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How to Take Back Control of Your Workday…and Your Life

What is the greatest obstacle to a productive workday?  Distractions. You come to work laser-focused on a specific task and before you know it, you get interrupted a moment at a time.  Your intake specialist asks for “just a minute of your time”, you take an “urgent” phone call from a new client and when you’re done, you take a break to check out your newsfeed on Facebook.

Before you know it, it’s the end of the workday and you haven’t even begun the task that was critically important when the day began. What happened to your time? You were interrupted by internal and external triggers that are competing for your attention. You’re not alone—we all face the same distractions.  The only question is what can you do to avoid the distractions.

“Are you letting others steal your time or do you guard it as the limited and precious resource that it is.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

The first question is whether the triggers—internal and external—are serving you or are you serving them? Specifically, do the triggers make you more or less productive? You know the answer.  Distractions (a/k/a, external and internal triggers) are fatal to a productive workday.

5 Ways to Avoid Internal Distractions

Internal triggers are your own temptations that interrupt your focused time. We all have them—your mind drifts to thoughts unrelated to work or you might be tired and want a break. When this happens, here are a few tips to stay laser-beam focused.

#1: The Ten Minute Rule:  Have trouble responding to notifications on your phone?  Whenever the urge strikes to check your phone, wait ten minutes (“surf the urge”). 

“If I find myself wanting to check my phone as a pacification device when I can’t think of anything better to do, I tell my myself it’s fine to give in, but not right now. I have to wait just ten minutes…If we still want to perform the action after ten minutes of urge surfing, we’re free to do it, but that’s rarely still the case.”  --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

#2: Timeboxing Your Day:  Only a third of Americans keep a daily schedule.  Create a schedule for your workday where every hour is committed to a specific project. Share your schedule with your team and encourage them to do the same.

“Timeboxing our schedules is an essential step in becoming indistractable.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

Do not randomly accept phone calls during the workday.  Schedule a specific time for phone calls, e.g., 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and use an online scheduler, such as Calendly.com, to make it easy for clients to schedule an appointment.

Schedule time for yourself first.  Schedule time for your family and working out at the gym.

#3: Accountability Partnerships: Accountability partnerships are a great way to keep projects moving. You schedule a specific date and time every week to check in with your accountability partner via a phone call about the progress you’ve made on a specific project.  It’s embarrassing to report that you’ve done nothing (thank you to St. Petersburg, Florida disability lawyer and my accountability partner, Nancy Cavey, Esq., for this idea!)

“Think of all the ways people steal your time…If we don’t play our days, someone else will.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

FocusMate.com facilitates accountability partnerships via one-to-one video conferencing.

#4: Distraction-Free ZonesCreate policies for avoiding distractions for your team members.

Special Distraction-Free Rooms:  Create a special “distraction-free” room in your office for your team. Just one rule: if someone is in the “distraction-free” room, you cannot interrupt them except for emergencies. 

“You can’t do your best work if you’re frequently distracted.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

Concentration Card: Put a sign on your computer screen when you don’t want to be distracted.  The “Concentration Card” connected to the desktop computer should contain, in large font, a simple request:


If the “Concentration Card” is attached to the team member’s desktop, you cannot interrupt them.

#5: Focus Days:  A “Focus Day” is a day committed to a specific project and nothing else. There is nothing more conducive for a productive day.

During a Focus Day, the team member will not take phone calls, review email and will not be accessible for meetings or discussions.  This is a strict rule that must be sacrosanct and observed by all team members: There will be absolutely no interruptions for the team member during their Focus Day.  

When I need to focus on trial preparation or a big project, I go to the local library, turn off my phone and avoid the internet. No one can find me and there are zero distractions.  I spend 8 hours of focused time on our firm’s “A” cases (cases valued at $1M and higher) and in this setting, I am crazy productive.

“The modern workplace is a constant source of distraction.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

Will this work for your team members?  Give your team members permission to schedule a “Focus Day” and let them know that there will be no email, phone calls, or interruptions from co-workers.  You must respect their “Focus Day” and make sure other team members do not interrupt them or even say “hi”.

