for your email!” I also have my address saved and several sentences and phrases which I repeat. You set whatever your “code” is and then it automatically “expands” the text. After my first six days of using it, I saved 28,170 characters and 1.17 hours of time. If I continue using it at the rate I am, it will save me 71 hours over a year – almost two working weeks!
In reality, I know this will only increase as I add more codes and get more well-versed in it. It is very simple to use and great for people who type a lot of the same repetitive words.
This is not for everyone. But the people that can benefit from it can really benefit from it. (Also note, I am not affiliated with TextExpander in any way!)
4. Make a list of things to do each day.
I have been following this tip for a long time because it is so helpful.
If you just sit down and say, “Okay I’m going to work” with some general ideas in your head, it will be really easy to go on Facebook. Or start with your easiest task. Or take a very lax approach to work.
But if you make a list of things to hammer through, you will have a plan to get it done and that will inspire efficiency. If you are really looking to be efficient, you can also plan out exactly how much time something will take you and set tight deadlines for yourself. Do not check your email or phone or get distracted by other tasks during this time block.
I also make my “to do” list the night before. That way, when I wake up, I have a plan of attack and can dive right in. It keeps me organized and on track.
5. Do your hardest work at your best time.
My best time is in the morning. So when I get up, I will do my hardest work, the work the requires the most thought. I am pretty useless at night, so at night I will do things that require less mental energy.
Do whatever you find the most difficult or whatever requires the most brainpower at your best time of day.
If you don’t necessarily have any super “difficult” tasks but just have a task that you want to get over with, then do it first thing in the morning. You will feel accomplished and productive early on. And that leads to more accomplishments. Productivity breeds productivity.
6. Schedule breaks.
This sounds like it will make you the opposite of productive, but scheduling breaks can be one of the most productive things you can do! If you know you are going to try a new restaurant, or going to see a movie at 6:30, for example, you will be inspired to get everything out of the way before then.
You can also schedule breaks every couple hours or every time you tackle a few tasks on your list. These do not have to be lengthy breaks. It can be ten minutes of perusing Lifehacker. Or getting a snack. Or going on a quick walk. Breaks rejuvenate you and give you the stamina to keep working. They can also make you more creative and help you take a fresh approach to your work. (We have a plethora of blog posts about how and why to take breaks, here.)
7. Create a work environment that works for you.
If you are very distracted, make a list of your top three distractions. (If you don’t know what they are, ask anyone who spends time with you. They will point them out very quickly. And usually at least one of them is your phone :)).
If it is your phone or email inbox, what does that mean? How can you eliminate that distraction? The obvious way is to put your phone somewhere other than right next to you. Or only check it once every couple hours. But there are other ways too. Consider getting up earlier (or staying up later). I love to do work at 5:30 in the morning because I am not being texted, emailed, or called. It is a distraction-free by nature. I don’t have to put up artificial barriers (and hide my phone or not sign onto my email). Taking just a few minutes to reflect on what distracts you and how to eliminate these distractions can be empowering!
There are also other things that boost productivity. Some people work much better with a clean desk. (Others work better with a messy desk.) Some people – probably most – work better when they dress for success. So, even if you are working from home, get up, shower, and get dressed in “work” clothes. You will likely find you do better work.
Let us know your thoughts!
If you like these workflow tips, it is a good idea to implement a new workflow tip every week, rather than trying to do all of them at once!
If you have any questions about our 7 best workflow tips or any of your own, please post in the comments below!
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Ashley Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011. She, as well as a team of tutors offer private one-on-one tutoring for bar exam students nationwide (including tutoring for the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and Multistate Essay Exam (MEE). She also offers small-group courses and seminars for the Michigan bar exam. Please click here to contact her company, with any questions or to set up a tutoring session.