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Steps to Quiet Focus

Make 2018 More Productive With This HBR Strategy

By Paul H. Burton

A few months back, Harvard Business Review published a terrific article titled “In a Distracted World, Solitude Is a Competitive Advantage.” The authors reference numerous sources, from Yoda (Star Wars) to Eric Schmidt (Google) to David Rock (Your Brain at Work), to propose that working in a quiet mental and physical space maximizes the quality and the quantity of the work accomplished. Getting the work done is, after all, the ultimate objective among the many we wrangle each day.

This notion of focusing on the work first reminds me of a partner in my former law firm. The partner, Robert, closed his door every morning from 9 to 11 a.m. His standing instruction was not to interrupt him during that period. We associates used to joke that if the building caught on fire, we were to put it out and tell Robert at 11:01 a.m!

I once asked Robert why he shut himself off from the world for two hours every morning. He replied, “The most important thing I do for my clients is the work at hand. Everything else is second. If I don’t do the work, the rest won’t matter.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson. And I probably don’t need to tell you that Robert was one of the most successful lawyers in the firm.

Simple Steps to Solitude

How do you achieve quiet focus in a distraction-riddled world? It’s not as hard as it appears. Consider these suggestions.

Turn off alerts, even if only temporarily. Solitude’s biggest enemies are the alerts our devices constantly deliver. Turn them off, even if only temporarily, to focus entirely on one task. Don’t worry, the research shows we’ll still check the devices 100 times a day even with the alerts off! But in the interim, maybe you’ll get some great work done sooner.

Silent times, or sequestering. Take a page from Robert’s book and close your door for short periods throughout the day. Maybe it’s only 30 minutes, but think how much you can accomplish in that time if you’re left uninterrupted. In the alternative, sequester yourself in a conference room or empty office. Take along the work you want to do and do it. Then rejoin the fray of the day.

Quiet zones. One lawyer I know places a visitor chair behind her slightly closed door. There’s also a lamp strategically placed back there. When she wants to get some reading or work done, she sits just behind the door and does it. Those passing by can see she’s “in the office,” but not currently at her desk. She even reports that people occasionally come in and put things on her desk, then leave without even realizing she’s there!

Question blocks. This trick works for people who answer a lot of questions and for those who need a lot of questions answered. Handle questions the way college professors and students do: Schedule times throughout the day to deal with them. That way, you can take a break from other work to either ask or get answered the questions that need addressing.

Make Solitude a 2018 Competitive Advantage

High-quality, high-quantity productivity comes from focus. Focus occurs in mental and physical solitude. Leverage the ideas above to make solitude one of your 2018 competitive advantages.

Illustration ©

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Categories: Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Productivity, Lawyer Time Management, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published December 6, 2017
Last updated April 13, 2018
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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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