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Change your Outlook on Task Lists

June 25, 2012

Starting your day can be a tough exercise especially if you have too much to do and don’t know where to start.  We are busier than ever these days and often experience information overload with the constant stream of email and the need to be available via our smartphone. The ability to stay organized and keep up with our task list is key because as well all know, we are all ruled by our “to do” lists because it gets us from point A to point B.

We all have many different ways of staying organized and organizing our “to do” lists. Some of us use sticky notes to decorate our flat screen monitor and others may use an elaborate list in Excel with sorting and filtering.  I’m a self-proclaimed listologist and I love my tasks lists so I like to keep all my information in one central place for quick and easy access. I take full advantage of Outlook 2010 to help me stay on top of my game. Even if you are not a big list maker, I think you will really like what Outlook Tasks can do for you.

Outlook is the first place I visit every morning before I start my day.  I catch up on all email messages and add those emails to my task list.  Instead of transposing all the information from the email into a New Task, I simply drag and drop the email on to Tasks which is located in the Navigation Pane. The New Task dialog box displays with the email message in the body of the new task so I don’t have to remember the details of the task or why I generated the task.

The default view in the Tasks window really didn’t suit my needs so I added a few extra fields to accommodate my requirement to sort by company name or who the task is assigned to.

You can add additional fields by right-clicking on the header row and selecting Field Chooser.

When the Field Chooser dialog box displays, click once on the field and drag and drop it on the header row.  Now I can click on the field and at a quick glance I can keep track of tasks according to company name or who the task is assigned to rather than scrolling through all the tasks on the list.

In order to further narrow down the most important tasks to complete for the day, I also use Categories.  For me, categories provide a great visual mark of importance to my tasks.  Sure I can prioritize my tasks by marking them high, medium or low but categories give me a great visual by allowing me to name my categories.

First, start by renaming your categories so that you can apply the categories later or as you assign a task.  Click on the drop down arrow on the categories button and select All Categories.

The Color Categories dialog box displays.

Click once on the category you would like to rename and click on Rename.  Enter the new name of the category and press <Enter>.

To apply a category, click once on the task and click on the Categorize button and apply the category.

When you have a very large task list, it will be very simple to visually pick out certain tasks in your task list when they are categorized.

Now some of you are probably saying out loud, “but I like to write down my tasks because I like that tactile experience and the great satisfaction I get from crossing that task off my list when it is done.” (Research has shown that some people actually write down tasks they have already completed because if gives them the opportunity to cross something off the list – I like to call them cheaters).

Research has also shown that 96% say that their lives are better with task lists; 89% say they enjoy making lists and 28% are identified as obsessive list makers (that would be me).  Then there are those who are the closet list makers and will never admit to making any type of list.  Those are the people that have sticky notes everywhere – so that makes them unconventional list makers.

Whatever your process is, I would recommend slowly putting your lists in some sort of electronic medium. Start small and put your personal lists in Outlook and then see how it works.  You can slowly adapt and get used to the electronic world of lists and develop a flow.  When you feel comfortable then move on to putting your work lists or project lists into Outlook.

..and then when you get comfortable with your task lists in Outlook then start to make other lists that are just as important as those every day work/life tasks.  Below are a few examples.  Enjoy!

  • Smile at Others and notice how their face lights up
  • Commit an act of kindness at least once a day (if not more)
  • Don’t forget to laugh even if you are in a foul mood.  It really does make a difference!
  • Always remember to say thank you

Thank you for your time today!


It’s a Technical World and We All Need a Little Help Now and Then

June 19, 2012

Last week, my husband and I accepted delivery of a new car.  It’s been more than 10 years since we purchased a car and the process has certainly changed since then! At nearly every step, I was reminded just how much technology has become intertwined with even the most basic of our daily activities.   Throughout the entire experience, I couldn’t help but make connections back to legal professionals and the need to broaden our views on how we train and support them.

