Running a Distraction-Free Law Office in the Age of the Smartphone

distractionsThese days people boast about being busy all the time as if staying busy is an indication of success. What they don’t tell you is what they are doing while they are busy. Working for the sake of appearing productive when you don’t have anything to do is just as much of a waste of time as spending all day having political debates on Google Plus or Facebook. I’ve had those discussions before and you have too.

Some people might be so addicted that they can’t help but refresh their social media feeds every 30 minutes. This post is not for you. If you are really that addicted that you feel you have to check in on your followers every few minutes, these ways of tweaking your notifications on your phone won’t help you. But if you are instead drawn to check Facebook every five minutes by those notifications on your phone that tell you somebody commented on your post and it is keeping you from getting important work done, then you might find something helpful here. You may first test out these notifications when you go on vacation and find that the changes stick when you return. That is how it happened with me.

Most people don’t spend much time tweaking the settings of their smart phone. As somebody who has been using a Windows computer since Windows 3.1, I learned to tweak things from the first instance. When some program is not working the way I would like, my first inclination is to go into the settings and tell it to stop. This became especially clear with programs like Skype that insisted on launching automatically when you boot up your computer even though most people only need to log into Skype occasionally. I immediately went to find the setting to disable that. In the same way, most decent programs let you tweak their settings.

Most apps on your smart phone also let you tweak your settings. Both Android and iOS allow you to set how individual applications notify you or completely disable those apps that constantly interrupt you. Before I get into specifics of how Android and iOS let you change app settings, lets first discuss some changes that I made to certain apps that helped me avoid distractions.

1. Turn off sound for all but the important notifications.
Smart phones by default want everything to beep and vibrate as soon as something happens as if everything is urgent. 90% of the time it isn’t. Your e-mail is important but it is not usually urgent. So turn off any sounds that your phone makes when you receive a new e-mail. If you still want to be notified when you have received an e-mail if you happen to be checking your phone then you can leave certain notifications on without sound. I selected a few key parts of my e-mail that I want to let my phone notify me about by adding an icon in my notifications bar but without beeping. That way if you are busy and can’t check your phone you won’t notice they are there.

You can probably also disable sound on your LinkedIn app and your Twitter app. It might be nice to know someone added you to their connections or re-tweeted you but it isn’t urgent. If you can’t turn off sounds, either turn off push notifications completely or limit the sorts of things that give you notifications. If connection requests are getting to be a distraction and hardly ever come from someone important then disable those notifications. You can deal with those the next time you log into LinkedIn.

2. If you leave on sounds, change it so that only certain important things make sounds.
If you have certain apps that are usually more important than not you may choose to leave on sounds. For example, I use Google Hangouts as a text messaging app and to talk with people who are on my Hangouts chat. Usually these messages are from my husband or someone else in my family who has a question or some person who has one of my cell phone numbers (this can be either trusted clients or close friends). In that case, I rarely get a message from someone that becomes a distraction. Though I did mute one friend who usually doesn’t have anything important to discuss. I can respond to his messages a few hours later without worrying about it. You might also choose that certain things are important enough and rare enough to warrant a sound notification, such as receiving a comment on your post on Google Plus. This can be a double-edged sword when a political discussion arises but you can always mute that individual offending post.

Most apps let you tweak exactly what you are notified about through push notifications. You probably don’t need your phone to let you know when somebody clicks like (Facebook) or plus one (Google Plus) on one of your posts or favorites your tweets. If so, you can go into your app settings and turn off those notifications.

3. Turn on a do not disturb mode when working on an important project.
Both the new iPhone 6 and newer versions of Android allow you to completely mute notifications for a period of time. This is different than simply silencing your phone but completely avoids any interruptions. Android also lets you set your phone to Priority Mode so that only apps you designate can notify you. You can turn this on if you want to allow phone calls and texts to interrupt you but nothing else. If everybody important already calls your office number then a do not disturb mode might be perfectly fine for an hour or two.

How this works in Android
Most apps in Android have notification settings that you can tweak. I usually change these settings by going to the settings within the specific app. If something doesn’t let you choose what sorts of things you get notifications about you can usually turn off push notifications completely. If not, you can always uninstall the app if it isn’t that important.

How this works in iOS
I don’t use an iPhone but a quick google search indicates that this change can be made by going to the general system settings and changing notification settings. In this area you can choose which apps can notify you on the lock screen.

A few caveats:
Most apps will revert these settings to the default as soon as they update. If you start to get more notifications than usual from your Facebook account then you might have to go back and change your settings because it updated. There is no option yet invented that allows you to stop this.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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