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Time Management

15 Minutes of Silence: Bet You Can’t!

By Dustin Cole

A while back, the Wall Street Journal ran an article that posed a critical question worth considering. A CEO of a highly successful company was challenged by a friend to sit still for 15 minutes in complete silence. And he bet him $15,000 that he couldn’t do it.

And he couldn’t.

“I never expected it to be so hard,” he said. “I found myself reaching for my smartphone every minute. I couldn’t shut down.”

Could you? And why does it matter, anyway?

Technology has changed the very fabric of our lives and relationships. In essence, we have given everyone else the ability to control our time — to interrupt and become our immediate priority no matter what else is going on at the moment. And worse — we’ve become addicted to it. We crave it, just like that CEO.

Again, Why Does That Matter?

Hundreds of studies on focus and concentration universally agree: When we are frequently interrupted, our efficiency and productivity drop, and our ability to deliver quality work is compromised. Most lawyers don’t have five minutes without an interruption from their technology, their staff — or their own thoughts — never mind 15 minutes.

And for lawyers whose time is their treasure and whose reputation is everything, decreased efficiency and quality issues are life- and career-threatening. It’s not that lawyers are turning out poor quality work. It’s just that it is taking them longer to deliver that quality.

Is it any wonder that the average lawyer is spending 50, 60, 70, even 80 hours a week “at work,” whether it’s in the office, in the car, at home or on vacation? (Ever spend a vacation in your hotel room working?) Technology isn’t the only culprit. Lawyers are notorious for having no personal boundaries and working constantly. Technology simply makes it spectacularly worse.

Most lawyers, when challenged about allowing technology to control them, will respond with, “But my clients expect me to be available to them!” Sure. Because you told them you would. Or worse, because you didn’t tell them anything about how you would work together. You let them decide for themselves — and make you the no–boundaries victim.

How to Say It

Here’s a sample communication I strongly suggest you use with your next new client:

“One of the most important things you have hired me for is my wisdom and my careful consideration of every aspect of your matter. For that reason, I have taken several steps to ensure I can always deliver that.

First, I have set aside time during my day, from __ to __, when I am uninterruptible except for emergencies, so that I can focus on my work for you and others, and provide my best service. So, if you call during that time you may speak with my [associate /paralegal/assistant]. Or you can leave a message for me, and I will respond within 24 hours. If it is a genuine emergency, my assistant will make sure I get back to you quickly.

Second, I do not respond immediately to emails because I want to carefully consider any question or information you may offer. Instead, I review emails periodically and respond carefully.

Third, I do not text, because texting encourages reactive responses and that violates my principle of thoughtful and careful consideration.”

Basic principle here: Your time is your treasure. If you don’t take control of it, everyone else will. And if they do, you’ll be working at night, on the weekends, and in your hotel room while the kids are at Disneyland.

Radical. Retro. But it could save your life, your practice, maybe even your marriage.

Oh. And by the way, here’s the link to that article: I didn’t offer it up front because I knew you’d follow that shiny object even before you read this article.

More From Dustin Cole:

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Dustin Cole Dustin Cole

Dustin Cole is President and Master Practice Advisor with Attorneys Master Class. For nearly 25 years, he has delivered CLE programs on practice management, marketing, risk management and succession planning for bar associations and organizations. He has keynoted and trained at nearly all of the nation’s solo and small firm programs, worked with more than 400 attorneys, and conducted operations and marketing analyses for more than 100 firms. Email him at

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