We had to complete most of the paperwork for our new purchase online, and one of the custom in-house applications wasn’t functioning as it should.  The savvy professional salesman tried everything he could possibly think of to complete our transaction, with no luck.  I even put on my support hat and tried to offer up some troubleshooting suggestions.  I couldn’t help but notice the user interface and error messages weren’t helpful at all, and I could tell our salesman was beginning to stress; after all, he was keeping his client – in this case, me – waiting.

When he decided he needed help, he didn’t pick up the phone and call a support number. Instead, he walked next door and asked for help from a fellow salesman, his peer.  When you think about it, it makes sense – after all, who else does this same activity day after day in the same way he does.   Chances are good his peer has run into the same problem and can quickly give him a solution – or at least a workaround. I couldn’t help but think, “Do we really think our lawyers will ask a client to wait while they call a support number and go through the often lengthy process of troubleshooting?”  Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely times support should be the first number dialed.  I’m just suggesting that there are also times when a knowledgeable peer can be a better solution.

A few minutes later, we were at the car configuring our phones to interact with the hands-free phone system.  My Blackberry synced up like a charm, but my husband’s Android device was not as easy.  Our salesman noted that with each brand and model being slightly different certain phones are known  to have issues with their hands-free system.  Once again, our savvy salesman didn’t waste any time: he called the resident Android expert to assist us.  And, once again, within minutes the task was complete.  With the complexity of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work with the car’s technology, it struck me as genius to have a resident Android expert on site to assist.   I couldn’t help but be reminded of so many of our client focus groups in which  lawyers share with us that they want a list of in-house experts to call. They’re looking for people with expertise in a specific area of technology. With BYOD gaining momentum in our law firms, how can any technologist possibly be an expert on everything?  It’s time to share the knowledge load and create strategic subject matter experts who can provide the just-in-time assistance that keeps work moving without too much interruption.

Now it’s up to my husband and me to figure out how to use our car’s features.  My husband’s style is to poke around and just figure things out.  He also has the salesman’s phone number on speed dial to call for quick tips.  And, again, I’m reminded of what I hear from lawyers about their desire to experiment with software first and ask questions as needed as opposed to having up-front training.  Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I’d prefer to sit back and read the 400-page user manual from cover to cover.  As a matter of fact, I’ve already flagged a few pages to refer back to … of course only when the car is in park.

Creating curriculum for rollout? What you need to know before you start.

June 12, 2012

I often consult with and assist clients in making decisions about which topics to cover in their Office 2010 rollouts. Before delving into the actual features, I like to ask the following questions to help guide us through the process of making the right decisions:

1. Who’s your audience, and what are their needs?

One size does not fit all. Culture, location, position, existing knowledge, work habits, and needs all play a critical role in choosing the right blend of topics to cover for each audience. Recently I spoke with a client whose attorneys do the majority of their own word processing. Compare that with another firm whose attorneys primarily live in Outlook and outsource all document production to their assistants, and you have two significantly different learning plans and training durations. These differences don’t just occur from firm to firm, but sometimes between offices, and even within departments. In your planning and analysis phase, do your due diligence! Focus groups and surveys are an excellent way to conduct needs analysis.

2. What are the business drivers of the firm?

Knowing why the firm chose to upgrade and what the new technologies they want to leverage are, will help ensure those topics don’t accidentally hit the cutting room floor.

3. How does the outgoing system work, how does the incoming system work, and what are the differences?

Relating the old to the new and focusing on the differences streamlines the time in the classroom.

4. Are there any third-party tools that replace native functionality?

Most of our clients have multiple products that plug into Outlook and Word to enhance functionality. Sometimes third-party tools “hijack” the native Word buttons, or alter the steps that need to be performed—such as converting a document from 2003 to 2010 format when a DMS is present. Another decision to make is whether to train your users on just the third-party tool, or to include the native. Understanding how third-party tools interact with the native product will help guide you through identifying additional curriculum changes you may have overlooked.

