It is super easy to get distracted at work. Emails, client phone calls, Tweets, RSS Feeds and bored/lonely/talkative co-workers all contribute mightily to a collectively dwindling attention span.
The lawyer hive-mind is being pulled in a million different directions thanks to our self-imposed expectation of constant availability. Now, I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD or anything, but I’m pretty sure that if a doctor observed me on a bad day, she would say that I am definitely suffering from some kind of att—HOLY CRAP IT’S NICE OUTSIDE, YOU GUYS. I’M GONNA RIDE MY BIKE AFTER WORK TODAY!!!
Anyway, I have problems focusing sometimes. And when I spend a day working where I allowed myself to be pulled in a million different directions, I can definitely see a drop-off in quality and amount of work performed.
Unfortunately, it has taken me a few years to gain respect for the power of distraction and learn how to fight it. But I know I’m not the only one that gets pulled away from the precious gift of Jedi-like concentration throughout the day, so I thought I would share some of the habits that have helped me fight off the mental urge to diverge.
1. Make yourself unavailable
Close your door, put up a sign, put a pissy look on your face at the coffee shop. Do whatever you have to do to let everyone around you know that it’s game time. If you have to shout your intentions in the third person, that’s fine. Yelling “this is (insert your name)’s thinkin’ hour! RESPECT THE PROCESS!” works every time.
2. Throw on some music
When I need to get down to business, I like to put on some classical music at a low volume and just leave it be. This isn’t because I’m a pretentious audiophile or anything; I can just focus better with some nice ambient music playing. If classical isn’t your thing, that’s cool. But I’ve found that anything too heavy or unsteady or awesome will pull me in too much and will just make me want to listen to more music. I’m trying to work, not debate in my head whether or not Mumford and Sons is any good.
It’s also important to avoid changing tracks or managing a playlist if you are just putting on some background tunes. So while your “Summer Tanning Jamz ’97″ might be a great mixtape, if you have to tinker with it or if its carnal grooves are too distracting, then that kind of defeats the whole purpose. So I’ve found that turning on Pandora, Grooveshark or iTunes Radio and just letting it breathe is the best move.
3. Unplug from the Matrix
It isn’t news that we surround ourselves with focus-draining devices all day long. Smartphones, laptops and iPads are very useful tools, but they are also huge sources of distraction. A British study shows that people who check their emails while working exhibit a lower ability to concentrate than someone under the influence of marijuana. So unless you are like the lawyer version of “Towelie” and operate better while high, it’s probably best for you to ignore email altogether while you are trying to get things done. And while you are shutting down the email operation, do likewise with your phone. Put your phone on silent and enjoy being left alone for an hour or two. If a techno-junkie like Randall can do this, so can you.
4. Block yourself out
If it’s possible for you to do, block out two hours of your day for straight-up distraction-free work. It might seem ridiculous to you to schedule a time for NOT answering the phone or responding to email, but you probably do it all the time. If you schedule a time for you to be in court or in a client meeting, it’s the same thing, and I would argue it’s of equal importance. It’s amazing what we can accomplish and how crisp we can be when we allocate time to concentrate.
Think about the times when you are in court or when you are sitting down with a client for the first time. I’m guessing that you are pretty focused in those situations, and not checking Facebook. You are focused, and not simply because of what’s at stake. You are mindful of what you are doing because you only have one thing commanding your attention. Just know that it’s possible to bring that kind of focus to your work all the time if you treat it with the same kind of importance. Obviously, you can’t ignore phone calls and emails all day long, but you can achieve some kind of balance by sequestering yourself in your work for at least two hours a day. Try it. You’ll enjoy it.