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Leveling Up

Focusing Better Throughout the Day

By Paul H. Burton

Focus is how good work gets done. But focus requires a quiet space, internally and externally — and the internal and external worlds are noisy places. Numerous thoughts ping-pong around our heads while phones ring, doors open and notifications ding throughout the day.

how to focus

Is it best to just give up and swim in the ocean of distraction? Nope. Try the following ideas to see which ones extend your focused efforts.

Create a Daily Strike List

Tracking open tasks and projects is a necessary part of running the day. Some lawyers make regular to-do lists, which they desperately try to keep current. Some lawyers rely on their email inboxes to serve this function, but those inboxes continue to grow with each passing day.

Both efforts are helpful, but we’re looking for better ways to drive our buses. One effective way to get laser focused is to create a daily strike list. This list is a short — a very short — one of up to three things from your larger task list. Commit to getting these three things done today. Cross each one off as it gets done.

The concept is to focus on manageable results. Long task lists feel overwhelming. Choosing a few items from those lists puts getting things done within reach. We are chipping away at the big mountain of to-dos using a mechanism that makes today more productive and satisfying.

Eat That Frog

Mark Twain famously quipped:

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

Brian Tracy borrowed part of that quote to title his famous book on time management, “Eat That Frog.” There must be something to this notion.

Many lawyers wait until the end of the day, when it gets quiet, to do the hardest part of their jobs. It’s the least effective and efficient time to engage in that effort — when they’re already tired.

Try changing things up. Do the hardest work early in the day. That’s when we’re most able to do the heavy mental part of our work. One idea is to calendar a meeting with yourself for the first hour of each day. This is a commitment to yourself to do your best work at the best time of day for you. Protect this appointment in the same way you protect appointments with others. Aren’t you worth it?

Slice the Pie

We can do the same thing to tasks and projects we did to our to-dos. We can reduce them to small, more manageable slices of work. That is, we can take a minute before starting any new work and list subtasks that need to be done. Basically, this means outlining the effort.

There are several advantages to this method. First, we can do each item individually, which means shorter snippets of time are needed to make progress. Second, working in slices means we can be interrupted and then ramp back up to speed quickly. Third, viewing work in smaller bits of effort makes it more manageable emotionally, resulting in getting more done and feeling less stress.

Let the Monitors Sleep

Walk into any lawyer’s office and it looks like they’re running Grand Central Station. There are two, three and sometimes more monitors positioned right at eye level. There’s a lot of information on those monitors — email, calendars, documents, practice management platforms and so on.

Multiple monitors are very effective for comparing documents, aggregating information from multiple sources to a single location, and actively administering the day. However, watching inboxes fill up while we try to craft a pleading is distracting.

Set the “sleep” function so each monitor will turn itself off after a few minutes of non-use. The world will get quieter and more focused, and less energy will be consumed.

Focusing Better

Getting focused is hard work. However, the longer you can stay focused, the better the work you’ll do, and sooner. Implement as many of these suggestions as possible to maximize the opportunities to focus throughout the day.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series produced by Paul Burton for Attorney at Work. Watch for upcoming posts and read all of Paul’s past articles here — and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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Paul H. Burton

Paul Burton is a former corporate finance attorney and General Counsel who helps lawyers and legal professionals make the best use of their time. The author of eight guides on individual and leadership productivity, he delivers seminars and coaching services to busy professionals across the United States. You can learn more about Paul and his practice at

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