5. Does the new technology improve any processes?

New technology is supposed to help us work faster and smarter, right? Research and identify how this new technology could streamline existing processes to bring value to your training program. For example, the Group feature in Outlook in combination with the Schedule View helps me to schedule appointments with project members more efficiently and reduces rescheduling. In addition, using Lync and my webcam to connect with others makes meetings shorter and more efficient.

6. Are there any Best Practices that need to be reinforced during training?

Are users not saving their emails to the DMS? Are documents still not being styled properly? Maybe a little refresher is needed. Find ways to reinforce these skills during other exercises. For example, at the start of an exercise I may have students search for or use matter-centricity to locate an exercise document, or use the Search feature on the Start menu to launch applications.

7. What are the must have’s for rollout training, and what does continuing education look like?

By identifying the “must have’s,” we’re able to identify the “can wait’s.” The purpose of rollout is to get users back up to their existing skill level and minimize the loss of productivity. The purpose of continuing education is to increase productivity. Identify what can wait one-month, three-months, or six-months post-rollout, and develop your learning plans accordingly. Once the “must have’s” have been identified, separate them into two categories: things users do daily and things they just do once. For daily tasks, consider hands-on exercises. For one-time tasks, teach where to go to get instructions. Examples of one-time tasks include most default settings and personalization options.

8. What content do you have, what content do you need, and how much development time is involved?

If you’re going to spend ten minutes in training covering a new feature, and you’ll be writing that content from scratch, development ratios start at about 30 minutes per training minute and go up from there based on several factors. For a more accurate estimate of hours, include knowledge transfer time with a SME, testing in the new environment, and troubleshooting. What was once a 5-hour task could suddenly turn into a 10-hour task. Factor in the type of training materials needed—training guides, job-aids, eLearning.

9. When will your new image be golden?

Writing curriculum while the image is in beta gives you a good head start, unless that image drastically changes, forcing you to write a new lesson plan and update screenshots. Communication is the key. Conduct weekly huddles between the project manager, application integrators, and training team to communicate regularly about the status of the image, which features are final and which are still under development.

10. What technology challenges do you face, and what technology is available to overcome those challenges?

Due to backend requirements, having access to the new desktop in a live environment is often unfeasible. We see many clients utilizing a VM beta environment for training teams to test and write curriculum prior to going live. Some firms have also used a VMs as part of their preLearning strategy as “kick-the-tire” labs for their ends users.

There may also be more work than time in the day. Technologies that allow multiple people to work on different segments of the curriculum simultaneously—SharePoint or other technologies—can make the difference between hitting a deadline or coming up short.

I hope these questions will help guide you through the process of selecting the topics to cover in training that will most benefit your users and meet their needs.

Learning Directions

June 4, 2012

This past Thursday, a group of trainers, learning developers and application specialists from Traveling Coaches attended an Elliott Masie seminar on Learning Directions. It was a full-day discussion on what is changing and not changing in the world of organization learning. This morning, our group had a virtual discussion about what’s trending and what may impact the future of learning. Here is what we are most excited about:

Flip Learning   Some education pioneers are literally flipping the way subjects are being taught in school. In most schools today, this is a how a typical class is conducted: the teacher is at the front of the classroom droning on about a subject while students try to capture the information and retain it. The students are then required to do homework assignments and attempt to apply what they heard in the classroom – often on their own.

Now flip it. At home, the students watch recorded lectures from the teacher on their own time. Since the lectures are recorded, they can re-watch for better understanding or in preparation for a test. The classroom then becomes the learning lab where students do exercises and experiments (what was homework) together (collaboratively) with the teacher acting as coach to facilitate better learning.

