I am back from a self-imposed blogging sabbatical. In addition to Law Technology Today, I contribute regularly to six other publications per month. However, from April to early July, I wrote a book on small law metrics that is coming out this fall. Thus, I had to step away from blog writing, particularly in June. That’s when I submitted my manuscript.
While I was writing the book, I was unable to take a sabbatical from my company Traklight or my obligations with Evolve Law. Reflecting back on both the period of writing and my subsequent vacation, I developed some productivity tips as well as some ways to relax once the work is done. These are universal, whether you are in school, writing a book or brief, or working on any large project.
Toss out the Lists
The book was a big project, about 150 pages, and it included spreadsheets and lots of detail. As a list maker and life-long planner, I initially thought I would make a schedule and daily lists of items to accomplish. I really got into the math of how many pages and words I could write per day. I printed off various calendars and made several lists, using my table of contents as a guide. And I discovered that the lists were actually hampering my creative process for the book.
Just like any other work product, the book was due on a certain date, and I thought the schedule approach would drive me. Turns out the impetus was a bit of the fear of failure and then just going with the ebb and flow of my ability to create rather than checking off the list and schedule. I took a step back and started only working or writing when I was productive rather than going down the list.
While I wrote about the death of the billable hour but not the end of recording hours, it struck me as ironic that I was abandoning the task list approach that underpins time recording. It became about the end product, not the amount of time or steps involved in getting there.
Shut off Email
As I mentioned, I did not pause my commitments to Evolve Law and Traklight. To balance the need to stay in touch and the need to focus for long periods of time on writing, I shut down my email for hours at a time.
For those that know me well, this is unprecedented behavior. I have a normal 24-hour turnaround rule for business emails and phone calls. At first, I would shut off the application on my computer or turn over my phone so I could not see any notifications, but I soon discovered how addicted I was to checking messages. So, I turned off the Internet on my computer and the Wi-Fi on my phone. I encourage you to try to shut down your email for an entire morning and see how many times you go to open it or pick up your phone. We are all addicts.
Even when I was writing at a remote cabin with poor Internet, I found myself trying to access the outside world. I decided to place an out of office notification that said I was writing to manage my discomfort.
In the end, some of my most productive writing time was when I was on a plane without Wi-Fi access, or when the satellite Internet at the cabin was all used up for the month. It took me weeks to stop opening Google or refreshing email, but now that I am back working on my regular tasks, not only am I resisting the lists, but I am also taking time to shut off email for hours at a time, so I can focus.
Early in the book writing process, I was frightened by the slow progress and decided that I would hunker down and write like a maniac. That was a mistake. Taking time for yoga or a walk truly does get the creative juices flowing.
Also, I used to leap out of bed and try to get right to my email before writing but I changed things up and started reading for pleasure for about 30 minutes before diving into the day.
Limit Social Media
Even worse than email is the distraction of social media. I had to wean myself off Facebook and Twitter using the same techniques as email. I used a bit of a reward system that also included chocolate, but that’s not for everyone.
The secrets of productivity are balance and focus, just like running a firm or a business.
Some of my productivity tips relate well to being able to relax and find leisure in our crazy world. On my vacation, I was determined to unwind. I did once-a-day email to make sure that nothing was on fire and also limited social media to posting some pictures.
I had some slipups, and they inevitably led to a bunch of misunderstandings because I was trying to respond to emails and give directions on my phone. Leaving aside the silly typos, my intent was not conveyed, and I wasted some of my team’s time. Lesson learned: Leave work out of vacation. Turn on your out-of-office message, and keep your hands off the device.
The day a friend showed me how to put the Kindle app on my phone was literally the best day this year. It’s like a soother for adults. I do not travel well because I have built up an intolerance for lines. On vacation or not, I now always have a fun book accessible to read when a line appears. It’s actually to the point where I am sometimes wishing for a line.
I have decided that running through an airport to catch a plane is not worth it. I have completely revamped my travel experience to build in all kinds of time—maybe because I am over fifty or maybe because I am not thrilled by cutting things close. For all of our travel, I build in all this extra time, and hey, I can read if I am there early.
All and all it’s been a great summer and I have learned to take it down several notches. I am now looking forward to reading The Anxious Lawyer by my friend, Jeena Cho. I think I am finally in the right place to embrace some mindfulness. #onwards.