rabbit holes and willpower.

The internet is full of rabbit holes. Some of the known ones: Facebook, Twitter, Feedly, Reddit, and pretty much any eye candy “news” site (Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, even The New Yorker and Mother Jones for that matter …).

Staying committed to your work instead of engaging in an hours-long dalliance? This requires willpower, my friends.

Ironically, a daily visit to one of my rabbit holes (my Feedly RSS feed) yielded this timely advice to avoid the distraction afforded by rabbit holes (and other things):

• Treat willpower as a skill that you can (and should) practice.

• Set achievable goals. Start by breaking down big projects into smaller pieces. And start knocking them out.

• Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking (at least effectively) is a myth.

• Don’t deplete your reserves on things that don’t matter. Get enough sleep; delegate the work that sucks the life out of you; don’t eat junk; get some exercise. You get the picture.

• Do the hard stuff first. Mark Twain called this eating the frog. Get it out of the way and the rest of your day is a piece of cake.

• Make the effort. Strengthening your willpower muscle isn’t hard, but you have to take the steps to do it.

[Inspiredlawblog is written by Cat Moon, a lawyer + coach who is sometimes successful in exercising her willpower muscle, and loves helping others be successful, too.]

tech, productivity, + an agile practice

The following post originally appeared on the MyCase blog, thanks to a kind invitation from Niki Black. It’s the first in a series that I’ll be publishing here about the ins-and-outs of an agile practice.

An inconvenient truth: technology doesn’t improve productivity. It won’t make you more efficient, successful, or happy. What it can do is help you create a workflow (or even a lifestyle) that enables your productivity, efficiency, success, and happiness.

It’s taken me 16 years in law practice to figure it out, but I’ve finally created a tech-rich workflow that really supports my productivity.

I call it my “agile practice,” in part because I’ve cherry-picked elements of agile methodology that fit into a modern-day law practice. Why agile? Because lawyers spend a lot of time putting out fires instead of working our to-do lists. Not me. Not anymore. An agile system accommodates the fires. Allowing me to stay on track, do more good work, in less time.

How? By following the core principles of productivity, and adding technology only if it supports the principles.  Start with these four:

Eat the frog. This simply means do the most important thing first, no matter how much you don’t want to, every day. If you do this, then it’s much less likely that you’ll be derailed by the unexpected or urgent. As well, it’s motivating to check that important thing off your list. Supporting tech: I currently use Workflowy, a simple and ubiquitous app, to manage my to-do list. The frog is always at the top.

Touch it once. When something (an email, a phone call, a task) appears in front of you, your goal is to touch it only once (or twice, at most). The order of action: (1) do it; or (2) file it away for doing at a specific time; or (3) delegate it. If (2) is the action, then touch it only once at the appointed time. Supporting tech: especially if you’re delegating tasks, a web-based app such as Trello or the collaboration features built into MyCase support this principle masterfully.

No multitasking. You can’t do two (or more) things concurrently and expect to do any of them well. In fact, trying to multitask can sap up to 40% of your productivity. So stop. At the end of each day, create your list of work to be done the following day, ideally arranged from most to least important. Then start doing the work, once step at a time. Supporting tech: here, the goal is to put down the tech while you focus on the work in front of you. But technology can also help you do this – try one of these 10 apps that fight distraction and support concentration.

Email management. Technology and principle are inextricably linked here. Managing email, instead of allowing it to manage you, is crucial for setting up a productive workflow. Simple steps: don’t work with your email open all day; check email only at set times during the day; reply immediately if doing so will take two minutes or less; get email out of the inbox once you’ve acted on it. Supporting tech: I use Boomerang to set automatic reminders for responding to email (or to remind me if someone has failed to respond to my email). Inbox zero is an unattainable myth, but with Boomerang I can keep my inbox under control.

Some final words of advice: If you spend more time trying to make the tech work, or fit in your desired workflow, ditch it. And don’t adopt new tech unless it truly solves a problem you’re having.