Video There is more video content available for consumption than ever before. And this will only increase. When I want to learn how to do something, I search on-line for content. If the content is available in video format, I start there. Video can be used both in and out of classrooms. In classrooms, you can bring in video clips of SMEs to help your learners better understand concepts.  Video is a great way to put context around your content. Think about the power that a testimonial from a law firm partner will have when he or she talks about the why behind a software change.

Checklists and Job Aids Learners have been telling us for a long time that we give them too much information in the classroom. Much of that information will be forgotten long before they will need to use it. And some of the information only needs to be done once, so why teach it at all?  If it is a one-time setup, provide a checklist. If it is a process that may be needed at a later time, provide a job aid or quick reference card that will walk them through it. Teach learners where to find information so that they can help themselves.

Sequencing In a typical instructor-led class, the instructor decides what is taught, when it is taught and how it is taught. Learners want more control over the where, when and how of learning. Instead of the typical “in the class you will learn” approach, play with a variety of ways that learning can be consumed and allow the learner to pick in which order to learn them.

Tablets It is predicted that by the end of this year, 25% of all internet users will own a tablet (mostly iPads). Over 70% of us that do own tablets, use them when watching TV. Tablets can give your learners a deeper engagement into content or even provide better context for the content.

Bottom line. The trend in learning is not blending, but mixing up the learning choices. Give learners more control over when, where and how they learn. Provide content ahead of classroom activities so that they can listen or read on their own and then experiment and practice in a controlled environment with trainers on hand to help them out. Bring experts into your classroom by way of videos to add relevancy or context. Engage your learners with additional content or back channels for discussion through use of tablets. What direction will you go?

The Top Captivate Tips for CLASSe Clients

May 29, 2012

While scrolling through my mental rolodex this week of blog topics to write on (no, I haven’t upgraded to a mental, cloud based contact list yet) I received an email from a client with a question regarding our eLearning briefs. Since it’s not uncommon for our Learning Development team to receive various questions I thought I would blog about the most common questions we receive. If you’re already a CLASSe client with access to our eLearning content, consider this a FAQ of sorts. If you’re not a client of our library of vast and outstanding CLASSe content, I hope you can still find tidbits of helpful information in what follows.

At Traveling Coaches we use Adobe Captivate to develop our eLearning content; what we call “briefs”. We currently use version 5 while the most current version is 5.5. As a side note, I’ll save you from my rant on companies charging for “.x” upgrades (I’m looking at you, Adobe). We develop our briefs to be very task specific and never longer than five minutes each – if possible. This allows our clients to consume the information quickly while also allowing administrators and/or trainers to more easily piece together content that suits their learner’s needs. Understanding our goals when developing briefs may help you see the method to our madness so to speak. Below are just a few questions to get started.

Question: Why are there three files for each brief?

The three files in question are the html, swf and _skin.swf. By default Captivate publishes to the swf format and publishes an html file. The swf file is the main eLearning brief that can be played in any web browser that has the Flash Player plugin. The accompanying html holds information such as what size the swf should be displayed based on your recording settings, alignment and other basic layout information. This is important because it tells the brief how to behave within the browser. If you were to open the swf up without the accompanying html file the swf would be displayed incorrectly. The third file is the skin.swf. The skin holds the playback controls for the brief. The skin is published as a separate file based on the publish settings (see below). By publishing the skin externally the main swf’s files size is kept smaller, resulting in faster load times for the viewer. The main thing to remember is regardless of where these files are stored they must be stored together in the same directory to work properly.

Question: But wait, I see a fourth .js file in there. What’s that for?

This file provides for certain functionality in a web browser. For example, Adobe provides for right-click simulation when recording. This simulation was written in JavaScript. Without the .js file any functionality written to take advantage of JavaScript will not work.

Question: Why doesn’t the Close button work at the end of a brief?

