Finding focus by overcoming digital distractions

Now more than ever professionals are distracted at work. And the legal industry is no different. Virtually everyone in the firm has a computer, a smartphone, and a landline. Every hour, we receive hundreds of communications: emails, texts, private messages, social media pop-ups, news updates, phone calls, and voicemails.

Each one comes with its own unique noise. For example, without even picking up my smartphone, I can tell whether I’ve received a text, a message via Facebook, or a news story from the New York Times just by the particular sound or vibration emitting from the device. Even if I resist the temptation to pick it up and read those communications, I’ve still been distracted.

This is a uniquely hazardous state of affairs for legal professionals. There is a constant need to be available to clients and courts, yet there are times when you just need to settle in, focus hard, and get things done.

So, with all this digital noise coming at us all the time, how in the world are legal professionals expected to get things done? We’ve compiled a few of our tried and true methods for cranking up focus and dialing down those digital distractions.

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#1 Pretend it is 1950

Think about how simple the practice of law must have been in 1950. Attorneys didn’t have computers. Telephone calls only came through land lines and were typically screened by a secretary who sat in another room. Emails, texts, smartphones, and social media hadn’t been invented. Sure, documents took quite a bit longer to create and print, but you had time, because the biggest distraction in the entire firm was probably the water cooler. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The good news is, you really can recreate this scenario. It just takes a bit of discipline to break our addictions to technology.

The Harvard Business Review suggests starting by checking all your devices – that way you know whether anything truly urgent is pending. Once you’ve determined you’re in the clear, turn off all your digital distractions. Then, try to focus on the task at hand for 15 minutes. When that period is up, you can check them again.

As you get used to the 15-minute break, increase the time. Eventually, you can work your way up to several hours of focused work without constantly having your attention pulled elsewhere. In a sense, it will be just like the good old days.

#2 Use technology to keep from being distracted by technology

Let’s face it, some people just aren’t disciplined enough to shut down their digital devices and keep them off. Fortunately for those individuals, technology can help you overcome your digital addiction.

In fact, there are a whole host of apps that were created for the purpose of increasing focus. Some, for example, will completely block your access to social media on all of your devices for a pre-determined amount of time. They are great for people who just can’t stop wondering what their friends are up to throughout the day.

If that doesn’t work, the firm may need to upgrade your hardware. The most “modern” word processors are just that – word processors. You type into a contraption that looks like a typewriter but is actually connected to a cloud that saves your work instantaneously. Even though it is connected to WiFi, it doesn’t allow you to do anything but create documents. No emails, no tweets, no internet surfing.

Bonus points if you have a colleague confiscate all your other portable devices and see how much good this method can do.

#3 If you want to be focused, distract yourself

Although this tip may seem counterintuitive, it makes a certain amount of sense. Researchers have found that allowing yourself to be distracted from the task at hand may actually improve focus once you return to working. With that in mind, perhaps give yourself the last 10 minutes of every hour to check your devices. Allow yourself to pull devices from the drawer and reconnect your internet for those few minutes.

The theory behind this strategy is that the brain is activated by change. If you do the same thing for too long, the brain goes into an auto-pilot mode. Giving yourself breaks, however, was shown to improve performance over the long haul. If digital access is what resets your brain, so be it.

If you’re someone who is constantly distracted by technology, it is probably best for you, your clients, and your co-workers if you come up with some method to improve focus. And remember, those legal professionals back in 1950 didn’t have any of the devices you now have – and they lived to tell the tale. If you give yourself a break from all the technology, chances are you’ll become much more productive at work.


How do you stay focused and continue overcoming digital distractions? Share your tips in the comments!

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