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Productivity with Technology: Figuring out what’s possible is the hard part

The other week when I was in New York I had the chance to meet Bruce MacEwen and his wonderful wife, Janet.  Bruce and Janet are really interesting people and they are very passionate about what they do.  Bruce does strategic consulting for law firms (he is an attorney and did securities work for many years), and he’s a major techie.  His wife Janet does marketing.  They both work from their home and have separate offices/workspaces. 

Many interestings thing came up in our conversation, but there was one in particular that I kept thinking about afterwards: Bruce said that he and Janet use email to communicate with each other during the day when they are both working, even though they inhabit roughly the same physical space.  It’s a simple use of technology that they find actually enhances their productivity, and yet not one that a lot of people would think of using.  Which leads me to a counter-example.

A friend of mine who does tech training and consulting for law firms told me about a client of hers that she recently visited to check up on.  As she popped into his office she noticed that her busy lawyer client had flurries of pink ‘While You Were Out’ phone slips scattered across his desk.  On his desk he had something else: a brand-spanking-new Dell computer which is where he received his email.  As she watched him rifle through his pink slips looking for a phone message, she stopped and gave him a lengthy stare, also pausing to note the large circular Rolodex on his desk.  He knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure it out. 

She paused and smiled broadly to let him know that he hadn’t done anything wrong.  But then she asked him if he didn’t think it might be better to get these phone messages from his secretary in the form of an email.  No, he responded.  Then adding: "She sits right over there," pointing to her desk in the next room, implying of course that her proximity required the use of a physical notification system as opposed to an electronic one.

"Yes," my friend said, "but your computer is right here on your desk with the email program running all the time.  And she can use her computer to send phone message notifications to your computer and you won’t have all these pink things cluttering your desk."  He thought for a minute and said, "okay, how would that work exactly?"

So she sat down and configured his Outlook email program to have a folder labelled "Phone Messages."  Then she set up a rule so that emails from his secretary that had the letters ‘PM’ in the subject line would automatically go into his phone message folder.  She explained to him that now he could use the email program’s search function to comb through hundreds of messages in the blink of an eye.  And he could easily add name and phone numbers to his email program’s contact manager.

A glazed look came over his face as he grasped what had just occurred.  "I had no idea that that was even possible," he stammered.

Yep, that’s how it is with technology.  Figuring out what’s possible is  the hard part for most people, especially those who resist technology.  People resist technology because they’ve learned that it’s too hard to deal with.  And that’s true, unless you know someone who is really understands how to use technology.  Then it’s easy because they’ll not only explain it to you but also set it up and teach you how to use it. The biggest problem with technology these days is we keep acquiring more of it and we don’t even know how to effectively use the stuff we already have. 

We need less technology and more technology trainers.  I’m happy to say I know a good one.  I wish more people were as fortunate as me.

P.S. If you want a practice optimized for remote work & virtual collaboration, get this 24-page guide.
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