Zero

The Lives of Lawyers: How Lawyers Can Generate Momentum to Fuel Productivity

You know those days when everything seems to fall into place? You wake up feeling rested, have enough time to get ready in the morning without feeling rushed, and the train rolls into the station just as you’ve arrived. You get your assignments done, the client you need to speak with suggests a time for a call perfectly nestled between other meetings and tasks, you receive the response you were waiting for, learned something new, and supported a client or a colleague. Throughout the day, you feel quick but not rushed, focused, but not steeped in overthinking, and, as the day goes on, you feel energized, not drained. As evening sets in, you’ve finished what you hoped you would, and you feel good about what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. You’ve finished your billing, you’ve filed your emails, and you’ll make it to dinner or yoga on time without needing to race out of the office. “All in all, a great day,” you tell yourself. Everything flowed, one thing naturally led to another, and everything fell into place. 

However unattainable this day may seem, it’s completely within real, without any magic required.  What I described above is momentum, and once we have it, things tend to roll our way. It’s a powerful ally and one that is very much in our hands. 

So how does one generate momentum? First, we need to think about the opposite of momentum—friction. Once you understand how friction can manifest and derail your flow, you can determine how to keep these sources of resistance to a minimum or developing strategies to accommodate them while accommodating ourselves.

Strategies to Reduce Friction and Fuel Momentum

  1. Understand and minimize points of friction. Friction comes in many forms, from outside distractions to our own anxieties, stressful relationships, or situations at work or home. These can derail our focus, diminish our creativity and decisionmaking capabilities, increase the risks of misunderstandings, and reduce client satisfaction, employee morale, our wellbeing and physical health, productivity, and profitability. Over the course of a week or even a day, make a note as these points of friction arise, as well as how these affected you, your flow, and your ability to get things done.
  2. Harness the power of technology to automate tedious and repetitive processes like administrative tasks. The right solutions can provide increased accuracy with less effort on your part so that you can be off doing something else instead—whether it’s taking a break or writing in the zone. You’re probably already using a suite of productivity apps in your personal life, from banking to expenses to your grocery shopping. Why should email management and time entry be any different? Adopt time-saving, automated technological tools that reduce your to-do list and serve as a boon, not a burden. ZERØ’s email filing and passive mobile time capture and narrative generation features are easy-to-use and shoulder much of the administrative burden of email management and time entry, alleviating stress and boosting productivity.
  3. Make yourself indistractable. Resist the temptation to juggle multiple things at the same time and do one thing at a time. If distractions do come up, take control of them—don’t let them control you. A stray thought about another task? Write it down. Incoming calls or texts? Acknowledge them and respond in kind later. Feeling frustrated, blank, or bleary-eyed? Take a break, do some stretches, meditate, or take a quick nap. 
  4. Quell friction-producing anxieties. If we put too much pressure on an assignment, we will have fears about even getting started—finding ourselves sapping ourselves of time, energy, and procrastinating by doing everything else. Every big project starts with a small step. Take it. Slow down for a second, and think about your plan of attack. Break a big project up into little pieces to get things flowing smoothly.
  5. Avoid overthinking and getting bogged down by things outside your control. Practice patience and understanding, with yourself. Take the time you need to get things done. Positivity generates and encourages further action on our part, enhancing confidence, performance, and productivity. As educator Mehrnaz Bassiri explains in her TEDx talk: “Small wins have a transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favor another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins leads to larger and greater accomplishments [aka the focus-shattering-procrastination-favoring task that you were putting off].”
  6. Leverage those small pockets of time you’ve been writing off as useless. Nine minutes before you have to pick up your kid from school, or a client asking that the call be delayed by 12 minutes. No schedules, not even the best-laid ones, are immune from curveballs, or tiny amounts of time that may seem insignificant but add up quickly. It is possible to harness this time, reduce stress, increase flow, and improve your concentration and focus.
    • Make a list of tasks you can chip away at in just a few minutes. Here are some of mine: watering the plants; answering email(s) or text message(s); consulting my calendar, updating it as needed to account for the developments of the day; taking a second to breathe or dance, to thank and reward myself for my efforts; closing my eyes and reminding myself of the big picture of the task at hand – what I’m doing, why and for whom, my message and audience.
    • Start by noticing what amount of time you’ve labeled as “not enough to get anything done.”  Now, reframe this as “plenty of time to get something done.” Repeat regularly, gradually reducing the number. 
  7. Fuel momentum by taking sporadic breaks to walk, be in nature (urban parks and fire escape make-shift gardens count!) meditate, nap, or the like. It may seem counterintuitive, unfavorable, or even impossible sometimes, especially when things are really going. You may be hesitant to take a break because there is “more to do in not enough time,” or you may think that momentum will inevitably be lost and that you’ll need to regain it after. But studies show that taking the kinds of breaks mentioned above re-energize us, boost our productivity, and increase our performance, decisionmaking, attention, creativity, and concentration. And no wonder, fatigue, invariably sets in after-hours spent drilling down into something that requires high cognitive capacity, putting out fires, jumping between tasks and clients. And fatigue not only slows us down, but it makes us more vulnerable to distractions.
  8. Stay the course. Create routines and habits that work for you and stick to them. As Drake Baer wrote in Fast Company, “Consecutivity has a power all its own.” The more you practice the habits you build, the more effective they and you become. As noted by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, authors of “The One Thing”: “Extraordinary success is sequential, not simultaneous. You do the right thing, and then you do the next right thing. Over time it adds up, and the geometric potential of success is unleashed.”
  9. Subscribe to ZERØ’s Life Hacks for Lawyers, ZERØ’s weekly newsletter that provides productivity tips for lawyers, including how to best leverage technology for optimal time management.