How to Crush Distractions from External Triggers

External triggers are interruptions/distractions from your environment, e.g., email, phone calls, text messages, distractions from clients and co-workers, etc. Here’s the problem: busy work responding to email and text is rarely productive work.  You must fight back against external triggers. 

3 Ways to Prevent Email Distraction

#1: Send Fewer Emails, Receive Fewer Emails:  When you send fewer emails, you receive fewer emails. Encourage your team members to include you on an email only if they need a response from you.

#2: Block Email Senders:  Permanently eliminate unwanted email with SaneBox.com, a software program that ensures you will never receive an email from the sender again.

“Email is the curse of the modern worker…An astonishing number of workplace emails are an utter waste.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

#3: Respond to Email in Batches: Schedule a time to respond to emails and respond to emails all at once. Notify email senders that you only review email once a day, e.g., 4 p.m., and if the matter is urgent, they should call your office.  

4 Ways to Avoid Distractions From Your Phone

#1: Wear a Wrist Watch:  Once you start wearing a watch, you will check your phone less frequently.

#2: Adjust Your Notification Settings: Go to Settings, select the Notifications option and adjust the notifications settings for sound and sight.

“Distraction, it turns out, isn’t about the distraction itself; it’s about how we respond to it.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

#3: Do Not Disturb Settings: The Do Not Disturb setting can be activated to prevent all notifications from reaching you, including calls and texts.  Another feature in the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” blocks calls and texts, and also sends a message to the sender that you can’t pick up the phone at the moment:

“This is an automated message to let you know that I’m indistractable at the moment. I will not see your message right away but I’ll get back to you shortly.”

#4: Block Access to Your Phone: The Forest app blocks access to your phone. Whenever you want to avoid getting distracted by your phone, open the Forest app and set whatever duration of time you want to remain phone-free.

3 Ways to Hack Back Your Desktop

#1: Turn Off Desktop Notifications: To ensure that unhelpful external triggers will not interrupt you. Open System Preferences, click the Notifications option and deactivate all the notification preferences for each of the listed apps.

#2: Start with a Blank Slate on Your Computer Screen:  A blank computer screen with perhaps an inspiring quote is less confusing than a screen full of meaningless icons.

“Time spent communicating should not come at the expense of time spent concentrating.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

#3: Shut Off the Internet:  Many routers, such as Euro, come with internet shut off capabilities. When you arrive at home, you can automatically shut off the internet through your router and spend distraction-free time with your family (thank you to Columbia, Missouri injury lawyer, Mike Campbell, Esq., for this golden tip!).

3 Ways to Conquer Social Media Distraction

Set aside time in your timeboxed schedule for social media.

#1: Eradicating the News Feed on Facebook:  Eliminate the news feed altogether with a free web browser extension called “News Feed Eradicator for Facebook”.

“Feeds are full of external triggers that can drive us to distraction.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

#2: Substituting Your To-Do List in Place of the News Feed: Another free technology called “ToDoBook” replaces the Facebook News Feed with the user’s to-do list. Rather than scrolling the news feed, you see your to-do list.

#3: Block Access to Distracting Websites: The SelfControl app blocks your access to distracting websites like Facebook as well as your email account. You can set it to block these sites for as much time as you want.

“You can use tech to stay off tech.” --Nir Eyal, “Indistractable”

Similarly, the group chat provider, Slack, has a “Do Not Disturb” feature in the service that you can turn on whenever you want to focus.  Employees at Slack are discouraged from reading email or participating in group chat after working hours. A sign welcomes Slack employees, “Work Hard and Go Home”, i.e., don’t take your work home with you.

Invest Time in Your Family and Friends

What do your spouse and children want more from you than anything? Your time. When you apply these time saving tips to your personal life, you invest in the relationships with your family and friends. Why not give your relationships with your family the same time as your workday? They’re worth it.

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.