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How Lawyers Can Use Technology to Conquer Their Workday

Let’s face it: most of us are addicted to our phones. Even worse, this addiction is easy to justify, because our entire lives are packed into that one little device, from our email to our fitness apps. The lack of boundaries between the office and our personal lives is why mobile devices are the single greatest driver of and detractor from productivity. While many of us can work from literally anywhere in the world, we are simultaneously faced with triggers and an attention deficit pulling us away from focused work, even when we’re in the office.

For lawyers, these distractions don’t only cause them to lose focus – they actually lead to incremental, yet substantial (potential) revenue loss over the client lifecycle. A recent study found that it takes, on average, 23 minutes to regain focus after being distracted from a task – which, if your law firm bills based on billable hours, directly equates to lost money. No wonder 25% of lawyers think that technology has actually hurt their work/life balance – many lawyers are not only working more because of their 24/7 digital availability, but they also need to work longer hours because of the pervasive, daily distractions they face.

In this climate, it’s hardly surprising that one of 2019’s bestsellers was titled Indistractable, by famous behavioral psychologist Nir Eyal. Eyal argues that the superpower of the 21st century isn’t invisibility or telekinesis, but indistractability–or the ability to focus on the tasks you want to do when you want to do them. Eyal’s most profound insight is that time management is ultimately about pain management (“pain” meaning any negative emotion, including boredom). If you can manage the feeling of being uncomfortable, then you can manage most distractions.

Why Your Current Technology Isn’t Working for You

While mobile devices have been the greatest influence on the modern workday, both mobile and desktop devices offer plenty of room for distraction, which we will explore below.

Mobile

  • Push notifications “push” you away from concentration. Push notifications are messages that pop up on mobile devices from apps and can be delivered at any time – on the app publisher’s schedule, not yours. So while you may want to focus on reviewing documents during your train ride to a client site, Apple News has other plans when it sends you five headlines in a row on the Trump impeachment hearings.
  • Your mobile apps don’t parallel your desktop experience. Most of the mobile versions of your business applications have limited functionality. This means that even if you want to work from a mobile device, you’re forced to swipe between several apps to perform a simple task; or worse, navigate between your mobile device and another screen. This is another distraction that may be costing you tangible revenue – a recent study from Slack, the company that has reinvented communications in the workplace, reports that 79% of respondents reported spending at least 30 minutes a day switching between ten or more apps, and 70% claimed that app-switching prevents them from getting essential work done.

Desktop

  • The tech that you often need to do your job is clunky, poorly designed, and hard to use. For example, Outlook add-ins such as EMM and ndMail often cause Outlook to stutter and crash, and it can take several minutes for the system to reboot—potentially productive time that you’re now losing while waiting for Outlook to reload. And while you’re waiting several minutes for Outlook to come back to life, why not check LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook? See where this is going?
  • Your inbox is working against you. Notifications from Outlook can be incredibly invasive. You might be in the middle of reviewing a contract, but what if that pop-up you just received was an important email from your client? You feel like you need to know in real-time—but it can be difficult to distinguish between urgent emails and your office newsletter from the pop-up alone.

Your Tips to Be Indistractable

Now that you’re aware of some of the forces that are working against you, now is the time to identify solutions that will allow you to become indistractable. Below, we’ve laid out some recommended tips that anyone can use to find more productive time in their day.

  • Understand your internal triggers. Ask yourself why you’re seeking out distractions. For example, do you find that you often lose an hour of your day after Outlook crashes because you turn to LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook in your moment of need? Try instead to turn to a productive task that doesn’t rely on email in that moment. Check in on a colleague and re-engage your paleolithic human touch, instead of sending them an email, for example. Alternatively, place boundaries around the desire to roam through the digital hallways of social media. For example, when you feel an urge to check Facebook in the middle of the day, coach yourself to wait ten minutes. You may find that the urge is fleeting.
  • Get yourself into a state of “deep work” when you need to focus. Cal Newport, the researcher behind the concept of “deep work” recommends blocking out the time you need to work on tasks that require intense concentration on your calendar. Planning your schedule in advance holds you accountable to the tasks that you need to complete and can help you defer your distractions. Likewise, for those who have a lot of reactive work, like lawyers, Newport’s solution can be employed similarly by blocking off time for open-ended reactivity.
  • Remove push notifications where possible. Do you really need to know that a friend of a friend just posted a picture on Instagram? What about that Step Bet you entered–and promptly forgot about–three weeks ago, reminding you that you only have 5,348 steps left to achieve your daily goal? While it may be difficult to imagine your life without these intrusive notifications, you will probably not miss them when they’re gone. If you need help figuring out how to turn these notifications off, click here for instructions.
  • Better yet, delete the apps you’re not using. You may have downloaded that aforementioned Step Bet app with the best of intentions, but if you don’t use it every day (and certainly if you haven’t used it in three weeks), then you can probably live without it.
  • Embrace technology that respects your boundaries. Seek out productivity solutions that only notify you when you want to be notified. For example, ZERØ offers the ability to configure “smart” notifications, which only notify you of emails from your contacts and not from newsletters.
  • Establish a community of colleagues who also want to be more efficient/productive. In an age where clients are demanding greater efficiency and fixed fees, you’re probably not alone in your desire to be more productive. Seek out colleagues who have a similar mindset to you, and you can swap tips and best practices (or simply commiserate).
  • Only allow notifications at certain hours. When you need to focus, make sure that you’ve eliminated potential intrusions. For iPhone users, keeping your phone on Do Not Disturb and out of site may do the trick. On Desktop, for Windows users, the instructions here demonstrate how to turn on Windows 10’s Focus Assist feature.