Five Practical Tips to Spend Less Time On Your Device and More Time Lawyering
Electronic devices make our lives easier in so many ways: they help us to stay in touch with people we care about, find information at incredible speed, and automate processes that previously took much time and care. With the speed and potential for increased productivity that our electronic devices offer, however, has come the expectation that we are always available and “just a phone call/e-mail/text message away” from our colleagues, clients and adversaries. Notably, 86% of adult smartphone users will check their devices while speaking with family and friends. Today, even when we’re literally in front of someone we care about, we feel the impulse to “multitask” thanks to our devices. As studies have shown, multitasking is a myth, with neither thing having our full and complete attention.
While connectivity is typically a good thing, the practice of law is a cerebral process. Attorneys need time to conduct deep research, draft documents, craft deliberate communications, and think critically about the strategy of their cases. These necessary tasks are difficult to accomplish when there is an expectation that we can, and therefore should, quickly shoot off a response to an e-mail about a potential settlement, check for an e-filed motion, or respond immediately to a status request by an insurance adjuster who wants to prepare for an upcoming meeting. It would be incredibly easy to work reactively most days, spending hours responding to messages and calls demanding our immediate attention, rather than doing the more substantive work of lawyering.
Laurie Besden, Executive Director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, explains the importance of recognizing the significant role that being distracted by electronic devices has in both attorneys’ professional and personal lives in her CLE program, “Shackled to Our Screens: How Technology has Imprisoned the Legal Profession.” Ms. Besden points out that although the recent pandemic has caused the lines between work and home to become even more blurred than ever before, attorneys now have the opportunity to set new boundaries for availability as we settle into yet another “new normal” of transitioning back to a more typical law practice.
Here are some strategies that attorneys can implement to establish better boundaries and improve their well-being, based on a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology:
- Set clear boundaries (with yourself and with others). While every attorney is unique and has different expectations placed on them, when it comes to work, it is reasonable to be unreachable at certain times of the day. Each must determine these times for themselves and must communicate these boundaries politely but firmly. If you know you’re not going to be able to respond to e-mails during a set period, turn on your away message so that those who wish to speak with you know that you’re away. It helps if you note when they might reasonably expect to hear from you. Most importantly, be disciplined about not responding when you’re “away” – not being consistent will lead to others not respecting your boundaries in the future.
- Disconnect whenever possible. While technology will undoubtedly remain a significant part of each day because of the benefits it provides, disconnecting from our smartphones and electronic devices can help us to keep them firmly in the “tool” category – and prevent technology from running our lives like a cruel taskmaster. Apple’s iPhone has a focus function that can be set up to only allow certain notifications and communications during set time periods. Charge your cell phone in a room other than your bedroom so you’re not tempted to watch “one more YouTube video” before bed. Close your laptop and, importantly, put it away when you’re not working.
- Manage the use of applications. Applications such as Facebook and Instagram are known distractions for many people – attorneys included! It can be tempting to procrastinate doing important work for the quick dopamine hit that scrolling through social media can provide, but this often means less time to do work at a calm pace. If you find this to be the case in your life, consider uninstalling these applications on your smartphone in lieu of more beneficial applications like the meditation app, Headspace, for example. Rather than letting the whims of the latest social media algorithm dictate your mood, consider taking a few minutes to yourself to meditate and enhance your focus.
- Find a new standard – your own. You’ve heard it before: comparison is the thief of joy. Seeing updates from acquaintances and celebrities living their “best life” on social media can make it seem like there’s something wrong with your “normal” life. We need to be reminded that social media is a highlight reel for most people. Unfollow, or otherwise disconnect, from outlets and people that inject distressing content into your life. Keep your own goals in mind and compare your growth with what you did yesterday, rather than with what someone else purports to be achieving online.
- Set aside time for self-care. Use those technology devices to schedule time to exercise, arrange a walk outdoors alone or with a friend, or schedule a massage – and then engage in those activities free from technology.
To learn more about the role of technology in the lives of attorneys today, check out Ms. Besden’s full program here.