This answer is a continuation of the previous one. The Close button on the playback bar is written to use JavaScript to have the swf “talk” to the browser and say: Close this window. This problem occurs when the briefs are stored on a network drive or any intranet location that does not have web services enabled. Where are web services enabled? You guessed it; a web server. If you are distributing the eLearning briefs from a standard network share there are no web services, therefore, JavaScript will not work. Since some of our clients are unable to store the briefs on a web server for various reasons Traveling Coaches does not use the right-click feature when recording. Also, the last slide of each brief instructs the learner to use the Close button (X) in the upper right corner of the window instead of using the Close button on the playback bar just in case they are accessing the brief stored outside of a web server (see below).

Question: Can we edit the eLearning briefs ourselves?

You bet. Traveling Coaches provides all Captivate source files to our clients for this very reason. Simply open the necessary file, edit and republish.

Question: Can we upload the briefs to our SharePoint intranet site?

Yes, but it can be tricky and a pain depending on the outcome you want and how your SharePoint server is configured. SharePoint has always been finicky when it comes to swf playback. The conspiracy theorist in me believes this could be easily done if not for Microsoft wanting to push their own version of the Flash Player – Silverlight. In all fairness there are other issues involved such as security so let’s keep that in mind. Really there is no one solution to swf playback on SharePoint. Like I mention above it really comes down to the outcome you want. A quick internet search will bring you a plethora of articles and tutorials for you to reference. Here’s one to get you started. The easiest, although not available to many, method is to store the briefs on a separate web server and link to them from SharePoint.

What are your questions regarding Captivate eLearning development? We understand that there are countless network configurations out there with countless requirements and needs. If you find yourself scratching your head at the behavior of the briefs or just have a Captivate development question in general we would welcome your feedback.

Expert Tip: PowerPoint’s Combine Shapes Command

May 21, 2012

PowerPoint has over 100 different shapes that can be inserted into a presentation. Using PowerPoint 2010’s new Combine Shapes command, shapes can be joined, combined, intersected and subtracted to produce even more unique shapes and drawings. The Combine Shapes command uses the principles of Boolean geometry (TRUE, FALSE, NOT, etc.) to determine how combining shapes works. For example, draw a triangle and overlay with a circle. Depending on the logic condition that is “true” differences occur with the shapes.

Union – Joins the triangle and circle.

Combine – Combines the triangle and circle but eliminates the overlap.

Intersect – Leaves only the section where both shapes overlap.

Subtract – Eliminates the circle and the overlap on the triangle.

Accessing the Combine Shapes Command

The Combine Shapes command is not available on the ribbon. To access this command, it must be added to the Quick Access Toolbar. Click the Customize Quick Access Toolbar… button on the Quick Access Toolbar and select More Commands. In the Choose commands from: drop down, select Commands Not in the Ribbon. Scroll down and select Combine Shapes. Click Add and OK.

Once you have added the Combine Shapes command, start experimenting with various shapes and the shape effects tools to add interesting designs to your presentation. The shapes below were created using circles, triangles and rectangles, Combine Shapes and Shape Effect tools.

And the Survey Says… (A Look into the Evolving Role of the Legal Secretary)

May 15, 2012

Traveling Coaches was on hand for the 2012 ALA (Association of Legal Administrators) annual conference.  Our very own, Joe Buser, presented in the Business Matters! Sessions track.  He talked about evolving law firm models calling for new legal secretary workflows and skillsets.  Always  interested in what our firms’ administrators have to say and inspired by Joe’s topic, this year we conducted a short survey to find out exactly what’s on their mind when it comes to the changing role of the legal secretary.

The survey was presented to visitors at the Traveling Coaches booth.  Altogether, 102 conference attendees participated in the online survey.  Of course we wanted to have some fun with our survey and try something new, so representatives in the exhibit floor booth leveraged the use of iPads to facilitate the survey. The following is a summary of what we learned when we contemplated the responses.

How big of a concern is the changing role of the legal secretary at your firm?

