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Productivity tools for law students and young lawyers

You decide to start work on a project with great zeal – many hours pass, and then you realize you’ve spent more than half the time on Facebook. Or discussing a new petition with your batchmates for postponing the date for project submissions.

A phone call from a friend when you are one hour into your work interrupts you, and you end up going for a quick meal in the heart of the city which turns into a four hour outing. Does this sound familiar?

Distractions and interruptions are productivity killers – they keep us tied to ordinary outcomes or even result in serious under performance. The most sincere intentions (to work hard) are destroyed by such occurrences. When we look back at the time we lost, it often disappoints us. Many people even lose hope, give up on themselves and lower their ambition to accommodate their tendencies to get distracted. How can you stop such things from ruining your time?

If being ordinary is not enough for you...

Most of us have an inner desire to excel (at least in something that we choose) - being ordinary is therefore not a choice anyway. However, those who feel entitled to have a great career just because you cracked a law entrance exam and found your way into a law school, are in all probability in for a rude shock at the end of it. Some of the smarter ones amongst you will improvise at the last moment to get what you want, and others will compromise. However, that is for another discussion. This mail is for those who want to do more and are not satisfied with somehow surviving a few years in law school.

The two paths to getting more done

There are broadly two approaches to increasing productivity and efficiency – the tools approach, and the inner game approach.

Since early days of civilization, higher productivity has been a major quest. In all ages, there were people who wanted to do more than they already could. They wanted to learn more, write more, connect to more people, achieve more, help more people, change the world and searched for more efficient ways to do things.

Many industries are engaged today in making lives more productive for us. Some of them are tool focused - such as Post-it notes, calculator, reminder services like Remember the Milk, Google calendar or even mobile phones and computers of different shapes and sizes. Others focus on teaching the inner game - the skills and mindset that you require to get more work done. There are books, workshops, classes and personal coaches who work on this aspect. Skills include stuff like speed reading, touch typing, mind mapping and learning to apply the Pareto rule (also known as 80/20 rule) in your life.

However, the major difference between these two approaches is that one depends on external tools to increase your efficiency while the other depends on you being able to rewire your thinking and working process to get more work done.

Some behavioural gurus who work on the inner game aspect, like RamitSethi, will insist that you create systems and deploy tools and rely less on "willpower". B J Fogg, a professor or behavioural persuasion at Stanford University advocates building interfaces to eliminate distraction and engage the person to work more. He researches and writes on technology that leads to positive behavioural changes. One famous example he uses to drive his point is this: if people had a big red button in their bedroom, which saved 5$ from their bank account for retirement everytime they pressed it, people in the USA will save a lot more than they do now. This explains the tools approach to productivity.

The other camp will tell you that before any tools can be put to real use, you must straighten out what you think and how you think. Both are correct - and you need to identify which one you need more. Most people can benefit from both.

Books have been written on these subjects, bloggers make careers writing about hacking productivity, and companies have been built by creating various productivity software. If you want to learn more, just start with a google search on increasing productivity.

In this chapter, I am going to introduce you to some very simple tools, all of which come for free - that you can deploy to instantly increase how much work you get done. To make best use of these tools, however, you need to have the right mindset.

For instance, you cannot get more done unless you set yourself big goals. What's the use or scope for high productivity if your goals are not big enough? How will you get things done if you fail to set yourself clear goals?

First, you must assume that you are capable of doing a lot more than you are currently doing. Then you should think of a number - how much more can you do if you really apply yourself to it? Double the work? 600% more? Why not try increasing writing output by 10 times? We constantly set such high targets for ourselves every day – it’s great when we achieve these, at least every once in a while.

We’ll leave you to set your goals and fix your mindset, but before that lets dive into the tools.

Word processor: JD Dark room

No matter what you do, probably you need to write a lot. The nemesis of writing is distraction. JD Dark Room is a software that provides a distraction free environment for writing. I use this for creative writing. It doesn't work too well if the writing requires continuous research - but if you know what you are going to write, nothing like it. Start the dark room, write until you are done - no distractions.

For instance, most of this blog post was written in the dark room. The part of work where I needed to add links and editing was done in a normal word processor.


Alarms on Calender/PDA

This is obvious, and very useful. Everytime I have a meeting or appointment, I add it to my Blackberry Calender, which is in turn synced with my Google calender. The calender can send me automated reminders on email and text, and the alarm also rings. If I have a team meeting, or a skype call - I can just create an event and add all the intended participants so that they get mails and reminders.

I also maintain a memo on my phone, and everytime I make a promise, I make it a point to add it to the memo. From time to time I look at my memo to see if I have any pending promises to perform.

If you decide now that you want to spend two hours on writing your next article tomorrow - simply block two hours on the calender. Most smart phones provide you this facility. If not, you can do this on a laptop or desktop computer as well by going to the Google Calender website. Make sure you'll get a reminder tomorrow about the writing session. This is one example of how you can help your will power with technology to get work done. Planning a study session any time soon? Be it a solo session or one with friends, use Google Calender to remind yourself and other participants.


Website blocker: Cold Turkey

One major enemy of productivity is distraction - and the Internet is the biggest distraction of our time. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter - these can be very taxing on your will power and your time. The best thing is to block these websites for a certain time of the day, so that no matter how much you want to open them, you just cannot access those websites from your own computer. You can block any website for upto 7 days with this software called Cold Turkey, or you can block it just for a few hours. I regularly block Facebook with Cold Turkey - otherwise I end up opening Facebook often and wasting a lot of time there when I should be working.


Stickies for your computer

I have tried many different to-do lists, some of them softwares. However, nothing works for me as well as a simple desktop stickie does. A stickie is just like a post it note for your desktop. Stickies from here works the best for me - they are extremely customizable - you can make them stay on top of all windows if required - they are great for note taking, as clip boards and even better as to-do list. You can even set alarms on them, you can make a stickie disappear until it is needed or just keep them invisible when you don't want them to show up.


Desktop countdown software

Here's another killer software - called focus booster – the iPleaders team swears by it. It is based on something called pomodoro technique for increased productivity. The technique is based on the idea that you should work on bursts of 25 minutes and then you must take a 5 minutes compulsory break. After that, you can start another session of 25 minutes. You can read more about it here.

The breaks help to preserve your productivity and provides you time to assimilate things and stay creative during long sessions. Also, as your breaks are planned, you do not end up wasting time unintentionally. Also, you are not allowed to be distracted by other things during the session, if anyone interrupts you - you must tell them that you'll get back to them at the end of the session - this helps to preserve attention and deflects distractions.

The software shows up a timer which counts down on your desktop. It makes a ticking sound, and for best effects enable this from the settings. It helps me to increase my productivity by leaps and bounds every time I use it.

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