the one thing you can do to improve your work life. immediately.

Over and over with clients, I see one thing that can make the single biggest difference in a person’s work life.

Sadly, it took me a little bit of time to connect the dots. The more lawyers (and other folks) I worked with, the more I saw this same issue come up. With some clients, it took a bit longer to get to. We were so busy focusing on a process or system that we failed to take our first look at the primary tool.

What is the primary work tool for most lawyers? Their computer. Of course.

Most of us spend hours on our computer daily. Drafting, reading, reviewing, composing and responding to emails , conducting research, wandering around through Facebook and Twitter feeds …

And once I started connecting the dots, I realized that the starting point for all of my clients was to assess their primary tool first. Before we considered whether a change in PM software, collaboration tools, or anything else was necessary.

What I learned? Pretty much everyone is using a slow, lethargic computer that is slowly sucking the life from them. Now, the reasons for this vary. For some, it’s a budget issue. Others? They’re tied to a system in their firm. And for many, they simply are so used to it that they didn’t realize how bad it was. Until they get a new machine and realize how good it can be.

Here’s the thing: your primary tool should be as good as it can possibly be. As fast, efficient, and powerful as you can afford.

With that said, not everyone needs a new machine. Sometimes a little maintenance can do the trick, to correct the lagging, slowness, and spinning beach balls.

And sometimes not.

While I don’t believe that we’re only as good as our tools, I firmly believe that using really, really good tools makes us better. And happier.

If you haven’t replaced your computer in a while, and especially if you’re experiencing any noticeable performance issues, then do an assessment to figure out if now is the time to replace. This handy primer offers some tips.

And if you’re anything like most of my consulting clients, don’t let you lack of time keep you from doing this. As with most aspects of your practice, you can hire someone to do the heavy lifting for you, and assess if it’s time to replace, and what you should buy. My suggestion is to hire someone who isn’t also selling the computer — you need someone who can figure out what you need, and get you that.

One consulting client of mine replaced an 8-year-old Dell PC. This was a really hard decision for her. Why? Well, moving from XP to Windows 8 didn’t excite her. At all. She, like most of us, would prefer to stick with what she knows works (even when it’s working really, really poorly) than dive into the unknown.

But dive, she did. And after tracking her time for just a couple of days? She realizes that she’s captured so much productivity. Why? Well, her machine isn’t slowing down or locking up anymore. (Yes, she had reached the point of lock-up and constant reboots. Even after de-fragging, cleaning temp files, uninstalling unused files, and the 30 other things you need to be doing to maintain a PC.)

The single best thing I did to improve my work life? Dump my old PC and go Mac. At the end of 2010, I was limping along on a slow slow slow Dell laptop. I would turn it on in the morning, go make coffee, enjoy at least one if not two cups, return to my desk, and wait 15 more minutes before the machine had fully loaded. One day, I had an epiphany. My life didn’t have to be this way. When it finally loaded, the first thing I did was go to the Apple store online and order a new laptop. Which arrived two days later. And my life has never been the same.

Perhaps it’s too big a leap for you to go from Windows to Mac, but being a Mac user myself, I must make a plug. I never felt truly comfortable with technology until I returned to Apple for all of my computing tools. Yes, there’s a learning curve. It’s different than Windows. And generally, machines with comparable stats (RAM, disc space, processing speed) are more expensive at the Apple store.

But if you view your computer as your primary work tool, and acknowledge its importance in your life, then you should give yourself permission to invest in the best.

I shall forgo a lengthy discussion on how to select a new computer. Others have written about what kind of computer to buy — go here and here and here, for example.

I will share a few salient points, however, based on my 16 years in the practice of law:

  • Get a solid state drive. Buy the biggest one you can afford. Why? They’re more reliable and faster than standard hard drives (which have moving parts prone to breakage and wearing out more quickly.)
  • If you have a mobile practice, buy a powerful laptop and add a nice, big, hi-res monitor when you’re working at your desk. I use both the 17” screen of my laptop and a separate 24” monitor when I work at my office desk.
  • If you’ve got the cash, get a lightweight laptop like a MacBook Air for your work on the go. The 11” is not much bigger than an iPad and is much handier for doing real work.

Here’s my set-up:

17” MacBook Pro (no longer made – 15” is currently the largest screen available) with 24” external monitor at the office. With a 500 GB solid state drive and external 3 TB hard drive for extra storage and back up. (I also back up to the cloud via two different platforms.)

11” MacBook Air – with 500 GB solid state drive. I use my iPad as a second monitor when I’m working out of the office (using this app).

27” iMac – with 2TB traditional disk drive, in my home office. It’s slower than my SSD laptops, but has lots of RAM so handles my needs well enough. When the time comes, I’ll replace with the same size screen and either a SSD or fusion drive, which combines flash and regular disk storage.

Enough about me. Stop reading this blog post on your old, slow machine. Go do some homework (or hire someone to do it for you), and upgrade your most important tool!