My post on continuous partial attention phenomena has sparked some significant debate. The just of the article is that technology is such a huge distraction that it precludes us from actually focusing on tasks in a meaningful way. I think we all experience this at some level nearly every day as a result of cell phones, beepers, computers, email, skype, RSS feeds, ect. Carolyn Elefant at My Shingle posted this comment:
"I'm going to link to this at my site, but in the meantime, thank you for this tip. At the end of the day, I often feel that I haven't accomplished enough and I blame myself for inefficiency and lack of focus. Now I see that the problem is not necessarily me, but rather, a broader problem that most people face. I know that this realization does not solve the problem, but at least, it enables me to refrain from being so hard on myself."
So this raises the question, what kind of strategies are we going to use in order to get the most out of technology, without suffering the detriments? I would recommend the following three things:
- Do not disturb signs. We need to set aside blocks of time where we can get substantial work done without interruptions. Often, I block out sections of my calendar to work on briefs or preform drafting that I know is going to require several hours of uninterrupted time. I would encourage lawyers to use their calenders not only to schedule events, but to block off working time.
- Step away from your computer please. We need to find activities in our office which get us out of our seats and away from our computer. In my office, I have a lot of space so I am able to walk around. I have couches. I have working areas where I process papers which are away from my computer. I also make it a point to go visit with staff occasionally in order to simply break away from the laptop. There are too many days where you simply get into the office and sit down at your desk, stare into your computer and wake up realizing it is 6 o'clock at night. We have got to find a way to stop this from happening.
- Customize your cell phone message every day. I route most of my calls directly to my cell. I start each day indicating the day, date and my general schedule. Even if I don't have too much on my calendar, I make it clear in my message that I may not be able to return the call right away and provide an emergency number directly to my office if something should arise. You shouldn't pick up every cell phone call. You shouldn't leave messages that indicate that you will immediately return calls because you simply don't know what is going to happen on any given day when you initially customize your message.
The Big Law Associate Blog had an interesting post on the continuous partial attention phenomena. This anonymous blogger states:
"This becomes a huge problem when you have billing targets to meet and an ethical conscience to maintain. For BigLaw associates it is all too common to spend a day in a state of frazzled and chaotic inattention, with constant interruptions or too many urgent tasks on your mind, and at the end of it feel that you have achieved nothing. Yet, you have to bill your 8 hours at outrageous rates or fall further behind."
Big Law Associate is correct that it is not only technology which can distract us but other members of a firm. This is another huge advantage of being an independent practitioner. I only have to juggle my clients and my staff. I don't have to answer to other attorneys or partners for whom there is no politically correct way to say "not now." There is no way to say that "I will have to put your task at number fifteen because I have fourteen other more important things which need to be done." Until we are able to take control of our task lists, make priorities on objective factors such as need and risk and find blocks of time to do quality work, our clients will not be as well served as they deserve to be.