The big question on our mind these days, and frankly many of our clients’ minds, is how concerned are firms about the changing role of the secretary?  The survey says that they are plenty concerned.  Seventy percent of the respondents have a high or very high concern about the changing role of secretaries in their firm.

Secretary to lawyer ratio…

We were also curious to see how the secretary to lawyer ratio played a role.  The majority of responses (56%) maintain a 1: 3 ratio, followed by 20% who selected the 1:4 ratio.  A lucky 15% still enjoy a 1:2 ratio.  Two participants selected the 1:5 ratio and one selected the 1:6 ratio options.  This question allowed for additional comments.  A couple of the responses intrigued me.  One firm does not have secretaries instead they utilize paralegals as lawyer support (I wonder what their billable requirements look like). Another shared that the ratios vary depending on workload and type of law.  Personally, I liked that one the best.  It is rare to find any two lawyers who work exactly the same that can guarantee the right mix of tasks for a shared secretarial assignment.


Managing the secretary workload…

With roles changing and ratios increasing, who is managing the secretary’s workload?  Forty-nine percent responded that the lawyers are managing the work.  Just less than 30% indicated that someone in HR was managing secretarial work.  Followed by approximately 19% utilizing a secretarial manager for the task.  This was another question were we included an option for sharing other responses.  Most responses still fell into the administrative category of office or legal administrators; but some surprised me, like, business managers.  I’ll have to explore that role further one of these days.

If we look at the same data by ratios, as the ratios increase in the number of assigned lawyers to each secretary, the more likely it is that someone in a human resources or administrative position is managing workloads.  As a side note, with only 3 respondents selecting the 1:5 or 1:6 ratio selection, we are only looking at the top 3 ratios right now. Respondents were allowed to pick all options that applied to their firm so numbers may not add up to 100%.

What tasks do your secretaries perform on a daily basis for their assigned lawyers?

We provided a list of common tasks and asked our respondents to select the top 5 tasks.  The top 5 tasks for all responses:


  1. Type/Format documents
  2. Schedule meetings
  3. Submit electric filings
  4. Maintain client files
  5. Maintain calendar


The bottom 5 included tasks, such as:

  1. Open mail
  2. Prepare client bills
  3. Create and edit PowerPoint presentations
  4. Conduct internet research
  5. Create graphs and charts

Next, we set out to compare tasks across the 3 most common ratios selected by the survey respondents(1:2, 1:3, 1:4).  Typing and formatting documents is number 1 across all three, and then things shuffle around a bit.  Interestingly, two historically common tasks, drafting documents and communicating with clients,  move down the list as ratios increase.


In focus groups, when asked what they would like to be able to do for their assigned lawyers, secretaries often tell us that they would like to be able to do more electronic filing and internet research to help their lawyers workload.  Lawyers tell us that they like to get help from their secretaries with presentations.  It appears that there are some communication gaps to fill for secretaries to express the desire to take on more challenging work and the need to develop new technology skills development beyond Microsoft Word.

My firm has already taken steps to address the changing role of the legal secretary…

Slightly less than 60% of respondents say their firms are already beginning to address the changing role of the legal secretary.  We asked those respondents to help us understand what steps they are taking. 40% have defined or are in the process of defining new core competencies.  35% have either conducted or are planning to conduct skills assessment.  Mentoring programs have been established or are in the works for 15%.  Another 15% have changed their staffing models to include new roles like junior secretaries which are based on levels of expertise.  Five percent are looking at certification programs.   Another respondent shared that they are looking to implement secretarial team for some practice areas or teams of lawyers.

One thing is for certain, things are changing and we have much to consider and discuss as we navigate through these changes.  If you are a member of CLASSclub, Joe Buser will give an encore presentation of his ALA educational session, New Technology Competencies to Address the Evolving Role of Legal Secretaries so be sure to watch for that date which will be published soon!  As always if you want to talk more about the topic, you can leave comments here or find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  We also have an email address dedicated to all things Next Generation Learning.  Just email us at .